Now that we've got that painful UCLA victory over Indiana behind us, talk has quickly moved to the big UCLA-Pitt matchup next week when Ben Howland leads the Bruins against his former team. To make things even more interesting in the Howland household, his daughter Meredith is a student at Pitt and babysits Pitt coach Jamie Dixon's children.
Howland quickly squashed any ideas that his girl won't be backing the Bruins next week though.
"There's no question (who she'll root for)," Howland said. "She loves her daddy first and foremost."
Indiana's suddenly found its offense in time to make this one interesting. With less than three minutes remaining, the Hoosiers have hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut the UCLA edge to 46-43. And the Bruins are out of timeouts.
With Earl Calloway's free throw at the 5:14 mark, IU, with 34 points, has outscored Tyler Hansbrough, whose 33-point day against Michigan State is over.
As for the numbers that really matter, the Hoosiers chances against UCLA aren't so good. On defense, they have tired legs, and the Bruins are finding some consistency on offense. With fewer than five minutes remaining, UCLA leads 46-34.
Earl Calloway just hit a 3-pointer to cut Indiana's deficit against UCLA to 42-32, and its deficit against Tyler Hansbrough to 33-32. With 6:33 remaining, my money's on Indiana... against Hansbrough that is.
Indiana seems to have figured out UCLA's traps and halfcourt pressure to go on a 9-0 run. For most of the game, the Hoosiers have taken bad shots and turned the ball over, allowing UCLA breathing room despite its own poor offensive effort. With the Bruins holding a 34-27 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, they'll have to find a way to get more baskets of their own.
It looks like Ben Howland figured something out at halftime with the Bruins opening up the second half with a 7-0 run. The Hoosiers still look horrible and find themselves in a 27-13 hole. Right now, the big question isn't who's going to win, but will Indiana get to 40 points?
Seriously -- something's got to give in the second half. This is UCLA and Indiana, two of the proudest programs in college basketball. Somebody has to break the 30 percent shooting barrier. Neither team has so far, with the Bruins shooting at a 27 percent rate and the Hoosiers hitting at an embarrassing 17 percent clip from the field.
Good defense can account for only so much of the hideous offense happening at Arco Arena right now. Layups are rolling off the rim, jump shots are crashing off the backboard and both teams are waiting until deep into the shot clock to take their first shots as UCLA holds a 15-11 edge over Indiana with three minutes left in the first half.
Indiana's hitting 17 percent of its shots while UCLA is connecting on 22 percent from the field. It truly looks like a junior high school game.
UCLA and IU definitely bring a different cheerleading philosophy to the table -- and it's about what you'd expect. The Hoosier girls have that midwest girl-next-door, conservative school spirit look about them while the Bruins dancers look fresh off a Glamour Shots photo shoot and ready to audition for the Laker girls.
UCLA's Russell Westbrook just dunked all over Roderick Wilmont on a breakaway. That's a good way to get some points. They're still not easy to come by as the Bruins hold a 10-9 lead with about eight minutes left in the first half.
I expected the defenses to shine in this game, but not to this extent. With about 12 minutes left in the first half, neither Indiana or UCLA can find an easy bucket as the Bruins hold an 8-7 edge. It's hard to tell how much to put on good defense and how much to put on bad offense at this point, though. Both teams are shooting less than 30 percent from the field and have missed a lot of close buckets.
Whew... with the whirlwind of Vandy's double-overtime win done, there's actually another game going on at Arco Arena. After scoring the first six points, ULCA has a 6-5 lead over Indiana about four minutes into the matchup of powerhouse programs. The arena is definitely buzzed for this game after the early thriller.
"In the first half, I was pushing it a little more. In the second half, I don't know what it was. I didn't want to lose."
That was Vanderbilt's Derrick Byars' explanation for the dramatic turnaround he had in leading the Commodores to their double-overtime win over Washington State. Byars did struggle in the first half, hitting just 2-of-8 field goal attempts for 8 points.
From then on, he was money, hitting 9-of-20 field goals and 5-of-9 3-point attempts for the game, including a number of pressure shots to tally 27 points. He even came up with a big-time block on WSU's Taylor Rochestie at the end of the first overtime.
"He got on track and started making shots," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "He got that look. All of the sudden, the momentum changed for our team."
Now the Commodores have to carry that momentum on to a tough third-round matchup with Georgetown.
Washington State lost its composure and the game in double overtime as Vanderbilt held on for a 78-74 win. The Cougars took bad shots, turned the ball over and fouled late in the shot clock in what had been a steady team performance for most of the game.
Derrick Byars was the hero for Vanderbilt with 27 points and several clutch shots down the stretch.
In what looks like the game of the tournament so far, UCLA's band is showing a lot of love for Washington State. With double-overtime approaching in a 69-69 game, the Bruin band is helping lead a "Go Cougs" chant with the WSU band on the other side of the Arena.
The Indiana band, meanwhile, couldn't seem to care less. With the entire arena buzzing, the Hoosiers band members look like they're waiting for a test result.
Shan Foster just drilled a 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining to put Vandy up 60-59. Kyle Weaver responded with one made free throw to tie the game at 60. There are 37.7 seconds remaining. Now that's what I'm talking about.
After an opening day full of snoozers here in Sac-town, WSU-Vanderbilt looks like it might come down to the wire. Since the Commodores offense woke up, it's been a back-and-forth affair with the Cougars holding a 58-57 lead with 3:22 remaining. The usual suspects are manning the charge with Derrick Byars leading Vanderbilt with 22 points and Derrick Low pacing WSU with 14.
After sleepwalking through the first half, Vanderbilt has seized control of its matchup with Washington State and now holds a 55-54 lead with 6:38 remaining. The Commodores continue to hit from behind the arc, nailing 7-of-10 from long range after hitting just one 3-pointer in the first half.
Washington State, meanwhile, seems to have lost composure and gotten away from its methodical, efficient style of play.
Now Vanderbilt is stealing momentum, cutting the WSU lead to 51-49. The Commodores are now 5-of-7 from behind the arc in the second half, and what looked like a game WSU had under control has all of the sudden tightened up. Derrick Byars has the hot hand with 17 points and three 3-pointers.
After hitting just 1-of-8 3-pointers in the first half, Vandy is starting to find its stroke, hitting 3-of-5 so far in the second stanza. Yet the Commodores have only shaved one point off their halftime deficit with WSU holding a 50-43 edge with 11:50 left in regulation.
The problem is that they can't stop the Cougars, who are shooting better than 50 percent from the field and behind the arc.
It's still all Cougars all the time in the Washington State-Vanderbilt game as WSU holds a 33-25 halftime lead. The Commodores, who average 76.6 points per game, are well off their normal pace thanks in great part to a 9-of-27 effort from the floor. Washington State, meanwhile, is shooting 14-of-25 and keeping the game pace right where it likes it.
I just realized that I've never seen Washington State coach Tony Bennett wear a tie. He's got his standard dark suit and white shirt with the top button unbuttoned ensemble going again today. I wonder if he'll dress up if they make it to next weekend.
With 3:03 left in the first half, the Cougars have a 28-21 lead behind the hot hand from Derrick Low, who has 10 points so far.
We've gone a full segment between the 12-minute and eight-minute media timeouts and Vanderbilt has not scored. With 7:25 left in the half, the Cougars have turned a 13-13 tie into an 18-13 lead in what looks very much like a textbook Washington State performance. The Commodores need to adjust to get better shots, or it's going to be a long day.
Washington State's Ivory Clark picked up where he left off on Thursday, when he picked up five blocks. He just pinned a breakaway layup to the backboard and the game is tied at 13 with about 12 minutes left in the first half. After a fast pace to start the game, scoring has slowed down a bit. If it continues to slow down, the defensive-minded Cougars will benefit.
Ok -- I'm going to leave it to the bloggers with the real action for the rest of the day. I'll check back in tomorrow with a pair of enticing matchups from Sac-town.
The storylines I'm paying particular attention to on Saturday?
I'm stoked about the matchups we'll see in the Vandy-Wazzu game when the Commodores have the ball. It's an outstanding matchup of strength vs. strength when Vanderbilt's sharpshooters try to get good shots against the Cougars' stifling defense.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how UCLA's bigs respond to facing D.J. White in the post. Like Howland said, White is a load, and if the Bruins have a weakness, it's on their front line. The backcourt matchup will heavily favor the Bruins though. I don't expect Roderick Wilmont to go off on Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison like he did against the Zags on Thursday.
Both matchups have a lot of potential. We'll find out on Saturday if they live up to it. Until then, I'm off to find a stool and some beer to catch the rest of today's action on tv.
While UCLA's Ben Howland had plenty of nice things to say about Indiana this afternoon, it was nothing compared to his recruiting effort from the podium on the greatness of UCLA.
Howland on playing another storied program like Indiana:
"You want to play with programs that have a storied tradition. There's no more storied program than UCLA, of course."
A little bit later:
"You have two of the most storied programs -- UCLA being the first, of course -- in the history of basketball... I would have never left Pitt for any other job."
A little bit later:
"Have you ever been to UCLA? It's the most beautiful campus in the country, bar-none. We are attracting some very good players."
Howland then went on to point out how movies like National Lampoon's Van Wilder and the Nutty Professor were filmed in Westwood. Man, that's great coach. I can think of a few programs in Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina that might not agree 100 percent with Howland's sentiments, though.
Is there anything more boring than the cookie-cutter responses coaches give when talking about their next opponent? A few examples from today's press conferences of coaches lauding the competition:
Washington State's Tony Bennett on Vanderbilt:
"They're a well-coached and disciplined team. (Coach Stallings)'s a good man... I respect the way his teams play."
Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings on Washington State:
"Washington State is a great basketball team. We're looking forward to the challenge. We have our work cut out for us... They're underrated offensively... They don't turn the ball over... They're not difficult to scout, but they're difficult to play."
Indiana's Kelvin Sampson on UCLA (sound familiar?):
"They're not the hardest team to prepare for. They're just hard to play against... You don't need me to tell (the media) how good they are... UCLA's as good as anybody. They play tough strong physical defense."
UCLA's Ben Howland on Indiana:
"We have to have a great defensive effort and make sure they don't burn us in transition. You look at (IU guard Roderick) Wilmont; he's an outstanding player. He's a man... They dump it in to (IU forward) D.J. White down low. He's a load."
Evidently I've been reassigned to the Final Four here on Saturday without realizing it.
Well the news from Sacramento wasn't that exciting today, but that means Saturday's games have to be great to make up for it, right? While that's obviously not the case, there is potential for a pair of good matchups for the right to advance to round three.
In the early game today, Washington State beat Oral Roberts playing to its strength -- defense. Ivory Clark stepped up for a huge game with five tone-setting blocks and a killer instinct that is absolutely necessary in March.
"Robbie (Cowgill) was doing a good job on (Oral Roberts star Caleb Green)," Clark said. "It was easy for me to come in and help Robbie out... Caleb had a smile on his face like everything was ok. I just wanted to wipe that smile off his face."
Ho-hum. Indiana just secured the fourth double-digit win of the day here in Sacramento, 70-57 over Gonzaga (And before Indiana fans get upset with me here, I'm lamenting lack of excitement, not the fact that Indiana won). Roderick Wilmont maintained his scoring lead with 22 points whiile D.J. White helped out with 16 of his own. I'll be back with a wrap and a look ahead at Saturday. Good times.
I'm not 100 percent sure if I can even write "madness" without copyright issues, but since there's not a month attached to it and CBS is CSTV's parent company, I'm rolling with it.
Anyhow, the final media timeout of the day just went down, Indiana holds a 63-52 lead with 2:52 left and I'm left hoping that Saturday brings the pain with some exciting games. Unless the Zags go on a miracle roll in the final minutes here, this game will make it 4-for-4 for sleepers in Sac-town today.
One of the Indiana male cheerleaders dropped his female counterpart when lifting her for a stunt, drawing a gasp from the crowd. She was fine and got right back up with the same guy. That's impressive. A cheerleading team has to be one very trusting group.
We're about four minutes into the second half and Roderick Wilmont picked up right where he left off, hitting the first 3-point shot he took to tally his 19th point. The Hoosiers are keeping Gonzaga at bay with a 43-35 lead.
It's official now; we need a Wilmont watch. The Hoosiers just went into halftime with a 34-29 lead, mostly in part to Wilmont. IU is pushing the ball down the court fast and hard and usually finds Wilmont for a quick shot. The Hoosiers' second-leading scorer, who averages 12.5 points a game, already has 16 on 6-of-10 field goal shooting with four 3-pointers.
I can't follow him into the locker room for halftime, so you'll have to wait until the second half for the next update.
Indiana and Gonzaga are going back and forth and 3-pointers are the name of the game as the Hoosiers lead 30-27 with about three minutes left in the first half. Both teams' 3-point percentage is considerably better than their field goal numbers.
Indiana is 7-of-15 from behind the arc while Gonzaga is 5-of-9. Their respective overall field goal percentages stand at a paltry 37percent and 40 percent. Roderick Wilmont is still the man for the Hoosiers, with 14 points, most of it on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. The Zags are spreading the ball around a lot more with nobody scoring more than eight points.
Indiana and Gonzaga have tipped off in what promised to be the game of the day in Sac-town. It doesn't have much competition so far. Indiana's opened up a 20-15 lead about 10 minutes into the game behind some sharp 3-point shooting (6-of-11). Roderick Wilmont is on fire with 12 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.
For the sake of a good game, hopefully Gonzaga can keep up.
As soon as the UCLA-Weber State game ended, most of the media here rushed to the work room to catch the end of the VCU-Duke game. When VCU's Eric Maynor put up the game-winning jumper to down the Devils, the room let out a collective cheer. I, of course, being a North Carolina grad, would do no such thing. It's unprofessional.
As soon as UCLA wrapped up its 70-42 win over Weber State, Gonzaga took the court for warm-ups. UCLA's team had left the floor, but the band was still playing and the cheerleaders were still on the court. Everything was congenial though. Looks like the Zags have let last season's bygones be bygones.
With about four minutes left, UCLA has big white guys name Keefe and Dragovic in the game -- total combined points per game? 3.3. Translation? This game is over. Thr Bruins have a 30-point lead over Weber State and have clearly moved on from the shooting woes that plagued them in consecutive losses to end the season.
Arron Afflalo, who had his worst game of the season in a Pac-10 Tournament loss to Cal, left the game with 20 points and seven rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting. Darren Collison, who suffered an ankle sprain earlier this week, finished with 14 points and eight assists on 5-of-6 shooting. They look just fine.
On Saturday they'll have to get a repeat performance against considerably stiffer competition with either Gonzaga or Indiana on the docket.
A few of the Weber State band members just tried to get the 'Over-Rated' chant going. UCLA, meanwhile, is up 53-25.
Forgive me if you've read this rant in my baseball blogs, but first off, the 'Over-Rated' chant has to be the dumbest form of fan participation ever. Why would you want to say the team your team just beat isn't very good? The only logical conclusion to glean from that is that your team might not necessarily be that good either -- just better than the crappy team it just beat.
I've moved from drinking water all day to double-fisting it with coffee and water. It's that time of day that only those who have worked a 1-day, four-game basketball event understand. It's exciting, you're stoked to be doing what you're doing and getting paid for it, but at a certain point during the late session it starts to wear on you -- especially when the games are as uneventful as they are today.
But that's what coffee's for. Pump some artificial energy into your blood, bear down for the second half of a bad game and pray that the finale will be a thriller. With 7-seed Indiana facing 10-seed Gonzaga, it certainly has some potential.
That said, the second half of UCLA-Weber State just got underway. the Wildcats scored first. Maybe there's hope.
Since Weber State cut the lead to 15-14 with 7:59 remaining, the Wildcats have scored exactly five points. It's halftime. Arron Afflalo is red-hot with 15 points. UCLA leads 37-19. This is what a 15/2 game is supposed to look like.
But from what I can tell from watching the scoreboards, every game has gone how it's supposed to everywhere. It looks like it's going to be one of those first days of the tournament we had a couple of years ago where exactly nothing exciting happened. But then the Friday games were amazing.
I don't believe today's trend will stand. It never stays this way in March. Plus, I see VCU's giving Duke a game, so there's still hope for today. I like the sound of Indiana-Gonzaga here tonight as well.
After a sluggish start, UCLA seems to have found its stride. The Bruins have extended a 15-14 lead to 25-14 and have their field goal percentage up to a very respectable 45 percent. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo are leading the action with seven points a piece while helping hold Weber State to 29 percent shooting. It hasn't done a thing to cut down on the volume of the Wildcats fans behind me though.
Which brings up another thought... I've always been impressed by UCLA's fans, but so far the Weber State faithful are showing them up.
When UCLA players line up to shoot free throws, the Weber State cheerleaders huddle together under the basket, scream and wave their pom-poms. There has to be a rule against that -- especially when Lorenzo Mata (37.9 percent) is at the line.
With 8:40 left in the first half, UCLA leads 15-11, thanks to Arron Afflalo hitting free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point shot.
Wow, those Weber State fans sitting directly behind me sure are loud. Good for them for their school spirit and all, but I'm not exactly in the best position for it.
Anyhow, the Bruins and Wildcats have tipped off and so far, UCLA hasn't come out on fire. Ben Howland's squad holds has a 10-9 deficit against his alma mater about eight minutes into the game and looks a lot like it did during the Pac-10 Tournament -- ice cold. So far, UCLA is 4-for-11 from the field with four turnovers.
Weber State isn't doing much better, shooting just 33 percent, but has limited its turnovers to one.
Shortly after Vanderbilt's win, its band started playing my school's alma mater. I affectionately know it as 'Hark the Sound", which is played after every North Carolina sporting event and surely will be after the Tar Heels throttle Eastern Kentucky tonight.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. I'm going to have to do some research. Vandy surely stole it from UNC and not the other way around.
By the end of the game most of George Washington's players didn't have names on their jerseys. And they decided to run clock instead of making the score a little more respectable. This really was one of the least inspired efforts I've ever seen from an NCAA Tournament team.
Vanderbilt ended up logging a 77-44 victory and moves on to face Washington State on Saturday, which promises to be a much more interesting game. As for me, I'm moving on to the post-game press conference and then to find out what the media hospitality are has to offer.
I'm really reaching for ideas to write about here as Vandy leads 69-38. I mean seriously -- do the Colonials realize this is the NCAA Tournament? I'm not sure their fans do. The section behind the GW band is empty. I assume that's the George Washington fan section.
And, the Colonials all have names on their jerseys -- except one guy, No. 12. He didn't play in the first half. Looking looking.... Ok. He's freshman point guard Johnny Lee. He averages 1.8 minutes and 0.3 points per game. I guess coach Karl Hobbs is looking to send a message with 4:52 left in their season.
George Washington's Regis Koundjia just had his layup attempt blocked -- by the bottom of the rim. Vanderbilt leads 54-24. The Colonials' dance team still has plenty of pep though. That's a good thing, right?
While I don't approve of the two toilets and one sink provided for all the male media members -- and that's a lot -- here at Arco Arena (lesson learned; don't try to use the bathroom at halftime), I highly approve of the Vanderbilt band's song library.
They've been busting out Herbie Hancock and Weather Report during the first half. For those of you who aren't jazz nerds, they're funky jazz-fusion artists from the 70s. George Washington, meanwhile, counters with your more traditional 80s rock anthems from powerhouses like Yes. Yes!!!
I feel bad for the people stuck at home with Vanderbilt-GW on the tube and no other options. This game is ugly. I'd imagine they feel like I did in my hotel room this morning as I cursed the Louisville-Stanford game that the Cardinals led 46-20 at the time as I watched the scores update from a pair of two-point ball games elsewhere.
Anyhow -- Vandy's up 45-20 at halftime. And as much as Kevin Stallings wants us to believe his team isn't a 3-point shooting team, it's just not true. They're 10-for-19 from behind the arc. That's 30 points... out of 45. It's not such a bad thing, Kevin -- especially if your team shoots them this well
George Washington's mascot shouldn't be around small children. He's a wigged colonial guy -- I guess he's supposed to be George Washington -- with an oversized head, pursed lips and bug eyes that suggest he's on large quantites of stimulants. I don't like him...
Ok, I found a photo. That little girl behind him is clearly frightened.
Back to the game... The Colonials have gotten on the board after a slow start, but trail big with Vandy leading 22-9 with 7:35 left in the first half. Shan Foster still leads the way for Vanderbilt with eight points.
Game two is underway here at Arco Arena and things don't look good for 11-seed George Washington, which has dug a 7-0 hole four minutes into the game.
And so far, Vandy coach Kevin Stallings' insistence that his team is more than a 3-point shooting team doesn't hold much water. True to the scouting report, the Commodores are 3-point happy, having taken five of their six shots from the floor from behind the arc. Shan Foster has all the points from the floor, shooting 2-for-2 from long range.
So much for all the upset talk. Washington State contained Caleb Green and rode Ivory Clark to a 70-54 victory over Oral Roberts to advance to the next round of NCAA play. Clark fittingly held the ball as time ran out after tallying 19 points, five rebounds and five blocks. ORU's Green, meanwhile, couldn't find much room to operate in Washington State's suffocating defense and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, both below his season averages. The Cougars move on to face the winner of the George Washington-Vanderbilt game, which tips off in about 20 minutes.
I stand corrected. Ivory Clark also shoots 3-pointers. With his 19 points, five rebounds and five blocks, Clark has the Cougars well in control of this ball game. Washington State leads 70-54 with about a minute to go and looks ready to move on to round two.
Washington State forward Ivory Clark is a beast. All he does is swat shots, grab long rebounds and dunk on people. He stands at 6-feet, 6-inches, but appears to have about a 12-foot wingspan. So far he's got 12 points, five blocks and four rebounds.
After coming out of the gates cold in the second half, Oral Roberts has kept the game manageable, thanks in large part to Ken Tutt, who leads all scorers with 17 points. The Cougars are focusing on keeping Caleb Green out of position, holding him 12 points so far and have a 55-47 lead with about seven minutes remaining.
Washinton State has opened up a 49-39 lead with star guard Derrick Low getting a lot of bench time. Low picked up his second foul early in the first half and got pulled early. It didn't take long in the second half for him to pick up his third.
Despite his limited action, he's having an excellent game, shooting 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points. Ivory Clark is leading the way for the Cougars with 12.
Washington State's recent run hasn't deterred our enthusiastic friend from Oral Roberts sitting directly behind me in the stands. With the ORU offense on this side of the court, he's amped up the volume of his sideline coaching. Keep up the good work, ORU fan. Your Eagles, who now trail 40-30, need you.
After giving up the last two buckets of the first half, Oral Roberts has come out cold in the second. In about 2:30, Washington State scored the first eight points of the half to take a 35-28 lead. This is the time of the game where the better teams take control -- if Oral Roberts doesn't respond here, it could get out of hand in a hurry.
Oral Roberts takes a 28-26 lead into halftime and had the momentum for pretty much all of the first half. That changed in the last few seconds though; after a Washington State bucket reduced the Cougars' deficit to 28-24, WSU's Kyle Weaver stole the Oral Roberts inbounds pass for an easy bucket as time ran out. Still, the Golden Eagles are looking pretty good for a 13-seed.
I'm sitting about five feet in front of the Oral Roberts section and there is one particularly excited fan standing up, giving coaching advice and friendly pointers to the officials. An Arco Arena usher just approached him and asked him to sit down, apparently at the request of the man sitting about three rows behind him.
Now let's get something straight. Whether you're an Oral Roberts fan or a UCLA fan lucky enough to have tickets to an NCAA Tournament game and are physically able, stand up. Yell. Scream. And if you're too lazy to do so, don't ask the fan in front of you to sit down. This should be a law -- applied liberally at all sporting events and rock concerts.
As for the game itself, Oral Roberts came to play. The 13-seed Golden Eagles hold a 20-16 lead with 7:40 left in the first half and surprisingly aren't getting a big game from star Caleb Green. Point guard Ken Tutt leads the way so far with eight points while Green has scored two.
Washington State and Oral Roberts have tipped off, with WSU's Derrick Low hitting the first bucket on a breakaway. But the Golden Eagles look tough so far, opening a 6-4 lead at the first media timeout with Caleb Green scoring and assisting on the first two buckets. We'll keep an eye on Green, ORU's 20-point, 9-rebound a game star, throughout the whole game. They'll need a big time performance from him to pull off the upset.
Indiana and Gonzaga certainly provide the most name recognition of the first-round matchups in Sacramento. But with both of the programs and states of transition, neither school is putting a vintage team on the floor.
Gonzaga's transition is short term. The Bulldogs have had to redefine themselves since their front-line force Josh Heytvelt was suspended following a drug arrest in mid February. Heytvelt was the Zags leading scorer and rebounder as well as a defensive force. He was instrumental in shutting down North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough in the Zags' upset win in the preseason NIT. With all that, head coach Mark Few says the Bulldogs are actually better off without him.
The 6-11 matchup between No. 6 seed Vanderbilt and 11-seed George Washington is another trendy upset pick for the first round. With contrasting styles, the popular theory is the George Washington's defensive pressure can limit Vanderbilt's ability to set up an offense and shoot 3-pointers.
The matchup to watch will come when the Commodores have the ball. Vanderbilt comes in ranked third in the SEC in scoring offense and second in 3-point percentage, but ranks just 10th in scoring defense in conference. George Washington, meanwhile, prides itself on defense, finishing in the top three in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense.
Weber State just left the practice court. The 15-seed Wildcats have a tough task ahead of them with two-seed UCLA on Thursday and there's no Harold Arceneaux in sight. UCLA, though, is coming off its worst basketball of the season with consecutive losses to Washington in Seattle and Cal at the Pac-10 Tournament.
While the Bruins faced a tough Washington squad after beating Washington State to clinch the regular season conference title, they looked horrible against a subpar Cal team. To boot, point guard Darren Collison sprained his ankle on Tuesday. He looked fine at practice today, though, and is expected to start on Thursday.
It's the calm before the storm that is practice day leading up to the tipoff of NCAA Tournament play. I made the short plane ride from San Diego this afternoon to arrive at Arco Arena just in time to catch UCLA take the practice court. It's laid-back, everybody's smiling and about 95 percent of the seats are empty. That all ends on Thursday when Washington State and Oral Roberts get the action started in Sacramento.
And when they do, all eyes will be on one of the sexy upset picks of the first round. Oral Roberts brings Caleb Green, one of the nation's unheralded great players to the table and already has the biggest upset of the season under its belt after stunning Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse early in the season.
Meanwhile, a lot of people -- especially those that haven't seen much Pac-10 basketball -- just don't believe in the Cougars as a No. 3 seed.