The best and worst of the NCAA tournament

Published 8:36 am Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Florida Gulf Coast was the breakout star of the weekend, alley-ooping its way on to the national stage to capture everyone’s attention. You probably watched the Eagles crash the round of 16 like everyone else. Well, there were 63 other teams playing last weekend, too.

La Salle broke through as well. Bluebloods such as Duke and Michigan State were big winners as well. So the next round will have something for everyone.

Now the Eagles, and the rest of the country, get to take a deep breath before we get going again on Thursday. So here is a look at some of the highs from a memorable first weekend.

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• Best play: Brett Comer to Chase Fieler vs. Georgetown. The exclamation on Florida Gulf Coast’s emphatic introduction to the masses. It was brazen not only for the casual nature with which Comer flipped the ball practically over his head to a soaring Fieler, but also in its timing. The Hoyas were making one final charge, down seven points with two minutes to play when Comer made a pass usually reserved for dunk contests. Fieler threw it down one-handed, and the Eagles rolled to the victory.

• Best guts: Aaron Craft, Ohio State. The heady point guard made the play of the game against Iowa State. Twice. First he stepped in at the last second to take a charge, a call that Iowa State fans will dispute for a long time, as the Cyclones’ Will Clyburn was driving for the go-ahead basket. Then he took, and made, his only 3-pointer of the game just before time expired to push the Buckeyes into the regional semifinals, where they will meet Arizona.

“The moment’s a lot bigger than me,” Craft said. “It just happened to be in my hands at the end.”

• Best new team: Florida Gulf Coast. They don’t get any newer than the Eagles, who hail from the beachfront school in Fort Myers that came into existence just 16 years ago. Now the school that is barely old enough to drive a car is the first No. 15 in the round of 16.

“I feel like we’re getting a lot of America behind us,” Sherwood Brown said. “I guess you could say we’re a part of America’s team at this point.”

• Best villain: Marshall Henderson, Mississippi. Strutting and pounding his chest whether the ball swished through the net or clanked off the rim, Ole Miss’s irrepressible Henderson puts the “shooting” in shooting guard. His shot selection was something out of the Wild West, but his trash talk was all new school.

“There’s no question Marshall Mania affects the psyche of the other team,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “How can you avoid it? Marshall this, Marshall that. We live with Marshall Mania. So for us, it’s normal, another day at the office.”

Henderson was able to down Wisconsin in the round of 64, but La Salle was undaunted.

• Best conference: The Big Ten. It’s been advertised as far and away the best conference in the country all season long, and the big boys have backed up the hype with some exceptional play in the tournament. Four teams — Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State — are in the regional semifinals for the second straight season.

Prior to last season, the Big Ten hadn’t accomplished that much since 1999. Wisconsin was the only team in the conference to not win a game.

• Best redemption: Oregon. The Ducks felt slighted by the selection committee when they were stuck with a No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region, even after winning the Pac-12 tournament. All they did was bludgeon Oklahoma State and Saint Louis by a combined 30 points to soar into the round of 16, where they will play top-seeded Louisville.

“We just decided as a team we’re going to go out there and we don’t care who we’re going to play,” Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi said.

• Best game next round: Duke vs. Michigan State. Does it get any better? Two tradition-drenched programs. Two of the game’s most successful coaches in the Spartans’ Tom Izzo and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski. No. 2 seed against a No. 3 seed. Can we play tonight?

• Worst performance: UCLA vs. Minnesota. The sixth-seeded Bruins delivered a stinker that belies the program’s proud tournament history in a 20-point loss to No. 11 Minnesota in the South Region. Shabazz Muhammad and the short-handed Bruins went nearly five minutes without scoring a field goal to start the game and showed little fight or inspiration against the Golden Gophers, who were reeling with three straight losses entering the tournament. The listless performance was the final straw for UCLA brass, which fired coach Ben Howland.

• Worst encore: VCU vs. Michigan. The only havoc being brought in that game was from the Wolverines. Shaka Smart’s Rams pounded Akron in the opener, winning by 46 points. Smart strutted out to the court for the game against Michigan like an amped-up prize fighter, then watched Trey Burke and the Wolverines knock his team out in the first few minutes. Michigan handled the Rams’ vaunted pressure defense with ease, leading by 30 points in a 78-53 victory.

“Certainly in retrospect it wasn’t a very good matchup,” Smart said.

• Worst souvenir: Harvard guard Siyani Chambers’ tooth. After a stirring upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico in Harvard’s first game, Arizona brought the Crimson crashing back to reality, and Chambers scrambling for part of his front tooth. While going up for a rebound, Chambers inadvertently ran into Arizona guard Kevin Parrom’s elbow, knocking part of his tooth out. Teammate Christian Webster picked the fragment up off the court and gave it back to Chambers.

“That showed how physical the game was,” Laurent Rivard said. “It wasn’t even close to the rim. Guys were scratching and clawing. But it was an accident.”

• Worst starring role: Gonzaga. The Zags have been America’s underdogs for years, playing in a smaller conference during the season and then besting the big boys when they met in the tournament. But they didn’t sneak up on anybody this time. Gonzaga entered the tournament with the No. 1 ranking, and a No. 1 seed in the West Region. Then the Zags flirted with being the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 before beating Southern, then were dispatched by No. 9 Wichita State in the next round.

“We had goals of going deeper in the tournament,” guard Kevin Pangos said. “Everyone was just in shock.”