ATB: Hoosiers Bounced, Marquette Cruises and Three-Point Daggers Galore For Ohio State…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 29th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Introducing The Second Weekend. The biggest story of the first weekend turned a nation of disenchanted hoops viewers into an almost undivided Florida Gulf Coast cheering section. The dunks, the dance moves, the head coach’s fairy tale wife, and everything else that endeared the country to FGCU was the perfect March story. It was a lot of fun, and it may not yet be over. It also obscured one surprising fact: aside from the wacky West region, the first three rounds played out pretty much according to plan. Wichita State and La Salle were shots out of the dark, but the rest of the field – even Oregon, seed optics aside, by all accounts looks like a top-four or five seed – was qualifiably chalky. Thursday night’s games gave us a little bit of everything: That wholly unpredictable 13-9 matchup out of the West, Indiana tried to crack open the tried-and-true Orange 2-3 zone, Marquette attempted (and succeeded) to win a game without throwing every Golden Eagles fan into cardiac arrest in the closing minutes and Ohio State looked out onto a region of utmost opportunity, with only two putatively favorable games standing in the way of a trip to Atlanta. After a week to collect your first weekend thoughts, we begin anew with more games to breakdown, slice up and analyze with objective eyes.
Your Watercooler Moment. Bye-Bye Hoosiers.
Setting aside the hegemonically dominant title teams for which matchups – stylistic and individual – don’t negate talent and athleticism advantages, most National Title hopefuls need favorable team-on-team scenarios to keep the dream alive. They need their spread motion offense to churn at high speeds, to swing the ball around at a rapid pace and to not get bogged down into the most unfailingly meddlesome zone defense of all time. Indiana needed all of those things to fall just right in order to get by Syracuse Thursday night, but none of them did. The matchup nightmare that is Boeheim’s zone detonated Indiana’s uptempo offensive attack, and the Hoosiers – as has often been the case against stylistically discordant opposition this season – couldn’t make the right adjustments at the right times. Syracuse dominated from the jump by invading passing lanes and running shooters off the three-point line and never allowing the Hoosiers to dictate the terms of engagement. This was Syracuse’s game, to be played by Syracuse’s grinding half-court style, to the extreme detriment of an IU team many projected to not only advance out of a manageable East region, but also challenge Louisville in the national title game. One part of that equation is off the table, and the Orange – a team that caught lightning in a bottle at the end of the regular season and (save the second half of the Big East tournament championship game) has played well above its four-seed designation ever since – deserve all the credit. Indiana is going home earlier than it (and most fans) ever expected to, and frankly, there isn’t much the Hoosiers could have done to prevent that dour conclusion. Syracuse played like the one-seed it purported to be for large chunks of the season, and Indiana just didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- When Season-Long Doubters Are Put To Rest. If Ohio State doesn’t make the Final Four, it will be a disappointment. The favorable draw it was dealt with so much high-seed carnage in the first three rounds laid a golden two-game path to the Georgia Dome, a path that began Thursday with No. 6 Arizona. The Buckeyes are better than Sean Miller’s team, but if OSU was going to fall in Los Angeles, it was going to be because DeShaun Thomas was burdened with too much of the scoring load. This problem isn’t specific to Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament prognosis; the Buckeyes have dealt with this issue all season. And on Thursday, they dealt with it by unleashing LaQuinton Ross for 17 points, 14 of those coming in the second half, and a game-winning three with two seconds remaining that had the same basic set-up as Aaron Craft’s dagger to fell Iowa State in the third round. The only difference? Craft passed it up and Ross stroked it to push the Buckeyes into the Elite Eight.
- Look out Ohio State. All three of Wichita State’s Tournament wins have been impressive for different reasons. In an opening round win over Pitt, the Shockers matched the Panthers’ physicality and defensive grit and outlasted one of the most efficiently-constructed two-way outfits in the country. The Shockers got hot from deep to sink No. 1 Gonzaga two days later, and a sweet 16 matchup with La Salle brought a new method of destruction. Wichita bludgeoned La Salle’s four-guard lineup with easy low-block access on the offensive end and forceful rim protection on the defensive end. It was a physical mismatch, La Salle’s perimeter-oriented offense ran into a defense it couldn’t spread out and Wichita wisely played to its strengths — rebounding, inside scoring, rim protection. Ohio State may be getting a nine-seed Saturday with a trip to the Final Four on the line, but if the Shockers can turn OSU’s easy glide to Atlanta into a grinding physical affair — the type of game Wichita imposed upon La Salle — the Buckeyes will get more than a good run from Gregg Marshall’s team. This could be the toughest of all of OSU’s games thus far in this Tournament.
- A Tough End To A Nice Season For Miami. This game isn’t particularly difficult to break down. Winning a basketball game typically requires taking and making a higher percentage of shots than your opponent. Miami did not make a high percentage of its shots. Miami made 35 percent, including 6-of-29 (1-of-11 from three) in the first half, 11 total points off the bench and 10 points on 13 shots from star guard Durand Scott. The Hurricanes’ performance doesn’t reflect well statistically or empirically – this was a bad, bad game. Miami fell behind early and never really threatened throughout, and by the end of regulation, but for a few late spurts, Jim Larranaga’s team had come and gone ingloriously, without putting up much of a fight. For a team that took home both the ACC regular season and conference Tournament championships, this is a bitter way to bow out of a once-promising NCAA Tournament position.
Game-Winner of the Night. Nothing could have better summed up an all-around excellent night for LaQuinton Ross, whose scoring punch gave OSU the extra boost it needed against Arizona.
Thursday Night’s All-Americans.
- LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State (NPOY) – Want to maximize your chance of seeing buzzer-beating game-winners? Just tune in for every Ohio State game. Ross followed up Craft’s kill-shot against Iowa State by draining a three to create a three-point advantage over Arizona in the closing seconds and cap a 17-point night.
- Jamil Wilson, Marquette – I didn’t mean to deprive Marquette of well-deserved credit for a convincing win. The Golden Eagles are just as responsible for Miami’s dismissal as the Hurricanes themselves, and Wilson’s 16 point, 8-rebound performance helped expose Miami’s Reggie Johnson-less interior D.
- Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – Height advantage is practically a constant for MCW – guards built to check 6’6’’ point men with slick handles and perceptive cross-court vision just don’t come around all that often. So it was again Thursday night with six-footers Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls. Carter-Williams took initiative by scorching IU’s miniscule backcourt for 24 points and six rebounds.
- Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State — Having a capable backcourt scorer like Armstead to complement a sturdy forward rotation gives Wichita the type of offensive diversity it needs to unhinge OSU’s smothering defense. Armstead will need to match or top his 18 points Thursday night to keep the Buckeyes off balance.
- Carl Hall, Wichita State — Beasting the low-block is what Hall does best, and he continued his strong interior work Thursday with 16 points, eight boards and four blocks to propel the Shockers past La Salle.
Tweet of the Night. No player was bigger for the Buckeyes down the stretch, no player more frequently chipped away at Arizona’s defensive stability, no player was more pivotal to Ohio State’s advancement, than Ross. OSU could use a few more of these types of games from Ross, or anyone else capable of picking up scoring responsibilities when Thomas drops a paltry four second-half points, as it moves deeper and faces increasingly stingy defensive pressure.