The power conferences were letting their muscle be felt on Saturday, as half of the tickets for the Sweet 16 were punched. Of the eight spots filled, three went to the Big Ten, three more to the Big East, another to the Big 12 and one to the SEC. In the meantime, some live darkhorses went by the board. TheSportsNotebook runs through all eight games from yesterday…
Syracuse 75 Kansas State 59: This game had a pall over it from the beginning, as K-State’s Jamar Samuels was held out over eligibility concerns. Apparently, someone sent him $200 during the week and that someone was not an immediate family member, but had some connection to AAU basketball. This does sound like a crisis of amateurism and is clearly putting Samuels one small step from a LeBron James-style bidding war (note sarcasm). Losing Samuels took away the only means Kansas State for exploiting a Fab Melo-less Syracuse team on the interior, they shot just 31 percent and Syracuse’s bench outscored K-State’s 33-zip.
Wisconsin 60 Vanderbilt 57: I was at a St. Patrick’s Day get-together just outside Madison as this gut-wrencher went down. I won’t say it was as nerve-wracking as last year’s NHL Eastern Conference Final Game 7, when Boston and Tampa were scoreless until my Bruins got a goal with around seven minutes left. But it was close. This game was tight all the way, with the eventual difference being that Wisconsin shot the ball much better from behind the three-point line, bagging ten treys. Vandy couldn’t make hay off its clear advantages inside. While Festus Ezeli had a 14 points/11 rebounds game, power forward Jeffrey Taylor ran into some foul trouble and never got in the flow. That turned into the perimeter game that Wisconsin could win, and when Vandy’s superb two-guard Jeff Jenkins struggled to a 3-of-13 shooting game, it enabled the Badgers to pull through.
Ohio State 73 Gonzaga 66: The game came out as I thought, but the way the Buckeyes did it was different than I anticipated in yesterday’s previews. Gonzaga’s freshman guards, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr, weren’t intimidated and were a match for Ohio State’s own solid tandem of Aaron Craft—who scored 17 points and dished 10 assists, and William Buford. What the Zags will find frustration is that their big men, Robert Sacre and Elias Harris couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas. While Sullinger was clearly the best of the foursome—the best player on the floor in fact—Thomas can float in and out of games. He was all-in, all weekend long, and Ohio State’s post duo combined for 36/11 compared to 24/10 from their Gonzaga counterparts.
MIDWEST REGIONAL: No games Saturday
Kentucky 87 Iowa State 71: Iowa State was within a basket midway through the second half, but as soon as our group gathering switched over to the game, UK took over (sorry Cyclones fans). It was an expected result, but it came about through some unexpected means. Wildcat point guard Marquis Teague normally gives up the ball in a typical floor leader’s role. He got his opportunity to score on Saturday and cashed it in with 24 points, while still getting his seven assists. Terrence Jones was strong on the glass for the second straight game. Iowa State was undone by bad three-point shooting. Guard Chris Allen may have scored 16 points, but he did end up 1-of-10 from behind the arc.
Indiana 63 VCU 61: It was a fun game to watch the end of, although VCU will be doing a lot of “what-ifs” on this one, as they had several chances to put Indiana away before the Hoosiers finally snuck back in and won it on a late bucket from Will Sheehy. IU controlled the inside, winning rebounding 33-20 behind a strong game from Cody Zeller. VCU caused havoc, forcing 22 turnovers. In the end, the Hoosiers just shot the ball better, hitting 52 percent from the floor to the Rams’ 40 percent.
Baylor 80 Colorado 63: The Bears are another favorite that pulled away to a decisive win in the second half and did so by means we might not have expected. Brady Heslip is a two-guard who has a good outside shot, but he’s usually about the fifth option on the floor. On Saturday night he got the chance to shoot twelve treys and connected nine times. Those were all 27 of his points, and with point guard Pierre Jackson playing an exquisite 15 points/10 assists game, Baylor rolled to an impressive win.
Louisville 59 New Mexico 56: Steve Alford’s Lobos will probably have a hard time swallowing this one, because they hit the boards and had easily the best player on the floor in Drew Gordon, who had a 21/14 line inside. But Louisville was much more efficient offensively, highlighted by a solid 7-of-15 night behind the arc, while New Mexico struggled to 5-of-23. You watch Louisville and are convinced they’re going to be beaten, either tonight or in the next game, and they just keep making it happen. All credit to Rick Pitino and his kids for what they’re making of March.
Marquette 62 Murray State 53: If they gave out an award for overall NCAA Tournament MVP (which they should do by the way), then Marquette’s Jae Crowder would be a runaway leader, at least for the half of the bracket that’s got two games in. After a 25/16 game against BYU, he delivers a 17/13 line against a good Racers team playing in front of a partisan crowd in Louisville.