Four teams moved on to the regional finals in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament. The Big East got the drop on the Big Ten, winning two out of three, the first #1 seed fell, a mentor-protégé matchup is set, and a 1-2 battle in another bracket is lineup. TheSportsNotebook rehashes Thursday’s games…
EAST REGIONAL (Boston)
Syracuse 64 Wisconsin 63: Wisconsin did what they had to do from three-point range, knocking down a sizzling 14-of-27 from behind the arc. At one point Badger freshman Ben Brust was feeling it so good, he let one go and just started trotting back to the other end of the floor, so sure was he that it was hitting the bottom of the net. Made you wonder if being in Boston made Brust think he was Larry Bird. But Syracuse survived because they were lights-out from inside the arc, and that was because they were very effective beating Wisconsin off the dribble and getting solid high-quality looks against a normally stout UW defense. Wisconsin also struggled with the Syracuse zone whenever the trey wasn’t there. The interior passing looked tentative, and this was something that studio analysts Greg Anthony, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley all noted at a key moment in the game’s last possession, when uncertainty in attacking the zone resulted in a forced three-pointer from Jordan Taylor. Syracuse forward C.J. Fair had four steals as he helped man the interior. Overall, a good basketball game, and the Orangeman keep finding a way to win.
Ohio State 81 Cincinnati 66: Ohio State looked good in the first half, when suddenly they got slippery fingers after the break and it looked like this one was heading to the wire, as the concerns expressed here yesterday about Buckeye depth seemed to be coming true, as Thad Matta’s team looked ragged. But Ohio State showed a lot of toughness in turning the tide. They turned over Cincinnati 18 times for the game. Ohio State got to the line repeatedly, with a 27-8 advantage in free-throwing attempts, something that translated into a 14-point margin on the scoreboard. You can’t attribute all of that to end-game fouls. More likely, it was because the Buckeyes were getting the ball down low. Jared Sullinger had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and DeShaun Thomas is flat-out dialed in during this tournament. His 26/7 line was his third consecutive excellent performance. The Ohio State inside defense shut down Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, and while the Bearcats got points from the perimeter, the turnover issues—with pesky OSU guard Aaron Craft sneaking away with six steals—made them too inefficient. None of last night’s four winners looked better than Ohio State in doing so.
WEST REGIONAL (Phoenix)
Louisville 57 Michigan State 44: Draymond Green had the statistical dominance I thought he had to have, with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but that doesn’t factor in how many shots he took—and missed—from behind the arc. Green was 1-for-7 on treys, and Michigan State only shot 29 percent as a team. Louisville didn’t look sharp offensively either, but they excelled at ugly basketball even better than the Spartans. And while the ‘Ville may not have shot well overall, they made it count from treyland, with Chris Smith pumping in a trio of treys—do you like the way that sounds? How about a triumvirate of treys, to spin off a line once used by Homer Simpson. What Louisville does have now is a trio of wins (sorry) in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their defense.
Florida 68 Marquette 58: I picked Florida to win this game, but if I’d have known they’d play a game that went well Under the Las Vegas total of 146, and that the Gators shot poorly from three-point range, I’d have figured that it wasn’t their night. Bradley Beal isn’t the most hyped guard in the Florida rotation, not with Kenny Boynton being more heralded, but it was Beal who poured in 31 points. Center Erik Murphy is normally a finesse big man, not a rebounder. But last night, while his shot wouldn’t fall, Murphy went to the glass for ten boards. Marquette got decent games from stars Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, neither were exceptional, and without a lot of help from the supporting cast, that’s what Marquette needed. Florida coach Billy Donovan now meets his mentor, in Louisville’s Rick Pitino with a Final Four trip at stake.
Saturday’s regional finals in these brackets start at 4:30 PM EST with Louisville-Florida, and then Syracuse-Ohio State will be a prime-time affair starting at 7:05 PM. Both games will be on CBS.