ATB: Sweet Sixteen Set – #1 Seeds Roll, Cinderellas Emerge, and It’s Good to be From OhioPosted by EJacoby on March 19th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede. After one of the craziest nights in recent Big Dance history on Friday, perhaps we all needed a bit of a break from the chaos this weekend. Fortunately, that didn’t exactly happen. Most of the higher seeds advanced in the round of 32, but the Midwest Region led the way with some crazy results. Almost every season, we see a double-digit seed reach the Sweet Sixteen; this year, we have three, and it easily could have been five. Of the 16 teams remaining, four come from the Big East, four are of the Big Ten, and four represent the state of Ohio, including both of the guilty parties from the Crosstown Shootout Brawl back in December. It’s the first time ever that one single state sends four teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s go over the great moments from the weekend…
Your Watercooler Moment. #13 Ohio University is This Year’s Cinderella Story
What would the NCAA Tournament be without a mid-major, double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen? This year it’s Ohio, the #13 seed of the Midwest Region that had a fairly favorable draw in terms of matchups but still had to defeat two power conference teams on the way. A victory over #12 seed South Florida on Sunday sent the Bobcats to the second weekend of the Big Dance, pretty amazing considering they finished third in the MAC conference this season. But Ohio is no joke, as D.J. Cooper continues to prove himself as one of the best lead guards in the entire tourney. Cooper outplayed USF’s Anthony Collins in the round of 32 and tallied 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists with several big shots late in the game to help his team advance. The other recognizable name from this squad is Nick Kellogg, the sophomore guard who is the son of CBS analyst and former collegiate star Clark Kellogg. Clark’s son is a terrific shooter at 41.8% from three and 89.2% from the foul line, giving the Bobcats a nice one-two punch from the perimeter. Interestingly enough, Ohio now draws #1 North Carolina in the Regional Semifinal in what most would expect to be a blowout, but the Tar Heels just lost their indispensible point guard to a wrist injury, which will make things interesting next weekend. Could Ohio’s perimeter attack lead to a truly incredible Cinderella story with a win over UNC? Stay tuned.
Also Worth Chatting About. Kendall Marshall Suffers Broken Wrist for #1 Seed North Carolina
The single biggest storyline from the past weekend was not anything that happened in the box score or even in between the lines on the court. But when North Carolina’s star point guard and the nation’s leader in assists, Kendall Marshall, got fouled and pushed on a layup and landed on his right wrist in the out-of-bounds baseline, the entire dynamic of this NCAA Tournament changed. Marshall suffered a fractured wrist on this play with 10:55 remaining in the second half of Carolina’s game against #8 seed Creighton. Marshall continued to play in this game for a few minutes and wasn’t immediately in so much pain that he had to leave. It’s also an injury to his non-shooting hand, so it could have been worse. In addition, the sophomore is set for surgery on Monday which will leave him in a position to play shortly thereafter if he is able to tolerate the pain. Unfortunately, it’s a huge long shot to think that Marshall will be back and effective going forward. The injury he suffered usually requires three-plus weeks of a cast and rest, and even bracing the hand and tolerating pain to play will make for a huge liability on the floor. Already a weak defender, Marshall would be even less effective on that end and he would surely be forced to his right hand on offense by opposing teams. There’s just as strong of a chance that he’d be a detriment to UNC by being on the court than he would be a benefit, depending on the true impact of the injury. As things stand, Carolina needs to start preparing for a Championship run without its point guard, leaving that position to be filled by either unused backup Stilman White (4.2 minutes per game) or by a player like P.J. Hairston or Harrison Barnes in some sort of point-forward role. One of the most irreplaceable players in the country, Marshall’s injury leaves a giant question mark surrounding the Tar Heels’ title hopes.
Weekend’s Quick Hits…
- #11 N.C. State Continues its Tear. The Wolfpack of North Carolina State are proving the age-old theory that the hottest team in March is capable of winning it all. Last year, Connecticut finished in ninth place in the Big East conference but went 5-0 in the conference tournament and carried that momentum into a run to the National Championship. This year, N.C. State was mediocre for much of the regular season and barely made the field of 68, yet a 4-1 finish in the regular season and ACC Tournament has led to tremendous confidence in the Big Dance. The Wolfpack may have received a #11 seed, but this team is talented and peaking at the perfect time, simply looking like the stronger overall team against #3 seed Georgetown on Sunday. The same was true in the first round against #6 San Diego State. Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie, and company are doing things right on both ends and should have a chance at taking down #2 Kansas next weekend to really turn this into an unreal run.
- All #1 Seeds Show Strong Performances. While the first weekend produced plenty of upsets of some high seeds, the #1 seeds proved that they’re still an elite group of teams that will take a great performance to defeat them. Starting in the South, plenty of prognosticators thought that #8 Iowa State could give a serious challenge to #1 Kentucky, but the Wildcats dismissed that theory by overpowering the Cyclones in the second half and not allowing anything from the perimeter in Saturday’s 87-71 victory. #1 Syracuse also had a tough matchup in its game against #8 Kansas State, but the Orange were far too strong offensively, paced by Dion Waiters’ 18 points in a 75-59 win. On Sunday, it was #1 Michigan State, who received the greatest test from #9 Saint Louis, but the Spartans were just more efficient on both ends, shooting 54.3% from the floor and allowing just 35.3% on defense in a 65-61 victory. #1 North Carolina was far too powerful inside for #8 Creighton in an 87-73 win, as well. All four teams have their eyes on New Orleans, though it gets tougher from here.
- #10 Xavier Back in the Sweet Sixteen, Again. The Musketeers were one of only four schools to make the Sweet Sixteen in three of the past four years, so the fact that they have done it again this season isn’t a huge surprise. But looking at how this specific season transpired, it truly is a shocker that Xavier advanced to the second weekend. Chris Mack’s team received a #10 seed thanks a rocky season that included a stretch of losing five of six games after the brawl on December 10. The Musketeers finished third in the Atlantic 10 at 10-6 and were squarely on the bubble prior to the conference tournament. But Tu Holloway has regained his early-season form as one of the nation’s best point guards, and Xavier is now back in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in five years after outlasting #15 seed Lehigh in a surprisingly difficult matchup on Sunday.
- #4 Indiana Advances on Sheehey’s Shot. We still are yet to see an overtime game or a buzzer-beater in this tournament, but that doesn’t mean there’s been a lack of exciting finishes. Not in the least. Will Sheehey is Indiana’s super sub that’s been pushed into the starting lineup since Verdell Jones III went down with a torn ACL, and Sheehey seized the moment on Saturday. Though he scored just eight points in the game, the sophomore swingman hit the biggest shot of his life with the Hoosiers tied with #12 VCU, 61-61 with just 10 seconds remaining in the game. The shot sends the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen for a rematch with #1 Kentucky, the team it defeated in its other defining shot of the season on December 10 that gave the Wildcats their only loss of the regular season.
- #6 Cincinnati, #4 Louisville, and #4 Wisconsin Survive Battles. We won’t get into too much detail here but the headline says it all – Cincinnati, Louisville, and Wisconsin all had incredibly difficult matchups in the round of 32 against strong opponents. And all three teams came out victorious, surviving in games that were not decided until the final minute of play. Louisville knocked off #5 seed New Mexico on Saturday while Wisconsin also defeated a strong #5 seed in Vanderbilt. Sunday night’s thriller saw Cincinnati take down #3 Florida State, a popular Final Four pick in the East Region. Widely regarded as the two top conferences in college basketball, the Big East and the Big Ten came out victorious in all three of these tight games full of physical play.
… and Misses
- #15 Seeds Can’t Make More History. Again. Fans always want more and more. It wasn’t enough that we saw two #15 seeds win games in this NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, but we wanted to see at least one of them win again to reach the Sweet Sixteen, something that’s never been done before. Unfortunately, Norfolk State was in a hangover from its victory over #2 Missouri and got blown out by #7 Florida in Sunday’s matchup. Lehigh, meanwhile, had a great shot to defeat #10 Xavier and led by double figures for much of the first half, but the Mountain Hawks could not close it out with a victory. Still no #15 seed has ever advanced past the first weekend.
- #10 Purdue Can’t Finish Off Kansas. If you’re going to beat #2 Kansas in Omaha in front of a pro-Jayhawk crowd, you’re going to need to catch some breaks. #10 Purdue caught several of them throughout Sunday night’s game. Thomas Robinson was out of whack, missed several bunnies near the rim and finished 2-12 with just 11 points. Tyshawn Taylor was unable to ever take control, either, and amassed just 10 points and four assists from the lead guard position. Robbie Hummel was on fire with 22 first half points as he seemingly could not miss a shot. And Kansas as a whole shot 33.9% from the field and 6-24 from three. Yet the Boilermakers still found a way to let this one slip away, giving up a late lead to the Jayhawks with sloppy offensive play during key possessions. Purdue could not seal the deal and wound up losing to Kansas on a night that the Jayhawks played awful and were ripe for an upset.
- #6 Murray State’s Dream Season Ends. The only team in the nation with just one loss this year, #6 Murray State nearly extended this dream season by hanging close with #3 Marquette throughout Saturday’s contest. But ice cold shooting down the stretch combined with explosive scoring runs by the Golden Eagles led the Racers to drop their second game of the season, 62-53, when it mattered the most. Murray State looked strong for the first 30 minutes of the game but got badly outplayed down the stretch, putting an end to Steve Prohm’s team’s awesome year before it got a chance to head to the second weekend.
Survive and Advance – Here’s the quick recap of who remains standing in each region as we prepare for the Sweet Sixteen:
- SOUTH – #1 Kentucky and #4 Indiana meet in a rematch between the classic December 10 contest that left Indiana victorious on a game-winning buzzer-beater by Christian Watford. #3 Baylor also takes on #10 Xavier in an interesting contest between high-upside, athletic teams.
- WEST – We have a great matchup set in #1 Michigan State versus #4 Louisville on Thursday between great defensive teams. Also, #3 Marquette takes on #7 Florida in a wonderful clash of efficient offenses that love to play at a fast pace.
- EAST – This is an all-B1G and Big East region, as #1 Syracuse meets #4 Wisconsin on Thursday while #2 Ohio State matches up with #6 Cincinnati in what should be a fascinating, physical game.
- MIDWEST – The wacky Midwest Region avoided complete chaos when #2 Kansas survived and advanced to beat #10 Purdue. Next, the Jayhawks gets #11 N.C. State in what should be a much closer game than the seeding difference would suggest. Up top, #1 North Carolina gets its first litmus test without Kendall Marshall or at least with the star guard not at full strength. UNC plays everyone’s favorite Cinderella team, #13 Ohio.
- Brady Heslip, Baylor (NPOY) – Surprised to see this sharpshooter make the list, let alone at the very top? That’s what 9-12 from three-point range will do for you, leading to a game-high 27 points to keep #3 Baylor in the driver’s seat against #11 Colorado on Saturday.
- Robbie Hummel, Purdue – Not enough can be said about this kid’s effort. Hummel has overcome torn ACL’s in both of his knees and the super senior did everything he could to extend #10 Purdue’s season on Sunday, going for 26 points and nine rebounds in the devastating loss to #2 Kansas.
- Draymond Green, Michigan State – He’s been the best player in this tournament. Green, the Big Ten Player of the Year, is showing off why he’s a viable candidate for National Player of the Year as well. The versatile forward went for 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on Sunday in the win over #9 Saint Louis.
- Kenny Frease, Xavier – Frease picked a huge moment to have a great game, going off for 25 points and 12 rebounds against #15 Lehigh’s weaker front line. He was a near-perfect 11-13 from the field with two blocks, as well.
- D.J. Cooper, Ohio – The star guard continues to lead #13 Ohio to great heights, this time contributing 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in Ohio’s win over #12 South Florida on Sunday.
- Elijah Johnson, Kansas – While Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor were unable to take over the game for #2 Kansas, it was Johnson who came up huge down the stretch with a deep three, several key defensive plays, and important offensive contributions. He finished with 18 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
- Marquis Teague, Kentucky – The freshman point guard is finally figuring things out. Teague looked great on Saturday, pouring in a game-high 24 points and seven assists for #1 Kentucky’s victory over #8 Iowa State.
- Jae Crowder, Marquette – This guy is everywhere #3 Marquette needs him to be, and he seemingly does everything well. Crowder had a typical versatile contribution in Saturday’s win over #6 Murray State with 17 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.
- Scoop Jardine, Syracuse – He’s not their best player, but he might be Cuse’s most important guy offensively. Jardine sets the table with his passing and is not afraid to take big shots. He did both on Saturday, leading #1 Syracuse to the win over #8 Kansas State with 16 points and eight assists.
- Aaron Craft, Ohio State – When Craft plays at the level he did on Saturday, #2 Ohio State can be a championship contender. The guard scored 17 points with 10 assists to go along with three rebounds, three steals, and harassing defensive pressure on #7 Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos.