Standout performances in the NCAA Tournament through three rounds
Note: I can't stand that they consider the play-in games to be "Round One," but that's the way it is now, and I guess I just have to deal with it.
A lot of people were writing off Michigan as they unraveled a bit down the stretch of the regular season. However, this is a team that was ranked No. 1 in the middle of the season, and has only one loss to a team that didn't finish in the Top 25 (Penn State, who Michigan was 2-1 against on the season). Michigan got back to playing like that No. 1 caliber team in the tournament, handling South Dakota State as expected (71-56 win) and handling VCU (who was coming off an 88-42 win over Akron) in dominant fashion (78-53 win). This is one of the hottest, most complete teams in the tournament, and it's going to be very difficult to take them down.
PS - This Mitch McGary fella is my kind of ball player.
There was concern as to whether or not Miami could handle the pressure of a 2-seed, but they have been very impressive thus far. They were dominant against Pacific (78-49), and displayed grittiness and strong composure against Illinois (whom they trailed with 1:24 left, but pulled off a 63-59 win). It was nice to see their ability to get a big lead and hold it, but also grind out a tough win in the clutch.
Marquette has been involved in two of the tournament's most entertaining games so far. They pulled off a miraculous win against Davidson after trailing by four with only 20 seconds remaining. Two days later, they topped Butler after trailing by three with 1:39 remaining. These are the types of games that can leave a team oozing with confidence, allowing them to believe that they always have a shot at pulling off the win. They'll be a very stubborn team for the remainder of the tournament. Miami (Marquette's Sweet 16 opponent) has to make sure they never take their foot off the gas if they want to knock off Marquette.
The Cinderella story of this year's tournament is Florida Gulf Coast. Obviously, this is not your standard 15-seed. After beating 2-seed Georgetown and 7-seed San Diego State, this is a team that no one will take lightly. Brett Comer has been extremely impressive from the point guard position (24 assists in two games), and Sherwood Brown can straight up ball (20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 57% shooting in the tournament). They employ a well-balanced attack and have the firepower to go on massive, confidence-crushing runs. I'd still say they're a long shot to reach the Final Four, but this team will not go down easy.
Some people didn't believe that Gonzaga was worthy of the 1-seed they received, and those people appear to have been right. Wichita State (who beat Gonzaga) is a solid team, but they do not have a resume that suggests that they are likely to knock off a top seed. They don't have many impressive wins, and have some bad losses. Despite dominating the boards and winning the turnover battle, Gonzaga couldn't get the win against Wichita State, mostly as a result of terrible shooting. Just about everyone struggled on offense - the only players who shot over 37% were Mike Hart (2 for 3) and David Stockton (2 for 2). They also struggled with 16-seed Southern (tie game with 4:00 remaining) in the previous game. Gonzaga just wasn't cut out for a deep tournament run.
The individual player who stood out most to me was Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart. A lot of people were eager to see Smart play live on the big stage, as ESPN's Chad Ford currently has him as his 3rd ranked NBA Draft prospect. Smart hardly showed up against 12th seeded Oregon, converting only five of his 14 field goal attempts, missing half of his free throws (4 of 8), and dishing out more turnovers (5) than assists (4). Granted, Smart is only a freshman and has a sensational season, but he certainly did not look like the type of player who can put a team on his back in the big moment.
Obviously, there have been plenty of other standout performances. La Salle has looked better than the 13 seed they were given, Oregon has made an impressive run, Kansas and Louisville look very strong, Marshall Henderson is a crazy man, and so on. What I went over were just the performances that stood out the most to me. With a 9, 12, 13, and 15 seed all set to play in the Sweet 16, we've got plenty more madness in sight.