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
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
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
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
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.