Night one of the Sweet 16 was something special. Many thought that both sets of games would turn into blow outs and not be nearly as entertaining as rounds 1 and 2. Well those many, myself included, were wrong.
In the first set of games, West Virginia found a way to get by the running Huskies out of Washington. Bob Huggins is back in the Elite 8 for the first time since 1996. This was an extremely sloppy game that featured 44 turnovers. It is extremely atypical for a Bob Huggins coached team to turn the ball over more than 15 times in a game, much less 21 times. But who really cares? There are no style points in this tournament. Painting a Picasso is not going to vault you farther into the tournament then surviving a battle. The NCAA tournament is a tournament of survival. As Mick Cronin said in the Big East tournament, there is a such thing as a one point blowout. Even if you win all 6 games by one point in this tourney, you are still the National Champion. And also you have to admit that regardless of the many turnovers, the tempo and dunks of this one were very entertaining.
In the other early game last night, Butler found a way to win a 23rd in a row and upstage the heavily favored Orangemen of Syracuse. I will admit I was shocked at this outcome. I did think Butler was a solid team. But I thought Syracuse was a sure-fire Final Four team. I was wrong again. The Big East appears to have been vastly overrated this year. Only one of the eight tourney teams are left as we enter the 2nd night of the Sweet 16! This tournament has taught me that you should not pick by the conferences teams come from. Pick on the matchups. Pick on who has the best chance of winning. Just because a team comes from a tough conference does not mean they are necessarily going to win a ball game on a given night. Syracuse would have had a huge advantage inside had the senior Arinze Onuaku played. He was hurt. Butler took advantage of this and won the ball game. It was a wonderful season for a Syracuse squad that really over achieved from day one. Best of luck to Andy Rautins and the seniors.
Then after seeing a one seed go down, could the 2nd set of games really top the first? You better believe it. In the game of the tourney thus far, Kansas State held off a gutsy Xavier Musketeers team in a game that needed 2 OT’s to decide a winner. This was just an amazing game that you could say so much about. It was a slugfest from the tip-off and K State appeared to be on their way to a blowout. A resilient Xavier Muskies team found their way back into the game though and refused to die. After the game the players from both teams said it best. They all said in their own way, “Guys didn’t want to go home. We were refusing to lose.” And that they did. This game in my opinion featured the two best guard combinations in the country. Many will say aren’t you forgetting about the guard combo in Lexington? These sets of guards may not be as talented as that combo, but they looked phenomenal and exhibit a far better chemistry. I would rather have either one of these sets on my team than the one that UK features. Holloway and Crawford combined for 58 points for the Muskies, while the K State backcourt of Pullen and Clemente put up 53. Then I will also state that this game featured a matchup of two of the most up and coming coaches in the country. Both Frank Martin and Chris Mack did phenomenal jobs this year and will have these teams back dancing next year.
Then finally the nightcap. Not nearly as exciting as the K State/Xavier game, but the Wildcats are always fun to watch. Kentucky showed too much athleticism and handled a tough Cornell team 62 to 45. Cornell is known as a phenomenal shooting team and on a night where they shot 33 percent from the floor and 62 percent from the charity stripe, they had 0 chance to beat a much more talented Kentucky team. Kentucky deserves credit though and is the heavy favorite to win the title at this time.
So hopefully you were able to enjoy the amazing first night of the Sweet 16. Maybe tonight will bring some more similar excitement? We can only hope.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.