Monday, March 19, 2012

You must have an acquired taste for this Sweet 16

Before we break down how they got there, lets first look at the match ups we'll see next week:
South Region
4. Indiana vs 1. Kentucky
10. Xavier vs 3. Baylor
West Region
4. Louisville vs 1. Michigan State
7. Florida vs 3. Marquette
East Region
4. Wisconsin vs 1. Syracuse
6. Cincinnati vs 2. Ohio State
Midwest Region
13. Ohio vs 1. North Carolina
11. North Carolina State vs 2. Kansas

Not surprisingly, all four No. 1 seeds moved on to the Sweet 16. The weekend games were relatively painless for the number ones, figuratively speaking, as none of the top seeds needed a buzzer beater or last-second action to move on but unfortunately for UNC, point guard Kendall Marshall broke his right wrist en route to a win over Creighton. Marshall filled the stats sheet in Sunday's game, logging 18 points (on 7-8 shooting) and 11 assists, and even continued to play after suffering the injury to his wrist on his non-shooting hand. We'll have to wait for a medical update from UNC but how many guys have you seen play basketball with a cast? Yikes. Given medical technology, surely it could happen but logic says his effectiveness would be significantly reduced.

No. 1 over-all Kentucky looked great with freshman Marquis Teague dropping a career-high 24 points on Iowa State as the Hawkeyes fell victim to a well-balanced Wildcat attack. Michigan State survived several runs by a Rick Majerus-coached Saint Louis squad who just couldn't do enough to pull off the upset against the Spartans.

The Wildcats of Kansas State had some nice moments against Syracuse but at no point did we ever think the Orangemen would let up enough to lose.

The surviving 2-seeds from the first round both excelled over the weekend. Ohio State looked good although they had to work pretty hard to beat a pesky Gonzaga team, but what they went through on the court was nothing compared to Kansas.

The Jayhawks broke the hearts of Robbie Hummel and his No.10 Purdue in stunning fashion. Leading throughout the game, the Boilermakers relinquished an 11-point advantage as Kansas took it's first lead with 3:01 to play. The remaining minutes would be a back-and-forth battle that Hummel (who scored 26 points in the first half) and Purdue would ultimately lose. Calling this a "scare" would be an injustice as Purdue was fantastic, but Kansas just happened to pull out the big guns at the right time for the victory.

Faring well in the tourney thus far as the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds who will be well-represented in the round of 16. No. 3's Marquette and Baylor both went on late runs to keep their opponents at bay, crushing the dancing dreams of Murray State and Colorado, respectively.

The Golden Eagles of Marquette got back on track in the second half after slipping up defensively early on and the Bears took down the Buffaloes by way of the 3-pointer thanks to the hot-hand of Brady Heslip. This kid lost his freakin' mind, scoring 27 points assassin style, shooting 9-for-12 on the night, all from 3-point range.

A No. 3 that didn't fare as well was Georgetown as the Hoyas got worked by N.C. State in a game that came down to the wire (and lots of free throws) resulting in a Wolfpack win. In another ACC vs. Big East battle, No. 3 Florida State met up with No. 6 Cincinnati in an absolute barnburner from start to finish. Watching this game was like watching Olympic-level ping pong match with both teams going full force until the finish. The Bearcats pulled away (and by that, I mean lead by a few points) with less than a minute to play while fending off fouls, steals and some rough plays while trying to in-bound the ball. I this game, the Big East won out as Cincy pulled the minor upset over FSU. Watching the Bearcats evolve from a controversial "nuisance" team to a resilient, smiling group of Sweet 16-bound players is awesome and your classic Tourney redemption story.

No. 4 seeds Indiana, Louisville and Wisconsin all had to either fight off the opposition tooth and nail or rally from behind to live another day in the Tourney, each truly earning their way into the Sweet 16. Missed three-pointers at the buzzer saved the Cardinals and Badgers from an overtime period while Indiana would've lost the game had VCU's final shot went down. These three games were some of the most exciting of the weekend.

Speaking of exciting, Norfolk State and Lehigh each had a chance to be the first No. 15 seeds in Tourney history to advance to the Sweet 16. Sadly for the Spartans and Kyle O'Quinn, the Gators chomped all over Norfolk State as Kenny Boynton scored 20 points leading Florida to the win.

In an underdog duel, No. 13 Ohio went on a 10-0 run semi-late in the second half of their game against No. 12 South Florida, landing the Bobcats a trip to the Sweet 16, as a 13-seed.

Lehigh, the other No. 15 squad trying to make history had an up-and-down game against No. 10 Xavier. Lehigh built up a 15-point lead in the first half, only to squander nearly all of it as the Mountain Hawks went to the locker room clinging to a 4 point lead over Xaiver. In the second, Lehigh suffered a near-eight minute field goal drought leaving them high and dry facing a five-point deficit around the 12-minute mark of the half. Kenny Frease (25 points, 12 rebs) and the Musketeers never looked back as they kept on Lehigh's heels, forcing the Mountain Hawks into multiple scoreless streaks. History would not be made as Xaiver sent Lehigh - the final 15-seed standing - home to watch the Sweet 16 from the couch.

A new record was in fact written Sunday night though with Cincinnati, Xavier, Ohio St. and Ohio all advancing, making it the first time in tourney history that four teams from the same state will appear together in the Sweet 16.

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