- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fans are fond of ripping “those directional schools” and “those hyphenated schools,” but more often than not one of the teams from those subsets actually makes some noise in the tournament. Northwestern State did just that yesterday, finishing its upset of third-seeded Iowa on a 27-9 run.

If there was an ideal team seeded 13th or below to win in the first round, it was the Demons (check out Thursday’s edition of The Washington Times for proof of the upset pick). Northwestern State is a deep, experienced team with solid guard play. Iowa is a team that played nearly everyone close (win or lose), suffered some puzzling losses and couldn’t win on the road. That was a recipe for a first-round debacle.

Now Northwestern State gets a curious matchup with streaky West Virginia, which easily downed Southern Illinois yesterday. A trip to the Sweet 16 — joining 1986 Cleveland State and 1997 Chattanooga as the only 14 seeds to get that far — is quite possible for the Southland champs.

Hot hands

Sticking with Northwestern State, Jermaine Wallace’s 3-pointer with less than a second remaining was simply absurd. Like Chris Lofton’s game-winner for Tennessee on Thursday, it will be replayed ad nauseam for the rest of the month. It was really cool the first time; outside of rural Louisiana, it may get a bit old before long.

Arizona’s Hassan Adams shrugged off his DUI-related suspension from the Pac-10 tournament to score 21 points against hapless Wisconsin. Adams is critical to the Wildcats’ hopes of knocking off top-seeded Villanova tomorrow in the second round.

Stuck in the valley

Northern Iowa had a respectable enough showing before poor shooting doomed it against Georgetown in a low-scoring affair. Defense-oriented Southern Illinois didn’t fare quite so well in its battle with a Big East behemoth, mainly because West Virginia repeatedly launched 3-pointers. The Mountaineers were 11-for-32 from beyond the arc and an efficient 11-for-18 from 2-point range. But Bradley’s late upset over Kansas helped the conference, leaving the Missouri Valley at 2-2.

Bracket busters

There was no reason to pick Arkansas over savvy, fundamentally sound Bucknell, but that didn’t stop folks from taking the big conference team over the Patriot League champs. One of the second round’s most fascinating contrasts will be how the Bison handle Memphis’ frenetic style.

Admit it, it would have been really cool if Albany had held on to a 12-point lead in the second half and KO’d a Connecticut team that is unquestionably the most talented squad in the tournament. Alas, Jim Calhoun’s Huskies saved both their skin and about two-thirds of all office pool entries with a ferocious rally in the last 10 minutes. Add Albany to the list of No. 16 seeds who came semi-close to an upset.

No doubting Thomas

George Mason’s Will Thomas had 18 points and 14 rebounds as the Patriots defeated Michigan State in a game that wouldn’t have been that much of an upset if Tony Skinn had played. Yet even without the senior, Mason simply throttled Tom Izzo’s crew, mercifully euthanizing a forgettable season for the Spartans. Teams like Iowa and Nevada were upset in the last two days, but at least they enjoyed fine seasons. Michigan State was an utter disappointment after last year’s Final Four run, and its utter lack of defense is befuddling.

Outside help

Villanova and Ohio State both played relatively close games in the first round, and shaky outside shooting might be part of the problem. The Wildcats — arguably the tournament’s most guard-oriented team — were 7-for-25 from long range against Monmouth, while the Buckeyes were a ghastly 5-for-22 while outlasting Davidson. Ohio State in particular could be in trouble tomorrow against a Georgetown team that often takes advantage of its opponents’ mistakes.

Loose balls

N.C. State coach Herb Sendek is now 16-3 in the first game of ACC, NIT and NCAA tournaments with the Wolfpack. First-round conference winners: ACC (4-0), Pac-10 (3-1), SEC (5-1) and Southland (first round of 64 win since 1985). First-round conference losers: Big Ten (3-3), Western Athletic (0-2) and Mountain West (0-2).

Air traffic control

It’s only two days into the tournament, and already the television commercials have gone from grating to infuriating. The ad for a restaurant chain with a riff of the Gilligan’s Island theme is certain to prompt people to stay away, and the spot for a cell phone featuring a guy who sounds like Miss Piggy is a mute button magnet. And, of course, there’s Coach K hawking cars, which is so last year. That’s the truth, and after all, there’s nothing more powerful than the truth. On the bright side, it appears President Palmer has resurfaced as a secret agent on CBS. That’s a nice recovery from getting shot through the neck.

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