That Was The Most Exciting NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend I've Ever Seen
I'm not one for hyperbole. I always say "you have to earn the hype" so I'm not kidding around when I say the first four days of the 2010 NCAA Tournament were by far the most exciting four days of college basketball I can ever remember watching. The recent vintage of the tournament has gotten admittedly stale. The lowest seed to survive the first two rounds in 2007 was a seven seed. 2008's Final Four featured all number one seeds. Last year's Elite Eight was just that as only ones, twos and threes advanced past the regional semifinals.
There's a certain formula to a memorable NCAA Tournament. You need close games. You need Cinderellas. You need one team to destroy 98% of America's brackets. So after a day to catch your breath, consider what went down this weekend:
Buzzer Beaters: Lorenzo Charles, Tate George, Christian Laettner, Bryce Drew. You remember those buzzer beaters forever. Now two more names can be included on the list of memorable finishes: Danero Thomas and Korie Lucious. Thomas put a dagger through Vanderbilt as 13 seed Murray State pulled off the upset on the opening day then Lucious lifted Michigan State to the Sweet 16 on Sunday with a buzzer beating three. That doesn't even include the overtime thrillers: three on Thursday and another on Sunday. By comparison 2009 had only two OT games during the entire tournament.
Cinderellas: Ah, the classic David vs. Goliath vibe of the tournament. St. Mary's, Washington, Old Dominion, Cornell, Murray State and Ohio combined to slay nine heavyweights over the course of four days. For the record that's a 10, two 11s, a 12, a 13 and a 14 busting brackets to advance to the second round with St. Mary's, Washington and Cornell still dancing. In the end there are always power conference teams in the Elite Eight. But every now and then it's great to see a double digit seed mid-major like 2002's Kent State, 2006's George Mason and 2008's Davidson stand one step away from greatness.
Bracket Busting: Admit it, on Friday night you felt pretty good about your bracket. By sundown on Saturday that same bracket was in the toilet. Hey, I'm right there. In a time span of about five hours on Saturday half of my Final Four teams were eliminated. You probably don't know how to pronounce his name. You certainly don't know how to spell it. But you'll always remember it as Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh (yes, I had to look it up to confirm the spelling) will forever hold a place in NCAA Tournament lore with his oh-no-he-di'nt wide open three pointer in the final minute to bury top seeded Kansas. With that shot my bracket was buried as well.
Vulgar Displays Of Power: A little Pantera reference to remind everyone that champions rise to the occasion and juggernauts Kentucky and Duke blitzed throughout the first two rounds with little resistance. While a Northern Iowa-Cornell-St. Mary's-Butler Final Four would be one for the books, America really pays attention when the Evil Empires like the Wildcats and Blue Devils get to the championship level. Heck even in a perceived down year Michigan State is once again poised for a deep run. While 2008 was all chalk the championship game was one of the all-time greats. Besides, who doesn't want to see a bunch of Ivy League brainiacs take their shot at one of college basketball's greatest franchises? That was makes the NCAA Tournament the best sporting event of them all and 2010 has become Exhibit A.