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By Raphielle Johnson

ralphieralph@netscape.net

March 20th, 2006

 

NCAA Tournament: Second Round Review

            Much was made last week about how much respect the Missouri Valley Conference (four bids) and George Mason should be given. Should a league not on television as much as the ACC or Big 12 have the same number of bids? Should the Patriots be in the field while Hofstra, a team that beat them twice within a ten day span, plays in the NIT? After the second round, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. And the Big Ten, which received six bids, saw all of its teams sent packing by the end of Sunday’s action. Here’s a roundup of the second round.

 

The Big Ten’s last gasp of 2005-06.

 

Going into the weekend action, the Big Ten had three chances to get a team into the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for them, no one was able to get a win and the league with the nation’s best conference RPI will have no one playing next week. Indiana saw the Mike Davis era come to an end with their 90-80 loss to Gonzaga in Salt Lake City. The turning point was a technical foul on Marco Killingsworth early in the second half. This was his fourth foul, putting him on the bench and ending a Hoosier run that got them to within two points. Illinois, last year’s runner-up, watched Washington Husky after Husky march to the free throw line, taking thirty-nine to the Fighting Illini’s eleven. This was ultimately the difference in the 67-64 Husky win, even with Illinois attempting eighteen more field goals. And Ohio State, a team that relied heavily on combination of outside shooting and Terence Dials inside, was neutralized on the perimeter by Georgetown. Only four Hoyas scored, but more made their impact on the defensive end, and it never seemed like the Buckeyes got Dials enough touches. And for the first time since 1996, no Big Ten team will see the second weekend.

 

“We’re the Valley!”

 

All the snickers and cries of injustice from last week can now stop. In case you didn’t notice (or you didn’t watch much basketball this year outside of the BCS leagues), the Missouri Valley Conference is for real. Wichita State followed up a blowout win over Seton Hall with an 80-73 triumph over two seed Tennessee, sending the Volunteers home and the Shockers on to Washington, D.C. P.J. Cousinard had the dagger, a long range three with the shot clock running down late in the game. Follow that up with the triumphant point toward the WSU fan section, and the game was history. Five Shockers scored in double figures, offsetting the twenty points each of Volunteers C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton.

 

Sunday saw Bradley, behind 28 points from their seven-footer Patrick O’Bryant, knock out Pittsburgh in Auburn Hills by the final score of 72-66. Head coach Jim Les, a former Brave himself, leads his alma mater and their legion of fans on to Oakland, where they will certainly have their hands full with top seed Memphis. These two teams are no longer a surprise, but as this weekend showed, anything is possible. They are indeed the Valley.

 

And don’t forget about the Colonial either.

 

Another point of contention for BCS league backers was that the Colonial Athletic Association received two bids. Those who watched the league wondered why Hofstra wasn’t invited in addition to UNC Wilmington and George Mason, if not at the expense of Mason. Well, the Patriots are headed to the Sweet 16 thanks to their 65-60 win over North Carolina in Dayton. There will be a new national champion, and GMU could enjoy quite the home court advantage in Washington, D.C. next weekend. Their Fairfax, Virginia campus is only minutes away from the nation’s capital. Only two Patriots scored in double figures, but they were helped by North Carolina’s unusual reliance on the three pointer, going 10-for-30 from behind the arc. Next up for GMU is Wichita State, which will leave one Cinderella a game away from Indianapolis.

 

Florida overcomes their problem with getting out of the first weekend.

 

Recent Gator teams were best characterized as inconsistent outfits more concerned with their personal stats instead of winning and losing. That’s all changed this year, and Billy Donovan’s bunch is headed to Minneapolis as a result. Their average margin of victory is twenty-four points in their wins over South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and they have been ignored for the most part by folks enamored with top seed Villanova and ACC Tournament runner-up Boston College. In the 82-6 win Saturday afternoon, their starting frontcourt of Corey Brewer (23 points), Joakim Noah (17 points), and Al Horford (13 points) combined for fifty-three points, not to mention sixteen rebounds. Next up is a Georgetown team with some size of their own, which should make for an intriguing matchup.

 

Connecticut and Villanova withstand stiff challenges in Philadelphia.

 

Both top seeds playing in the Wachovia Center on Friday struggled in their first round games, getting their acts together in time to ensure victory. With one Husky and three Wildcats in the building Sunday, it wouldn’t have been a shock had either UConn or Villanova lost. But thanks to excellent guard play, the two co-champions of the Big East will move on to the regionals. Connecticut survived Kentucky 87-83 thanks to point guard Marcus Williams, who scored a team-leading twenty points. Four other Huskies scored at least ten in the first ever meeting between the two schools. Kentucky guard Patrick Sparks ended his career with 28 to lead Kentucky.

 

In the second game, Villanova got out to a first half lead thanks to Randy Foye’s twenty, then held on to beat Arizona 82-78 thanks to Allan Ray’s twenty in the second half. Not to be forgotten are the stellar efforts of forwards Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham, who combined for eighteen points (16 for Sheridan) and thirteen rebounds (9 for Cunningham). Arizona was led by the trio of Marcus Williams (24 points), Mustafa Shakur (21 points), and Hassan Adams (20 points). Connecticut will face fifth seed Washington in the nation’s capital on Friday, and Villanova will play four seed Boston College in Minneapolis that same day.

 

Duke and Texas are one game away from a rematch.

 

One of the more memorable games this season took place back in December. In a 1 vs. 2 game that was supposed to be close, Duke blew away Texas by the final of 97-66. JJ Redick scored 41 points on that Saturday, hitting from nearly everywhere in the Continental Airlines Arena. After impressive wins this weekend, the two stand one victory each away from a regional final meeting that should live up to the hype. The Blue Devils received help from the supporting cast, as well as a cold shooting George Washington outfit, in their 74-61 victory over the Colonials. In addition to Redick and Williams, freshmen Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus scored in double figures, which for Duke is hopefully just the beginning.

 

Texas, in front of a largely burnt orange crowd in Dallas, met little resistance in the form of N.C. State in their 75-54 win. After their poor shooting in the close win over Penn on Friday, the Longhorn guards brought their jumpshots, taking considerable weight off the shoulders of P.J. Tucker ad LaMarcus Aldridge. Guards Daniel Gibson (17 points) and freshman A.J. Abrams (16 points) led the way, with some help from senior guard Kenton Paulino (8 points). Add this to the consistent play of their frontcourt and Texas can get to Indy. But these two have tough games up next: Duke plays LSU in the first regional semifinal, and this will be followed by West Virginia and Texas. The Mountaineers and Longhorns met in the Guardians Classic early in the year, with an Aldridge blocked shot preserving the one point win for Texas.

 

Gonzaga survives a cold shooting night from Adam Morrison.

 

The Bulldogs were able to outscore Indiana on Saturday thanks to the Hoosiers’ inability to guard anyone else. Five other Bulldogs reached double figures to offset the 5-for-17 shooting display by the nation’s leading scorer. A fourth foul on Marco Killingsworth turned Indiana into an exclusive three point offense, and even though they his sixteen from distance, the forty-one to six free throw attempt difference was too much to overcome. Next up will be a far superior defensive team in UCLA, who has the big men to slow down J.P. Batista, and an excellent perimeter defender in Arron Afflalo who can also score a little himself. No one can argue with the success that Mark Few’s program has had, but you have to wonder when the team from Spokane will get to a Final Four. This could be the year.

 

Bucknell, Northwestern State, and Montana see their runs end.

 

Bucknell winning their first round game was not a surprise; in fact, most people were picking the Bison to beat Arkansas. Northwestern State and Montana, on the other hand, were not expected to advance. But all three did, only to see their rides come to screeching halts against superior competition. Bucknell couldn’t hold onto the basketball or slow down the athletic Memphis attack. Montana, two days after an excellent interior performance in their win over Nevada, found themselves overmatched against Boston College. And the Demons couldn’t force enough turnovers in their loss to a veteran West Virginia team, but they did fight to get the game back to single digits late before falling 75-64. Even with the defeats, all three teams should head back home with their heads held high, and some good stories to tell the grandkids.

 

With the end of games Sunday, the wildest four days in the recent history of the NCAA Tournament came to a close. While there are the usual suspects still on the bracket, there are also the “party crashers”, schools that don’t see many of their highlights on SportsCenter but have decided to stick around for a bit. Many say that physical size rules the second weekend, but smallish teams with large hearts are more than willing to put that theory to test.

 

 

 

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