yardbarker
RealGM Basketball

Basketball Articles

NCAA Tournament Day 3

Friday was an exciting day in the NCAA tournament. Duke lost. We saw a crazy comeback by Stephen F Austin. We saw Virginia avoid the 16 vs 1 upset.

But if Friday’s games were fun, Saturday’s games were art. If you wrote a Shakespearean play, this is exactly the format you would use.

Act 1

The day started with familiar faces (Luke Hancock, Russ Smith) to set the stage and introduce the format. There are favored teams and there are underdogs, and the favored team usually wins in the end.

We also paused for a moment of performance art. Michigan played an absolutely flawless first half of basketball against Texas. There were so few whistles at the start of the game that we didn’t get the under 16 minute timeout until under 12 minutes. The Wolverines did not commit a foul until 4:12 left in the first half. Michigan made almost every shot and committee almost no turnovers. This is how James Naismith intended the game of basketball to be played.

Act 2

Now the drama started to build again. An underdog North Dakota St. team momentarily took an early lead on San Diego St., only to be crushed down. Remember the underdogs don’t win. Dayton held close with Syracuse, but only led by 2 at the break. It was hope, but faint hope.

Off we went to Wisconsin for a different story. Bo Ryan has been in the tournament before. He has 700 career wins. But he’s never had a team quite like this. His team has more offensive skill than ever. It would be a shame to see this skilled team bow out too soon. The only problem was that Wisconsin was going up against an equally talented offensive team in Oregon. The Badgers were favored, but if the game was in Portland instead of Milwaukee, that might not have been the case.

The game started with offensive basketball at its finest. Both teams made huge shots. But Oregon was better at taking the ball inside and getting to the line. And thanks to 19 fast break points, Oregon had 49 points at the break.

Act 3

The scene shifted back to New York where the underdog Dayton team was playing amazing basketball. At 4:45 in the second half, Dayton displayed some of the crispest, most impressive passing you will ever see. It led to a jaw-dropping three. Later Jordan Sibert hit a three late in the shot-clock that had no business going in. While Syracuse was missing every perimeter shot, Dayton was making just enough to pull ahead by seven.

Jim Boeheim believes in playing a zone defense, because even when his offense is not working in the half-court, the zone defense positions his players to get a head start in transition. And late in the game whenever Dayton turned the ball over, or took one step forward for an offensive rebound, the Syracuse guards leaked out for fast-break buckets. Syracuse could barely make a shot in the half-court, but just when it seemed like the underdog was going to win, the Syracuse system led to a relentless string of fast-break baskets.

Tyler Ennis was the catalyst of the comeback. And the Syracuse guard has been college basketball’s biggest protagonist this season. He hit the season’s most memorable shot (a three to beat Pitt at the buzzer), he made key plays in the season’s biggest game (an OT win over Duke), and he had a reputation as a player who was basically perfect in the clutch this year.

And on Saturday, Tyler Ennis could not be stopped taking the ball to the hole. He scored the last 11 points for the team in Orange. And when Dayton turned the ball over in the final seconds, the comeback felt inevitable.

But suddenly, the story changed. Ennis slowed down his relentless charge to the basket. He settled for a jumper. And everyone in the arena and on TV was shocked. Why did he take that shot? Moments later, Ennis had a chance for redemption. Down two, he got one of the best looks at a game-winning three anyone will ever get. But it bounced off the back rim. The season’s biggest clutch player had failed in his moment.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the Badgers were storming back. Even if you didn’t care about the participants, you couldn’t help but get sucked in by the Wisconsin crowd. Every time down the floor Wisconsin made big shots. They hit 10 of 13 to start the second half. And suddenly a 14 point Oregon lead was gone in an instant.

As Charles Barkley said in the post-game, in past year’s Wisconsin never comes back from that deficit. They were too slow, and too offensively challenged. Only this year’s Wisconsin team could put together an offensive surge of that nature.

But it was not over. Joseph Young refused to let Oregon go down.  He scored his 29th point of the game with 2:53 left, and his clutch three gave Oregon a one point lead once again. Wisconsin had played well, but they looked like they were out of gas.

And then we had a possession that Oregon fans will not soon forget. The Badgers held the ball for a full 49 seconds. They grabbed three offensive rebounds. And when Ben Brust made a three pointer to give Wisconsin the lead again, the fans in the arena were in ecstasy. Brust had just made the 228th three of his career, the most threes of any player in Wisconsin history, and given the Badgers a narrow two point lead.

The most skilled offensive team in the last 10 years at Wisconsin would not bow out early. It wasn’t an underdog winning, but it was still high drama.

Act 4

Remember how much Michigan St. dominated in the Big Ten Tournament by forcing turnovers and getting fast-break baskets? They were equally good on Saturday. In the first four minutes, every time a post-player on Harvard touched the ball, Michigan St. was suddenly in a fast-break headed the other way.

Doug Gottlieb was left to utter statements like, “What player on Harvard is better than the player guarding him?”  And, “Harvard has a talented team, but Michigan St. is at another level.” Harvard seemingly had no way to score.

And then a funny thing happened in the second half. Harvard kept chipping away. Even though Harvard forward Kyle Casey got more headlines after returning from last year’s suspension, if you’ve followed the Crimson this season, you know that Steve Moundou-Missi has clearly been Harvard’s most consistent interior player. And with the season on the line, Moundou-Missi suddenly started making his own luck. Somehow, possession after possession Moundou-Missi found himself in the right spot for offensive rebounds and put-backs.

When Harvard tied the game at 55, CBS cut to the Harvard student announce team for the dramatic call of the moment. It was sports drama at its finest.

Moments later, the greatest three point shooter in Harvard history, Laurent Rivard caught the ball in the corner and buried a three to give Harvard a 62-60 lead. We were on the verge of an epic, tournament altering upset. The evening was at its peak.

Next Gary Harris hit some timely shots for Michigan St. And just as the day started for the underdog, the narrative turned into a tragedy. But Tom Izzo hit the perfect note in his post-game interview. When asked what Michigan St. did to win, Izzo simply talked about Harvard. The story of the game wasn’t Michigan St.’s clutch play. It was that Tommy Amaker’s club never gave up. Sometimes in sports, there really are no losers in a game.

Epilogue

UConn and Villanova had no chance after all that. UConn was an underdog in about the same way Tom Brady is an under-dog when his team is seeded 5th in the AFC playoffs. The nightcap was more of a movie trailer for next week. UConn gets to make a trip to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen. With the Big East affiliation over, it seemed like UConn players would no longer get to have their big moment on basketball’s biggest stage. But Shabazz Napier will get one more trip to the big city, and you cannot write a script more inviting than that one.

If any day in the rest of the tournament lives up to Saturday, we should all count ourselves lucky.

Bullets

-Mercer’s Monty Brown has no memory of Friday’s shocking win over Duke due to a concussion. That’s the kind of news that makes you re-evaluate life’s priorities. Is it really about the destination or the journey?

-Saul Phillips choked back tears in the North Dakota St. post-game press-conference. And Charles Barkley had a genuinely sympathetic reaction in one of the post-game shows. Losing is difficult. But the truth is, the real loss for Phillips isn’t the NCAA tournament game. The loss is that for a special group of seniors, that won NDSU’s first NCAA tournament game in history, the journey is over. Phillips will never get to work with them again.

-I’m not sure if the DVR is a blessing or a curse. I record as many games as possible and try to watch them in their entirety. On the one hand, I wouldn’t have seen the brilliant Oregon vs Wisconsin beginning or all Harvard’s first-half turnovers without the DVR. On the other hand, I’ve just watched more TV than any human should ever consume.

#1 Arizona defeated #9 Pittsburgh

It seems almost pointless to dissect the day’s opener after everything that followed, but as well as Pittsburgh has played at times this year, Florida seemed like Pitt’s nightmare match-up. Pitt’s perimeter players (James Robinson, Lamar Patterson) couldn’t get any penetration against Florida’s quickness. And even though Talib Zanna has a huge strength advantage against 98% of the forwards in college basketball, he didn’t have that advantage against Patric Young. I feel like if Pitt and Florida played 20 times, Florida would win every game.

That said, if you want to pull an upset, you have to execute. When Pittsburgh had two fouls to give at the end of the first half, and still gave up a clean three to Scottie Wilbekin, you knew it wasn’t Pitt’s day.

#4 Louisville defeated #5 St. Louis

On the flip side, if St. Louis and Louisville played 20 times, I think St. Louis would win its share of games. For elite teams like Louisville, the worst kind of underdog is an opponent that plays elite defense but can’t score. St. Louis disrupted what Louisville wanted to do; meanwhile the Billikens were not distressed by their own inability to score against Louisville.

In this game, it was a few calls that really seemed to make the difference. Jordair Jett got a tough charge call on one of the first possessions of the game. Also, Rob Loe picked up three fouls in the first half, including a very foolish flagrant for swinging his elbows. I think those plays clearly changed St. Louis’ rotation and how those players acted on the court. Jett in particular is so essential to the St. Louis offense, that making him even a hair more hesitant to drive inside was crippling. (And let’s not forget Jake Barnett’s bonus slap for a technical in the second half too.)

Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrel, and Luke Hancock all made huge plays to pull Louisville ahead when St. Louis took the lead. And Louisville is clearly the better team. But that was a nightmare match-up for Louisville, and they deserve credit for escaping with the win.

Bonus Note: CBS was showing a video on Russ Smith’s dad and missed showing the bucket when St. Louis scored to go from 14 to 16 points. Those type of production mistakes happen, but it is inexcusable that they didn’t bother to show a replay of the score on the subsequent timeout.

#4 San Diego St. defeated #12 North Dakota St.

Final notes on NDSU’s Marschall Bjorklund: Doug Gottlieb asked Bjorkland how he can stand the smell of a pig farm. Bjorklund responded, “That’s the smell of money.” Good answer.

San Diego St. won comfortably, so perhaps I should just note that San Diego St. is a lot like St. Louis. They are a nightmare match-up because of their elite defense, and they won’t be phased if they can’t score against Arizona in the next round.

#2 Michigan defeated #7 Texas

I alluded to it above, but I love watching Michigan games because of the complete lack of whistles. Michigan never fouls.

Texas fans might have thought the refs were unfair, but this is just what Michigan players are taught to do defensively. The only call that Texas fans can really cry about is Cameron Ridley’s offensive foul in the second half. Ridley bumped into Michigan’s Jordan Morgan, but didn’t move Morgan and didn’t gain an advantage. I’ve never seen an offensive foul called when the defender was less impacted.

Texas played better in the second half, but give Michigan’s Spike Albrecht credit for helping seal the game for the Wolverines. Albrecht hasn’t become a huge scorer this year, but when Texas was using its late pressure, Albrecht’s ball-handling really saved the day for his team.

#11 Dayton defeated #3 Syracuse

Syracuse fans can take solace in the fact that they won’t have to sit through another horrible shooting night with this team. But the sting of the loss is made worse by the fact that this was a win for Vee Sanford, a transfer from arch-rival Georgetown.

Sanford has had an amazing journey. He was an efficient scorer for the Hoyas, but John Thompson III wouldn’t play him because of his defense. He eventually transferred, but he struggled as a starter for Dayton last year. In a number of late game situations, his defense allowed the opposing team to win, and Dayton had a horrible record in close games last year. This year Sanford has become a 6th man for the Flyers, and even though he’s coming off the bench, his defense seems better. Moreover, he hit the game-winner against Ohio St. On Saturday, all Sanford provided was the key scoring that Dayton needed to take a lead into half-time.

#4 Michigan St. defeated #12 Harvard

I’ve wondered how Michigan St. would do in a close game without Keith Appling playing well, but Appling picked up four fouls Saturday, and the Spartans made their game-saving run with Appling on the bench. That’s a good sign.

Branden Dawson was obviously brilliant. While he is a little under-sized as a forward in the Big Ten, you could really see how well he did when guarded by Harvard’s smaller forwards. His explosive leaping ability led to his best day of the season. I imagine if Dawson played in a league like the MAC or the Horizon League that he could be the conference player-of-the-year.

Michigan St. had zero turnovers until 4:20 left in the first half. That’s just staggering for a team that has often struggled with turnovers in Izzo’s tenure.

#2 Wisconsin defeated #7 Oregon

Why did Oregon’s Jason Calliste have to shove Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson down at the end of the game after Calliste had played so well. He’s a brilliant player and I hate for that to be the last memory of his career.

#7 UConn defeated #2 Villanova

When UConn’s Terrence Samuel scored on a lay-up late in the game, Verne Lundquist didn’t even call out his name. I’m not sure the announcers knew who he was. But somehow the UConn freshman scored a career high 11 points in the NCAA tournament. It is never too late.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

#14 Mercer defeated #3 Duke

The Duke game has already been over-analyzed. Did they take too many threes? Maybe, but they did score 1.21 points per possession by making 15 threes on 37 shots from deep. Did Duke’s inexperience hurt them? Maybe, the Blue Devils allowed a home run pass for a lay-up after they cut the lead to three late in the game. That kind of mistake could be the result of the team’s youth. Did the Blue Devils fail to utilize Jabari Parker properly? Almost certainly they should have given him more post touches. But Parker was 4 of 11 on his twos, and getting Parker the ball more didn’t seem like a totally dominant strategy against Mercer’s defensive alignment.

To be realistic, college basketball analysts knew this was coming. We’ve known all year that Duke was going to lose in the NCAA tournament because their defense couldn’t get enough stops. On Friday, Mercer made 56% of its shots and hit almost every key free throw down the stretch. We didn’t know Duke would go down in the first round, but we knew this would happen eventually. And as Mike Krzyzewski himself noted, it was a beautiful thing to see seven Mercer seniors (who should have been in the NCAA tournament last year if not for Florida Gulf Coast), finally receiving the payoff from all their hard work.

#6 Baylor defeated #11 Nebraska

Nebraska looked lost against a zone defense. In the first half they went 0 for 11 from three. At halftime, head coach Tim Miles said his team was 4 of 5 when it got the ball in the paint, and they needed to stop settling for jump shots. For a stretch at the start of the first half, Nebraska responded and finally made a few shots. Then Miles got a technical. Then Miles went to complain about the shot-clock not working and got ejected from the game.

In the first half the announcers noted that Tim Miles is a “one question coach”. If you want to do a media interview, all you have to do is ask him one question, and he will talk for 10 minutes. Normally his energy and enthusiasm helps build excitement for the program.

But in this case, Miles words, his constant harassing of the referees, eventually got him kicked out. The technical for complaining about the shot-clock was clearly a tough call. But given all of Miles complaints leading up to it, he certainly bears some responsibility for what happened.

Sadly, Nebraska’s offensive ineptitude and Miles antics distracted from an impressive victory for Baylor. Baylor’s splits this season are insane:

Baylor

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Early

115.5

97.3

12

1

0.878

Midseason

108.6

103.2

2

8

0.643

Late

122.7

100.3

11

2

0.910

In the middle of the season, Baylor was playing like a team outside the Top 100. But since Feb 12th, Baylor has been playing like a Top 10 team. A lot of people want to point to Kenny Cherry’s ankle injury as a reason for the team’s swoon. But that isn’t the full story. Cherry had some good games when Baylor was losing, including 22 in a loss to Texas Tech.

Realistically, Baylor has simply played better in every offensive category late in the season. They’ve shot better, turned the ball over less, grabbed more offensive rebounds, and got to the foul line more since that swoon. They’ve also been playing at a slower and more controlled pace, with about 4 fewer possessions per game. On Friday, the free throw attempts were the difference. But as Baylor heads into Sunday’s match-up with Creighton, they are clearly clicking on all cylinders.

#10 Stanford defeated #7 New Mexico

Stanford led 20-4 early, but New Mexico kept crawling back. Eventually the Lobos tied the game on a Cullen Neal fast-break bucket with about 10 minutes left in the game. But as well as Cameron Bairstow played, he simply didn’t have any support. Kendall Williams, a former MWC player-of-the-year, couldn’t get a clean look at the basket. Normally given Williams 6’4” frame, he can shoot over anyone. But Stanford harassed him with bigger defenders, including the 6’10” Dwight Powell. And Williams struggled to beat Stanford’s defense off the dribble. The net result was a nearly 7 minute scoring drought that locked the game up for Stanford.

We often write about redemption in the NCAA tournament. Last year New Mexico had one of the best seasons in program history. But New Mexico lost to Harvard in round of 64, and it felt like this team had some unfinished business. With four starters back from last year’s team, 2014 was supposed to be a year for redemption.

But a Stanford team full of juniors and seniors decided to write the happy ending for their team instead. Senior Josh Huestis hit a late jumper to put Stanford up 7. Senior John Gage played some great minutes in relief of foul plagued Stefan Nastic. And even though Senior Dwight Powell had an off night offensively, thanks to the team’s all-around defensive effort, Powell earned another game to show his stuff in the NCAA tournament.

#11 Tennessee defeated #6 UMass

“This is the lowest number of points UMass has scored in any half of any game this season.” UMass struggled to just 22 points in the first half against Tennessee, and despite a valiant effort to create chaos and gamble for steals in the second half, the 19 point deficit was simply too big to overcome.

Somehow Tennessee has gone from a team that barely made the NCAA tournament, to a Sweet Sixteen favorite. And it might not stop there. Tennessee has been winning by such a large margin since March 1st, that they would actually be favored against Michigan according to Kenpom.com.

#3 Creighton defeated #14 Louisiana Lafayette

Doug McDermott went 13 minutes without scoring in the second half, and the Ragin Cajuns pulled within three points. But even when McDermott doesn’t score, he still makes a huge difference on the court. The almost constant double-teams of McDermott gave his teammates wide open looks from three point range. And McDermott even had a block in crunch time. Then, when his team needed it again, he nailed a dagger three. The fifth all-time scorer in NCAA history scored 30 points in the win.

#2 Kansas defeated #15 Eastern Kentucky

In the RealGM.com bracket podcast, I said that Eastern Kentucky wasn’t going to win, but at some point they were going to make some threes and give Kansas a scare. Well, EKU’s 8th three of the game gave the EKU a 48-45 lead. EKU’s 9th three of the game (a ridiculous step-back three by Orlando Williams) made it 53-51 in favor of EKU. And EKU’s 10th three of the game gave EKU a 56-53 lead. At one point, Kansas was shooting 62% and still losing.

But that’s when Jamari Traylor really took over. I’ve spent this season being skeptical of the Kansas big man. Traylor shot 42% from the floor last year while taking mostly lay-ups. He’s the lowest ranked recruit on scholarship with the Jayhawks. And while he has played better this year, I’ve never quite believed he would be an impact player. But with Joel Embiid out, Kansas needed Traylor to rise to the occasion, and he did. Traylor hit two huge buckets when EKU was knocking down its threes. And then, when EKU went on one last run to cut the lead to 64-61, Traylor’s offensive rebound put-back essentially sealed the victory. Traylor’s previous season best was 10 points against TCU, but he scored 17 in the Jayhawks close victory.

#8 Gonzaga beat #9 Oklahoma St.

There were 61 fouls in this game, the most in a non-OT NCAA tournament game since 1975. There are a number of people that are going to call the foul situation an abomination. But I found it more fascinating what this game revealed about how the players involved respond to pressure.

With the pressure on, Marcus Smart continued to make questionable decisions. He turned the ball over. He missed free throws. And when a call went against him (an out-of-bounds that he never touched), he did not react in a relaxed fashion. Instead he exaggerated his frustration by jumping up and down. If we hoped Smart had somehow matured into a different player due to his suspension, that was probably not accurate.

LeBryan Nash has matured this season. But under the pressure of the tournament, he again wilted. His shirt-grab for a fifth foul was probably a call the officials should let go. But it was also dumb to reach with four fouls. Travis Ford even seemed like a coach who got caught up in the emotion of the moment, picking up a technical at the end of the first half.

In my opinion, the player who truly matured for Oklahoma St. this season was Markel Brown. Brown raised his career ORtg from 90 as a freshman, to 96 as a sophomore, to 110 last year, to 118 this season. And when the game was being decided, Brown was the only player taking to the ball to the basket and converting easy looks for Oklahoma St.

To see Brown go down like this is difficult. But for the rest of the Oklahoma St. team, this game showed the dangers of putting all your hopes and dreams in one basket. Marcus Smart came back to Oklahoma St. because he wasn’t satisfied with last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. He was betting on a better outcome this year. But no one can go back to school and expect to settle unfinished business. Too much depends on injuries, match-ups, teammates, and referees.

You can’t go back to win a Big 12 title. You can’t go back to win a national title. You can’t even go back to win a game in the round of 64. You can only go back to be a better player and hope for an opportunity.

#6 North Carolina defeated #11 Providence

Like I was saying, no single player can do it all. Bryce Cotton scored a career high 36 points on Friday. He had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and he seemingly did it all. He hit crunch time threes. He was fouled on crunch time three attempts. He got transition baskets. He attacked the rim in the half-court and was fouled. Cotton refused to spend a moment on the bench. But you can’t win a basketball game alone. And with North Carolina dominating the rebounding game (grabbing over half of its missed shots), Cotton’s amazing performance simply wasn’t enough.

#8 Memphis defeated #9 George Washington

For 5th year transfers, the long end of a career can be fascinating. Maurice Creek, who transferred from Indiana to George Washington, has nothing to regret. The once elite prospect (and often prolific scorer) spent his entire Indiana career injured. But at GW he finally got a chance to be the star. And even though his shot was off in the NCAA tournament (including an airball with one second left), at least he got to go down swinging.

I wonder how David Pellom feels. He played 27 minutes a game for George Washington last season. But he used a graduate school transfer to leave for Memphis. At Memphis, he has seen his playing time cut in half. He hasn’t played 20 minutes in a game since January. With the young Memphis frontcourt players emerging, his biggest role has been as a practice adversary. Yes, his current team got the last laugh on his old team. Memphis beat GW in the NCAA tournament. But if he had stuck around in the nation’s capital, would things have been different? Would it have been a more satisfying ending to his career?

Michael Dixon isn’t questioning his decision. The Missouri player who transferred to Memphis didn’t have a choice to continue his career at his old school. And in a two point game, Dixon provided the needed cushion with a clutch three. Dixon was also more than willing to go to the line to put the game away at the charity stripe. For these three 5th year transfers, the first NCAA tournament game could not have been more different.

#12 Stephen F Austin defeated #5 VCU

This feels like the worst mistake ever! Leading by 4 points, the only way VCU could blow the game against SFA was by fouling a SFA player in the act of shooting a three. The game was essentially over. But somehow VCU’s JeQuan Lewis got caught up in the heat of the moment and got too aggressive. SFA’s Desmond Haymon made a three pointer, Lewis tackled him, and the 4 point play sent the game into OT.

Kenny Smith was more generous in one of the halftime segments. He said these things happen in basketball games. He knew that labeling a college player as a “choker” is harsh and unfair. But I don’t see how Lewis can ever live this moment down.

Besides the horrible foul, perhaps we should just realize that when teams get on winning streaks, miraculous things seem to happen. When Syracuse was on a long winning streak, Tyler Ennis made the amazing buzzer beater at Pittsburgh. When you win every game, you start to believe you will win every game.

How else do you describe moments like in OT, when Trey Pinkney was about to turn it over, but he somehow miraculously rolled the ball to Jacob Parker who picked it up and nailed a shot before the shot clock expired? SFA’s golden horseshoe has not expired yet.

Finally, I must say that in a tournament full of upsets, almost none were completely out of nowhere. Many experts thought Harvard was a better team than Cincinnati. I knew Duke was a bad defensive team. But SFA’s win truly came out of left field. Even with the 28 game winning streak, this was a hugely under-sized team. And even without Melvin Johnson, VCU’s HAVOC defense was dominant in the second half. VCU built a double digit lead and seemingly put the game away. This comeback was truly what March Madness is all about.

#1 Virginia defeated #16 Coastal Carolina

#1 Arizona defeated #16 Weber St.

#1 Wichita St. defeated #16 Cal Poly

It still hasn’t happened. But wow, there sure is an exhilarating feeling when you flip over and see Coastal Carolina leading Virginia by 10 points in the first half. Meanwhile Arizona’s close win against Weber St. knocked them out of first place in the Pomeroy rankings for the first time since January 1st.

#3 Iowa St. defeated #14 North Carolina Central

According to Marv Albert, Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman is called this because he could not pronounce “Winnie the Pooh” when he was a kid. Steve Kerr is skeptical of Albert’s internet research. Yes, this game was a blowout.

The big story of the game was that Iowa St.'s Georges Niang broke his foot late in the game and will be out for the remainder of the tournament.

#8 Kentucky defeated #9 Kansas St.

Kansas St. made a late run in this game, but for the first time in a long-time, Kentucky’s defense looked like it might be national championship caliber. I also thought Greg Anthony had a nice comment at the end of the game. In the preseason, Kentucky thought they would be undefeated. Now on Sunday, they get to play a team that is undefeated. The hype for Wichita St. vs Kentucky is just beginning. This is going to be the most watched Round of 32 game in a long time.

#4 UCLA defeated #13 Tulsa

Remember in the preseason when everyone was writing about how UCLA didn’t have a clear answer at PG. Well, all Kyle Anderson has done is become an All-American candidate as an elite distributor. But as the team showed on Friday, even if Anderson is off (5 turnovers), UCLA still has plenty of other players who can distribute. Jordan Adams took over offensively at the start of the second half and really broke the game open. And over the course of the game Adams dished 4 assists. Meanwhile Bryce Alford had 4 assists of his own, and should have had a fifth on a beautiful no look pass to Tony Parker in the lane. But Parker missed the lay-up and cost Alford the dime. Regardless, UCLA’s willingness to share the ball stands in stark contrast to last year when Shabazz Muhammad had just 27 assists on the whole season. This is a less selfish team than last year’s squad, and that’s a good sign if this year’s team wants to go on a run.

NCAA Tournament Day 1

#11 Dayton defeated #6 Ohio St.

Verne Lundquist gave a huge amount of praise to Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft. He said in his 30 years calling the tournament, he has not been more impressed with a player than Craft. He said Craft represents the total package as a student athlete. And if you’ve watched Ohio St. for the last four years, you have heard comments like that often. For years people have been saying how Craft doesn’t have the talent to make it in the NBA, but that Craft is the proto-typical college star. He has been an excellent ball-handler. He has made plays to win games at the end of regulation. And he has built his reputation as one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball.

That effusive praise has actually made Craft a bit of a divisive figure among college basketball fans. While there is a group that completely loves Craft and everything he represents, there is certainly another group that feels that Craft has gotten too much credit for Ohio St.’s success. Some argue that he gets too much praise for his defense, to the detriment of equally skilled players. And it was impossible to watch the opening game of the tournament and not see how it all revolved around Craft.

Initially, the key storyline involved Dayton’s Jordan Sibert, a transfer from Ohio St. With 9 minutes left in regulation, Sibert grabbed a loose ball and broke free in transition. He side-stepped Craft for a lay-up, and beating the Buckeye star made it all the sweeter. Then with 2:35 left in regulation, Sibert stole the ball and again broke free, and this time Craft had to grab him around the waist to deny a lay-up. Craft drew a flagrant foul in the process. For Sibert, beating Craft on those plays was the ultimate revenge and redemption.

But then, if that storyline was enough, the Craft storyline became even more important in the final minute. First Aaron Craft drove the lane for a bucket to give Ohio St. the one point lead. And then miraculously, it came down to the “best on ball defender in college basketball” on the other end. All Craft had to do was keep Vee Sanford in front of him to end the game. But he couldn’t. Sanford’s driving bank shot, gave the lead back to Dayton. Craft being the wise veteran did not wait for his coach to call timeout. Instead, he grabbed the ball and immediately rushed down-court for one last try. His lay-up attempt bounced off the rim as time expired.

For the Aaron Craft haters, it was the perfect revenge. Craft’s defense had let him down in the final moment of his career. For the Aaron Craft admirers, it was more proof of college basketball’s cruel fate. No matter how hard you work, no matter what you do in your career, it often comes down to just one play.

Speaking of one play, as I noted last weekend, in the last six NCAA tournaments, Ohio St. has lost by the slimmest of margins:

Year

Loss

Round

Margin

2014

Dayton

Round of 64

1 point

2013

Wichita St.

Elite 8

4 points

2012

Kansas

Final Four

2 points

2011

Kentucky

Sweet 16

2 points

2010

Tennessee

Sweet 16

3 points

2009

Siena

Round of 64

2 points

Two Final Notes:

-Bill Raftery had a priceless impression of Jim Boeheim at some point in the second half.

-I’m not giving Dayton nearly enough credit for winning this game, but no play was bigger than when Dyshawn Pierre, a 66% FT shooter went to the line and made three FTs in a row after being fouled on a three point shot.

#2 Wisconsin defeated #15 American

It is hard to find much to say about blowouts. At some point in the second half, the TV folks showed this graphic:

Eagles in the NCAA tournament

North Carolina Central Eagles – 1st NCAA Tournament Appearance

American Eagles – 3rd NCAA Tournament Appearance

Ian Eagle – CBS Announcer – 17th NCAA Tournament Appearance

If that isn’t graphical rock bottom, I don’t know what is.

#9 Pittsburgh defeated #8 Colorado

I’m stealing this directly from Seth Davis in his post-game comments. “Colorado had 17 turnovers. Pittsburgh had 3 turnovers. Pittsburgh took 19 more shots. It is hard to win when you let your opponent take 19 more shots.”

#12 Harvard defeated #5 Cincinnati

Cincinnati senior Justin Jackson sat crouched over after the Harvard game, his heart broken by a first round defeat. But Jackson and Cincinnati have nothing to hang their head about. This year’s Cincinnati team clearly lacked skilled offensive players. Besides Sean Kilpatrick, there just were not a lot of players that could be counted on consistently for points. The story of Cincinnati’s season was what happened at the end of the game. With 3:10 left, Harvard telegraphed a pass, Jackson intercepted it, and then proceeded to blow the lay-up. Then, with 51 seconds left, Cincinnati’s Titus Rubles drove for an easy lay-up and blew that shot too. Cincinnati was just not a naturally gifted scoring team. Yet despite all that, the Bearcats won the American Conference title. Despite all that, Cincinnati put together a defensive effort all season long that earned the team a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament.

And that is where life is not fair. Because Cincinnati did not get some un-prepared small school that they could harass into a NCAA victory. Cincinnati drew a Harvard squad that was nearly a Top 25 team in the preseason. The only reason Harvard was seeded so low is because they couldn’t put together a schedule with enough quality opponents to earn a higher seed. But make no mistake, this was a deep and talented Harvard squad.

Despite the depth and quality of Harvard, this was not an easy game. Kyle Casey got an easy dunk early,  but he struggled with Cincinnati’s physicality and often looked off-balance when he caught the ball in the lane. Wesley Saunders got an early dunk too, but Saunders, an Ivy League Player-of-the-Year candidate had an unusually quiet day for the all-around stat-sheet stuffer.

More amazingly, despite the presence of two players who had been key PGs for Harvard, Siyani Chambers and Brandyn Curry, Cincinnati did an amazing job keeping the ball out of the PGs hands. Far too often, Harvard was forced to inbound the ball to other players who struggled with their decision making.

But two things gave Harvard the advantage. First, Laurent Rivard, has hit more three pointers in his career than any player in Harvard history. He had shot 40% or better from three in every year of his career. And despite a sluggish start to the season, Rivard had made 45 of his last 89 three points attempts (51%) coming into the NCAA tournament. Rivard punished Cincinnati whenever they over-played and his presence opened up other cutting lanes for the Harvard players.

Second, when it came to crunch time, Siyani Chambers was not going to be denied. In the final five minutes, he broke free and demanded the ball on every inbounds pass. And Chambers ability to avoid pressure defense and knock down free throws sealed the game.

Harvard won, but it wasn’t the emotionally fueled, dramatic upset like in 2013. In 2014, Harvard was the veteran team that methodically fought off a team with less talent but plenty of heart.

Bonus Note: Cincinnati received an administrative technical foul for not submitting the proper roster information to the scorer’s table before the game. They will never live this down.

#3 Syracuse defeated #14 Western Michigan

This week I heard Jim Boeheim on the radio. He said that you don’t have to enter the NCAA tournament with momentum because you can build momentum in the tournament. I think that’s what you say when you go 2-5 in your last 7 games and struggle mightily to score down the stretch of the season. But hey, the Orange beat Western Michigan, and Ohio St. lost, so maybe he is right.

#7 Oregon defeated #10 BYU

Oregon vs BYU is the ideal tournament game to watch. Both teams are fast-paced and neither team plays a lot of defense. Sadly the Kyle Collingsworth injury made it a little one-sided. Sure, BYU went on a nice second half-run to cut it to 56-53, but it mostly felt like a game where Oregon could score every time down the floor, and where BYU didn’t have the firepower to keep up.

This got me thinking a bit about BYU head coach Dave Rose. He had great defensive teams from 2008 to 2012. But the last two years his defense has been pretty horrible. And surprisingly, I cannot link it to the departure of a key defensive player.

Dave Rose

Def Rank

2014

109th

2013

90th

2012

25th

2011

38th

2010

51st

2009

39th

2008

11th

#1 Florida defeated #16 Albany

You had to be tough to survive Thursday. Albany was hanging close to Florida until Kasey Hill accidently kneed Albany’s DJ Evans in the head. In the North Dakota St. game we not only had a cut below one player’s eye, we saw Taylor Braun take a brutally hard kick to the head, that was again an accident. For Florida fans, the close game might have felt like a kick-to-the-head, but the Gators have played plenty of close games against inferior opponents this year and risen to the occasion later.

#4 Michigan St. defeated #13 Delaware

Adreian Payne is going to get all the love for making 17 of 17 free throws and opening the game with four threes. But I thought Travis Trice’s play to open the second half, really sealed the victory. Davon Usher was hitting some big shots for Delaware, but Trice’s ability to attack in transition kept the game at a comfortable margin.

#2 Michigan defeated #15 Wofford

The ball got stuck behind the basket in the Michigan vs Wofford game requiring someone to get a ladder. Yep, that’s all I’ve got.

#7 UConn defeated #10 St. Joseph’s

Before we get to the game, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the additional coverage on Phil Martelli’s grandson. After imitating his grandfather in last Sunday’s game and garnering lots of camera time, Martelli’s grandson made TV and radio appearances this week. The best part was the CBS graphic. “Returned to preschool – classmates not impressed.”

UConn has an under-rated coach. The play Kevin Ollie designed at the end of regulation to get Shabazz Napier an open look at a three was brilliant. UConn has good outside shooters. Despite being out-played for much of the game, UConn made 11 threes and that allowed them to hang close. And UConn has good finishers. As they hit their 15th straight free throw in OT, it was clear that St. Joseph’s had no chance to come back. But the reality is that despite all of that, for UConn to truly make a run in the NCAA tournament, they needed one of their young post players to make some plays. Amida Brimah, one of those young post players, has been an excellent defender all year long. But his offense hasn’t been there. And that’s why Brimah’s play in the final minute of regulation was so significant. Brimah’s offensive rebound and three point play tied the game, and gave UConn that missing piece it needed to advance.

#5 St. Louis defeated #12 NC State

The coaching profession is just brutal. Objectively, the NC State fans should adore head coach Mark Gottfried. In his first season, he took the Wolfpack to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 7 years. But then his players started hearing lots of talk about how they were first round picks in the NBA draft. And a team with high preseason expectations was a disappointment. That turned some of the fans against him.

Still, there was no way that this season could turn fans against Gottfried. He had a talented team, but one too young to accomplish much of anything. When a miraculous victory against Syracuse in the ACC tournament ended with Syracuse missing six shots in a row on a late game possession, NC State picked up a surprise NCAA tournament bid. Then things got even better as NC State beat Xavier in the First Four. Gottfried was riding on house money.

On Thursday, his team built a sixteen point lead on St. Louis. And then the fouling started. The end of the game could possibly be described at the most painful eight minutes of any NC State fan’s life. It was the kind of sequence that will probably cause some NC State fans to stop watching basketball permanently. St. Louis kept committing fouls and kept sending NC State to the line. NC State missed 12 free throws in the final five minutes. The clock just would not run out. Finally, with 19 seconds left St. Louis’ Jordair Jett tied the game.

But it wasn’t over. NC State fell behind in OT. But after a bucket, steal, and bucket, TJ Warren again went to the free throw line. His attempt would tie the game and keep the pressure on. Instead Warren again missed a critical free throw. He would foul out moments later. NC State lost.

And once again, NC State fans are asking how their coach could let them down. Why couldn’t he design plays to get the ball to someone who could make some free throws? Why couldn’t NC State keep St. Louis out of the lane in regulation and in OT? What should have been a gravy NCAA run, once again leads to some fans questioning whether Gottfried knows how to coach a talented team.

On the flip side, for St. Louis fans, who thought the season was ending with an epic collapse, the comeback redeems the season. Rob Loe redeemed himself with some early threes and late dunks. Jordair Jett, having the best passing (but worst shooting) year of his career, redeemed himself by finding the right player every time down the stretch. And in a moment, the end of season losses are forgiven.

#12 North Dakota St defeated #5 Oklahoma

Once again this year, CBS and Turner left almost no time in Spokane to clear the arena between the morning and afternoon session which meant the arena was practically empty for the start of the North Dakota St. vs Oklahoma game. This is unacceptable. These games are too important to those fans and players to do that. The NCAA either needs to issue a full-day ticket and not clear the arena, or the broadcasters need to start the games out west earlier in the afternoon session.

In the first half, Spiro Dedes told us the story of how Marshall Bjorkland was raised on a pig farm and when he went to North Dakota St. he didn’t get home-sick, he got farm-sick. Thus to keep him happy, the NDSU coaches found him a local farm in Fargo, ND where he could go and do some chores. You just cannot make this stuff up.

Like Harvard, this was a talented and veteran North Dakota St. team. I labeled them as the second best non-major in the preseason. Halfway through the second half, they were shooting 61% in the game. Normally that means the opposing defense is horrible or that the team is due for a bit of a letdown. But in this case, it made perfect sense. NDSU has the top FG% in the nation. This group barely gave any minutes to freshmen this year, and they know how to take good shots.

Yet somehow, Oklahoma hung around. After the Sooners went 5 minutes without scoring in the middle of the second half, Cameron Clark basically decided that he was going to put the team on his back. Down the stretch, no one could stop Clark from scoring.

But when NDSU’s guards started fouling out, the team was forced to bring in freshman Carlin Dupree. Somehow, in a tie game, Dupree was the difference. Despite making 58% of his free throws on the year, the freshman sank two in a row. And then on the subsequent possession, with NDSU still leading, instead of running the clock, Dupree attacked. He took what was probably a bad shot. Certainly it was a difficult shot. But it went in and gave NDSU a four point lead. And a team that has won all year with its seniors, won because of a freshman.

#7 Texas defeated #10 Arizona St.

I keep a notebook with comments to write up about various teams. Earlier this year, I started noting how many dunks and lay-ups Texas was missing when I watched their games. Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert are fabulous offensive rebounders, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned on a Texas game and seen them blow a seemingly easy put-back. So hilariously, I started watching the Texas game in the second half and right from the start I saw Cameron Ridley miss a put-back dunk. I just have the magic touch with this team.

But what makes this really ironic is the end of the game. With less than a second left in a tie game, Ridley grabbed an offensive rebound, flipped it up on the rim, and watched it drop in for the buzzer beater. Despite a year filled with frustrating put-backs, when it mattered the most, Ridley made it count.

#2 Villanova defeated #15 Milwaukee

This game seemed close, but I think that was deceiving. Villanova easily dominated the paint and the overall play, but the game stayed close because they couldn’t make any jumpers. The Wildcats were 1 of 18 from three at some point in the second half. There’s nothing embarrassing about winning by 20 on a day when you can’t make any shots.

#4 Louisville defeated #13 Manhattan

Every once in awhile someone will say your seed in the NCAA tournament doesn’t matter. Well, just ask Rick Pitino whether he would have preferred to be a 2-seed and play Wofford on Thursday night rather than face a dangerous Manhattan squad. The storyline of the game was Steve Masiello, a former Rick Pitino assistant, giving his mentor everything he had. I found it fascinating that Russ Smith almost transferred to Manhattan to join Masiello after struggling during his freshman season. But Smith didn’t transfer, he stuck around and won a national title, and he made sure to hit a key three late in this game too.

#4 San Diego St. defeated #13 New Mexico St.

Running out of words and energy, I thought Doug Gottlieb said it best. Someone hit that darn Buffalo Wild Wings button again. Somehow despite no near-ball pressure, San Diego St. threw away the inbounds pass while leading by three in the final seconds. And somehow, despite being one of the best defensive teams in the country, San Diego St. let a guard dribble over to the top of the key for a wide open three. It had to be the button. The Aztecs finally prevailed in the extra session so we can all get some sleep before tomorrow’s games.

Stats To Pick Apart The Bracket

The right way to measure hot teams, a different way to measure March coaches, and how teams have performed against the rest of tournament field.

Major Conference Tournaments Underway

How good would Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona be if their freshmen stuck around? I also check in on some seniors and the first day of the major conference tournaments.

The RPI Organizational Tool, Conference Tournament Nitty Gritty

Who would gain the most if we used the Kenpom rankings to organize opponents instead of the RPI rankings?

Injury Splits - March Edition

How well has Arizona played without Brandon Ashley? What about Pittsburgh without Durand Johnson? What about Colorado without Spencer Dinwiddie?

Year Four to Six (The Hot Seat Years)

Today I present the probability a D1 college basketball head coach survives in his job for six years and I show the efficiency numbers for 4th through 6th year head coaches.

Experience Is Not A Guarantee

Oklahoma St. (89% of minutes back), Boise St. (89% of minutes back), and Boston College (95% of minutes back) have struggled, but experience does not guarantee that a team will win.

Upsets, Adjustments, And The Game The President Missed

Discussing a weekend of upsets, Clemson's new defensive approach, and a detailed look at the game the President wanted to watch prior to the State of the Union address.

College Basketball Injury Splits Part 1

How has Notre Dame performed without Jerian Grant? How has Georgetown done without Joshua Smith? How did Ole Miss fare without Marshall Henderson? 32 injury splits in one column!

College Basketball Injury Splits Part 2

How has Notre Dame performed without Jerian Grant? How has Georgetown done without Joshua Smith? How did Ole Miss fare without Marshall Henderson? 32 injury splits in one column!

The Top 100 Recruits After Two Months, Part 1

Wayne Selden, Tyler Ennis, Josh Hart, and a full look at how the Top 100 freshmen have performed to date.

The Top 100 Recruits After 2 Months, Part 2

The College Basketball Week in Review

Kentucky may have won, but Louisville will always have that dunk. I also examine what it means for FTs to cost a team a game, and I update the weekly Harvard watch feature.

Do Freshmen-Filled Teams Get Better In-Season?

Is Colorado's youth a long-run problem? Also, why Notre Dame was the worst possible matchup for Ohio St.

In Season Improvement, Part 1

What Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse have that Kansas does not have, hope for Michigan fans, and the Top 10 coaches at improving their teams in-season.

In Season Improvement, Part 2

Feast Week Wrap

By almost any metric, the winner of Feast Week was the ACC. Also, notes on Scott Drew and Baylor, the turkeys of the week, Duke's defense, Harvard Watch and more.

Early Surprises And The Start Of Feast Week, Page 2

Can Michigan St. keep up its fast pace? And what teams have been playing better or worse than expected early in the year?

« Newer Articles

Older Articles »

 

Basketball Wiretap Headlines

    NBA Wiretap Headlines

      NCAA Wiretap Headlines

        MLB Wiretap Headlines

          NFL Wiretap Headlines

            NHL Wiretap Headlines

              Soccer Wiretap Headlines