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Sweet Sixteen Day 2

-Great intro video by CBS tonight noting that 7 of the 8 teams in action had won a national title. The exception of course was Florida Gulf Coast.

-Eventually every team gets their heart-broken. Only one team cuts the nets down in the end. And if Florida Gulf Coast had to go down, I thought Friday’s game was the perfect way to go out. They gave the fans some early excitement when they took a 15-4 lead. There was a moment where almost everyone watching said, “Is it possible? Can it happen?” And then they still fought hard until late in the game. With 3:11 left, there was Florida Gulf Coast’s Chase Fieler giving us one more put-back dunk to remember him by.

In the end, Florida just had too much firepower. When it was 24-22, they showed a graphic that Florida was 8 of 27 from the floor and FGCU was 8 of 15 from the floor. At that point I knew FGCU’s run was going to end. When a team gets nearly twice as many shots, they almost always win. Florida’s offensive rebounding and forced turnovers eventually proved too much. But it was an incredibly fun run.

-Kevin Ware was injured early last season for Louisville. The Louisville guard joined the team mid-season, and to say he was ineffective would be an understatement. He turned the ball over on 45% of the possessions he used, shot 29%, didn’t make a three, and basically looked physically unprepared for college basketball.  This year he was healthy from the start of the year and he started to gain Rick Pitino’s trust. But the truth is, if it wasn’t for foul trouble, he was only seeing spot-duty on the floor. And spot-duty is tough because you cannot always get into a rhythm. While he dished 4 assists and scored 8 points in the OT loss to Notre Dame, Ware spent most of February invisible to ineffective.  Between February 14th and March 15th, he only posted a game ORtg above 100 twice.

But then he hit a couple of big threes against Syracuse in the Big East tournament championship game. Then he dished 5 assists in the NCAA tournament against Colorado St. And suddenly Ware looked to be gaining confidence. And with Peyton Siva in foul trouble early on Friday night, Ware was ready. He attacked the rim, got to the free throw line, and scored 9 critical first half points for Louisville. Instead of foul-trouble putting the team in a tailspin as it might have in late January, Ware was ready to run-and-gun with Oregon. And in one of the more fast-paced and up-and-down games of the tournament, Louisville had the depth to dominate the Ducks.

And that’s the true beauty of a Rick Pitino team. It is extremely versatile. Want to play up-and-down, they have the depth to do that. Want to play in the half-court, they have the penetrators and big men to work effectively. Want to play zone and try to slow them down, Louisville can go big with freshman Montrezl Harrell providing a surprisingly effective distributor at the top of the key. Louisville hasn’t always been perfect on offense this year. But they have been extremely adaptable, and that is why they remain the favorite to win it all.

-You can never fault much strategy when Michigan St. plays Duke. Both teams have practiced the right stuff and studied the film. But I thought Michigan St.’s decision making was shockingly imperfect late in the game. From the odd fouls after Duke had already run 20 seconds off the shot clock, to Adreian Payne’s shot selection, it wasn’t a vintage day.

What do I mean by Adreian Payne’s shot selection? Sure, he can make threes. And he did make one early. But what was he thinking putting up 5 from long-range? His three point attempt with Michigan St. down 10 late in the game seemed to end any comeback momentum the Spartans had.

Payne and his fellow Juniors now face a huge challenge. Every four year Michigan St. player under Tom Izzo has made the Final Four. And Michigan St.’s juniors have come up short three times. They only have one more season to make it happen.

Game of the Tournament

Michigan’s win over Kansas had a little bit of everything.

-If you like pressure shots, there were none bigger than the game-tying three Trey Burke hit at the end of regulation. But don’t sleep on the offensive rebound and diving reverse lay-up that Glen Robinson hit moments earlier either.

-If you like a little bad blood to build a rivalry, Kansas guard Elijah Johnson was called for a flagrant foul for punching Michigan forward Mitch McGary in the groin.

-If you like high scoring games, both teams shot the ball extremely well. Kansas had an eFG% of 59.1%, which was the highest anyone had scored against the Wolverines all year. Meanwhile, Michigan had an eFG% of 54.9%, which was the 3rd highest percentage against the Jayhawks this season.

-If you like great fundamental basketball, Kansas was relentless taking the ball to the basket and getting good shots. They scored the first 22 points of the game in the paint, and Michigan seemingly had no answer for the inside attack.

-But if you like unorthodox strategy, this game had that too. John Beilein refused to change his lineup and adjust to Kansas’ relentless inside push. Instead of going with two big forwards to slow Kansas down, Beilein challenged his guys to fight harder for positioning and cut-off penetration. He refused to adjust, and eventually his strategy started working. Michigan got hot with some outside shooting and turnovers late, and the small-ball lineup prevailed against a Kansas team that seemed to be playing flawless basketball.

-If you love redemption, there was Kansas guard Ben McLemore. After going 2 for 14 in the first two rounds of the tournament, and starting 0-3 on Friday, McLemore finally broke out. He hit a big three in the corner when Michigan tried to play zone. And he even banked in a three in the first half that had everyone (including his coach) chuckling.

-If you love big comebacks, Michigan was down 14, but ended the game on a 22-8 run to send the game into OT.

-If you enjoy the Schadenfreude of crucial mistakes, there was Elijah Johnson at the end of OT, with a nice drive for a possible game-tying basket, making a wild pass out of the post that essentially ensured the loss.

-And if you love to see future NBA stars, Trey Burke played like a superstar. His three at the end of regulation, three to take the lead in OT, and long-two point jumper in OT were simply cold-blooded. He scored all 23 of his points in the second half, after his coach asked him to be more aggressive and stop deferring. And in a tournament seemingly devoid of future pros, Burke made his case for the top of the draft on Friday.

Expected Wins in the Field of 64

Because Ken Pomeroy’s formula loves Florida, Michigan looks like a decided under-dog, but I actually view the stats another way. I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win it all, and two teams (Marquette and Wichita St.) who only have a slim chance of three more wins. Officially the Golden Eagles and Shockers have 2% odds of running the table. The rest of the teams are all plausible national champs.

Team

EW Start Fri

Own Game

Other Results

EW End Fri

Florida

4.50

0.09

-0.02

4.58

Louisville

4.10

0.34

-0.03

4.42

Ohio St.

4.13

 

-0.07

4.05

Syracuse

4.00

 

-0.01

3.99

Duke

2.91

0.83

-0.11

3.63

Michigan

2.81

0.77

-0.06

3.51

Marquette

3.42

 

0.00

3.42

Wichita St.

3.42

 

-0.01

3.41

Michigan St.

2.76

-0.76

 

2.00

Kansas

2.76

-0.76

 

2.00

Oregon

2.20

-0.20

 

2.00

Florida Gulf Coast

2.06

-0.06

 

2.00

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