The chalk started to assert itself in the NCAA Tournament, as six teams that were favorites moved on to the Sweet 16. But there was still room for upsets, as two dark horses also survived this opening weekend of the tournament. Here’s a look back at yesterday’s eight games from the Round of 32…
Michigan State 80 Harvard 73: The Crimson hung tough, rallying from 16 points down and briefly taking the lead, but the Spartans shot 49 percent from the floor and got 26 points/9 rebounds from Branden Dawson, along with 18 more from Gary Harris.
One player who didn’t have a big game was Adreian Payne—after throwing down 41 in the first round win over Delaware, Payne was held to 12/4 by Tommy Amaker’s kids. Harvard got a good game from floor leader Wesley Saunders, with 22 points, and if they’d have gotten anything more from sidekick Laurent Rivard, we might have a different story.
UConn 77 Villanova 65: 2-seed Villanova is gone, thanks to the stellar work of Shabazz Napier, the UConn guard who had his second straight outstanding game of the weekend, knocking down 25 points. Napier dominated, while Villanova’s guards struggled. The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers, most of them in the backcourt and only shot 35 percent. Nor did they box out particularly well, allowing UConn guard Niels Giffey to come up with 11 rebounds.
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Michigan State and UConn each advance to New York City and Madison Square Garden for the East Regionals next week. Michigan State awaits the Virginia-Memphis winner today, while UConn will draw the winner of North Carolina-Iowa State.
Pitt 61 Florida 45: Normally, when a game turns ugly, it’s going Pitt’s way, but Florida showed they could get dirty and out-ugly anyone. Neither team could buy a shot from behind the arc, and it made Scottie Wilbekin’s 3-for-7 showing from three-point range seem like Ray Allen was on the floor. Wilbekin finished with 21 points, Florida outrebounded Pitt 38-31 and the Gators locked up Panther forward Lamar Patterson, forcing him into a frustrating 3-for-11 shooting day from the floor.
Dayton 55 Syracuse 53: You haven’t seen ugly though, until you’ve seen this one. Dayton has managed to get out of the first weekend as a 11-seed without having anyone play a signature game. They out-uglied Ohio State on Thursday and now do the same to Syracuse on Saturday. The Orange were 0-for-10 from behind the arc, including a miss at the end that would have won it.
Dayton’s win further two separate trends from Saturday. It continued both games in the South Regional being ugly. But at least those games were played at separate sites. If we look at the Buffalo site that Dayton played at, they joined with UConn in giving those fans successive upsets and dark horses moving on to the Sweet 16.
Florida and Dayton advance to next week’s South Regionals in Memphis. Florida matches up with the UCLA-Stephen Austin winner, while Dayton will be the survivor of Kansas-Stanford.
Louisville 66 St. Louis 51: Another game were the losing team went blank from behind the arc, as Louisville’s pressure defense forced the Billikens into 0-for-15 from behind the arc and 19 turnovers. Louisville committed 18 turnovers themselves and wasn’t exactly stellar behind the arc, but they did shoot 45 percent from the floor and control rebounding, 37-30.
Strong forward play was what bailed out Rick Pitino’s team. Luke Hancock, the MVP of the 2013 Final Four, scored 21 points and Montrezl Harrell had 11 rebounds.
Michigan 79 Texas 65: I watched this game start-to-finish, and there was nothing to say but “wow”, at the way Michigan shot the ball. The box score says the Wolverines were 14-of-28 from three-point range. I’m wondering where the 14 misses came from, because I sure don’t recall them. The attack was balanced—four players between 14-17 points—and efficient, with only four turnovers.
Texas hung in though, and after falling behind 18 early, they clawed back to at least keep the second half watchable. The Longhorns worked the boards, as Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes keyed a big 41-30 rebounding edge. But the kids inside couldn’t put up points and that spelled the difference.
Louisville and Michigan move on to Indianapolis. Louisville will have a highly anticipated game no matter who they play, which will be the survivor of Wichita State-Kentucky. Michigan is the team for whom the bracket opened up. Duke is out, and the winner of Tennessee-Mercer will play the Wolverines.
San Diego State 63 North Dakota State 44: A great team effort for San Diego State on defense and on the glass, as they controlled both areas and forced North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun into a lousy 2-for-14 night. On offense, it was a one-man show for the Aztecs. Xavier Thames, a great point guard and the Mountain West Player Of The Year, went off for 30.
Wisconsin 85 Oregon 77: The second game I watched start to finish nearly gave me heart failure as a Wisconsin fan, as the Badgers fell behind 49-37 at halftime. UW couldn’t find an answer to Joseph Young and Jason Calliste, the Oregon backcourt duo who combined for 49 points.
Wisconsin was able to tighten up defensively in the second half. Oregon had been successful getting Young and Calliste open for mid-range jumpers by having them just dribble behind basic screens. Wisconsin finally decided to come over the top on the screens and the defense stayed alert on the backside to defend against the pick-and-roll. To say they shut down Young and Calliste in the second half would be a significant stretch, but they kept them at manageable levels.
And the Badgers’ own offense got rolling. They got Frank Kaminsky established in the post. Kaminsky finished with 19 points and would have had more if not for an abnormally off night at the foul line. With the post established, the three-point game opened up and Josh Gasser and Ben Brust combined for seven treys. Brust hit the biggest one of the season from the corner when Wisconsin trailed 75-74 and had gotten three straight offensive rebounds to give the opportunity.
A final note on this game for conspiracy theorists—Wisconsin was favored by 5 ½ points and led 82-77 in the closing seconds. A missed shot clanged off for Oregon and with less than a second left, Calliste commits a flagrant foul that gives the Badgers three consecutive free throws to cover the spread. Take from that what you will.
The West Regional goes to Anaheim next week. Wisconsin is waiting on today’s Baylor-Creighton game, while San Diego State draws the winner of Arizona-Gonzaga.
NCAA Tournament coverage continues tomorrow at TheSportsNotebook with a look at Sunday’s games from the Round of 32. Here’s today’s agenda…
Stanford-Kansas (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Kentucky-Wichita State (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
North Carolina-Iowa State (5:15 PM ET, CBS)
Mercer-Tennessee (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
Stephen Austin-UCLA (7:15 PM ET, TBS)
Baylor-Creighton (7:40 PM ET, truTV)
Memphis-Virginia (8:40 PM ET, TNT)
Gonzaga-Arizona (9:40 PM ET, TBS)