How good was the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament? Of the more than four million entries in ESPN's bracket contest, there isn't a single one that picked every one of the opening weekend's 48 games correctly. There isn't a single one that picked all 16 of the teams that will continue dancing next week. This may not have been the best opening weekend in the history of the tournament, but we'd love to hear the argument for any other one being better.
There are plenty of reasons why this was a spectacular weekend of basketball, starting with sheer unpredictability. Let's continue by just looking at who is left at the dance. Eleven different conferences are represented, only four conferences landed multiple teams into the Sweet 16 and 15 of the 31 conferences won a game at some point over the weekend. That's great parity, which makes for a tournament where absolutely anything can happen.
That doesn't just mean Cornell and Northern Iowa lasting longer than the likes of Villanova and Georgetown. Purdue, Tennessee and Washington may reside on the right side of the NCAA tracks, but they were all written off as pretenders before the tournament got underway. Not any more.
The success of Cornell and Northern Iowa both represent different wonderful things about Cinderella. Northern Iowa is the traditional kind of March underdog, the team that comes out of nowhere and makes national names of players with names like Omar Samhan, (Omar describes himself as "a slow white guy.") or Ali Farokhmanesh.
Farokhmanesh hit a deep three to beat UNLV and he knifed Kansas with a pull-up three on Saturday. The only thing missing was Bill Raftery croaking "Onions!" as Northern Iowa showed off the biggest onions in recent tournament history.
Cornell is a different kind of beast. No one watching them beat Temple or Wisconsin would have actually thought those two traditional powers were supposed to be the better teams. The Big Red played like their jerseys said Kentucky, which was thrilling to watch and makes your mouth water with anticipation for their actual game with Kentucky at the end of the week.
Memorable as these Cinderellas are, if we're going to call this the best opening weekend ever, we would need the games to feature strong teams and players playing at a really high level. We've got that too, thanks to Duke, Kansas State, Ohio State, Syracuse and West Virginia. And thanks to Jordan Crawford, LaceDarius Dunn and, especially, Omar Samhan. Great games don't hurt, either, and they don't come much better than Michigan State and Maryland trading four baskets in the final 40 seconds on Sunday.
It's all taking place against the backdrop of this being, most likely, the final tournament before expansion to 96 teams.
Watching this beauty unfold, pro-expansion forces can sit back and ask what kind of basketball fan wouldn't want to watch four more days filled with this kind of unpredictable action. Anti-expansionists can point to the failures of the Mountain West and Big East and say that we've got more than enough bloated carcasses from power conferences mucking up the works.
Is it greedy to hope for two more weekends as jam-packed as these opening four days? Perhaps, but, like the man once said, greed is good.