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March 24, 2008

Who has been most impressive so far?

CAST YOUR VOTE: Who has been the most impressive team in the NCAA Tournament?
MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central | Play Second Chance Tourney Pick'em

Several of the teams who advanced to the Sweet 16 have done so in impressive fashion.

Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Washington State and Wisconsin each won their first two games by double- digits.

Davidson upset two higher-seeded teams, including a veteran-laden Georgetown squad whose rotation featured many of the players who led the Hoyas to the 2007 Final Four.

Stanford managed to get past Marquette in the second round without their coach, Trent Johnson, who was ejected three minutes into the game.

Villanova and Western Kentucky, two No. 12 seeds, have beaten heavy odds to get to this stage. The Wildcats were one of the last teams to receive an at-large bid, and the Hilltoppers likely wouldn't have gotten into the field of 65 if they hadn't won their league tournament.

So who has been the most impressive team in the NCAA Tournament so far? Could it be someone outside of the group mentioned above? Rivals.com college basketball editor Bob McClellan and writer Andrew Skwara make their picks and state the cases for each.

SKWARA'S PICK: Washington State

There have been a handful of shocking upsets in the tournament so far, but the biggest shock of all was this final score: Washington State 61, Notre Dame 41.

The Cougars held first-round opponent Winthrop to 40 points, but it's tough to believe they held Notre Dame to just one more.

The Irish had one of the nation's top offenses, boasting a dominating big man (Luke Harangody), a great 3-point shooter (Kyle McAlarney) and a quick point guard (Tory Jackson). They came in averaging 80.6 points.

But Harangody, the runaway winner for Big East Player of the Year honors, was held to 10 points - half his scoring average. Constantly swarmed by double-teams, Harangody went 3-for-17 from the floor.

The Irish were held to 24.5 percent (13 of 53) shooting from the field and 17.6 percent (3-for-17) from 3-point range. Their 41 points was their lowest total since a 40-36 win over Northwestern in 1983.

Those kind of ugly numbers don't happen by coincidence or accident. Washington State put together one of the best defensive performances ever in an NCAA Tournament game. McAlarney was so impressed that after the game he said Washington State could win it all.

I'm not ready to go quite that far just yet, but the Cougars clearly showed us all they are far better than anyone realized.

MCCLELLAN'S PICK: Michigan State

At long last, the Spartans have put consecutive games together like they haven't since December.

They couldn't have picked a better time.

All year, I've written about what a head-scratching team this is. One minute they look as good as anyone in the country, the next minute they're scoring 36 points at Iowa.

Still, you have to acknowledge their talent and depth, and those are qualities you certainly like to see in an NCAA Tournament team. They have three guards who can handle the ball, and they have three bigs who can bang, score, rebound and use up fouls.

Maybe the regular season was just a tuneup. Michigan State easily battered Temple into submission in the first round, taking a nine-point lead at the half and never allowing the Owls to get any closer. The 72-61 final margin is misleading because the Spartans scored the first points of the second half and never let it get back to less than 10. They led by as much as 19, outrebounded Temple 33-27 and had 19 assists on their 26 baskets.

Michigan State was even more impressive in dismantling Pittsburgh, the team that no less than new ESPN analyst Bob Knight picked to win the tournament. The Spartans outrebounded the Panthers 33-20 and held them to 32.7 percent shooting.

Pitt had no answers for Michigan State's guards, either. Senior Drew Neitzel (6-for-13 from the field) and freshman Kalin Lucas (8-for-14) combined for 40 points.

In two games, Michigan State has held its opponent's leading scorer well below his season shooting percentage. Temple's Dionte Christmas shot just 8.3 percent (1-for-12), and Pittsburgh's Sam Young was limited to 33 percent (4-for-12).

The Spartans are playing on both ends as they did in December, when they won all seven of their games - including victories over BYU and Texas. If they continue to play like this, a trip to San Antonio isn't out of the question.

CAST YOUR VOTE: Who has been the most impressive team in the NCAA Tournament?
MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central | Play Second Chance Tourney Pick'em

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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