The games on Thursday night weren’t entirely entertaining, and they weren’t too surprising, but they were educational. At first glance, three things pop into mind as I process what happened:
1. Xavier is for real – Xavier struggled in the second half, and they should have won their game against West Virginia easier than they did, but they proved that they certainly aren’t out of place in the Elite Eight – the school’s second berth since 2004. Their balance and depth is impressive, and their discipline is relentless. I know for certain that they don’t have an answer for Kevin Love, but I don’t know that the Bruins have an answer for some of what the Musketeers through at them, either. Western Kentucky succeeded in the second half with an up-tempo shooting fest and they will get all of that and more from the Musketeers. Xavier consistently makes the big play when they need it, and they will need several on Saturday. If I was forced then I would say that UCLA would probably win, but an upset would not be an overwhelming or impossible one.
2. The right two teams came out of the East – Perhaps the six most impressive, dominant performances of the entire tournament have been played by two teams. Neither North Carolina nor Louisville has particularly been challenged yet despite playing good teams, and both have looked terrifyingly flawless. It’s really a shame that the two teams have to play this early in the tournament, but it is going to make for one heck of a game on Saturday. Both teams are playing great, they match up reasonably well, they both have strengths that will give the other guys gigantic headaches, and they have perhaps the two best coaches in the country on the bench. I had serious doubts about both Washington State and Tennessee, but they are unquestionably both very solid, so the ease with which the two winners handled them is incredible.
3. Kevin Love is the best player in the tournament – Tyler Hansbrough is great, and Stephen Curry is the story of the year, but Love means more to his team and affects the game more than any other payer still playing (or any not playing, for that matter). He had a truly spectacular game on Thursday with a career high for points. It’s not just his scoring and rebounds that make him so good, though – it’s his presence. It is incredibly hard to believe that he is only a freshman. He does whatever his team needs at the time – when was the last time you saw a big man dribbling the ball down the court after the point guard gets fouled out? He’s balanced, talented and impressive.