- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

The most exciting part of the first day of the NCAA tournament may be the anticipation. And while the majority of the games degenerated into lopsided affairs, the most compelling matchup of Day 1 — Duke vs. Virginia Commonwealth — didn’t disappoint. The Blue Devils were eliminated by the Colonial Athletic Association champs in a game that had more runs than Courtney Love’s stockings and an intensity that rivaled anything Duke saw during ACC play this year. (It’s not every day that you hear an announcer say “I think that’s the fourth player I’ve seen bleeding in this game.”)

Most folks outside of Durham, N.C., are likely bleeding black and gold after watching Eric Maynor and VCU hand Duke its earliest tournament exit since 1996. Maynor, a Fayetteville, N.C., native, scored six of the Rams’ last seven points, including a game-winning jumper with two seconds left. It was a nice follow-up to his performance in the CAA tournament final, in which he scored nine straight points in the final two minutes to seal a win over George Mason.

Terps tested, ready

There’s a theory that squeaking out a tough opening game in the NCAA tournament can foreshadow a deep run to the tournament. If that’s the case, then fourth-seeded Maryland should be feeling pretty good.

The Terps may have won by 12 against Davidson, but the champs of the Southern Conference made it interesting for about 30 minutes, leading by as much as eight in the second half.

Freshman guard Stephen Curry poured in 30 points, and it wasn’t the first time a young player has starred against Maryland in the tournament. Some fans may recall the performance of UNC Wilmington freshman John Goldsberry, who scored 26 points and went 8-for-8 from 3-point land in the Seahawks’ tough opening-round loss to the Terps in 2003.

As for whether this win over Davidson means the Terps are primed for a deep run, consider that the win over UNC Wilmington, on a Drew Nicholas buzzer-beater, was the opening game of a nice Sweet 16 run for Maryland. And it’s worth mentioning that Maryland had a tight opening game against George Mason in 2001 before rolling to the Final Four.

Hanging tough

Maryland wasn’t the only team that got all it could handle from a lower-seeded team. Texas A&M looked prepared to obliterate 14th-seeded Pennsylvania, but the Ivy League champs started off the second half with a 21-6 run and actually led by two before the Aggies righted themselves in the final 10 minutes to win by 16. (At one point, A&M went nearly nine minutes without making a field goal.) If it weren’t for a horde of bad choices by Penn, it might have been a different story, but give credit to A&M for forcing Penn to take a bunch of ill-advised jump shots.

Penn hasn’t won a tournament game since 1994, when it knocked of Nebraska, a No. 6 seed. But this is now two years in a row the Quakers have hung tough, having lost to second-seeded Texas by just eight last year. An Ivy League team hasn’t won an NCAA game since 1996, when Princeton knocked off defending champion UCLA. Face it, you always root for the Ivys against those big conference bullies.

Ugly outing

Stanford was one of the last at-large teams to make the field and did little to prove it belonged, getting drilled by Louisville. On some level, you feel bad for the Cardinal players; the game was played in Lexington, and it probably felt like about 9:30 a.m. to them at tipoff. But this was a team that entered the tournament having lost seven of 11 games without any quality road wins to speak of. Stanford looked frazzled as it turned the ball over 21 times against a tough Louisville press. It’s pretty safe to say that Drexel, a team that turns the ball over less and thrived in hostile environments all year, would have acquitted itself much better. Count this one as a loss for Stanford but also a loss for the NCAA tournament selection committee, which can redeem itself if Arkansas knocks off Southern Cal today.

Feeble finish

Speaking of bubble teams that eked into the field, you have to wonder what the heck happened to Old Dominion. After beating Georgetown and then ripping off 12 consecutive wins February and early March, the Monarchs ended the season with two ugly losses to George Mason and Butler. They were a popular pick to pull off the tournament’s annual 12-5 upset, but just like in their loss to George Mason in the CAA tournament, ODU couldn’t make open shots. In their last two games, the Monarchs shot just 34 percent, down from 43 percent for the year.

On the other hand, local fave George Washington finished the regular season on fire, blazing through the Atlantic 10 tournament and ensuring its third NCAA bid in a row. But like ODU, the Colonials will be going home early after losing 77-44 to Vanderbilt, marking one of the worst opening-round performances ever by a local team. GW shot dismally from the field, and its normally reliable defense produced few turnovers and allowed the Volunteers to shoot a high percentage.

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