Shanoff's WUC: Cornell Out, But Drama Reigns

Today's Calls: Kansas State vs. Xavier, Gus Johnson vs. Anyone, Kentucky vs. Cornell, Syracuse vs. Chokery, Butler vs. Homecoming, Northern Iowa vs. Destiny, St. Mary's vs. Baylor, Duke vs. Purdue, Gilbert vs. Law and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: Northern Iowa. Butler. St. Mary's. John Wall. ↵

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↵If the Basketball Gods are taking requests, that would make an ideal Final Four. (I suspect CBS execs would accept Butler for a "Hoosiers" factor, but would like to swap Duke for St. Mary's and Evan Turner for UNI.) ↵

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↵As it stands, the lesson of last night was the re-affirmation that name-brands, Cinderella stories and seeds can't match plain old thrilling Tournament basketball. (Having Gus Johnson emcee the game certainly helps.) ↵

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↵Most fans, heading into last night, couldn't name a single player on either K-State or Xavier. Both were presumed to be fodder on Syracuse's march to the Final Four. Their seedings were hardly that of Cinderella. ↵

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↵In fact, the K-State/Xavier game was supposed to be background noise, literally: The presumption was that you would follow the game on the score bug in the corner of the TV screen, with your real attention on Kentucky-Cornell. ↵

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↵But a funny thing happened: Kentucky stomped on Cornell, while K-State and the X-men were offering -- shot-for-shot -- the most dramatic game of the Tournament. Suddenly, Cornell was an afterthought. ↵

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↵Instead it was (insert your own Gus Johnson voice): Crawford! Pullen! Holloway! Clemente! ↵

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↵It was the Tournament distilled to its essence: Thrilling games. ↵

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↵Cinderellas are wonderful -- see my dream Final Four above. And upsets are a lot of fun -- see Butler leaving Syracuse behind and, hopefully, more from Northern Iowa and St. Mary's tonight. ↵

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↵But the reason everyone loves Gus Johnson in a game like the one last night, as the clock ticked past midnight and you knew getting up this morning would be brutal -- but not really -- is the game was pure thrills. ↵

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↵Whether or not the Final Four has that ideal group, that's about off-court story lines. Late last night, the bar was set by K-State and Xavier for on-court excellence. ↵

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↵Kentucky ends the Cornell run: That didn't really even feel close, did it? Not after that blistering first half, where Cornell couldn't make a shot and UK turned every miss into a blitz of a run-out. Most impressive: UK's D. ↵

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↵(Truth be told: Most of the country missed most of the UK-Cornell 2nd half, an indicator of what a non-game UK-Cornell turned out to be. Kudos to Cornell on the memorable Sweet 16 run, but UK affirmed it is the team to beat.) ↵

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↵Syracuse chokes: In the end, missing Arinze Onuaku had to be the difference between getting past pesky Butler and getting bounced from the Tournament. But Syracuse played horribly -- worse: like they didn't care. ↵

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↵Looking ahead to today's regional semis: ↵
↵(Picks in all caps) ↵

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↵MIDWEST ↵
↵No. 2 OHIO ST over No. 6 Tennessee (7:07 p.m. ET): Evan Turner is the biggest star left on the Midwest/South half of the bracket. He hasn't had a Tournament so far that shows it; this will be his breakout game. ↵

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↵No. 9 NORTHERN IOWA over No. 5 Michigan St (9:37 p.m. ET): It would be simple enough to say "If UNI can beat Kansas, they can certainly beat the Spartans." But layer in that MSU will be missing PG/MVP Kalin Lucas. ↵

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↵SOUTH ↵
↵No. 10 ST. MARY'S over No. 3 Baylor (7:37 p.m. ET): The Gaels have looked so good in their two tournament wins, and at some point Baylor will remember it has never been this far. Samhan vs. Udoh is a phenomenal matchup in the paint. ↵

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↵No. 1 DUKE over No. 4 Purdue (9:57 p.m. ET): Ironically, after being the one 1-seed that more people had doubts about than any other, Duke is the team that seems less scrutinized than any left in the field. ↵

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↵Looking ahead to Saturday's two regional finals: ↵

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↵West: K-State over Butler. Love the Butler story (especially the idea of the Indianapolis homecoming), but in K-State, they will face a team with a quantum level more fight than Syracuse played with. ↵

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↵East: Kentucky over West Virginia. UK is just a buzzsaw right now. And if WVU thought that Washington liked to push the tempo, they won't know what to do with John Wall. Missing Truck Bryant will be glaring. ↵

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↵Bracket Update: I picked Xavier over K-State, and missing that game dropped me into the 78th percentile nationally. Things will get worse by Monday, as I have Villanova beating Duke in the South regional final. ↵

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↵(If you went with the "Wisdom of the Crowd," you would be doing nearly as well: The 72nd percentile. And the "National Bracket" obviously will get nicked this weekend, because it has Kansas and Syracuse in its Final Four.) ↵

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↵Obama Bracket: If you followed the President's picks, you would be in the 95th percentile nationally -- last night was a big pick-up for the POTUS; he has K-State in his Final Four. (He also has Nova over Duke, though.) ↵

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↵Other stories on the radar today: ↵

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↵NBA: Gilbert Arenas gets sentenced today. The prosecutors want him to spend 3 months in prison; Gilbert's dad insists that any prison time will crush his son. I cannot believe he won't get SOME jail time. Yikes. ↵

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↵(Slightly better news for Wizards fans: Ted Leonsis is one step closer to being the new owner. If he's taking requests, John Wall would make a perfect hoops version of Alex Ovechkin.) ↵

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↵CFB: On this Meyer thing, Brian Cook gets it absolutely right. Totally nails it. ↵

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↵NFL Draft: CJ Spiller is my pick for 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. See SN's full scouting report on him. ↵

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↵(Meanwhile: Monday is huge for Sam Bradford; it is his personal Pro Day. Unlikely he will include simulating getting crushed by NFL D-linemen, which should be the only thing that scouts and GMs want to see how he handles.) ↵

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↵McNabb Watch: If the Eagles are really demanding a "Top 42" pick in return for McNabb, there is no way this trade is happening. ↵

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↵MLB: So, how's that Ben Sheets deal working out for the A's? (Really? Oh.) ↵

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↵Phil Hughes named Yankees' 5th starter: Their offense is so good that all Hughes has to be is serviceable. ↵

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↵CBB Coaching Carousel: Turns out that Paul Hewitt didn't want that St. John's job after all. ↵

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↵The Last Word: "I support everyone who works for me, including Kevin Pritchard, and that's why he's our general manager." -- Blazers owner Paul Allen, with support for his GM that usually precedes dropping a hammer. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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