NCAA Sweet Sixteen: East Region PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2009
The East Region: A Look Back, A Look Ahead (By Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore)
A look back: Here are some of the bests and worsts of the first two rounds of the East Region – as well as some other haphazard notes …
Most impressive team remaining: Villanova. The Wildcats’ dismantling of UCLA was a sight to behold.
Shakiest team remaining: Pittsburgh. I sat next to a diehard Pitt fan at a sports bar Friday. I knew it was a bad sign when he turned to me disgusted midway through the second half and said, “Just root for East Tennessee State. I know you want to.”
Don’t forget about us: In Xavier’s opening-round win over Portland State, the Musketeers shot 54 percent from the field and committed just seven turnovers. In their second-round win, they held Wisconsin to 25 percent shooting. Xavier has now won at least one game in six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments.
Don’t forget about us either: Duke is back in the Sweet 16. Oh, how we missed you.
Best performance: Pitt’s Sam Young was electric against Oklahoma State, scoring 32 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking three shots.
Best performance from a player you’ve never heard of: A terrific shooting guard named Garrison Carr (22 points) was lights out in the first half to help American take a surprising 10-point lead over Villanova into the locker room. Carr came back down in the second half, but my impressions of him did not.
Most heads-up play: OK, I’ll give Jon Scheyer credit for his save and heave up the court at the end of the Duke-Texas game. But Coach K comparing him to Magic Johnson was a bit much.
Raining threes: In a 76-62 win over Minnesota in the first round, Texas’ A.J. Abrams made 8 of 15 3-pointers for 26 points.
I’m a man, I’m 40: DeJuan Blair’s 27-point, 16-rebound effort in the first round was almost as good as his get-out-of-my-way offensive rebound and putback in the final minutes of Pitt’s second-round win.
Most dead-on quote: “There’s no way this is a No. 16 seed,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said of East Tennessee State. “I watched them play.” I did too, and I agree.
Most hollow quote: “I told our team in preparation for this that this [Binghamton] team was a championship team that we were playing,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They were winners.”
Most arrogant quote in a kinda cool way: ETSU coach Murry Bartow said of his near upset of Pitt, “We came here to win. We didn’t come here to play a close game.”
But Coach, we’re tired of playing defense: A Tennessee-Oklahoma State game that featured 12 ties and 18 lead changes ended when the Vols forget to play defense on Byron Eaton – until the end of the play when they fouled him to give up the game-deciding 3-point play.
CBS execs like the movie Heidi: It takes bold initiative, iron-clad nerves and a timely trigger finger to cut away from a game with the winning shot is in the air. But bravo, CBS – you pulled it off perfectly in the final seconds of the Wisconsin-Florida State game. (Luckily for them, the shot didn’t go in and the game went to overtime.)
At least they were there for this one (we think): Trevon Hughes’ circus shot around about 23 Florida State defenders at the end of overtime gave Wisconsin the upset overtime win – and was one of the best shots of the tourney.
Thanks for playing, here are some lovely parting gifts: We’ve said all along that UCLA got jobbed by having to travel across the country to play Villanova in Philly. But jeez, could the Bruins have at least put up a fight against the home team?
The ghosts of tourney pasts: If you don’t think Duke still gets all the calls, you didn’t watch Texas get whistled for a questionable foul call on a scrum for a loose ball following a Duke missed free throw in the final minutes.
Most indelible moment (for me): With VCU trailing UCLA by one point in the final seconds of Thursday’s first-round game, everyone knows Eric Maynor will take the lost shot. Doesn’t matter. A sleepy Philadelphia crowd comes alive as Maynor scrambles to get the ball, fights through screens and stifling defense from Darren Collison, puts up a contested last shot and watches, with a distant, stoic look, as it falls short at the buzzer. Maynor keeps staring at the ball, as if he can’t believe his college career just ended – on a miss. That’s when VCU’s monster of a big man Larry Sanders drapes his enormous arms around Maynor and walks him off the court. After about 14 hours of watching basketball in Philly, I watch this scene unfold and feel incredibly sad for a team I wasn’t even rooting for. And that’s when I think to myself, ‘Here’s why I love March Madness so much.”
And now, a look ahead:
East Regional Semifinals
TD Banknorth Garden – Boston, Mass. – Thursday
#1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Xavier – 7:27 p.m.
How the Panthers Got Here: First Round – def. #16 East Tennessee State, 72-62; Second Round – def. Oklahoma State, 84-76. How the Musketeers Got Here: First Round – def. #13 Portland State, 77-59; Second Round – def. #12 Wisconsin 60-49.
Lowdown on Pittsburgh: Dejuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields may be the most talented trio in the nation – and they fill the three important roles any Final Four team needs: a bruising big man, a dead-on shooter, and experienced point guard. After battling their way through the Big East all season, an Atlantic 10 foe on a neutral court should be no problem for the Panthers. Pitt was surprisingly tested in its first two games, and got the wakeup call any coach secretly wishes for this time of year.
Lowdown on Xavier: Despite two relatively comfortable victories, we’re still of the opinion that the Musketeers are nowhere near Final Four material (this is still the same team that lost to Charlotte, Richmond, Temple, and Duquesne in the last two months). B.J. Raymond’s big second half helped Xavier dump the pesky Badgers, but the Musketeers don’t have anyone to match up with Blair. Junior Jason Love will likely be in charge of containing Blair, but the 6-9 junior will be worn down by game’s end.
Bizarro-World Connection: Sure, Xavier coach Sean Miller was a point guard at Pittsburgh, but there will be one more major tie-in this weekend. While at Pitt, Miller threw the pass to Jerome Lane that inspired Bill Raftery’s famous “Send it in Jerome!” call. Raftery will join Verne Lundquist on the CBS call Thursday night. Here’s hoping someone goes for a double order of “Onions!” with a “kiss” off the glass while going against the “mantaman!”
X-Factor: We’re not sure you need many intangibles when you have Blair bruising his way through the lane. But in this case, it’s Jamie Dixon. He’s never been able to get over the Sweet 16 hump, but that should all change this weekend. Expect Pitt to dispose of Xavier – and do it rather easily.
#2 Duke vs. #3 Villanova – 9:57 p.m.
How the Blue Devils Got Here: First Round – def. #15 Binghamton, 86-62; Second Round – def. #7 Texas 74-69. How the Wildcats Got Here: First Round – def. #14 American, 80-67; Second Round – def. #6 UCLA 89-69.
Lowdown on Duke: Plenty of guards, plenty of shooters, a Hall of Fame coach, and no inside presence. This game will go up and down at warp speed, with guards on both sides more than willing to stop and pop from behind the arc. Duke’s biggest advantage comes in the one player who escaped Jay Wright’s Armani-sleeved grasp: Gerald Hernderson (more on that in a minute). Henderson breaks the mold of recent Dookies that America has loved to hate (see Redick, J.J and Paulus, Greg). While he can spot up and hit the three with the best of them, Henderson can put the ball on the floor and take the game over like no Blue Devil since maybe Grant Hill. If Coach K decides to put the ball in Henderson’s hands, Villanova may have no answer.
Lowdown on Villanova: The Wildcats’ dominance of UCLA last weekend was as clinical as an NCAA Tournament win can get. ‘Nova flat out dominated the Bruins on all fronts, and has the experienced guards that any Final Four hopeful needs. But despite the easy win, Scottie Reynolds has still not played up to his full potential in this tournament. If Reynolds runs the gameplan Jay Wright draws up on his Burberry-sponsored dry-erase board – and allows Dante Cunningham to post up whatever undersized defender Duke throws at him – the Wildcats could be headed for Detroit by the end of the weekend. Villanova knows it can beat Pitt, so the Duke hurdle may be the bigger test.
Bizarro-World Connection: By all accounts, Henderson – who went to high school a few miles from the Villanova campus – was inches away from donning a different shade of blue and playing for Wright. In fact, he and high school teammate Wayne Ellington apparently listed Villanova as the only school they would attend together. Imagine a team with Reynolds, Cunningham, Ellington, and Henderson on the floor, and Wright walking the sidelines. Frightening.
X-Factor: No doubt, it’s the officials. With Wright and Kryskeiwsgehefski on the benches, expect all three officials to don earplugs Thursday night. Duke has turned flopping into an art form, and travels more than Expedia. If the officials give Duke the leeway that has made them the most hated team in America, the Blue Devils will be moving on. But Wright’s Wildcats have been through the Big East battles all season, and should find a way to move on.