Gonzaga survives, `Cuse dominates, Blue is golden, Harvard busts brackets
Thursday's action got started with a blowout of Valparaiso at the hands of Michigan State in Auburn Hills. The Spartans made an impressive statement with the convincing victory, serving notice to the Midwest region that in order to make it to Atlanta, they must go through the Spartans.
The first wave of games also gave us a Saint Louis blowout, a scare for Butler and the first upset of the day as Wichita State took out Pittsburgh, 73-55.
Saint Mary's gave Memphis all it could handle, losing 54-52 on a last-second three-point miss by Matthew Dellavedova, a shot the Aussie probably wishes he had back. Up next for the Tigers is a date with Michigan State. Will Memphis be able to find an answer for Spartan big man Derrick Nix, who had a career game with 23 points, 15 rebounds (9 offense) against Valpo? The guard battle between Keith Appling and Joe Jackson could be the difference in the game.
The West's number one seed Gonzaga needed some big shots from guard Kevin Pangos and key plays from big man Kelly Olynyk to avoid becoming the first one seed to lose its opening game. Pangos and the Zags were able to stave off an epic upset bid against a game Southern squad, though not without some scary moments from the SWAC champs and senior guard Derick Beltran, who finished with 21 points.
The upset that wasn't
Oregon ran Oklahoma State out of the HP Pavilion gym, outmanning the Cowboys for a 68-55 win. The Ducks look for real and are certainly no 12 seed. A disappointing showing all around for Oklahoma State, particularly from freshman guard Marcus Smart, who finished with just 14 points and five turnovers.
Vander to the rescue
Vander Blue made us feel the nostalgia of March when he willed his Marquette team to a comeback win against Davidson with a last-second layup to cap a furious comeback by the Golden Eagles, who overcame a nine point deficit. Davidson seemed to have the upset locked down before Blue came through for Buzz Williams.
Michigan and Tim Hardaway Jr., 21 points, 5-7 3pt., shot down Nate Wolters and South Dakota State, and all the experts who picked them as a trendy upset selection. Glenn Robinson III had 21 points and six rebounds for the Wolverines. Look out, when Robinson gives them that third scoring option and freshman guard Nik Stauskas plays well, along with solid inside play from Mitch McGary and Jon Horford, Michigan is a dangerous team.
Arizona had no trouble dispatching Belmont, getting 23 points from Xavier transfer Mark Lyons and big games from Kevin Parrom, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill. The `Cats silenced their critics, who also had them pinned as an upset selection. Even President Barack Obama had the Bruins taking out the Wildcats. C'mon POTUS.
While you were sleeping
The night games gave us a couple of snoozers as Syracuse dominated Montana, 81-34, setting up a match-up with California, who knocked off UNLV 64-61. The Orange seem ready to make good in its promise of talent and showcase it this March.
Colorado State outplayed Missouri with a 84-72. Louisville will have to come ready to play against the senior-laden Colorado St. team, though the Cardinals looked up for the challenge with its 31-point romp of North Carolina A&T.
There was excitement if you watched VCU do what VCU does - win in March. The Rams demolished the Akron Zips, 88-42.
Coach Shaka Smart just knows how to lead a team in the tournament. This VCU squad looked thoroughly dominate. Flu or not, Akron was outmatched against Smart's club. Troy Daniels, 23 points, and Juvonte Reddic, 21, are prime-time players and are looking to lead the Rams back to the Final Four.
Before we were able to go to sleep for the night Harvard busted brackets throughout the country when they beat the third-seeded New Mexico Lobos, 68-62. The Crimson, a 14 seed, shocked the Lobos, who got a disappointing performance from junior guard Kendall Williams, 8 points. Harvard now moves on to play Arizona Saturday for a trip to the Sweet 16.