Day 3: Kansas Falls, Kentucky Explodes
Patrick Patterson and the Wildcats overpowered Wake Forest 90-60 in the second round. (Bob Rosato/SI)
NEW ORLEANS -- What we learned from second-round Saturday at the NCAA tournament ...
1. Northern Iowa over Kansas is an upset so monumental -- like George Mason-over-UConn monumental -- that years from now, you'll remember where you were when it happened. I saw it from a makeshift media room inside New Orleans Arena, after skipping out on the live finish of Baylor-Old Dominion to watch the CBS feed. Kentucky band members and cheerleaders, who'd been milling around in the back hallways, started gathering around the TV set as the Jayhawks neared their demise. The UK contingent was cheering hard, and they weren't as much for Northern Iowa as they were against Kansas.
When the buzzer sounded, declaring the Jayhawks' title shot dead, the two UK cheerleaders sitting closest to the TV jumped up to celebrate. (See the video below.) A male UK cheerleader walking through the hallway began mocking things he'd heard from pundits on TV -- "Kansas is the best team, and Kansas is a lock to win it" -- before breaking into laughter. The Panthers hadn't just stunned the Jayhawks, they'd blown the bracket wide open. And Kentucky was among the teams that stood to benefit most.
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When the top-seeded Wildcats took the floor against ninth-seeded Wake Forest, they were unaware of what had rocked the Midwest Region. UK coaches had ordered that their locker-room TVs be turned off, to avoid distractions, although junior forward Patrick Patterson managed to catch a glimpse of the action on CBS. "I saw that they were down," he said, "but we knew that it was Kansas, that they weren't going to let that happen."
Patterson and his teammates then went out and annihilated the Demon Deacons, 90-60, in what was the most dominant single-game performance by any team in this tournament. Wake has one Lottery Pick (Al-Farouq Aminu) and one of the country's fastest guards (Ish Smith), but it was blown off the floor by the Wildcats, who shot 60 percent from the field, and had human victory cigars Josh Harrellson, Mark Krebs and Jon Hood on the floor for the final few minutes.
When they got back to their locker room, according to Patterson, "We looked at our phones, and all of a sudden got text messages and updates from scoreboards saying, Kansas lost.
"I was shocked when I saw that."
So was the rest of the country, myself included. I honestly thought there was no stopping the Jayhawks. The after-effect is that the Wildcats are the new national title favorite -- a sentiment that Patterson already held. "I always thought we were the team to beat," he said. "I'm not going to deny it."
2. This is Ali Farokhmanesh's tournament.
Northern Iowa's senior shooting guard shouldn't have been taking that shot, the dagger that knocked the nation's No. 1 team out of the NCAA tournament. He had the ball with 35 seconds left, a one-point lead and 30 seconds on the shot clock. He stood on the right wing. He should have waited for Kansas to foul him. Or dribbled off as many of the precious remaining seconds as possible. You don't take a three there, because if you miss, Sherron Collins is going back down the other end of the floor, driving the lane, and probably winning the game.
"But if you know Ali," said backcourt mate Jonny Moran, "you know that shot is going up at the end of the game."
He beat UNLV in the first round with a longer three, with a greater degree of difficulty, but this trey required a greater degree of balls -- essentially, a willingness to take a shot that would either kill Kansas or kill the Panthers, when there were safer options available.
Farokhmanesh made the shot. He made himself famous. The son of two former volleyball coaches, one of them an Iranian immigrant -- that's why you have someone with the name Ali Farokhmanesh playing on a team in Cedar Falls, Iowa -- is the new Pittsnogle. But better.
3. If you told me in January that Kansas' Sherron Collins, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and BYU's Jimmer Fredette would all lose on the same day of the NCAA tournament -- and that day would be the second round -- there's no way I would've believed it.
I'm still having trouble believing it now. Reynolds showed signs of slumping late in the season, but went ice-cold against a St. Mary's team that brutally exposed 'Nova's lack of post D, with Omar Samhan going for 32 points. Fredette seemed ready to become a breakout tourney star, with his 30-point-plus games and Mormon rapper brother, but Jimmer got out-Jimmered by Kansas State's Jacob Pullen.
And Collins? As teammate Tyrel Reed said on Saturday, he's the "ultimate competitor," and it always seemed like his destiny to get back to the Final Four. Who could've imagined Collins would get Farokhmanesh'ed instead?
4. The bracket is setting up really well for Baylor, which beat Old Dominion in New Orleans on Saturday. The Bears were slotted in the weak South Region, and if they make the Elite Eight, their path will have been through three double-digit seeds: No. 14 Sam Houston State, No. 11 Old Dominion and No. 10 St. Mary's. And they're playing their games next weekend in Houston, just 185 miles from their Waco, Texas, campus.
As Baylor forward Quincy Acy told me, "God works in mysterious ways."
I should note that the Bears don't have a cake-walk into a potential regional final against Duke, because St. Mary's has been playing brilliantly, sharing the ball better than any team in the bracket. But the Bears match up with Samhan much better than Villanova did; they have Ekpe Udoh (6-10), Josh Lomers (7-0), Anthony Jones (6-10) and Acy (6-7) to challenge shots in their zone. If Samhan can score 32 against Baylor, then he's truly a beast.
5. No team has an entourage like Kentucky does. Sitting two rows behind the Wildcats bench was die-hard fan/actress Ashley Judd; one row behind her was Worldwide Wes (agent-to-be William Wesley) and rapper Drake; and actor Steve Zahn -- co-star of one of the most underrated comedies of all time, Safe Men -- was reportedly in the house, too, although I didn't spot him. It's a shame he didn't make it in this priceless Judd/Wesley/Drake pic from SI photographer Bob Rosato: