Friday, March 23, 2007

March Madness: Sweet 16 Day 1 Wrap

Two top seeds dodge huge bullets and advance while a pair of # 2 seeds struggle to victories as well.

1Kansas 61, 4 So. Illinois 58
2UCLA 64, 3Pitt 55

1Ohio State 85, 5Tennessee 84
2Memphis 65, 3Tex A&M 64

This really is madness. After last night's action. half of the final 8 is set, and of the four teams to advance we have two-No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds.

Stop the insanity.

In what can only be described as an incredibly topsy-turvy tourney as compared to the last decade or so, we have a real solid chance of seeing all four No. 1 seeds advance to the Final 4 for the first time in the history of the event. So much for picking upsets. Although last night there were two chances for higher seeded teams to knock off lower seeds, yet both underdogs fell short by missing easy shots at critical moments of their games.

Let's review:

-Jayhawks escape upset bug when Salukis can't hit a late layup or trey
The Chokehawks nearly lived up to that well-earned reputation again last night in the first West regional game in San Jose. Although it never trailed in the game, the Salukis were nipping on the Hawks heels all game long and had a chance to swing the momentum and take its lead with just over two minutes to play.

Forward Bryan Mullins beat his defender and raced to the basket for an apparent easy lay in with 2:34 left in regulation and the Salukis down, 54-53. But something happened on the way to taking control of the game and serving Kansas with its 3rd consecutive tourney upset loss- Mullins layup clanked off the rim. No worries, though, as SIU's Jamal Tatum was trailing the play and had an easy putback right there for the making. He gagged to. And with those two misses the game was over and Kansas had escaped another gag job.

Sure there was still plenty of ball to play, and yes it's true that Southern Illinois had more chances to gain the lead and win the game, including a desperation trey at the buzzer that also fell short. But make no mistake about it- when you miss two, point-blank lauyps in crunch time against a number one seed, you're probably not going to win and you probably don't deserve to win.

The Hawks advance to the Elite *8 and will take on...

-UCLA's mentor gets the best of his pupil as Bruins handle Panthers with relative ease
In life and film most of the time the teacher gets the best of a student for a number of years before the person being taught ends up doing the schooling.

Looks like the same holds true for sports.

Ben Howland's new team dispatched with his old team last night in the second game in San Jose as Arron Afflalo scored 17 points and the Bruins held Pitt to 36% field goal shooting in a low-scoring, psychical West Region battle.

How rugged was it? UCLA won despite shooting 43% from the field, mainly on the strength of 23-26 shooting from the foul line; in fact 12 of its last 18 points came from the stripe. Not exactly a thriller. Luckily this game wasn't broadcast here, and I didn't even bother to log on to MMOD to follow it.

-Ohio State nearly makes me look like a genius but Tennessee volunteers to lose
As the Volunteers trotted off the court at halftime sporting a 17-point lead over the top-seeded Buckeyes, one thought popped into my head: how are they going to blow this one?

The answer became clear throughout the second half as the Buckeyes took control of the game and methodically whittled the enormous deficit down to nothing despite Ger Oden being a non-factor due to foul trouble, ineffectiveness and possible indifference.

I know Bruce Pearl had a great game plan to get Oden in foul trouble, draw him out to the perimeter and limit his dangerous inside presence, but after watching Oden play quite a few times this year it just seems that the kid who looks like man just doesn't exert his dominance enough, or at least not on every single play of every game like the true great ones do. Because the true great ones don't come up with stat lines like this in Sweet 16-level games: 18 minutes, 2 -2 FGs, 5-6 FTs, 3 REBS, 1 ASS, 9 PTS, 4 fouls.

But no matter how much you debate Oden's disappearing act in big games (he only had 22 points combined in 2 games against Wisconsin this year) and the fact that he did have 4 blocks, including a huge one on the final attempt of the game (which appeared to have come after the buzzer anyway), all talk of this game will center on Tennessee's monumental choke job.

How do you blow what was a 20-point lead with just over :01 left in the first half? You start by allowing a lazy 3-point play to end the first half, then proceed to clang shot after shot in the second half. Soon enough Mike Conley (17 pts, 6 ass, 7 rebs) and Ron Lewis (25 pts) had shot OSU back into the game, and the Vols were on fumes by the time the Bucks took their first lead since early in the game with just under 9:00 to play and Oden entrenched on the bench with 4 fouls.

So the Buckeyes escaped and will take on Memphis on Saturday, a team that also barely survived it's game last night.

-Now playing at Aggie Film night: Chokin' Acie
This one is a real head scratcher. The most clutch player in college ball had a chance to put his team in front of No. 2 seed Memphis by three points with less than a minute to play, which would have sent the Tigers into desperation-three mode and clearly given the advantage to the Aggies, who had been in control for most of this game.

Instead Acie missed a point blank layup after a gorgeous breakaway pass with the Aggies leading 64-63 with :47 left. To make matter worse, he couldn't even draw a foul from the Memphis defender that was playing him tighter than a tank top on Scarlett Johannson.

So what happened from that point on? Memphis missed a three pointer but Antonio Anderson got the rebound and Memphis called a timeout. After that? Memphis missed another three, but subsequently got three offensive rebounds on the play, the final one by Anderson resulting in an Aggie foul that sent the sophomore from Lynn (lynn, the city of sin), Ma, to the line. Anderson clutchly (?) nailed both frees to give Memphis a one point lead, 65-64, with :03 left, and a desperation three at the buzzer by Dominique Kirk fell short of the mark and the Aggies bid for the upset came up shy.

Despite missing the bunny the only question I have is, why wasn't Law, one of the greatest Aggies in history and a man who had hit so many big shots in his storied career, not taking the final shot of the game?

Memphis survived, as sis the other top contender last night. Will the second night of the Sweet 16 revert this tournament back to the madness it is named for?

As a Gator hater, one can only hope.

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