ATB: And Then There Were 64 — First Four BreakdownPosted by EJacoby on March 15th, 2012
The First Round Lede. Debate all you want about the structure of the new NCAA Tournament (since last year) – the First Four format is the new norm, and it must be appreciated because of the momentum it can give to the teams that win these play-in games. Of course, last year VCU began its run to the Final Four from the First Four. Over the past two nights, we saw a couple of really interesting games and a couple of blowouts. We’ll analyze the best moments for you here, as well as preview what’s next to come for the four winners. Here’s your First Round wrap-up…
Your Watercooler Moment. BYU Mounts An Enormous Second Half Comeback
At the 4:00 mark of the first half of their game against Iona, the BYU Cougars trailed 55-31. Not a single soul watching this game on Tuesday night was thinking about a BYU comeback, and even the announcing crew on truTV was discussing how Iona could pose a serious threat to Marquette in the next round. But Dave Rose was not having it; the BYU coach made the necessary adjustments that included putting his defense into a 2-3 zone that it had hardly used during the season. The result was a complete shift in momentum, and the Cougars continued to convert on the offensive end while holding the Gaels to nothing offensively. Just 16 minutes later, at the 8:00 mark of the second half, Iona’s lead had vanished. BYU controlled the game from there and pulled away with a 78-72 victory, a seemingly impossible result after watching the events of the first half. The upperclassmen forward combo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies was terrific, combining for 41 points and 20 rebounds against the undersized Iona front line. The Cougars will take this momentum into Friday night when they take on Marquette in the Round of 64.
First Round Quick Hits…
- Western Kentucky’s Five Minutes of Fame In the other game that took place on Tuesday, more history was made in the form of unprecedented comebacks. #16 seed Western Kentucky trailed fellow #16 Mississippi Valley State by 16 points with under five minutes to play in what was a fairly uninteresting opening game. But then all hell broke loose in the form of a swarming WKU press, horrible ball control by MVSU, and timely shots by the comeback kids. The Hilltoppers erased that 16-point lead in less than four minutes before going on to win this game by a single point in the final seconds. The result was the greatest five-minute comeback in NCAA Tournament history, as no team had ever before trailed by 16 points with under five to play and then gone on to win the game. Credit Ray Harper, an interim-made-permanent coach after original head man Ken McDonald was fired in January, for getting his kids to play with the resiliency they’ve shown the entire second half of the season. All five Hilltopper starters scored at least nine points and this team gets rewarded with a date against Kentucky on Thursday evening.
- USF Swarms and Performs. Wednesday night was supposed to include the marquee matchup of the First Round between two power conference teams, the #12 seeds California and South Florida. But USF made sure that this one wasn’t close, coming out and punching Cal in the mouth, figuratively, with physical defense that held the Bears to three points in the first seven minutes. Cal put up a whopping 13 in the entire first half as USF built an insurmountable 26-point halftime lead. The Bulls were underdogs in this game against a supposedly more talented Cal team that featured several scoring options, but Stan Heath’s team showed far better execution, energy, and toughness from the start of a big-time blowout in Wednesday’s nightcap. USF used a balanced attack that featured four players in double figures and a 57.1% field goal percentage. This was South Florida’s first ever NCAA Tournament victory in school history.
- Vermont Loves The Four. The First Four was kind to Vermont, which controlled its game against Lamar and never trailed from the 12:00 mark in the first half until the end of a dominant victory. This was the second NCAA Tournament win in Catamount history, the first coming in the famous upset of Syracuse in the 2005 Tourney. Vermont got Wednesday’s win with the help of its own Four, that of Four McGlynn, the freshman guard who leads this team in scoring despite coming off the bench in every game. McGlynn poured in 18 points on just nine shots in an efficient night to lead this team to a date with North Carolina on Friday. The scouting report held true in other ways, as well, as Brian Voelkel led this team in rebounding and assists despite scoring under five points per game. Voelkel’s game line: 12 rebounds, seven assists, three points. All was well for Vermont on Wednesday.
… and Misses
- Iona’s Meltdown. We covered this game in the Watercooler Moment, but analyzing the result from Iona’s end is sadly necessary. The Gaels were a shocking selection to the field of 68 on Selection Sunday, and their tale of two halves in the First Four left fans completely puzzled. For the first 20 minutes, Iona looked like the greatest #14-seed in history and made the tournament committee look like geniuses for selecting this team over the so-called ‘snubs.’ But then the second half came, and Iona quickly blew a 25-point lead that marked the biggest collapse in NCAA Tournament history. So that’s why critics were so upset at Iona’s selection; the Gaels showed no resiliency to adversity and certainly failed the composure test. But we’re still all puzzled; how can a team be so good one half and so awful in another? Just one of the many mysteries of the NCAA Tournament that makes this postseason event the most unpredictable and entertaining in all of sports.
- Cal Forgets to Show Up. Don’t take the title of this bullet literally; California did arrive on time for its First Round game in Dayton. But on second thought, feel free to take this seriously, because the Golden Bears were completely embarrassed and had lost this game as soon as they stepped off the bus. Mike Montgomery’s team was unprepared for South Florida’s suffocating half-court defense and the Bears made no attempt to run strong sets to free up shooters. Instead, one-on-one play doomed this team that fell down 15-3 early in the game and finished the first half down 36-13 with the game pretty much over already. The final score (65-54) was not indicative of the complete shellacking suffered by Cal, which did nothing to improve the reputation of the pathetic Pac-12 in this down season. Only Colorado remains in the NCAA Tournament from that conference (and that’s because they haven’t played yet).
Looking Ahead. It’s a quick turnaround for each of these First Four winners that has to play a highly-seeded opponent on Thursday or Friday. Here’s a look at the matchups:
- Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers play Kentucky on Thursday. Yeah, this is #68 versus #1 according to the released NCAA Tournament S-Curve list of how every team was seeded in the Big Dance. There’s not much of a chance for WKU in this game, but the team will be excited to play against an in-state rival lineup of future NBA players, hoping to represent the school well on the big stage.
- BYU – The Cougars put together an impressive second half performance against Iona and now move on to play a similar type of uptempo team in Marquette on Thursday. BYU will have a better game plan, but this team will not match up well with the high-flying Golden Eagles that not only provide fast-paced aggressive offense but also are very familiar playing against zone defenses and defending methodical offenses. But Dave Rose’s team beat some good teams this year and will not back down from the challenge.
- Vermont – The Catamounts match up with North Carolina on Friday, hoping to give a scare to the Tar Heels who are probably going to rest ailing John Henson in this game assuming that they will run all over Vermont with ease. UVM hopes to prove otherwise.
- South Florida – The most interesting matchup of all, USF will deal with the Temple Owls in the #12-#5 matchup of the Midwest Region on Friday night. The Bulls are certainly capable of the upset, possessing the perimeter defense necessary to hold Temple’s trio of scoring guards. But Temple has much more versatility and playmaking in its offense than what California showed, so the Owls will be better prepared for the USF pressure ‘D’. A key to this game will be who gets the edge inside between Michael Eric and Augustus Gilchrist, two bigs that like to bang down low. Give Temple the advantage but USF a sure chance of making this a game.
First Four All-Americans.
- Noah Hartsock, BYU (NPOY) – BYU’s big man hit 10-of-14 shots for 23 points and was a consistent option throughout the game on Tuesday, even when the Cougars were down big in the first half. He added five rebounds and two blocks as the leader of the comeback victory.
- Victor Rudd, South Florida – Rudd had an incredible cock-back dunk in the second half of USF’s blowout that showcased the wing’s tremendous athleticism. He made a couple of other highlights plays and also finished as the team’s leading scorer with 15 points and five boards on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.
- Four McGlynn, Vermont – The only player in the country who leads his team in scoring while not starting a single game, McGlynn continued his strong season by scoring 18 points on just nine field goal attempts while adding three rebounds and three assists. And he’s only a freshman.
- Brandon Davies, BYU – A second Cougar is deserving of this list, putting up a massive double-double of 18 points and 15 rebounds against Iona’s small front line. Davies had seven turnovers but made up for that with two assists, three steals, and two blocks.
- Derrick Gordon, Western Kentucky – The only guy who played over 30 minutes for WKU in its win on Tuesday was freshman guard Derrick Gordon, a top-100 recruit who chose the Hilltoppers and earned his team an NCAA Tournament win. Gordon had 11 points and 11 rebounds with three assists.