VETTEL: Big First Round for Gators

The NCAA Tournament’s second round is just about to get underway and Orange and Blue partisans can only hope round two was as good to the Gators as round one was.

Three coaches with strong Gator ties saw their squads advance in round one. Aside from Billy Donovan’s crew; Anthony Grant led Virginia Commonwealth to a second round match up with Pittsburgh, and former Gator Coach Lon Kruger added insult to the ACC’s injury with a win over Georgia Tech.

One of the best things about the Big Dance is that there are loads of reasons to have a rooting interest in a number of games you normally wouldn’t pay much attention to. Certainly that’s the case with both Grant and Kruger.

Grant National Rookie Coach of the Year?

I don’t think there’s any coach in American who has had a better year one than Grant has at VCU. The Rams had a solid program under Jeff Capel, and when Capel took the Oklahoma job he left plenty of talent behind. Grant has taken that talent, led by sophomore guard Eric Maynor who can play with anyone and taken the program to a new level. Their win over Duke was the most noteworthy accomplishment of day one and today they look to take out a # 3 seed in Pitt.

Kruger Enters History Books

When UNLV beat Georgia Tech it was the first NCAA win for the Running Rebels since 1991. That’s amazing to think about, isn’t it? Well the once proud Rebels had become a shell of the “show time” crew under Jerry Tarkanian. To return to tournament success, UNLV had to go from razzle-dazzle to fundamentals. Kruger is in his third year in the desert, and I like his chance of taking out Wisconsin.

Kruger is the fifth coach to take four different schools to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. He got there with Kansas State, Florida and Illinois previously and I wouldn’t bet again him eventually doing a reclamation project somewhere else. It’s what he does as well as anyone.

SEC Shows Well

The other rooting interest many take into tournament play is pulling for success for other members of the SEC. The conference re-established itself nationally last year when Florida and LSU reached the Final Four.

In don’t know if the league can have two teams in Atlanta this year – I don’t think so – but the SEC did manage to win four of five in the first round. The only round one loser was the so-called “last team in” Arkansas. Vanderbilt destroyed George Washington 77-44 Thursday and today tries to take out third seeded Washington State. Tennessee tied the NCAA record with 121 first round points in a shootout with Long Beach State and will face Virginia for a spot in the Sweet 16. Those two join Florida as the SEC’s best bets for continued play next weekend.

The remaining SEC squad, Kentucky has the toughest challenge this weekend. The Wildcats don’t get to celebrate their 67-58 win over Villanova for very long, because they face top-seeded Kansas Sunday. It’ll be a game where Tubby Smith can silent a lot of critics with an upset win, but it won’t be easy against one of the two best lineups in the field.

All in all, it was a good first round, and the next two days will help determine just what kind of big dance it’ll end up being.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Have a green beer for me!