No. 6 Kentucky has only themselves to blame for dropping a very winnable game against No. 3 Kansas State. UK dominated the glass (an ungodly +20), shot well enough (42%), moved the ball well (12 assts), even got to line and were respectable at the stripe (77%). But the issue with UK all year has been unsteady guard play, and it came back to bite them in the ass. Again.
The KSU Wildcats were picking pockets like a fat Canadian on a holiday in Budapest*. While K State had just 8 turnovers for the game, Kentucky doubled that, including a mini-meltdown in the final five minutes of a two-point game where they gave it away three times. That will absolutely get you beat every time. And, as we have seen vs. Alabama the last few years, Kentucky just cannot defend against elite guard play. Nowell slap went off, knocking down 27, getting to the line 11 times, and had 9 dimes.
Thus probably ends the career of Oscar, who brought his lunch pail for the tourney. In two contests, he scored 33 points, hauled in 43 rebounds, had six steals, five assists, and turned the ball over just four times. You can’t ask for more than that out of a big; he deserves to be All-Tourney, at least.
For UK, the same ole’ urgent issues remain: Modernizing the offense, getting more athletic at the guard spot, and Cal figuring out his bench far earlier than he did this year — and as he has done the last few seasons. It was a nice rebound for the ‘Cats this year, but the better Wildcats won this game.
Jerome Tang’s Bubble screen concept borrowed from football is genuinely interesting too. Bet we see teams steal and adapt that going forward. It’s genius TBH...and makes Lane Kiffin very aroused.
Jerome Tang drew up a bubble screen on the inbounds play— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 19, 2023
Kansas State calls it “Mahomes” @PatrickMahomes #MarchMadness @KStateMBB pic.twitter.com/FvABhmYmE2
* This joke would be censored, if anyone from Vox knew shit about the rest of the world
Two days ago, I said that No. 2 Marquette had a workmanlike win, but the one thing that troubled me vs. 15 Vermont was their defense on the perimeter: five Vermont guards and small forwards had 9+ points; that Izzo’s No. 7 Michigan State Spartans would find a way to punish the Golden Eagles for that. Not so much a prophecy as glaringly obvious. HE saw it, and Sparty did. Before we had reached the second television timeout, MSU had raced out to a 10-point lead, with 12 of MSU’s 18 points coming from the backcourt. After 10 minutes of play, Marquette had tallied just 8 points. It was vintage March Izzo, a man who’s made a career off of punishing teams in the Tournament. (Having a guy like Hauser down low, who was a physical mismatch for anyone in white and gold, also helped). It was a short bench for Sparty, but when you roll out three bigs and three wings, all of them larger than anyone else on the court, that can carry you past even a spirited effort.
And it did. B1G size, B1G physicality, B1G defense, and HOF coaching got this one done. Sparty led wire-to-wire, though never by more than 12. But then again, the way Izzo’s crew were playing defense, 9-12 points felt forever out of reach for Shaka’s group. Matchups make the game, and this was a bad one for the undersized Golden Eagles.
Is there any doubt as to why this is one of Saban’s homies?
The passion of Tom Izzo can never be questioned.— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) March 19, 2023
The enthusiastic bump with Mady Sissoko is a perfect moment. pic.twitter.com/lcEzPyUH6N
For all of the big names playing Sunday, a game a lot of people were looking forward to was the No. 9 FAU Owls and the No. 16 FDU Knights. Both were coming off of upsets; both play Nate Oats’ five-out offense; and both can light it up with some tenacious guard play. But whereas the Owls are long, athletic and look the part of a Sweet 16 contender, Fairleigh Dickinson look like beer league rec kids, with not a one of them standing over 6’6.” And the trigger-happy Owls would not be timid taking all those shots that Purdue’s slow, sloppy, slaw AF guards passed on.
It was not the blowout some had anticipated, but FAU’s shooting again proved too much, especially off-ball guard Johnell Davis, who netted 29 points and 12 rebounds. It helps that every last one of FAU’s three guards are 6’3” or taller and that Davis’s defender was 5’8” Demetre Roberts. Roberts put in 20 himself, and the Knights again eliminated the post game, and they again were very active in perimeter defense, but FDU were no match for the Owls’ dribble-penetration and superior length on the glass. This was a fairly average game by FAU’s standards, they’re just more talented and more athletic. And if you were Purdue you had to be sick watching it: there’s simply no way a Power 5 team should ever be losing to Fair Dick, no matter how feisty. On a weekend where just one Big 10 team advanced to the Sweet 16, the Boilers were Ur B1G Hoops: they got outworked and outcoached by a man who makes about $200,000 a year at a commuter school in Hackensack.
K State was not alone in borrowing from Football, BTW. FAU imported the mesh concept into its inbounds play. Basketball on grass on football on parquet.
Florida Atlantic running Mesh! pic.twitter.com/6UYzdXZySO— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) March 20, 2023
No. 11 Pitt’s luck finally ran out when they faced a team that decided to wake up from an early-tourney funk. No. 3 Xavier, had looked so flaky just 48 hours ago, and frankly manned back up and outplayed the Panthers in the post. How bad was it? Colby Jones, Xavier’s point guard had 14 rebounds. From a point guard. To go with 7 assists, and 10 points. With the frontcourt, it was worse. Xavier’s two “bigs” racked up 29 points, with a third coming off the bench to add 8 more.
The Musketeers were just better at every position on the court today. Coupled with a very inopportune cold streak from Pitt’s leading scorer, too many fouls, and bad free throw shooting, this was an upset that was never going to happen. Xavier finished with an 11-point win, but it wasn’t that close, nor did it feel like it. The Muskies took a 14-point lead into the locker room, and essentially played a running clock down the stretch.
Duke was the hottest team; Pitt was thought to be the most complete team; but all season long, No. 5 Miami had been the ACC’s best team. So, it should be no surprise that the Hurricanes are the last one standing after a very down year on Tobacco Road. Alongside Purdue, No. 4 Indiana was through to be the Big 10’s best chance for a deep run this March. But that ended today at the hands of the far more athletic ‘Canes. Miami knew that IU had the better interior game, so they just let the Hoosiers win those battles and instead focused on attacking Indiana’s guards. Let someone besides Trayce beat you — and IU could not do so.
In fact, the UM backcourt simply devastated the slower, less athletic Hoosiers, outscoring Indiana’s guards by a jaw dropping 68-27. Unf’nreal. To beat the Hurricanes, you have to take their shooters out of rhythm and match their speed and talent in the backcourt. A Big 10 team is simply never going to be able to do that. It’s basketball from another time and place. Matchups make the game, remember? It will be interesting to see what happens when UM faces the very physical backcourt of Houston next week. One suspects their guards won’t outscore the entire opposing team.
The game of the day in this bracket was the No. 6 Creighton Blue Jays and the No. 3 Baylor Bears. The Jays have the team basketball concept down cold, but the Bears are leaps and bounds more talented. Still, as we have seen already twice in the South, team basketball has a way of knocking off impatient teams. And Baylor can be a bit flaky. For ‘Bama fans, this was a big game for...reasons. And, that reason is that the winner here is likely the one team remaining that stands the best chance to keep Alabama from its first ever Final Four. Winner gets the Cinderella Princeton Tigers in another game that will match firepower vs. patience. It never quite materialized into the punchers’ contest we expected to see.
The Jays led from the wire — often by double-digits — and particularly exploited an athletic Baylor roster than was nevertheless slow rotating off of ball screens. Few teams scheme up catch-and-shoots as well as Gregg McDermott. But pay attention to what Creighton was also able to do in the post, as they fed the ball low and were able to manufacture points on those occasions the jump shooting wasn’t there.
Baylor probably could have survived all of this with even an average night shooting or a more aggressive effort inside the lane, but they were frankly awful from the floor and — like their rotational defense — a bit lazy inside. Not to reemphasize the “hustle over talent”-motif that has developed through the first two rounds, but you saw it again on Sunday. Say what you want about fugly Big East basketball, but no one is ever going to fault that effort. Like the SEC, the Big East has three teams in the Sweet 16, and a lot of it because of #BlueCollarBasketball.
It also helps to have a 7’1” center in Ryan Kalkbrenner too.
No. 4 UConn hasn’t had much trouble with its first two games. Seeding be damned, drawing Iona and St. Marys vs. a team of blue-chippers is almost a guaranteed Sweet 16 appearance. The No. 5 Gaels had kept this close earlier in the contest, before UConn did what they did best all year: put the game in hands of their backcourt, pressure SMU’s undersized guards, be aggressive and physical and turn it up court at every opportunity The Huskies didn’t play into St. Mary’s game of slowing it down and letting Mitchell Saxen do work in the two-man game. In fact, UConn dominated the interior, snatching down loose balls and swatting or affecting tons of shots on those rare occasions the Gaels had a decent look.
A few days ago I wrote that it has to scare you if you’re St. Mary’s that only one guard was in double-digits, and that it would bite them down the stretch. That day was today, except that not even Ducas was able to reach DD — he tied as SMU’s leading scorer with a meager nine points. Once UConn decided to play basketball after the half, this game was effectively over. Their next opponent, Arkansas, will not be so obliging.
No. 3 Gonzaga is going to continue to make life miserable for themselves until they learn to play defense. They struggled for a half with GCU’s Princeton offense, and struggled all game with a decent but not overwhelming No. 6 TCU team today. Not that the Big 12 gets a free pass here: The Frogs defense, which was cheeks against Arizona State, again no-showed in this one, particularly down the stretch. Neither team really wanted to play on that side of the ball, and substituted fouling for defense. Compounding matters, despite there being 51 foul shots taken, accuracy at the stripe was ghastly for both teams. Mike Miles was once again the best player on the floor for Hypnotoad...but the Frogs just never found an answer for Drew Timme.
One suspects that UCLA will be a bit more of a hurdle than two teams in the bottom half of defensive efficiency that the Zags faced. Plenty of teams have tried to beat Gonzaga matching them basket-for-basket, but St. Marys and others showed the only way to unseat this team is to make them play defense. UCLA can do just that.
And, yeeesh. This guy.
Drew Timme saw some chatter online from TCU fans before the game and used that as some extra motivation.— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) March 20, 2023
"Throw lighter fluid on the fire if you wish. I thought TCU was a highly educated school and they didn't sound so smart with their comments."
PLEASE STAY TILL THE VERY END. pic.twitter.com/NGuGVGoPcy
If you’re keeping track at home, the ACC and Big 10 had 13 combined bids this year — almost 25% of the field. But just one team from each conference advanced to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the SEC alone has 3 teams still playing into the second weekend.
And don’t think we’re letting you off the hook either “best conference ever” — the Big 12 is down to just 2 participants.
Biggest conference flop?
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