NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the things that Carmelo Anthony did to impress us last night -- my goodness, where do you begin? -- we were most impressed by the impression he left on Texas junior Royal Ivey, the man charged with the futile responsibility of guarding the Syracuse phenom.
Ivey, you should know, is no chump. Quite the opposite. He's Texas' go-to defender, a man who's seen and stopped it all: Casey Jacobsen, Ricky Clemons, Bernard King, Willie Deane.
Just not Melo. No way.
Cus-news flash -- there's no stopping Melo in this Dance.
"Probably the hardest defensive job I had since I've been in college," Ivey said. "6-8, explosive, strong. Shoots over you, drives over you, spin move, everything."
Everything but the underhanded set shot. You wanna know how truly dominating Melo was Saturday night during Syracuse's 95-84 victory? Take away every last one of his awe-inspiring 33 points, and he still was the best player on the floor. One of the weaknesses of the 2-3 zone that Syracuse runs is that it leaves them vulnerable on the boards. Melo is such a terrific pursuit rebounder, though, that Syracuse actually outboarded the big and rugged Longhorns, 37-34.
After the game, Jim Boeheim, considering Melo's 14 boards (many of them in heavy traffic), said, "He may be the best small forward rebounder I've ever seen."
Could be one of the best passing ones, too: Backing down Ivey in the low post with 2:28 left in the second half, then drawing the double-team, he delivered a perfect bounce pass to Hakim Warrick cutting down the middle of the lane.
Nifty. Two points.
"Every point they score," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, "You can almost attribute to Carmelo when he's in the game. He makes you help, makes you rotate."
Truly, we're baffled.
While Kansas' Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich make the case that senior leadership and experience still matter for something in the end, Carmelo and his classmate, guard Gerry McNamara, make the case that freshman can play with unmatched poise, too.
Melo was, of course, smooth all game. McNamara was fearless, jacking threes, picking pockets, hitting clutch throws, making 15-foot skip passes on the break. His final line: 19 points, four assists, four steals ("Gerry! Gerry!" the crowd chanted in the first half.)
"Our freshman," said soph center Craig Forth, "have an innate ability to push us to victory."
Innate, truly, is the only word for it. How else to explain why Melo and Gerry were loose and easy before the game -- joking around as they always do, stretching as they always do, talking with their family as they always do. The two did watch Kansas' first-half mauling of Marquette, and were suitably impressed. But other than that, they went with the flow, never letting the magnitude of the moment bear down on them.
"There were some nerves," McNamara said. "But mostly it was low-key. No big deal."
The rest of the team followed their cue.
"There were no rah-rah speeches," senior Kueth Duany said. "That's not our style."
Their style: Chill as can be. It's an impression made to last.
Scott Burton is an editor at ESPN The Magazine