1. The enduring highlight from No. 3 Missouri's 102-91 upset of No. 2 Memphis will be Marcus Denmon's 65-foot miracle shot that ended the first half -- a heave best seen from CBS' end-to-end angle, with the Mizzou freshman releasing the ball from well behind the outsized NCAA logo at half court, and the ball arching over a backdrop of an eerily empty football stadium in Glendale, Ariz., before finding the bottom of the net. It gave Mizzou a 49-36 lead and added to John Calipari's misery, but the telling moments in this game, which ended his 27-win streak, might miss the highlight reel: Late in the first half, Doneal Mack front-rimmed a dunk; Tyreke Evans, who had been having an AAU-style field day against Mizzou's D, slowed down and caught his breath for a few minutes; senior warrior Antonio Anderson was subbed out for the first time and sat down, heaving. I didn't think it could happen, but the intensity of Mizzou's press exhausted Memphis, and the No. 2 seed dug itself a hole from which it was impossible to climb out.
The assistant coach who gave us Thursday's prescient scouting report on Mizzou said of guard J.T. Tiller, "He just doesn't ever wear down," and while Memphis did wear down, Tiller was an unlikely hero on offense, scoring a career-high 23 points despite averaging just 8.0 per game. The fact that Mizzou put up 102 on the nation's most-efficient defense was the most-shocking development of the night, and perhaps the whole tournament. When I called unranked Mizzou a sleeper team on Jan. 26, I thought it was maybe Sweet 16 good, but not this good. If it can run Memphis ragged, it is certainly capable of wearing out UConn and reaching the Final Four. The Huskies will only reach Detroit by surviving 40 minutes of whatever Mike Anderson calls his attack now. Regardless, it will seem like hell.
2. When tuning into Duke-Villanova, did anyone else get the feeling that, instead of watching a quality 2-3 game in the Sweet 16, you were seeing one of those first-round mismatches CBS never even returns to after halftime? It was almost as if mighty Duke chose to impersonate lowly, 15-seeded Binghamton, the Blue Devils' flustered opponent from the previous Thursday, while Villanova played as if it were the No. 1 team in the East Region. If anything, the game, which ended with a score of 77-54, was a statement about the power of the middle of the Big East. The league produced three No. 1 seeds but also two of the hottest teams in the bracket -- 'Nova and Syracuse -- as No. 3s, and No. 6 Marquette took Mizzou to the wire despite not having its point guard, Dominic James, for more than a few minutes of action. There is now a very realistic possibility -- especially if Ty Lawson's toe doesn't heal -- that we could have an all-Big East Final Four of Louisville, UConn, Syracuse and Villanova.
3. Levance Fields should be the spokesman for the National Onion Association. Pitt's stocky, stringy-braided point guard is not a great shooter, and yet in the final minute of close games of some magnitude, he becomes the college hoops version of Robert Horry, driving daggers into the hearts of the opposition. With 50.9 seconds left and Xavier leading 54-52 Thursday, Fields did his default space-creating move -- a dribble right, then left through his legs -- and hit an NBA-length, fallaway three. For this, Fields received the deserved "Early Onions" designation from CBS' Bill Raftery; 27 seconds later, Fields closed out the game by jumping Musketeers guard Brad Redford on a screen that had been disrupted by DeJuan Blair, stealing the ball and going for a breakaway layup.
When Fields describes these moments, as he did on CBS after the game, he exudes a very Brooklyn-ish level of confidence that suggests he always knows he's going to make the big shot. This is in stark contrast to how his coach, Jamie Dixon, acted when he had his Onions Moment in a TCU buzzer-beater in 1986. Dixon's natural reaction was more of the "aw-shucks, I can't believe this just happened" variety, and included the line, "I didn't even see the basket."
(That has to be one of my favorite college postgame interviews, ever. You can't watch that and not come away liking Jamie Dixon.)
4. There's a point at which Fields' heroics won't be able to save Pitt, though. The Panthers can't keep tempting fate like this. They've played poorly in the first half (and parts of the second) of every tourney game thus far, and as the competition keeps getting better, the margin for error keeps shrinking. As Blair admitted after Pitt's first-round win over East Tennessee State, "We're the type of team that likes to slow the game down and let the game come to us." If they think Villanova will squander an eight-point halftime lead as easily as Xavier did, well, good luck with that. The Wildcats are playing better ball over the past two rounds and should now be considered the favorites to reach Detroit out of the East.
5. UConn was judged harshly from its two losses to Pittsburgh, but against any team not named the Panthers, the Huskies have looked like national-championship material. The fallout from the potential recruiting scandal reported by Yahoo! Sports earlier in the week didn't distract UConn against Purdue. Center Hasheem Thabeet delivered a command performance with 15 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. The player who matters most for the Huskies, though, is swingman Stanley Robinson, who could be the X-factor of the entire tournament. He re-joined the team midway through the season and was never a consistent force in Big East play, but he's been huge through the first three rounds, scoring 24 against Chattanooga, 12 against Texas A&M (while helping lock down Josh Carter) and had 10 and 11 boards against Purdue (while holding Robbie Hummel to just two second-half points.) UConn took a step back when it lost Jerome Dyson to a knee injury, but Robinson is finally filling the void as part of a bigger starting lineup.