ATB: Syracuse Survives, OSU Recovers, and Upset City in the West…Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. Half of our Elite Eight teams are set, with the East and West regions completing their semifinal matchups on Thursday night. The East Region in Boston finished as expected, with chalk advancing to the Elite Eight in the form of Syracuse and Ohio State for what should be a fantastic regional final on Saturday. But the story in Phoenix was much different, as the favored #1 and #3 seeds went down in games that were dominated by the lower seeds. Only one game on the night finished in single digits but there was plenty of exciting basketball that took place. And the one game that was a close one happened to be one of the Big Dance’s best. Let’s break it down…
Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor’s Shot Falls Short, #1 Syracuse Survives.
Our first game of the night was a classic, one that featured two very different teams that both executed at an extremely high level offensively. Four-seed Wisconsin brought its patented ball-control, super-slow tempo game plan into Boston with hopes of knocking off top-seeded Syracuse with a methodical approach, good shooting, and strong collective defense. But no defense could stop what either team was bringing to the table in this one. The Badgers executed their plan offensively, hitting an amazing 14-27 from three-point range in a wonderful display of outside shooting that would usually be enough for a victory. But the Orange were just as strong on the other end, converting 55.1% of their field goals with easy baskets in the paint from a variety of one-on-one scorers. The two teams combined for just 12 turnovers and this game came down to the very last shot, one that fell short on a long three-point attempt from Jordan Taylor on a broken offensive play. Despite the fairly low 64-63 final score, the game featured crisp execution throughout its entirety. Syracuse was just one possession better, thanks to its easy offense earned through superior athleticism and playmaking in the half court. It’s on to the Elite Eight for the Orange!
Also Worth Chatting About. The First #1-Seed to Fall are Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Everyone knows that March is Michigan State’s month. Tom Izzo has brought the Spartans to six Final Fours in his tenure, and he had never been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before the final weekend when his team was a #1 seed. That came to an end on Thursday, when Michigan State was outplayed from the start by Rick Pitino’s #4 Louisville Cardinals. The Spartans racked up more turnovers (15) than made field goals (14) while shooting 28.6% from the field. Louisville was too athletic and strong defensively, essentially beating Michigan State at its own game. The Cardinals won the battle on the boards, in the turnover margin, and from behind the arc (they shot 9-23 compared to 5-21 for MSU). Gorgui Dieng racked up seven blocks and three steals to go along with nine rebounds in an elite defensive performance, and Peyton Siva ran the offense well with nine assists. Izzo’s March mystique could not get his players to put the ball in the basket, and our first #1 seed finally goes down.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- #2 Ohio State Recovers After Second Half Letdown. The first half of the game between #2 Ohio State and #6 Cincinnati went as expected for OSU backers; the Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead and built that advantage to a 12-point lead at halftime thanks to suffocating perimeter defense against Cincinnati’s guards. But the second half began with a bang for the Bearcats, who erased that lead in under five minutes. Cincy built a four-point lead of its own with 12:16 to play and it looked like the tides were turning in this matchup. But Ohio State quickly recovered, as Aaron Craft got back to playing shut-down perimeter defense and Jared Sullinger did his usual work down low. Just six minutes later, OSU had regained a 10-point advantage that pretty much put the game away. Deshaun Thomas finished with 26 points and seven rebounds on 10-17 shooting, another monster performance from the breakout star of the East Region.
- #7 Florida Shows Toughness in Victory. NCAA Tournament success is largely due to matchups, and the #7 Gators have been blessed with some perfect matchups for their style in the West Region. They have not faced a single team with a strong interior presence, which is their weakness, and their next opponent does not pose that kind of threat either. But the fact that Florida is still alive, with a primarily perimeter attack itself, is because it has out-toughed other teams that play a similar style. And #3 Marquette was such an opponent on Thursday in a fun game of offensive talent. The Gators were the aggressors defensively, owning the battle of the boards and recording nine blocks while forcing the Golden Eagles into too many of rushed shots. Florida won 68-58, and Patric Young wasn’t a huge scorer in this game but had several crucial rebounds in crunch time surrounded by yellow and white jerseys. The Gators were the tougher team in a game in which equal offensive talents were not the difference in the outcome.
- Cincinnati Shows Resiliency in Loss. Down by 12 points at halftime, most viewers were ready to switch over to the Marquette-Florida game and hand Ohio State the victory in this one rather than try their luck at watching Cincinnati try to mount a comeback. But a 24-8 run to begin the second half put the Bearcats ahead in this game and made for an entertaining finish that called for the Buckeyes to make another run of their own. Cincy wound up defeated but not down; the Bearcats having played their hearts out in a Sweet Sixteen game they never would have envisioned playing in after the bloody brawl on December 20 that left several players suspended. Mick Cronin did a wonderful job with this team up until the final game in the regional semifinal, and this program is in good hands going forward.
- Wisconsin’s Amazing Shooting Display. It’s not often that a team can shoot 14-27 from three-point range and still lose a game, but that’s what happened to the Badgers as they fell one possession short of Syracuse on Thursday night. But much credit goes to Wisconsin, which exploited ‘Cuse’s sagging zone by knocking down trey after trey, resulting in such a strong outside shooting performance that it nearly single-handedly catapulted the team to the Elite Eight. On a night where the defense was poor and allowed 55.1% field goal shooting with just two steals, it was the offense that kept Bo Ryan’s team in the game.
… and Misses.
- Draymond Green’s Last Game. It was a pleasure to watch Draymond Green play four years of outstanding all-around basketball for Michigan State, and it’s a shame his career has to end in an upset in the Sweet Sixteen on a night when his team just didn’t have the energy to compete with Louisville. Green still left his mark on this game with 13 points, 16 rebounds, and two monster blocks, but he was just 5-16 from the field and 1-7 from deep with six turnovers in a pretty off night for the versatile forward. As fewer teams are able to advance, we have to lose great characters like Green, whose team was unable to survive and advance to the Elite Eight.
- William Buford’s No-Show. Ohio State advanced to the Elite Eight but it won’t be making it to the Final Four without a significant contribution from its leading guard and senior leader William Buford. The 15 point-per-night scorer has disappeared in several games this season and picked a bad time to do it again, going 1-8 with just four points, four turnovers, and four fouls for the Buckeyes on Thursday. The team picked up the slack with huge nights from Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger offensively and Aaron Craft defensively, but OSU needs much more from Buford in order to beat Syracuse next round.
- Johnson-Odom’s Layup Attempt. This shot by Darius Johnson-Odom went in, but not before the ball traveled over the backboard and spun off the top of the glass and down into the hoop, therefore being ruled out of bounds. So it was a miss. But it was one of the most amazing shots you’ll ever see, as it’s nearly impossible to put that much spin on a ball to create such a path of travel. Marquette could have used these two points on a more traditional layup attempt. DJO should save this one for his next ‘H-O-R-S-E’ game.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (NPOY) – The breakout star for Ohio State has been providing monster offensive contributions to get this team over the hump, and Thursday was much of the same with 26 points on 10-17 shooting. Thomas was 3-5 from deep and added seven rebounds with just one turnover.
- Gorgui Dieng, Louisville – It’s hard to take over a game defensively but that’s just what Dieng did, rejecting seven shots and pulling down nine defensive boards for Louisville against Michigan State’s huge front line. He was the difference maker in a game full of big bodies battling for paint position all night.
- Bradley Beal, Florida – The freshman still is far from polished and consistent on a nightly basis, but Beal has unlimited potential as an elite athlete and shooter from the guard spot. He poured in 21 points on 8-10 shooting on Thursday to go along with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks for Florida.
- C.J. Fair, Syracuse – The explosive small forward has disappeared in games for the Cuse recently, but he showed up huge on Thursday with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals in a 7-9 shooting performance on an all-around efficient night.
- Aaron Craft, Ohio State – Jared Sullinger could easily fill this spot as well with a strong double-double, but Craft was the true game-changer with a stifling perimeter defensive performance against Cincinnati. Craft had six steals and made life miserable for Cincy’s guards all night, not to mention adding 11 points, five assists, and four rebounds in the win.