Big men loom large in NCAA play

John Clay
John Clay

Random notes:

■ Conventional wisdom says the NCAA Tournament is all about guard play, but some big men are sure coming up big this time around.

Saint Mary's delightful Omar Samhan scored 61 points in the tournament's first two rounds. Not only that, the 6-foot-11, 260-pounder — Samhan weighed 330 his redshirt year — made 24 of 32 shots and grabbed 19 rebounds. After scoring 32 points on Villanova, Samhan joked that he had a tougher time scoring in his West Coast Conference.

Northern Iowa's Jordan Eglseder made two three-pointers in the first 13 minutes of the Panthers' upset of Kansas on Saturday. Before that, the 7-footer had made just one three-pointer all season.

Duke's Brian Zoubek, a 7-foot-1 disappointment previously, scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a highly economical 23 minutes in the Blue Devils' second-round win over California.

Baylor has been helped by 6-10 Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan who scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Bears' opening-round win over Sam Houston State. Plus, the Bears' 7-foot Josh Lomers scored 14 points in Baylor's second-round win over Old Dominion.

Kentucky's opponent, Cornell, has benefited from 7-footer Jeff Foote, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, who has scored 28 points through the Big Red's first two wins.

And despite making just one of seven free throws, Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins scored 19 points in the Cats' second-round whipping of Wake Forest.

The thing about these big men: They play like big men.

■ Don't forget that Syracuse is expected to get its big man, Arinze Onuaku, back after the 6-9, 260-pound center sat out the Orange's first two wins because of a leg injury.

■ Another coaching adage at tournament time deals with making shots. Both Kentucky and Cornell are making shots.

Kentucky shot 60.3 percent in its blistering of Wake Forest. Cornell shot 61.1 percent in its dissection of Wisconsin.

■ A New York Times story on Tuesday made a big deal out of the fact that Mark Coury started 29 games in 2007-08 for Kentucky and now comes off the bench for Cornell. What it didn't point out was that Coury averaged 10.7 minutes for the Cats. He's averaging 11 minutes for the Big Red.

■ Received a couple of e-mail messages wanting me to rip Jay Bilas for picking Cornell over Kentucky in his pre-tournament bracket, saying he was going with the "smart kids." Sorry, but my guess is that those Cornell kids are pretty smart.

■ Eleven conferences are represented in the Sweet 16. Five teams come from the non-BCS conferences.

■ The Big Ten leads with three representatives, Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. It was clear that the league was much improved this season after it finally beat the Atlantic Coast Conference in its annual pre-conference challenge.

■ Only two schools have made the Sweet 16 each of the last three years. One is Michigan State.

The other?

It's just up the road. Not only has Xavier been to three consecutive Sweet 16s, the Muskies have been to nine of the past 10 NCAA Tournaments under four coaches.

■ So Xavier's Jordan Crawford scored 27 in the Muskies' win over Pittsburgh on Sunday. His brother, Joe, scored 35 for Kentucky in the Cats' first-round loss to Marquette in 2008.

■ Good thing Bill Self brought home a ring in 2008. His Jayhawks have lost to a No. 14 seed (Bucknell in 2005), a No. 13 seed (Bradley in 2006) and now a No. 9 seed (Northern Iowa) as the overall No. 1.

■ For Kentucky fans, the only painful thing about the Kansas loss was the continual references to the Cats' 2004 loss to Alabama-Birmingham as the overall No. 1 seed.