For a four-day span, I want to say this was one of the best I can remember in terms of overall entertainment, but I do remember saying this before. In a lot of ways, it really is par for the course. The NCAA tournament delivers every single year. You can get bad days or a bad round, but you never get a bad tournament. The first two rounds were sensational, they were unbelievable, but truth be told, they were typical when it comes to this event.
1. Northern Iowa upsetting Kansas. Obviously, the most shocking thing that happened was UNI beating Kansas. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around it more than 24 hours later.
2. Purdue making the Sweet 16. The Boilermakers did not give us anything the last few weeks leading into the tournament, sans Robbie Hummel. They definitely did not look like they were ready to win two games in the tournament. But they're a veteran team, they're a tough team and they're an extremely well-coached team. Purdue did a very good job against Siena keeping the game at its pace, and that's really the key for this team. The Boilers aren't capable of beating a team 80-75 -- they don't want to make that happen. They drew a favorable matchup in the second round against Texas A&M because the Aggies also want to play at that pace. And while we're on the subject of that game, I'd like to give a shout out to my All-Glue Team star Chris Kramer for making the big bucket in overtime to win the game.
3. Michigan State winning its second round game not only without Kalin Lucas for most of the game, but without Chris Allen, who was also hurt. The Spartans were basically down two men, and for them to still win the game was remarkable. Durrell Summers ended up playing probably the best game of his college career, with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting (including 6-of-7 from beyond the arc) -- very impressive and very surprising.
Northern Iowa. Given the matchups, I'll go with the Panthers. Michigan State, UNI's next opponent, is going to be without Lucas, and bottom line: Northern Iowa is a good team. Michigan State is a very comfortable matchup for the Panthers in terms of playing style.
The biggest challenge for Northern Iowa right now is being able to stay focused and keep their edge. Back home, they're going to throw a parade for those kids just for getting this far. They're going to receive an overwhelming amount of media attention and have to sit through a number of press conferences. That's going to be a big-time challenge for Ben Jacobson -- keeping his team on track.
Cornell and Saint Mary's both drew very tough matchups in Kentucky and Baylor, respectively. They also face the same challenge as Northern Iowa, in that they'll go home and everyone will act like they won something when there are still more games to be played.
Kentucky. As it did for many others, my original Kansas pick obviously went up in flames. So I think you have to say that the team to beat right now is Kentucky. I wouldn't say the Wildcats are my official pick right now, but if there were an AP poll this week, they would get my No. 1 vote. They have been the most dominant team in the tournament. What they did to Wake Forest was flat-out criminal. The 'Cats have to be feeling very good about their performance in New Orleans.
1. Ali Farokhmanesh's back-breaking three. Taking into account circumstances and everything in the context of that shot, it really will just go down in history as one of the greatest shots of all time. I said this last night but five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, that will be the big trivia question: What was the name of the Northern Iowa kid who hit the three to finish off Kansas?
2. Korie Lucious' buzzer-beating three to beat Maryland. It was the fourth lead change in the final 31 seconds. And the companion moment that went along with that was Delvon Roe ducking under the pass from Draymond Green to Lucious to make that shot possible. That ball could have easily hit him in the head and the game is over, but Roe had the presence of mind to duck. And Lucious' expression when he was running down court -- it was just priceless.
3. Danero Thomas' first-round buzzer-beater in Murray State's upset of Vanderbilt. Any time someone makes a genuine buzzer-beater where the game ends on that shot is very exciting.
Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's. In the Gaels' wins over Richmond and Villanova, Samhan combined for 61 points (on 24-of-32 shooting) and 19 rebounds. He was a one-man wrecking crew. Now, it helps that they happened to draw two teams that were suspect on the interior.
Quincy Pondexter, Washington. So much has gone on in this tournament that no one seems to notice that an 11 seed put a whooping on a whooping on a 3 seed to get to the Sweet 16. Pondexter gets the Jimmer Award as the best player left in the tournament that nobody seems to know about. Not to mention he hit the first-round game-winner over Marquette.
Sherron Collins, Kansas. There's a lot of competition for that award with Collins, Luke Harangody and Scottie Reynolds. But for Sherron to have five turnovers and shoot so poorly in his final college game ... Kansas really should not have lost that game, and Sherron knows it.
Cornell. Temple and Wisconsin are both premium defensive teams and for the Big Red to shoot the way they did (56.3 percent vs. Temple, 61.1 percent vs. Wisconsin) is incredible. What a joy to watch a basketball team execute like that. They share the basketball very well and they hit open shots.
Gonzaga. Obviously, my first pick for this would be Kansas, but besides the Jayhawks, I was really disappointed in Gonzaga's effort in the second round. Obviously there's no shame in losing to Syracuse, but the Zags lost by 22 points. It was a blowout by halftime. Gonzaga was never even competitive. I didn't expect them to win the game, but I thought they'd put up more of a fight than they did.
1. Washington is certainly better than I thought.
2. Never underestimate Tom Izzo.
3. Wes Johnson is ready to carry a team. He's had this hand injury that has been bothering him, and also he's not selfish enough. He's too nice of a kid, but he was not very nice against Gonzaga on Sunday -- he absolutely dominated. Everyone talks about him being a lottery pick, and he's an All-American, but a lot of times he appears to be a guy looking to blend in. But he did not blend in on Sunday.
First and foremost, Kentucky vs. Cornell. David vs. Goliath. Tortoise vs. The Hare. It should be very intriguing. Other than that, I'm looking forward to Baylor-Saint Mary's. It is a very good matchup for Baylor, as the Bears have a lot of guys who can guard Samhan one-on-one. But Saint Mary's is just bursting with confidence at this point.