The field has now been trimmed down to twenty-four, with another eight unlucky squads headed home after Sunday's action. A day that began with West Virginia knocking off Duke in D.C. ended with UCLA coming back to beat Texas A&M in Anaheim. Here are some honors for Saturday, and a couple of key games to watch Sunday.
Team of the Day: Washington State (East Region #4)
Result: Defeated #5 Notre Dame 61-41 in Denver.
I have to admit that on every one of my brackets I picked the Irish to beat the Cougars. And for that serious error in judgement, I apologize. Wazzu, one of the nation's best defensive teams, held Notre Dame to their lowest point total since the 1970s and 25% shooting from the field. The other key to Washington State's domination was the fact that no answer could be found for one Kyle Weaver. The stat line of fifteen points, nine rebounds and three assists may be par for the course in regards to one of the Pac-10's (and nation's) most versatile players. Add to this effort the Cougar big men harassing Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody into a 3-17 shooting performance and you have all the makings of a beating.
Player of the Day: Brook Lopez (Stanford)
Numbers: 30 points, 4 rebounds and the game-winner in an 82-81 win over Marquette.
The sophomore center was one of the primary reasons why head coach Trent Johnson is now off the hook for getting run in the first half. As expected, the Golden Eagles had no answer inside for Brook and twin brother Robin, who went for eighteen points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Twenty-eight of Brook's thirty came in the second half and overtime, the last two as a result of an off-balance shot from the right baseline with 1.3 seconds remaining. There has been criticism of Stanford's backcourt for much of the season (Mitch Johnson went for nine and sixteen assists by the way), but if you can't slow down Brook Lopez you'll have a much tougher time exploiting that area.
Three other noteworty individual performances:
Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas: 19 points in a 65-54 win over Pittsburgh.
Drew Neitzel ended up leading the Spartans in scoring, but he did have a long stretch early in the second half without a point. Into the void stepped the freshman Lucas, who proved to be a handful for the Pitt guards thanks to his speedy forays to the basket.
Marquette guard Jerel McNeal: 30 points and 8 rebounds in an 82-81 loss to Stanford.
They may have lost by even more than one point if not for McNeal's offensive effort. Dominic James went 4-16 from the field, and Wesley Matthews only took six shots for the game, depositing much of the offensive burden upon McNeal's shoulders. And he nearly carried the Golden Eagles to the win thanks to his scoring and rebounding.
UCLA center Kevin Love: 19 points, 11 rebounds and 7 blocks in UCLA's 51-49 win over Texas A&M.
He didn't finish as the Bruins' leading scorer, but the freshman pivot dragged his team out of serious danger during the second half. Down ten in front of a partisan crowd that seemed to get a little worried, Love put his team on his back with his work on both ends of the floor. The Aggies, who dominated inside in the first half, had no answers for Kevin and as a resuly have to ask "what could have been" on their trip back to College Station.
Three games for Sunday (one for each time slot):
Midwest Region: #13 Siena vs. #12 Villanova (Tampa), 12:10 PM
The first of two 12/13 matchups in Tampa will determine the opponent for top seed Kansas, and the backcourt play in this one should be worth the viewing. Kenny Hasbrouck pretty much did whatever he wanted against Vandy on Friday, lighting them up for thirty points. Tay Fisher went 6-6 from downtown and Kenny Moore was solid at the point. Villanova will counter with Scottie Reynolds and a plethora of freshmen guards, so the Saints will have the experience edge. The perimeter ability of these two teams should lend itself to an uptempo game.
East Region: #7 Butler vs. #2 Tennessee (Birmingham), 2:30 PM
This one is pegged by a few to be an "upset special", given the wealth of experience that the Bulldogs possess along with the fact that the Volunteers of late haven't been defending as well as they were earlier in the season. Guards Mike Green and A.J. Graves are more than capable of handling the Tennessee pressure, but will they be able to deal with their depth? If Butler controls the pace to this one, they're more than capable of moving on to the Sweet 16.
East Region: #9 Arkansas vs. #1 North Carolina (Raleigh), approx. 5:20 pm
While many were expecting Indiana to be playing in this game, in terms of overall depth (especially inside) and the desire to be on the court the Razorbacks may be the tougher test for the overall top seed. Sonny Weems, an athlete who can score from just about anywhere on the floor, will be a tough match for whoever gets the assignment. And bigs such as Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas will surround Tyler Hansbrough at every opportunity. I don't know if John Pelphrey's bunch can win this de facto road game, but they can take this one down to the wire.