Posted: Monday March 21, 2005 2:08AM; Updated: Monday March 21, 2005 6:08PM
Sound-bite machine Tom Brennan upped his own career options during Vermont's Cinderella run, and delivered one of the tourney's most memorable moments.
For the first weekend of an NCAA tournament to be truly memorable, you need three ingredients: unmistakable Cinderellas, unforgettable coaches and unbelievable individual performances.
Not every year's tournament has them. This one did.
A look back at four days of March Madness at its finest:
Most indelible moment: Vermont coach Tom Brennan jumping up in the air, arms raised, after T.J. Sorrentine's long 3-pointer that put the Catamounts up four against Syracuse with a minute left in overtime. It said all you need to know about just how much such Cinderella victories mean to the people involved, especially the retiring Brennan, for whom the victory was literally a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The charismatic Brennan virtually assured himself a second career in broadcasting if he wants it with his weekend in the spotlight. "It ended badly," Brennan said of his tenure following Sunday's loss to Michigan State, "but it didn't end sadly."
Game most likely to be talked about for years to come: West Virginia's 111-105 double overtime upset of Wake Forest. If indeed this was Chris Paul's last collegiate game, and even if he indeed establishes himself one day as an NBA star, there will be those of us who will forever associate him with Mike Gansey, the Mountaineers' sensation who outdueled him in an epic exchange of one clutch shot after another. Gansey scored 19 of his 29 points after regulation; Paul scored 10 in the first OT before fouling out in the second.
MVP of the first two rounds:Ivan McFarlin, Oklahoma State. If you said before the weekend that Cowboys All-American Joey Graham would average 7.5 points and 2.5 rebounds, you'd assume his team would get bounced. But McFarlin, the unsung fifth-year senior known as "The Warrior," delivered a career-high 31 points (highest in the tournament so far) Sunday to fend off Southern Illinois, hitting 10-of-13 field goals and 11-of-12 free throws.
Coach of the weekend:Bruce Pearl, Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There was a time when Pearl couldn't get a D-I head coaching job, blackballed in the profession for turning in Illinois to the NCAA in the late '80s. Today, he's got to be on the top of the list of every major program with an opening. The Panthers are one of the most fun teams to watch in recent memory because of the way they so crisply execute Pearl's Tom Davis-influenced run 'n' press system.
Coach of the season:Bob Knight. While it might not rank alongside the undefeated '76 season among his all-time accomplishments, getting this year's Texas Tech team into the Sweet 16 actually represents one of the best coaching jobs of his career. They're thin, undersized and there isn't a single bona fide star on the roster, yet they managed to beat Gonzaga by doing it the old-fashioned Knight way: Making the extra pass and taking care of the ball (just six turnovers). Now if only he could keep his darn mouth shut instead of taking tasteless swipes at Mike Davis in the middle of what should be a celebration.
Most surprising teams that really shouldn't be a surprise: Washington, Arizona. They really do play basketball in the Pac-10, believe it or not. The Huskies showed no reason to believe their top seed was unwarranted in an easier-than-expected victory over Pacific, and the Wildcats, who many people (this one included) can't help but keep thinking of as choke-artists, played phenomenal defense in dominating potential Cinderellas Utah State and UAB.
Most disappointing teams that we should have seen coming: Kansas, Wake Forest. Both teams are so talented that, despite tell-tale signs of a premature demise, most people couldn't help but think they'd turn it on in the tourney. But the Jayhawks never could get over their shooting deficiencies, and it showed against Bucknell, when, despite having four accomplished seniors who have been to two Final Fours and an Elite Eight, no one wanted to take a shot during crunch time. Meanwhile, it's been known all season that the Demon Deacons don't play too much defense, and it ultimately killed them against hot-shooting West Virginia (53 percent field goals).
Team no one should want to play right now: Louisville. The "No. 4 seed" Cardinals have won 11 straight. Against a Georgia Tech team that many felt was among the most dangerous in the tournament, Louisville led by double digits nearly the entire way, hitting 10-of-21 3-pointers.
Team that's living a charmed life: Wisconsin. The sixth-seeded Badgers, having squeezed by both Northern Iowa and Bucknell, went into the tourney thinking they'd have to face Kansas and UConn to reach the Elite Eight. Instead they got the Bison and, now, N.C. State.