ATB: Tennessee Vanquishes Sweet Sixteen Demons and Evan TurnerPosted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010
Blah Night of Games. So given the way this Tournament has gone through the first three rounds, we should be heading into two classics on Saturday evening in the West following by the East Regional finals. On consecutive Thursdays we had an incredible set of games followed by a rather pedestrian Friday set. Last Saturday was another blockbuster, while Sunday was relatively tame. Don’t let us down, K-State, Butler, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Tennessee 76, Ohio State 73. On Selection Sunday, every pundit talked about how great the teams were at the top of the Midwest Region, but they may have forgotten the Volunteers who were grossly underseeded. Now they are showing the Selection Committee and the rest of the nation just how good they are. In a rematch of a 2007 Sweet 16 game that ended with Greg Oden blocking a shot by Ramar Smith that could have won the game for UT, the Volunteers got their revenge in a similar fashion. This time it was Tennessee’s J.P Prince who saved the day, blocking a desperation off-balance three by NPOY Evan Turner that could have tied the game at the buzzer. While this game wasn’t quite as spectacular as the Kansas State-Butler game last night, it certainly lived up to the expectations we would have of a Sweet 16 game as neither team was able to open up more than a seven-point lead and for most of the last 35 minutes of the game it was a one-possession difference. Thanks to a strong performance by Wayne Chism who had 22 points (18 in the second half) and 11 rebounds the Volunteers were able to overcome another phenomenal performance by Turner who finished with 31 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Unfortunately for Turner, Thad Matta was unable to coax similar performances out of any of Turner’s teammates who were 3-16 from the field during the second half when Turner scored 21 of his 31 points. Perhaps it was the ridiculous minutes that Matta made his rotation play recently, but the Buckeyes just didn’t see to have the necessary spark. Without the necessary support, Turner was forced to try win the game in the final minutes when David Lighty hit consecutive baskets to give OSU a 70-68 lead. After Chism responded with four straight to give the Vols a 72-70 lead, Turner hit a three that put OSU up one and had everybody believing that maybe, just maybe, he could be enough to carry his team to Indianapolis. Those hopes were dashed when Brian Williams converted a tip-in with 32 seconds to go and Turner was unable to make a driving layup with the ensuing loose ball ending up in Tennessee’s hands. After Tennessee converted a pair of free throws, the stage was set for Turner to etch his name into Tournament lore, but after missing a good look with a little over five seconds left he chased down the ball only to have an off-balance shot blocked by Prince. Despite the disappointing finish, this year will go down as Turner’s year in the minds of everyone who watched him this season. Although Turner says he isn’t sure what he will do with regards to the NBA Draft, we suspect that he will be headed toward NBA millions very soon. Next up for the Volunteers (playing in their first Elite Eight in school history) will be Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. With the Vols on the verge of a Final Four trip less than three months after their season fell apart on New Year’s Day during the Tyler Smith fiasco, we have to ask the question that we asked almost a month ago: How is Bruce Pearl not mentioned as a legitimate National Coach of the Year candidate? Nobody has overcome more adversity than the Vol coach and yet he didn’t even finish in the top two in his own conference voting (behind Kevin Stallings and John Calipari).
Izzo Does It Again. #5 Michigan State 59, #9 Northern Iowa 52. It’s starting to feel like Tom Izzo could take a group of circus animals, screw around with them for a few months and then have them all come together just in time to make a run to the Final Four. With tonight’s win over Cinderella and Kansas-slayer Northern Iowa, Izzo’s team will return to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in his fifteen years at the schools (he’s 5-1 in this round). It’s especially amazing considering just how banged up his Spartans are and how inconsistent they’ve been throughout this season. But MSU did what they do, which is play inspired defense, make just enough plays on offense to put together a mini-run and squeeze the life out of the game in the final minutes to seal the victory. Northern Iowa is just another victim on a long, long list of teams that have fallen as a result of this strategy. As usual, the Spartans shut down the key players for UNI, with last weekend’s hero shooting a rough 2-9 from the field and contributing only nine points, Adam Koch struggling to get the ball in the right places and adding only 13 in 18 foul-plagued minutes, and Jordan Eglseder coming up with only nine himself. The Panthers shot only 39% from the field, which is on par with what they were able to hit against Kansas last weekend, but they were unable to force as many turnovers against MSU and they were absolutely ice cold during the last quarter of the game (zero FGs in the last ten minutes of action). Northern Iowa was undoubtedly one of the best stories of this year’s Tournament, and they have nothing to be ashamed of in losing a defensive grinder with the team that wrote the template. Any of a number of other surviving teams in the Elite Eight could have been challenged by the Panther defense and style of play, but it was quite simply a bad matchup for them. Even a battered and beat up Michigan State team isn’t going to allow another team to out-Izzo them, which is what would have had to happen for UNI to win this game tonight.
The Slipper Was Chewed up by the Doberman. #3 Baylor 72, #10 St. Mary’s 49. To say the clock struck midnight in Houston for Cinderella would be an understatement. The media may have spent the past four days hyping Omar Samhan and the Saint Mary’s Gaels, but it was the Baylor Bears that announced their arrival to the college basketball world. In a performance that was as dominating as any we have seen in this year’s Tournament, the Bears never trailed and after leading 6-5 with 16:53 left in the first half , theywent on 10-0 run that set the tone for the entire game. To his credit, Samhan put up solid numbers, but they were mostly after the game had been decided (1-8 FG in the 1st half) and was not nearly enough to overcome the Baylor guards who destroyed Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter has 23 points and 14 points respectively to pace the Bears and nearly matched the Gaels’ total output (49 points vs. 37 points). In fact, if Scott Drew had kept Dunn and Carter in the game long enough, they probably would have. The Bears led 46-17 at half and basically coasted from there. Simply put, the Gaels were not athletic enough tonight and Samhan could not generate a big enough edge for them against Udoh and company to make up for the difference like he did against Villanova. The Bears outshot (46%-35% FG and 47%-27% 3FG), outrebounded (37-25), and outhustled (8-1 in steals) the Gaels tonight. Next up for the Bears will be Duke in a game that the Bears will have a marked homecourt advantage with a Texas crowd behind them. A win on Sunday would send the Bears to the Final Four for the first time since 1950 and would be a stunning rebound for a program that was about as low as it could get just seven years ago following the Dave Bliss era that included the murder of Patrick Dennehy by former Bear Calton Dotson. While it isn’t your traditional underdog story that the media has been feeding us, it is no less remarkable than the stories spun by any of the recent Cinderellas.
The Devils Can Play Ugly and Win, Too. #1 Duke 70, #4 Purdue 57. Over the course of the last five years or so, this is the kind of game at this very spot of the Tournament that Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils would wilt under the pressure and bow out regardless of their seed. But with the nation’s third-best defensive efficiency and an increased willingness to mix it up with tough, physical teams like Purdue, Duke is showing resolve that puts the Devils right at the forefront of the conversation regarding national title contenders this year (along with Kentucky). Much of that grittiness comes from the corps of interior players Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers, who tonight combined for as many boards (22) as the entire Purdue team. With twice as many total rebounds and +11 on the offensive end, it was just a matter of time for the three S’s (Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer) to start making shots, especially after a miserable 25% shooting first half that still found the Devils leading by a point. And sure enough, Scheyer in particular broke out of his slump, shooting 5-9 after the halftime break and helping Duke to finally pull away from the Boilermakers in the final ten minutes or so. Singler added 24/8 and Smith 15/5/4 assts, but it was clear that Purdue simply wasn’t going to have the scoring punch with Robbie Hummel out of the lineup to counter the firepower that Duke could throw at them. JaJuan Johnson had 23/5/4 blks and E’Twaun Moore 18/4, but only three other Boilermakers scored a total of sixteen points for Matt Painter. The only chance Purdue was going to have to win this one was if Duke was ice-cold for the entire game, but the tenacity with which Duke attacked the offensive glass to earn extra chances for their shooters ensured that would not happen tonight. Mike Krzyzewski moves on to his twelfth regional final against quasi-home team Baylor, and it must be noted of course that the Duke coach is 10-1 in those games, with the single loss occurring in 1998 versus Kentucky after his team blew a 17-point lead with nine minutes remaining. If history is any indicator at all, Scott Drew’s team is in serious trouble on Sunday.