Rushed Reaction: #4 Louisville 57, #1 Michigan State 44

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Ugly Offense Favors the Medusa. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a team make eight field goals in a single half where seven of those were threes. Yet that’s what Louisville did in the first half, and remarkably, they led the game by five at the intermission. Neither team was going to set the other’s defense on fire in this slugfest, but the fact that Louisville was able to scrape up as much offense as it could find in the first half through perimeter shooting allowed it to stick around long enough to put together a game-winning run in the second half. When MSU started to see its own blood, they panicked a bit and lose composure — at that point, the game was over.
  2. Chane Behanan Makes Plays. If I had to pick a single Cardinal on the offensive end to highlight here, it would have to be the freshman Behanan. The do-everything forward was seemingly in the right place on a number of UL’s offensive possessions, finding put-back opportunities and steals when the Cards needed it most. In a tight defensive game like this one, ripping balls away from the burly and physical MSU big men to drop layups are game-winning plays, and that’s what Behanan did several times tonight.
  3. Pitino Has This Team Believing. They’re truly not that talented individually, and they have an awful lot of trouble putting the ball in the hole consistently, but Rick Pitino has done one of his best coaching jobs at Louisville in getting his players to buy in and believe in their system. If you think back to Pitino’s running-and-gunning teams at Providence and Kentucky, it’s rather ridiculous to think about a team of his playing possession-by-possession and favoring the halfcourt. Yet, that’s the reality and guys like Peyton Siva, Dieng, Behanan and the rest are making it work. He’s one win away from his sixth Final Four.

Star of the Game. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville. The Louisville center completely changed the complexion of the game with his defense tonight. His seven blocks and three steals had an awful lot to do with Michigan State’s horrific 28.6% shooting night. He also grabbed nine rebounds and even threw in his first trey of the season for good measure.

Quotable. “The whole game came down to, really, that they made those threes.”Tom Izzo, referring to the first half where Louisville players like Jared Swopshire and Gorgui Dieng, players who do not usually shoot (or make) threes, did so.

What’s Next? Louisville will stick around two more days in the Valley of the Sun to await the winner of the Marquette-Florida game later tonight. Regardless of opponent, it would be difficult to figure that the Cardinals would be an underdog the way that they’re playing right now.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Syracuse 64, #4 Wisconsin 63

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Syracuse weathers the storm. People have said a lot of things about this Syracuse program over the past five months, but they are definitely resilient. From the Bernie Fine scandal to the Fab Melo suspension (both of them), the Orange have persevered and now find themselves on the verge of taking Jim Boeheim to just his fourth Final Four in his storied career. Tonight the Orange were able to fend off some ridiculously hot shooting from the Badgers who went 14-27 from the 3-point range including six straight three-pointers in less than four minutes midway through the second half. The Orange managed to withstand the barrage and are on the verge of heading to New Orleans.
  2. Berggren in foul trouble. When someone looks at the box score from this game in the future they will probably barely notice Jared Berggren‘s 3 fouls, but those who watched the game will know that the second foul he picked up with 12:03 left in the first half had a huge impact in the game. Berggren had just scored 10 straight Wisconsin points in 3:17 stretch that turned a 7-5 Syracuse lead into a 15-9 Wisconsin lead. From that point forward, Berggren did not play a single second in the first half. The Orange then went on a 24-8 run to give themselves a 10-point lead before a late four-point spurt by the Badgers cut the halftime deficit to six.
  3. Contrasting styles made for a great game. Early in the game nearly every media member was tracking how much of the shot clock Wisconsin was using before they took a shot. On the other end, we could barely keep up with how quickly Syracuse was getting its shots off. The contrast was also notable in the team’s shot selection. Wisconsin scored 42 of its 63 points from beyond the arc while only 15 of Syracuse’s 64 points came from three-point range. In the end, Wisconsin had exactly what it wanted–the ball in the hands of its senior All-American point guard. Wisconsin could have called a timeout to set up a play, but you can hardly fault Bo Ryan for letting Jordan Taylor work against a Syracuse defense that the Badgers had picked apart in the second half with its three-point shooting. This time though, Syracuse stepped up and forced Taylor into an ugly desperation three that the Badgers didn’t need and their last gasp came up short.

Star of the Game. C.J. Fair, Syracuse. Berggren may have had the big first half and Dion Waiters may have exploded towards the end of the first half, but it was fair who gave the Orange 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals that probably was the decisive factor. Fair has been quiet offensively over the past six games totaling just 20 points over that period, which spanned a month, but he gave his team the lift it needed to get over a tough Wisconsin team.

Sights & Sounds. Our seat was next to the Wisconsin bench and while we didn’t get to watch Jim Boeheim’s facial expressions we got an earful of Bo Ryan yelling about every single call. As we noted earlier Ryan was particularly vocal about his thoughts that the officials were favoring the Orange, which was not evident as Syracuse was actually called for one more foul (13-12). The one time when Ryan did not have something to say was when a reporter asked him what he said immediately after the game to Jordan Taylor.

What’s Next?  The Orange will be taking on the state of Ohio in some form. They could get a Big East match-up with Cincinnati, who they split the season series with winning at Cincinnati in January, but then dropping the Big East semifinal to a surging Cincinnati team. Or they could get a game against Ohio State that Orange fans have feared with the presence of Jared Sullinger potentially highlighting the absence of Fab Melo on the inside.

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Rushed Reaction: #6 Cincinnati 62, #3 Florida State 56

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. A Game of Intensity.  No one will accuse either of these teams of not playing hard. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton are known for teams that bring effort to every aspect of the game, and while they may not always play pretty, they both leave everything on the floor. Both teams shot under 40% for the game, and this is a testament to the kind defense they play. While both teams turned the ball over far too many times, this game gave us essentially what we expected:  a tough, grind-it-out battle with intensity befitting a third round NCAA Tournament game.
  2. A See-saw Battle.  The game saw 11 ties and 19 lead changes. Cincinnati took the largest lead of the second half at that point with just over a minute to play when it went up 54-50.  The Bearcats were able to maintain a two-possession advantage the rest of the way, but this was as evenly-played a game as you will see.  Until the Bearcats took control late, it didn’t look like either team would do so.  Thanks to some shaky play down the stretch by Florida State point guard Luke Loucks, including two careless turnovers, the Bearcats move on.
  3. Florida State Disappointment.  The Seminoles, who won the ACC Tournament just a week ago, have to be disappointed that they could not advance to a regional in which they would have had as good a chance as any team to advance to the Final Four.  They finish the season at 24-10, but after last year’s Sweet Sixteen run, this Seminole squad was more equipped to make a deep run and would have no doubt given Ohio State all it could handle.

Star of the Game.  Sean Kilpatrick.  The sophomore guard is the Bearcats’ leading scorer, and on this night, he finished with 18 points on 5-9 shooting, including 4-6 from three-point range.

Quotable. “Had we taken care of the ball better, we’d at least have given ourselves a chance.  That’s probably what did us in.” – Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton

Sights and Sounds.  This was the most intense atmosphere of the weekend.  The crowd was nowhere near capacity, but it was very loud, and it almost matched the intensity of the play on the floor.

Wildcard.  Both games played in Nashville today ended up with the same final score, 62-56.  In this game, both teams went 19-50 from the field.

What’s Next?  The Bearcats advance to Boston to play in-state rival Ohio State in one East Regional semifinal.  The winner of that game will take on the winner of Syracuse-Wisconsin.  There’s no reason to think Cincinnati can’t advance out of that region, although taking down the Buckeyes will be a tall order.

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Kansas 63, #10 Purdue 60

Posted by Patrick Marshall on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Sticking Around. It felt like Purdue was going to win this game throughout the evening, but the Jayhawks stuck around. Kansas shot 29.4% in the first half and they were lucky to be only down by six points at halftime. In the second half the shooting woes hit Purdue down the stretch where the Boilermakers only shot 28.6% in the second half to allow KU back into it. Through the final three minutes, Purdue had some real struggles to run its offense. It was the Kansas defense that forced turnovers in the final possessions.  Defense, so they say, wins championships (or at least third round defensive battles).
  2. Robinson shut down. The Boilermakers did everything they could to keep Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson out of the game. He was absent for most the game only having a single point at halftime and shooting 1-of-5 from the field. Robinson ended up with a double-double –11 points and 13 rebounds — but he had to earn every single one of them. Most of it came from the free throw line where he went 7-of-11 from the charity stripe. On the opposite end he finished 2-of-12 from the field. Still, Robinson recorded his 25th double-double this season, tying the school record held by Drew Gooden.
  3. Hummel-ized. Purdue needed a big game from Robbie Hummel if it wanted a chance to win the game tonight and he provided one, though a big share of it came in the first half. Hummel had 22 points before halftime on 7-of-8 shooting, including 5-of-6 from three including a shot clock buzzer-beater from downtown Omaha. Kansas did a good job containing him in the second half, but down the stretch, the Boilermakers went back to Hummel and he hit a couple more key baskets He ran out of gas in the final minute when Purdue needed a score, though, thanks to Kansas’ suffocating defense. He finished with a game-high 26 points. The loss was a sad way to end his career after making his way back from two devastating knee injuries.

Star of the Game. Elijah Johnson, Kansas. With Thomas Robinson basically ineffective in the scoring column, Johnson helped drive the Kansas comeback scoring 13 of his 18 points in the second half, including the basket to lead the Jayhawks to the win.  He also was 3-of-8 from behind the arc. 

Quotable. “I don’t think he has a McDonald’s All-American on his team so give Bill Self some credit.” Purdue head coach Matt Painter on recruiting a player to Purdue.

Sights & Sounds. When you get to the NCAA Tournament, the game tonight between the Jayhawks and Boilermakers is exactly what you are looking for in March Madness.  It was a full arena with teams battling each other from the beginning to the end, and fans and bands creating a great atmosphere.  With the announced crowd of almost 17,000 in the arena, the game was made even more special.  It was a great way to end Omaha’s weekend of hosting.  The event should eventually make its way back to Omaha, where it’ll find a hyped up crowd ready to support the Tourney.

What’s Next?. Kansas now heads to St. Louis to the Sweet Sixteen for a date with North Carolina State next week.  Although the Jayhawks are the #2 seed in the region, many see the Jayhawks as a favorite over the #1 North Carolina Tar Heels due to Kendall Marshall’s injury and the proximity of St. Louis to the KU campus.

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Rushed Reaction: #10 Xavier 70, #15 Lehigh 58

Posted by mpoindexter on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. A sea change. With six minutes to play in the first half, Lehigh was up 31-16, with everything going their way. But by halftime, Xavier had cut the lead to only four points. The momentum stayed with the Musketeers the entirety of the second half as they quickly surpassed Lehigh, and the Mountain Hawks never could quite catch up. The difference between the Lehigh team that started the game and the Lehigh team that started the second half was night and day. Shots that rattled around and went in before now rattled around and popped out;  loose balls they got to against Duke suddenly were in the hands of Xavier’s players. This Mountain Hawks team that so many in Greensboro adopted never stopped playing hard, the breaks just stopped falling their way halfway through the game.
  2. Xavier’s redemption. First it was the brawl. Then it was two months of up-and-down, uninspired play. It’s hard to believe that this Xavier team that couldn’t get any momentum after December is finally gaining steam now, in the NCAA tournament. As the last few seconds ticked off the clock, Musketeer fans cheered as much in relief as in celebration, happy that this season which felt so derailed before now seems to be exactly where they want it to be. Xavier’s players, however, want more: many played on Sean Miller’s and Chris Mack’s Sweet 16 teams in 2009 and 2010. It would be truly remarkable for this team, counted out by many, to surpass those prior teams’ accomplishments.
  3. Everybody loves Lehigh. If you polled the state of North Carolina this weekend on who their favorite NCAA basketball team was, Lehigh would probably come in third after UNC and NC State. Both the team and their fans were embraced by the locals after their defeat of Duke. A group of Lehigh fans who made the trip to Chapel Hill over the weekend reportedly ate and drank for free during their entire visit. One media member in Greensboro who usually covers Duke basketball commented during the middle of tonight’s game, “Man, I may be neutral on the outside, but I’m cheering like hell for Lehigh to get back into this game. I want history.” They were a pleasure to cover, and incredibly fun to watch on the court–always moving, tenacious, and incredibly fast. Though they were undersized and less talented than their opponents, the Mountain Hawks were more exciting than any number of major conference teams. The college basketball world should look forward to any chance they get to watch this team in the future.

Star of the game. Kenny Frease, Xavier. Though Lehigh had players nearly as tall as Frease, they had no one as big as the Xavier center. Dwarfing his opponents, Frease shot an astounding 11-for-13 from the floor, wracking up 25 points and 12 rebounds, with four coming off the offensive glass. “Exploit Lehigh’s size” is a good strategy, but as Duke showed, it’s a difficult one to implement. Kudos to the 7’0″, 275-pound Frease for doing what the Plumlees couldn’t. He wasn’t flashy, but he was utterly unstoppable tonight.

Sights & Sounds. The word that best describes the ambiance during tonight’s game is “surreal.” On one side of the court, Lehigh fans packed their entire seating section. On the other side, Xavier fans did the same. The more than twenty section between the two warring factions were sparsely populated with seated North Carolina Tar Heels fans, all seemingly in shock at the news of Kendall Marshall’s injury. For much of the first half, press row was nearly empty due to all the media members who were trying to get any information they could about the UNC point guard. Only twice did the neutral spectators make considerable noise: first booing when a fan held up a sign reading “NC State: 1983 All Over Again,” and later joining in when Lehigh’s fans started a “Let’s go Tar Heels!” chant late in the second half, returning the favor for the support UNC fans gave their team on Friday.

Quotable. “I sit here in front of all of you disappointed, but very proud, proud of the young men that I’ve had the opportunity to coach throughout the course of this season, proud of the young men who have grown and developed through the course of their career in our program, proud of the development of underclassmen as they have become stronger and greater leaders. And I’m proud to be able to represent Lehigh University in the NCAA tournament.” – Lehigh head coach Brett Reed

What’s Next? Xavier moves onto the Sweet 16 in Atlanta, where they will meet #3 seed Baylor. At first glance, the Musketeers have the height and firepower to hang with the Bears, but Chris Mack has to worry that Baylor might be just slightly better at everything than his team. Xavier does many things well, but Baylor does all those same things very, very well. Xavier’s next challenge will be a tough one.

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Rushed Reaction: #13 Ohio 62, #12 South Florida 56

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Ohio’s Guards were Fantastic.  It’s not easy to win a third round game in the NCAA Tournament when you get 11 points from your frontcourt. But that’s exactly what Ohio did tonight, thanks to its stellar backcourt and the outstanding performances of D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. The pair combined for 40 of Ohio’s 62 points and got nine more from the team’s third starting guard, Nick Kellogg.  South Florida did a much better job than Michigan of disrupting the flow of Ohio’s offense, especially in taking Ohio forward Ivo Baltic and the rest of the Bobcat frontcourt out of the game, but the Bobcats shot 50% from the floor in the second half and were able to get more open looks. The Bobcat backcourt was simply too good on this night, and Cooper and Offutt are the biggest reason Ohio is moving on to its first Sweet Sixteen since 1964.
  2. Five-point Possessions turn Game.  It’s not often that you see a five-point possession in a game.  It’s downright rare that you see two in one half, but Ohio had two such possessions in the second half and they were game changers.  The first came with 16:03 remaining when Victor Rudd, Jr., was called for an intentional foul on Walter Offutt after he grabbed Offutt on the perimeter. Offutt made both free throws and then knocked down a three from the left corner to tie the game.  Then, with 9:23 left, Jawanza Poland was on the receiving end of a beautiful alley-oop pass from Collins and was called for hanging on the rim by referee Tony Greene.  It was a questionable call, and it took away South Florida’s momentum. The Bulls had taken a 42-37 lead on the play, but Kellogg knocked down both technical free throws and made a three to tie it back up. The play sparked a 19-6 run that gave Ohio a lead it would not relinquish.
  3. South Florida’s Offense not Enough.  The Bulls play ugly and get the job done on the defensive end. Offensively, though, they simply weren’t worthy of a Sweet Sixteen run, especially on the perimeter. For the game, South Florida went 2-15 from three-point range, and many of those misses came on good looks.  Had they been able to knock down a few more of those shots, the early second half lead may have been too much for Ohio to overcome. Instead, their inability to make enough shots ended the Bulls’ season.

Star of the Game Walter Offutt, Ohio. The Bobcat junior, who spent his first two years at Ohio State, showed why he was a high-major recruit in this game, going 7-9 from the field and scoring 21 points.  He hit all four of his three-point attempts. This honor easily could have gone to Cooper, who had 19 points and seven assists, but on this night, Offutt provided the offensive spark that carried the Bobcats to St. Louis.

Quotable.  “I don’t ever want to blame one play, but it certainly changed the momentum. All season long, we didn’t let one play bother us, but we did here. The response was not normal for us.” – South Florida Coach Stan Heath, on Poland’s technical.

Sights and Sounds.  St. Patrick’s Day came a day late, as green was everywhere in this one.  Even the NCAA got into the act, assigning referee Tony Greene to the game.

Wildcard. In the Twitter era, news travels fast. At halftime, the media room was abuzz with word of North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall‘s fractured wrist, and the general consensus was that the Tar Heels’ chances of winning the national title are over if Marshall can’t play or perform at his usual high level.

What’s Next?  Ohio has a huge challenge ahead, as it gets to take on the region’s top seed, North Carolina.  Of course, no one knows what the Tar Heels will look like at this point, given Marshall’s injury. Still, despite the fact that Ohio’s backcourt is superb, the Bobcats’ lack of size will be a big problem against the huge North Carolina front line.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 North Carolina 87, #8 Creighton 73

Posted by mpoindexter on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Kendall Marshall likely done for the year. In the midst of another fantastic performance, the sophomore who has lately been the best Tar Heel on the court came down with a scaphoid fracture to his right wrist. Though it isn’t his dominant hand, and UNC said that they don’t know Marshall’s range of motion yet, the medical literature does not offer a good prognosis. Much of the commentary will focus on how greatly this diminishes North Carolina’s odds of winning a title in 2012, but the real focus should be on Marshall, a player who seems as vocally committed to his teammates’ success as any in college basketball.
  2. John Henson is back, and healthy. After missing the last three games with a wrist injury, John Henson came back to the Tar Heels in full force. Henson was good for 13 points and 10 rebounds plus four blocks. It was Henson’s technical early in the game that sparked a gargantuan run from the Tar Heels, and his team played inspired ball for the first time since beating Duke at the end of the regular season. Henson was still tentative early on using his left hand, preferring to tip the ball to his right hand on a rebound and opting to lay in a ball he normally would have slammed home with authority. But by the second half he was back to his old self, using his left hand to emphatically swat away a Doug McDermott shot.
  3. Hats off to a great Creighton team. The Jays played hard today, but simply met a team that was bigger, more talented, more athletic. Doug McDermott tried his best, scoring 20 points, but the Tar Heels’ duo of Henson and James Michael McAdoo made life difficult for him. In the end, North Carolina’s players were too fast for the Jays to guard, and the Heels were able to get almost any shot from 10+ feet wide open. Creighton, though, was a pleasure to watch this year. If McDermott sticks around, then there’s no reason they can’t improve upon what was already a fantastic ride.

Star of the Game. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall was quiet for most of the second half, but it was his play that initially put the Creighton Bluejays in a hole from which they couldn’t climb out. During North Carolina’s big run in the first half, the Tar Heel point guard scored nine straight points at one point, beating the Jays from inside and out. Marshall led the Heels in points (18), assists (11), and minutes played (36), going 7-of-8 from the floor. Multiple times, Creighton left him open and dared him to shoot, something that worked for teams last year. It doesn’t work any longer. The bad news is that the left-handed Marshall fractured his right wrist toward the end of tonight’s game, making his status uncertain for any games the Heels play for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

Quotable. “It was a great win for our team, great win for our kids, and it was a team game to say the least. We got help from everybody. But it’s sort of overshadowed by what’s happened to a wonderful young man right now.” - Roy Williams

Sights & Sounds. The Greensboro Coliseum is an easy 45-minute drive from North Carolina’s campus in Chapel Hill, and the crowd for today’s game against Creighton overwhelmingly favored the Tar Heels. Combined, those made for a de facto home game for Roy Williams’ team. The Greensboro crowd, though, may have been so loud and energetic that it was more imposing for Creightonthan if they had played a regular season game in Chapel Hill. Tar Heel crowds at the Dean E. Smith Center have a reputation for being populated by the “wine and cheese” demographic — older donors who prefer to stay seated and clap politely before leaving with five minutes left on the clock. The crowd tonight was more like “beer and nacho cheese,” constantly screaming, jeering, and chanting. If the same people who came out for UNC in Greensboro follow them to St. Louis, the Tar Heels’ opponents are in for a long, loud night.

Wild Card. Who plays the point in Marshall’s absence? UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game that the duty would go to freshman reserve Stilman White or senior do-everything Justin Watts. Both pale in comparison to Marshall offensively, though Watts is comparable, if not better, as a defender.

What’s next? The Tar Heels head to St. Louis, where they’ll meet the winner of #12 South Florida and #13 Ohio. UNC will have a size advantage regardless of who they play, and would cause huge problems for either team’s middling offense. If Kendall Marshall’s right wrist fracture keeps him from playing, as expected, UNC may be in for a low-scoring dogfight on the Mississippi.

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Rushed Reaction: #7 Florida 84, #15 Norfolk State 50

Posted by Patrick Marshall on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Three-point shooting was the killing blow. The biggest difference between Friday and today was the three-point shooting by Florida. Against Virginia the Gators were completely cold behind the arc, only hitting one three before halftime. Against Norfolk State, the Gators hit seven before the half that effectively led to their 28-point lead. For the game the Gators shot 10-of-28 from three, a far cry from the four they made on Friday. Florida set a school record with made three-pointers this season and they will need those to go down as they progress through the tourney.
  2. Ball movement. Florida has done a great job in Omaha with its ball movement. Despite Norfolk State playing zone for a large part of the game, Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and the rest of the Gators were moving around and looking for the open man when the Spartans would shut off drives to the basket.  They were obviously quicker than Norfolk State, but they will have to keep up their intensity for the whole game. After getting out to a large lead on the Spartans, their intensity fell off quite a bit in the second half. But the Gators only turned the ball over eight times for the game. Constant ball movement is a big part of the Billy Donovan offense.
  3. Balance will win games. Florida doesn’t have a dominant player like Thomas Robinson or Anthony Davis, but their team is really balanced. Walker (15), Boynton (20), Bradley Beal (14), Mike Rosario (10), and Erik Murphy (10) all scored in double figures for the Gators. Patric Young didn’t even score his first field goal until early in the second half, as he finished with only six points.  It will take a combination of players having a good game for Florida to continue to advance.

Star of the Game. Kenny Boynton, Florida. Although the Gators were balanced, it was Boynton who got things going for Florida with his 20 points and seven rebounds.  His physical play got Norfolk State out of sync and they could not recover. 

Quotable. “I’m extremely proud of my team, we did things that have never happened before at our university.” – Anthony Evans, Norfolk State head coach

Sights & Sounds. The Norfolk State band again was in full force, this time on the total opposite end of court than Friday. However, they were still very powerful and the fans in the stands enjoyed their enthusiasm.  Even the Purdue band that was right next to me waiting for the next game, all they could say was “wow.”

Wildcard. A #15 seed has never advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, Norfolk State won the hearts of fans in Omaha during this trip as there were pockets of fans wearing their green St. Patrick’s Day shirts to show their support for the Spartans.  The Gators have now advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the eighth time in school history, six of which have occurred under head coach Billy Donovan.

What’s Next? The Gators now head to Phoenix to take on Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen, where the Golden Eagles will try to slow down this quick Florida offense. The Florida guards look like they might be a little quicker than those from Marquette, but the Golden Eagles have a bit more inside. It should be a great game Thursday night.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Michigan State 65, #9 Saint Louis 61

Posted by WCarey on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Draymond Green is still the man. The senior do-everything man for Michigan State put up another terrific performance with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six steals. In such a close game, the Spartans needed every one of those contributions from Green. Green was in such control for Michigan State that there were times late in the game during Saint Louis’ furious comeback that he was running the point for the Spartans. He is one of those special talents who can lead Michigan State all the way to the Final Four and beyond.
  2. Keith Appling is capable of making huge plays from the guard position. Amidst the furious Saint Louis rally with Michigan State’s lead cut to just four, Appling nailed a huge three-pointer from the corner with just 1:37 remaining on the clock. After that three, Saint Louis realistically only had a fighter’s chance of getting back into this one. The sophomore guard finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
  3. This is not the last we will hear from Saint Louis. Saint Louis is a very well-coached team who returns every contributor but leading scorer Brian Conklin. Starters Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jr., Dwayne Evans, and Rob Loe return next season for the Billikens. Key bench guys Cody Ellis, Jordair Jett, and Cory Remekun also return to build on this year’s 26-8 campaign. Rick Majerus‘ squad plays a tough-nosed style of play and will definitely be a major player in the Atlantic 10 next season.

Star of the Game. Draymond Green, Michigan State. The senior had another impressive performance here, accumulating 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Throughout the game it was more than clear that Green was the best player on the floor. Green really is a do-everything guy for Michigan State and that was more than evident again today.

Quotable. “We had to work today.” – Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Saint Louis gave the Spartans a very tough fight all afternoon and the outcome was in question until the final minutes.

Sights & Sounds. Seeing a Saint Louis fan play a trumpet in the stands was really a sight to be had. I have never seen something like that at a basketball game before and I really wonder how he got that trumpet into the arena. Nevertheless, it was definitely a fun sight.

Wild Card. It was definitely tough seeing how emotional both Rick Majerus and Brian Conklin were at the postgame press conference. It was obvious to everyone in the room just how much those two care for each other. Conklin seems like a first-class kid and definitely someone the Billikens will miss next season.

What’s Next. Michigan State moves on to the Sweet Sixteen where it will face Louisville in a matchup of two legendary coaches in Phoenix. Expect a hard-fought, gritty, sometimes-ugly style of basketball to be played with the deserving winner one step from the Final Four.

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Rushed Reaction: #11 NC State 66, #3 Georgetown 63

Posted by WCarey on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways

  1. As Henry Sims and Jason Clark go, so does Georgetown. The two seniors definitely did not have their best games and it hurt the Hoyas mightily. Sims was plagued with foul trouble throughout the game and was never able to be an effective offensive or defensive presence. Sims finished the game with just four points, three rebounds, and two assists. The senior big man only attempted three field goals, turned the ball over twice, and fouled out. After a very effective nine for 12 performance from the field against Belmont on Friday, Clark struggled with his shot all afternoon hitting just three of his 11 attempts. The senior guard struggled to get open looks and, at times, forced some bad shots.
  2. You can shoot 37% from the field and 61% from the free throw line and still pull an upset. NC State did not put up the best shooting numbers and struggled from the line all afternoon. However, the Wolfpack hit seven of their 15 attempts from behind the arc and owned the offensive glass by a margin of 17 to 8. Forward Richard Howell had six offensive boards himself. The scoring for the Wolfpack was very balanced with forward CJ Leslie, forward Scott Wood, and swingman CJ Williams each tallying 14 points, while guard Lorenzo Brown added 12. NC State also did a good job of keeping its energy level high throughout the game as it never felt like the Wolfpack had dropped into a lull.
  3. Mark Gottfried has done an outstanding job in his first year at NC State. When Mark Gottfried was hired by NC State last April, many pundits openly questioned the move, but he has the Wolfpack in the Sweet 16 in just his first season. Gottfried inherited a team that many considered to be a disaster under former head coach Sidney Lowe last season. The 2010-11 Wolfpack only won 15 games all season. Today, the 2011-12 version won their 24th. While Gottfried will get much of the credit for being the head coach, credit must also be given to assistants Orlando Early, Rob Moxley, and Bobby Lutz.

Star(s) of the Game. Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie, CJ Williams, and Scott Wood, NC State. The four combined for 56 of NC State’s 66 points and each made at least one key basket. Brown scored 12 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. Leslie put up 14 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. Williams scored 14 points and played great defense on Jason Clark all afternoon. Wood scored 14 points, while hitting on four of five of his attempts from beyond the three-point-line. It was a great team win for NC State and these four led the way all afternoon.

Quotable. “It’s a group that gave its all.” – Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. A very true statement considering how successful Georgetown was this season after being picked to finish 10th in the Big East in the preseason.

Sights & Sounds. One of the more interesting things I saw was postgame when legendary Georgetown head coach John Thompson (and father of current Hoyas coach), who was doing the radio broadcast for Westwood One went out of his way to shake the hand of CJ Leslie following a postgame interview. Classy move by the Hall of Fame coach.

What’s Next. NC State moves on to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005. The Wolfpack will face the winner of the #2 Kansas and #10 Purdue. Interestingly, the last time the Wolfpack made it this far they did it by beating a #2 seed Georgetown team while they were a #10 seed. Their fans are hoping they can advance further this time as in 2005 they lost in the Sweet 16 to Wisconsin.

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Rushed Reaction: #4 Louisville 59, #5 New Mexico 56

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2012

Three key takeaways.

  1. Louisville Plays Ugly But Effectively. The Cards’ defense is one of the best in the country, and its pressure defense and trapping schemes kept New Mexico off balance for most of the evening. Outside of the Lobos’ three best players — Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams — the rest of the team shot a putrid 9-of-32 from the field. Louisville did a great job at forcing the ball into the hands of these players and inviting them to try to make plays that they were not comfortable with making. The Cards also shut down New Mexico’s three-point attack tonight, holding the Lobos to a five-trey, 22% effort, one of their three worst long-range performances on the season.
  2. Russ Smith is a Special Sort of Crazy. He may smile a lot like fellow New Yorker Kemba Walker, but his game is quite a bit more wild and unpredictable. That’s part of the charm, and Pitino said as much in the postgame news conference. When on target, as Smith was for much of tonight — 17 points, three steals — he can be the offensive X-factor that the Cardinals need to come up with enough points to beat good teams. But when he’s off, as in his previous four games where he shot 5-of-32 from the field and committed 10 turnovers, he can serve to destroy any momentum that the Cards may have had. Still, you can tell that Pitino really believes in him, and thinks he can harness the obvious talent that the sophomore has at his disposal.
  3. Still Unsure About Steve Alford. Alford has to be commended for winning the Mountain West (both a share of the regular season and the tournament), but in the last three seasons, he’s brought a 30-win team and a 28-win team to the round of 32 and been unable to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Drew Gordon might be the only player on either roster who is an NBA first round pick (apologies to Wayne Blackshear), but in just looking at the two teams matching up against each other, it wasn’t obvious which team was from the power league and which wasn’t. The point is that in both 2010 and 2012 the talent differential wasn’t that great, if it existed at all, and yet it appeared that his players were too sloppy and suffered too many mental breakdowns to successfully win the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Alford can break through this round at some point in the near future.

Star(s) of the game. Peyton Siva, Louisville. It may seem odd to choose a player who only scored six points on 2-6 shooting, but his split through a double-team to drive for a bucket was perhaps equaled only by his jump-stop leading to an assist to a cutting Gorgui Dieng in importance. Put simply, he made the plays necessary to win the game for his team tonight.

Quotable. “Russ Smith, nobody wanted, I don’t care what he tells you.” — Rick Pitino, on the wild yet talented guard who scored 17 points tonight.

Sights & Sounds. Russ Smith was so happy with his game tonight and the big win that he decided to insert himself into Rick Pitino’s interview after the game. That would be him, doing the rabbit ears, behind his coach.

What’s Next? Louisville advances to play the winner of #1 Michigan State vs. #8 St. Louis next weekend in Phoenix. If it ends up being the Spartans, that game could be uglier than anything we’ve seen all season in college basketball. Still, an Izzo vs. Pitino matchup is never a bad thing, so if it comes to pass, expect fireworks of one kind or another.

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Rushed Reaction: #3 Baylor 80, #11 Colorado 63

Posted by AMurawa on March 17th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Brady Heslip. Quick scouting report: guard him. He doesn’t make it easy for the opposition, running full steam off screen after screen, but when he gets the ball in his mitts with a clean look from deep, it’s as good as in. On Thursday night, he hit five threes from deep in helping the Bears over South Dakota State, but on Saturday he took it to a whole new level, drilling nine-of-twelve from deep against a variety of defenders, almost all of them coming off a screen and knocking down a catch-and-shoot jumper. The Bears don’t beat South Dakota State on Thursday without Heslip, and they probably don’t get out of this round without him either.
  2. Breaking open a tight one. With 11:12 remaining in the second half, Colorado was up 54-51 and the Bears looked flustered, tentative and about ready to cave in. But, following a missed free throw, Quincy Acy kicked ahead a pass to Heslip for a game-tying three to jumpstart what would turn into a 24-6 run. There were a couple more Heslip threes mixed in there, a nasty Acy dunk, and countless heady plays by junior point guard Pierre Jackson. A game that once looked like a battle to the finish turned into a laugher awful quick.
  3. Size kills. While Heslip is the big story, and rightly so, it was Baylor’s dominance on the boards that kept the Bears around. While the rest of the team save Heslip combined to shoot a 38.5 eFG%, they put in their time doing work, grabbing 44.7% of offensive rebound opportunities and 77.4% on the defensive end. The most well-known of the Baylor bigs continued to struggle, as Perry Jones registered a quiet seven points and four rebounds, but Acy, Quincy Miller, Anthony Jones and even guard Deuce Bello picked up the slack.

Star of the GameBrady Heslip. It’s a no-brainer. He led all scorers with 27 points, all on three-pointers. There’s very little else on the stat sheet for Heslip, but when you knock down nine threes, often barely even disturbing the net, there’s little need to do things like pass the ball or grab rebounds.

Sights & Sounds. Of the fans in The Pit who came to support one of these two teams, it is probably not an overestimate to say that 90% of them were supporting Colorado. Baylor came close to filling up their one section they were awarded, but the rest of the place was either CU fans, New Mexico fans or neutral observers. Speaking of Lobo fans, when the game ended and the place cleared out, they turned on the end of the UNM/Louisville game on the big screens and the Lobo fans in attendance stuck around to try to cheer their team back from an 11-point deficit.

What’s Next? Baylor moves on to the Sweet 16 in the Atlanta regional, awaiting a date with either Lehigh or Xavier on Friday. They could be on a collision course with Kentucky, and they may be one of the few teams in the country that matches up athletically with the Wildcats, although Kentucky still has to get by Indiana, one of the two teams to beat them this year, first.

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