Five observations from NCAA Tournament's exciting second day
Losing Georges Niang will make it even toughen for undersized Iowa State against North Carolina. Also, VCU's loss to Stephen F. Austin will hurt for quite a while.
1. Iowa State will be incredibly undersized against North Carolina on Sunday without Georges Niang.
And that's going to make beating the Tar Heels that much more difficult. Niang suffered a foot fracture in Friday night's 93-75 win over NC Central and will miss the rest of the NCAA Tournament. What does that mean for Iowa State against North Carolina on Sunday? Small ball. Look for Dustin Hogue to slide to power forward with Melvin Ejim set to hold down the five spot at 6-6. This team now will also lean on DeAndre Kane to provide an extra lift on the boards and will probably have to sprinkle in some sort of zone defense to have a chance to advance past the Tar Heels on Sunday. My heart aches for Niang, a terrific player who scored 24 points on Friday night.
2. VCU's loss to Stephen F. Austin will sting for a long, long time.
This one was in the bag. The Rams led by four points with eight seconds to play in regulation when freshman JeQuan Lewis fouled Lumberjacks' guard Desmond Haymon while he was shooting a three-pointer. Haymon made the free throw and Stephen F. Austin went on to pull out a 77-75 win in overtime. VCU had its sights set on advancing to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since it went to the Final Four since 2011. Instead, it will deal with one of the more unfathomable March defeats in recent memory.
3. Virginia Tech's hiring of Buzz Williams drastically enhances the perception of the ACC.
Think about it for a second. The ACC already had coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Jamie Dixon, Mike Brey, as well Tony Bennett and next season it will add Williams and Rick Pitino when Louisville joins the conference. That's a serious list of coaches. The move from Marquette to Blacksburg doesn't make sense from the periphery but it's appeared for a long time that Williams was ready for a change. The Hokies' program calls for a total rebuild but in a lot of ways that's right up Williams' alley. This isn't a guy who's into three-piece suits or cuff links even though he wears them for every game. Williams is a grinder and that's just what he'll have to do to get Virginia Tech's program back to relevancy.
4. Mercer's upset of Duke reiterates why experience is sometimes more valuable than overall talent.
The Bears don't have anyone on their roster that walks with the same cache as Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood, but at the end of the day it didn't matter. Mercer has a strong core of seniors --- Langston Hall, Jakob Gollon, Daniel Coursey, Anthony White, and Bud Thomas --- that all played with a strong sense of purpose and belief. To win in the NCAA Tournament, you have to have talent but you also need experience. Many people said that Mercer was just as talented as Duke ---- I'm not buying it. The Bears upset the Blue Devils because they were more desperate, more urgent, and had a greater understanding of what was at stake because they collectively had been through the gamut. A year ago, Mercer watched Florida Gulf Coast win the Atlantic Sun tournament and march to the Sweet 16 after the Bears won the league's regular season title. With one more win Sunday against Tennessee, Bob Hoffman's team will in the exact place.
5. Johnny Dawkins has weathered the storm.
The former Duke star came into the season needing to make the NCAA Tournament to return as Stanford's head coach and he's done just that and then some. With nearly the entire nation picking New Mexico to advance, Dawkins led the Cardinal to an impressive 58-53 win on Friday over the Lobos in the Round of 64. Stanford has recruited well and should have Dawkins in position to regularly compete for berths in the NCAA Tournament for years to come. Next up though is a showdown with Kansas on Sunday in the Round of 32 in what is easily the Cardinal program's biggest game since they played Texas in the 2008 Sweet 16 under former coach Trent Johnson.
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