Saturday, March 17, 2012

Round Two, Day One

Blogging after watching all this ball is starting to wear me out.

After Friday's excitement, Saturday was relatively tame. There were no upsets among the eight games on the slate. But there still some pretty good games.

The most exciting of the day was probably Indiana over VCU. After a frenetic first half that saw the Hoosiers shoot lights out and yet still trail 42-41 at the break, the two teams combined for just 41 points in the second half. The Rams' pressure defense was really getting to Indiana's Jordan Hulls, who accounted for five of Indiana's 22 turnovers. (One has to wonder if injured backup point Verdell Jones III would have been able to handle the pressure a bit better.) IU also seemed to forget about Cody Zeller on the block, which is where they have the biggest advantage over VCU. But somehow they regrouped, got Zeller a couple buckets underneath, and continued making stops on the other end. Victor Oladipo converted a three-point play to tie the game up with under a minute left, then nearly cancelled out the good work he did on the previous play by rebounding a VCU miss and rushing upcourt, getting his shot blocked. But the ball bounced to Will Sheehey, who canned the mid-range jumper with about 12 seconds left. (Oladipo is lucky this all worked out; there was no reason for him to rush the way he did.) VCU had a good look at the game winner, but a three-pointer from the wing fell just short.

Indiana will face Kentucky in the second round. I only caught bits and pieces of the Wildcats' victory over Iowa State, and none of those bits and pieces included the part where Royce White put the Cyclones on his shoulders and kept them in the game. The Sweet 16 battle, in addition to being a clash of two of the most storied programs (and basketball-crazy states) in the country, is particularly juicy because the Hoosiers gave the Wildcats their only loss of the regular season back in December.

UK-IU is the Sweet 16 matchup in the top half of the South region. In the bottom half, Baylor blew open a very close game in the final minutes, scoring 19 of the game's final 22 points. Brady Heslip was the biggest star, hitting nine of 12 three-pointers (falling two makes short of the NCAA tournament record, in case you were wondering). The Bears will play the winner of Sunday's contest between Xavier and Lehigh.

Where to next? How about to Louisville, where Marquette held off Murray State in an incredibly fast-paced, physical, and intense game. Neither team executed particularly well, but the game was none the worse for it; this was one of the most entertaining game of the tournament. Marquette's Jae Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, was outstanding on both ends of the floor, but I was even more impressed, if that's possible, with the Racers' Ed Daniel. Relentless on both ends of the floor, Daniel grabbed 14 rebounds, and had two blocked shots, including a spectacular end-to-end rejection to take away a sure Marquette layup.

The Racers -- and particularly Isaiah Canaan, who went 4-for-17 against Marquette to finish the tourney 8-for-30 -- will be disappointed that their season ended this way, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. That was a high-level basketball game and they lost to a very good team. Marquette gets the winner of Florida-Norfolk State.

In other West action, Louisville hung on to beat New Mexico by three. The Cardinal had a comfortable lead for most of the game, but let most of it slip away late. Honestly, by the time Baylor-Colorado was over and I could focus solely on this game, I was pretty burnt out. New Mexico's Drew Gordon left in the first half with what looked like a pretty serious knee injury, but he came back a few minutes later and looked reasonably like himself the rest of the way.

And in the East, Syracuse got the day started with a convincing win over Kansas State. The Wildcats grabbed an incredible 22 offensive rebounds despite being without starter Jamar Samuels (who sat out his final college game due to some late-breaking eligibility issue), but couldn't convert enough of those second chances into points. KSU shot just 31.3 percent for the game, and made only four of 17 threes -- two each by Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez, who combined to go 7-for-22 on the floor.

Defense was just as big a problem as offense for the Wildcats. Frank Martin refused to play zone despite the fact that his team had no chance of containing the talented Orange. Brandon Triche got Cuse started with an easy drive past Spradling and a short pull-up; Dion Waiters cruised to 11 points in the first half; and Scoop Jardine, particularly in the second half, got free for his own shot and created for others as though Rodriguez wasn't there.

Syracuse faces Wisconsin next, which hung on to beat Vanderbilt. The Commodores put themselves in position to win this game by throwing a 2-3 zone at the Badgers late in the second half. Wisconsin who reacted by passing the ball around the perimeter and tossing up 25-footers, making just enough of them. This is a good sign for Syracuse -- Wisconsin will need to come up with another way of attacking the Orange 2-3 if they want to make the Elite Eight. Vandy still had a chance to win, but the game-winning three-point attempt back-rimmed out.

Finally, Ohio State knocked off Gonzaga behind Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger. Craft played his usual brand of tenacious defense in shutting down Kevin Pangos, but also contributed more heavily than usual on the offensive end. Sullinger didn't have a huge game and it seemed like the Buckeyes forgot about him for a while, but with the game on the line, Sullinger demanded the ball in the post and scored over multiple Gonzaga defenders. The Buckeyes will play the winner of Sunday's game between Florida State and Cincinnati.

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