We’ve reached the end of the first weekend, and following Sunday’s round-of-32 games, the 2012 NCAA tournament field will officially be whittled down to just 16 teams. But if Friday was any indication, this last set of games could be the most exciting.
Five double-digit seeds will take the floor Sunday, including an unprecedented two No. 15 seeds. Here’s a look at some of the games, teams and players to watch.
Midwest Region: No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 11 North Carolina State, 12:15, CBS
This will be the first meeting between the Hoyas and Wolfpack in the NCAA tournament since their memorable Sweet 16 matchup back in 1989, a game that will be remembered for what CBS analyst Billy Packer described as “the worst call in NCAA tournament history.”
With the Wolfpack trailing by three and less than two minutes remaining, Georgetown big man Alonzo Mourning looked like he had picked up his fifth foul on a driving lay-in by North Carolina State point guard Chris Corchiani. But officials called a controversial traveling violation on Corchiani, a turn of events Wolfpack fans still lament over. Check out the below video and see if you agree:
History aside, this latest encounter should be just as entertaining. The Hoyas finally got over their recent penchant for losing in the round of 64 Friday, and did so in impressive fashion. Seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims give Georgetown an experienced inside-outside combo few left in the field can match. But the Wolfpack seem to be playing their best basketball of the season the past two weeks, and they proved it by dismantling No. 6 seed San Diego State, 79-65, in the round-of-64. The matchup between Clark and North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Brown, as well as the battle down low pitting versatile Hoyas freshman Otto Porter against Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie, will be fun to watch.
West Region: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 15 Norfolk State, 6:10, TNT
Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn became the breakout star of the round-of-64 when he scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Spartans stunning upset of No. 2 seed Missouri Friday. But Norfolk State took advantage of a decided size advantage against the Tigers, something it won’t enjoy facing the Gators. Florida had the most lopsided result of the first weekend when it easily defeated No. 10 seed Virginia Friday. This game could come down to three-point shooting. The Gators went just 4 of 23 from three-point range facing the Cavaliers after making more than any other team in the country during the regular season. Norfolk State connected on 10 three-pointers Friday, doubling its average for this year.
Teams on the rise
Midwest Region: No. 12 South Florida vs. No. 13 Ohio, 7:10, TBS
South Florida barely got into the NCAA tournament, relegated to one of the four play-in games by the selection committee. But Coach Stan Heath’s squad is playing some tough defense and now finds itself in position to follow in VCU’s footsteps by going from the play-in game to the tournament’s second weekend. The Bulls are 9-3 since losing by 30 points against Georgetown at Verizon Center back on Feb. 4. Ohio, meanwhile, pulled off its second shocking round-of-64 upset in three years when it defeated No. 4 Michigan Friday night. Guard D.J. Cooper, who exploded for 23 points in an NCAA tournament win over Georgetown back in 2010, had 21 points and five assists against the Wolverines. The Bobcats have never advanced to the Sweet 16.
South Region: No. 10 Xavier vs. No. 15 Lehigh, 7:45, Tru TV
The Musketeers needed a controversial lane violation to get past No. 7 seed Notre Dame late Friday night, but there’s no denying Xavier is on a roll these days. After its season was nearly de-railed by an ugly December brawl with rival Cincinnati, the Musketeers have re-grouped to win four of their past five and point guard Tu Holloway is once again looking like the sort of multi-dimensional guard that can take over games late. Lehigh, on the other end, is coming off a monumental upset of No. 2 seed Duke, a contest the Mountain Hawks controlled from start to finish. Guard C.J. McCollum scored 30 points in the victory over the Blue Devils and has been held under 20 points just twice since Jan. 18, but he’ll need some help if Lehigh wants to become the first Patriot League team ever to make the Sweet 16.
Best individual matchup
North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes vs. Creighton’s Doug McDermott
The last time Barnes and McDermott shared a court together, they were teammates leading Ames High (Iowa) to 53-straight wins and back-to-back state championships before moving onto the college ranks in 2010. Barnes came to Chapel Hill, N.C., as one of the nation’s most celebrated recruits and is currently averaging more than 17.4 points per game. McDermott, the son of Creighton Coach Greg McDermott, played second fiddle to Barnes in high school but had a breakout sophomore campaign that earned him first team all-American status. Both should have plenty of opportunities to light it up Sunday since Creighton and North Carolina each rely on an up tempo, offense-first approach.