- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2007

There was much talk going into the NCAA tournament about the play of Nevada and Nick Fazekas. Well, the story yesterday was the play of Nevada without Fazekas, as the Wolf Pack squeaked out an overtime win against Creighton with their best player way off his game.

Fazekas, the Western Athletic Conference player of the year and one of the best players ever in the conference, shot just 5-for-13 and fouled out with three minutes left in overtime. He was bailed out by guard Marcelus Kemp, who recorded 27 points and 12 rebounds.

Nevada now will try to repeat or even surpass its Sweet 16 effort from 2004. To get there, it must first face Memphis, another team that took heat all year for racking up wins against relatively weak opponents.

Tennessee track meet

The Tennessee Volunteers must have been channeling the spirit of those Loyola-Marymount teams from the early 1990s in their 121-86 throttling of Long Beach State. No, that score is not a misprint.

Of course, it helps when your opponent decides to eschew defense entirely. The Volunteers shot nearly 60 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and turned the ball over just six times. They got scoring contributions from 10 players, with five scoring in double figures. Those eyeing this game as a potential 12-over-5 upset could not have been more wrong.

Maybe we should have seen this coming, as Long Beach came into the tournament with the 208th-ranked defense in Division I, while Tennessee had the 28th-best offense, according to basketball statistics wizard Ken Pomeroy.

Tennessee’s 121 points tied for the sixth-highest point total ever in a tournament game, and the highest total since UNLV scored 131 in a regional final win over Loyola Marymount in 1990. (Marymount set the all-time tournament record with 149 points in beating Michigan two games earlier.)

The toughness factor

And speaking of UNLV, it’s worth mentioning that the Running Rebels yesterday won their first tournament game since 1991. And this time, they did it with muscle, not prolific scoring.

A look at the box score of the UNLV-Georgia Tech game will suggest that the Runnin’ Rebels emerged victorious because of a slight edge in shooting from the line and beyond the arc. But the truth of the matter is that the game was essentially won because of a Jack Bauer-esque display of toughness by UNLV in the game’s final moments.

After Georgia Tech rallied to tie the game 59-59 with two minutes to go, UNLV managed to control the next 90 seconds of play by pulling down five offensive rebounds and forcing both a shot clock violation and a rare five-second call on Yellow Jackets guard Javaris Crittenton. CBS analyst Billy Packer may not have been overstating things when he called it one of the greatest defensive efforts he’d ever seen.

When looking to making bracket projections, the teams labeled as tough often get a good deal of respect. Texas A&M and Kansas, two teams viewed as particularly tough, are popular picks for the Final Four. A team like Memphis, which wasn’t tested with close games during the regular season, gets less respect.

We’ll find out over the next week or so whether toughness matters as much as talent and shooting ability, but the win by UNLV suggests that it helps to be hard-bitten.

Badger bumbling

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi hardly looked like a 15-seed in its game against Wisconsin. In fact, the Islanders looked like the more dominant team for much of the game, running out to leads of 10-0, 17-4 and 25-7 before the Badgers got themselves together in the second half. Corpus Christi’s 7-foot, 265-pound center Chris Daniels scored 20 points and led all rebounders with nine.

The gallant effort by Corpus Christi did not come as a surprise to writers of the annual Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook Tournament Guide, seen as the bible for bracket pool participants.

“Corpus Christi has the classic look of an upset team,” the guide wrote. “Its offensive potency is nationally ranked, there’s a solid big man in the middle, and there are no glaring weak spots at any position. Despite the turnovers, there are a lot of teams out there that don’t match up well with the Southland champions, and power-conference teams that are beaten and bruised from their conference tournaments be advised — the Islanders go 10 deep, and you’re not going to wear them out.”

Change is good

Having all these local teams in the tournament is nice, but it can be painful to watch because of CBS’s insistence that it will not cut away from a local team. On Thursday night, local viewers were forced to watch nearly all of the two lopsided games featuring Georgetown and George Washington even though there were several far more compelling games going on at the same time. And yesterday viewers got stuck with nearly all 40 minutes of the dreadful Virginia-Albany game, even while 15th-seeded North Texas was in a tight battle with second-seeded Memphis.

Granted, satellite packages and Internet broadcasts have made it much easier than it used to be to get the game you want. But CBS never seems to do the logical thing, which is to show matchups with local interest as much as possible but cut away if those games get out of hand.

Local fans surely will be tuned in today to watch Maryland face off against Butler, and CBS should stay on that game as long as it’s competitive. But if it turns into a blowout, someone at CBS needs to flip the switch over to Louisville-Texas A&M.

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