Saturday at the NCAA tournament started and ended with a snore, but the middle was great, and it came with a win for your Arizona Wildcats, so no one here can complain at the amount of blowouts. Again, we’ll be covering Arizona’s win in other posts, so let’s address the other happenings of the day.
Let’s leave alone Gonzaga’s historic loss for a moment. The major complaint about today’s action was that all of the first four games were massive blowouts. The action started at Auburn Hills where Michigan and Michigan State won their virtual home games to advance to the Sweet 16.
In the case of Michigan, the Wolverines overmatched VCU, whose Havoc defense was not so Havoc-y today. Sure, Trey Burke had 7 turnovers, but VCU only garnered 9 steals, which is far less than it got throughout the season (VCU got a steal on 17.1% of its defensive possessions, which is the highest according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics since 2006). The Rams simply could not get out of the hole that it dug itself in the first half.
As for Michigan State, Memphis hung close until halftime but scored only 19 points in the second half to Michigan State’s 38. Tom Izzo advances to the Sweet 16 for the millionth time, and Josh Pastner keeps his fingers crossed that UCLA calls.
Louisville destroyed Colorado State on the back of Russ Smith, Arizona took down a surprising Harvard team, and Oregon won in a walk. Oregon’s win was the most surprising of the day. While Oregon was woefully underseeded as a 12 seed, they beat a strong Oklahoma State team by 13 and an even stronger St. Louis team by 17. Despite Duke and Michigan State sitting on the other side of Louisville’s bracket, Oregon may be the biggest threat to Louisville’s Final Four chances, looking extremely strong throughout the first weekend.
The evening’s events proved far more exciting. First came Butler and Marquette, who traded huge baskets repeatedly throughout the waning minutes. Eventually, Butler had a final three-point chance at the end of the game, but excellent defense by Marquette prevented forced a random throw falling short, Butler being unable to replicate its buzzer beater over Marquette to win in Maui back in November.
Then came Wichita State’s big win over Gonzaga. I’m not quite sure how big of an upset this was, as everyone knew that Gonzaga hadn’t played a tournament team other than St. Mary’s since 2012. Gonzaga was a bit of a paper tiger, a team with good numbers and athletes, but untested. Gonzaga struggled under the limelight throughout the entire weekend, nearly becoming the first 1 seed to succumb to a 16 seed when it played Southern on Thursday and then falling behind very early to Wichita State, who should deserve all the credit in the world for getting the upset. Gonzaga maybe shouldn’t have been a 1 seed, but they were a very good team.
Cal ended the night with its loss to Syracuse. Cal tried as well as it could, but a lot of clutch buckets by Syracuse coupled with a number of unforced errors by Cal in the last few minutes spelled the Golden Bears’ doom.
The Big East lost 5 of its 8 teams in the first round, but all 3 of its surviving teams, Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette, held true to their seeds and advanced to the Sweet 16. The Pac-12 had no seed better than 6, meaning that by seed all teams should be eliminated before the second week. Arizona and Oregon defied the odds and advanced. The strong Michigan Big Ten teams advanced, and Wichita State is the first non-major to wind up in the Sweet 16 out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
On the other hand, losses came at the expense of the non-major conferences. Seven of the eight losses came from the Mountain West (Colorado State), the Atlantic 10 (Saint Louis, VCU, Butler), Conference USA (Memphis), the Ivy League (Harvard), and the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga). The only major conference team to lose, Cal, played Stanford in the only matchup involving two teams from power conferences. The gains made by the mid majors and the low majors on Thursday were quickly lost on Saturday.
Once again, there were some amazing individual performances today.
- Mark Lyons (Arizona), 27 pts, 12/17 FG, 3/6 3P, 3 assists, 1 steal
- Russ Smith (Louisville), 27 pts, 4/7 3P, 3 boards, 2, assists, 2 steals
- Adreian Payne (Michigan State), 14 pts, 10 boards, 5 blocks, 2 steals
- Arsalan Kazemi (Oregon), 8 pts, 16 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
- Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), 16 pts, 4/7 3P, 7 boards, 2 blocks (off the bench)
- Vander Blue (Marquette), 29 pts, 9/15 FG, 3/4 3P, 4 steals
- Mitch McGary, 21 pts, 10/11 FG, 14 boards
We’re looking at some real heavyweight teams moving on in this tournament despite the committee’s terrible job seeding teams this year. The Sweet 16 should be amazing. We’ll look at the matchups after they are all set tomorrow.