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Sweet Sixteen Day 1

It seems unlikely that Charles Barkely watches a single basketball game between November and February. And while Greg Anthony and Kenny Smith have their moments, both feel like NBA guys calling a college game. Both are complete professionals, but with Anthony calling Brooklyn Nets games this season, and Smith working Inside the NBA on TNT, neither is primarily focused on the college season.

That is why I was so excited when CBS hired Doug Gottlieb and planned to bring him in-studio starting in the Sweet Sixteen. While Gottlieb can rub a lot of people the wrong way by being extremely negative (think Billy Packer-lite), I can live with it. Because unlike the others, Gottlieb is passionate about college basketball. He follows it religiously from November to February, and he has an impeccable ability to recall college basketball trivia. Plus Gottlieb is not afraid to start and make an argument. In a room with Charles Barkley, Gottlieb’s ego is not too small to get lost.

Still, my initial impression was that four people is too many for a half-time show. At half-time of the Miami vs Marquette game, all four analysts rushed through their opinions, and I felt like I didn’t learn something from any of them. And throughout the course of the evening, Gottlieb was particularly bad. He felt like a kid who was trying to say too much to impress his new friends. On ESPN’s College Basketball Live, Gottlieb’s ability to drop random trivia made the show must-watch TV. But on a show like this, mentioning how Brandon Triche’s dad lost to Keith Smart’s Indiana team just seemed like too many words in too little space.

And Gottlieb seemed to have extremely poor chemistry with the others. He either didn’t react to what other folks said, or he reacted, but didn’t have enough time to make his point. Prior to the opening game, Greg Gumbel cut him off by laughing at him. It certainly wasn’t an auspicious debut.

Still, I think we saw at half-time of the Syracuse vs Indiana game that the four analysts all have something to offer. All four absolutely nailed key points about the Syracuse 12 point lead on Indiana.

Kenny Smith, “It isn’t so much about the zone, it is about Syracuse’s size. That is what is causing all those turnovers.”

Doug Gottlieb, “There isn’t anyone on Syracuse that Jordan Hulls can guard defensively, but Indiana needs him out there for his three point shooting.”

Greg Anthony, “The problem with the zone is that it makes someone else the point guard who isn’t used to being the point-guard.”

Charles Barkley, “As you see on that play right there, the Indiana players are just standing around. They have to make themselves available when Zeller has the ball at the top of the key.”

Ah, there is nothing like zone defense. Say what you will about Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, but everyone always has an opinion. On paper Indiana looked like the perfect zone busters. They had great versatile forwards to attack the top of the zone. They were great in transition which should have allowed Zeller to attack before the zone was even set. And they shot 40% on threes on the season, which meant that even if they settled for threes, that was still a good shot.

Unfortunately, that three point shooting wasn’t nearly as good as marketed. Realistically, most of that three point shooting came in a standard man-to-man offense. It came because Zeller drew double teams in the paint which led to wide open shooters. It came because Yogi Ferrell drove into the paint and collapsed the defense leading to open kickouts. Those same plays weren’t there against Syracuse. And when they were there, they collapsed quickly. As Kenny Smith noted, Indiana really wasn’t prepared for Syracuse’s size.

Most importantly, as Greg Anthony noted, Indiana had to depend on someone else to initiate the offense. Indiana flashed Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo to the top of the free throw line. All three players seemed like plausible zone busters. But no one was comfortable enough passing and attacking the zone from that position.

A month ago, on the same Verizon Center floor where the Sweet Sixteen was held, a Georgetown team with Otto Porter at the top of the key shredded the Syracuse zone. And unable to create turnovers, Syracuse struggled scoring only 39 points in the game. At that point Syracuse hit rock bottom. An Elite Eight run seemed like a joke at that point.

But Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo were no Otto Porter. And thus Indiana compiled 11 turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game, lost the points off turnover battle 12-2 at the half, and built a double digit deficit that they could not overcome.

Georgetown dominated Syracuse this season because they had the right player to beat it. Indiana looked helpless against Syracuse. Georgetown lost to an up-and-down high flying Florida Gulf Coast team. But is there any doubt that Indiana would have beat Florida Gulf Coast by 20 points and scored 90 points in an explosive up-and-down game? In basketball, match-ups can be everything. And while it seemed on paper the Hoosiers were the right team to beat Syracuse, when it actually came down to personnel and size, the Hoosiers were the exact wrong team.

Final Note #1: The scary thing about being a super-athlete is that your athleticism can get you hurt. Baye Mousa Keita jumped up in the air to block a Zeller shot and Zeller ended up completely under-cutting him. There was no foul on Zeller, in fact Keita was the one who committed the foul, but Keita landed on the floor and his forehead was busted wide open. The scary thing is, I’ve seen this happen to at least two other Syracuse players this year. Sometimes players don’t realize how high they can leap.

Final Note #2: Sideline reporters are largely pointless, but Rachel Nichols gets credit for her questioning of Jim Boeheim. “Is your tone in the locker room going to be praising the team or criticizing what they did wrong?” On paper, this may seem silly, but it was a deceptively insightful question. Boeheim smiled, Verne Lundquist laughed, and Boeheim concluded that when you are leading, you should probably praise the team.

Ohio St. does it again

In the first half, Aaron Craft showed some of his elusiveness in taking the ball to the basket for a few key lay-ups. But it wasn’t necessarily good strategy. As TBS special announcer Jay Wright noted at half-time, you don’t want to challenge Mark Lyons to a game of street-ball. And with Craft taking it to the basket, Mark Lyons responded with a series of drives himself. As great a defender as Craft has been, with Craft in foul trouble, Lyons seemed un-guardable for much of the first half.

But here is the thing about the Buckeyes. People tend to think that because Ohio St. relies so much on DeShaun Thomas for scoring, that there are a bunch of scrubs at the other positions. But that isn’t true at all. Basically everyone in Ohio St.’s lineup is a former Top 100 recruit. These are athletic players. And Ohio St. came back and took the lead because Ohio St.’s wing players were relentless in taking the ball to the basket. Those drives resulted in a dominance of points-in-the-paint. And it resulted in Ohio St. going to the free throw line time and time again. With 3:30 left in the game, Ohio St. was an incredibly dominant 21 of 23 at the free throw line. While Arizona was missing wide-open threes, Ohio St.’s ability to get easier shots was the difference in the ball game.

Still, I’ve said before that I love when players go out at their best. And if Arizona senior Mark Lyons’ career had to end, I’m glad he got one last moment. His driving bucket (and one) to tie the game with 25 seconds left was vintage Lyons. He was the ultimate closer this year.

LaQuinton Ross nailed Ohio St.’s second buzzer-beating three of the tournament and the Buckeyes advanced, but Arizona has nothing to hang its head about in shame. And as the Arizona’s forwards begin to mature into dominant forces, Arizona will absolutely be back in the Sweet Sixteen or beyond next season.

Quick thoughts:

-Much like Ohio St., Marquette dominated Miami by getting more easy shots. But the news that Shane Larkin was sick and hadn’t slept the previous night, dampened some of the enthusiasm for the upset.

-Sadly most people had probably gone to bed by the time they showed him, but I hope people don’t forget the heartwarming story of La Salle guard Ramon Galloway’s father. His father is blind and still attends his son’s games in person. He either listens to a radio for the play-by-play or depends on a friend or relative to provide play-by-play for him. But he loves to attend in person for the thrill of the sound of the crowd and the sneakers on the floor. It is a heartwarming story and one of many for a La Salle team that probably didn’t get enough love for what they accomplished in this tournament. After VCU went First Four to Final Four, First Four to Sweet Sixteen seems rather pedestrian. But it is a feat that may not be accomplished anytime soon.

Expected Wins Field of 64

Once again I list the expected wins in the tournament according to the Pomeroy Rankings. Two of the teams with the Top 5 highest expectations fell Thursday.

Team

EW Start Thur

Own Game

Other Results

EW End Thur

Florida

4.40

0.00

0.11

4.50

Louisville

4.12

0.00

-0.02

4.10

Indiana

3.52

-1.52

   

Ohio St.

3.42

0.76

-0.05

4.13

Miami FL

2.97

-0.97

   

Duke

2.92

0.00

-0.01

2.91

Wichita St.

2.90

0.55

-0.06

3.38

Michigan

2.78

0.00

0.03

2.81

Michigan St.

2.77

0.00

-0.01

2.76

Kansas

2.73

0.00

0.02

2.76

Arizona

2.64

-0.64

   

Syracuse

2.61

1.23

0.13

3.97

La Salle

2.49

-0.49

   

Marquette

2.47

0.84

0.11

3.42

Oregon

2.21

0.00

0.00

2.20

Florida GC

2.06

0.00

0.00

2.06

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