March Madness: Day 2 Recap
By: Josh Wasserman
I think that some higher power punished me for my insensitivity and callousness in yesterday’s post regarding the health of the majority of the country’s bracket because today, my own predictions took a beating.
For people like me who felt that yesterday was unfulfilling, today had more than its fair share of startling upsets and astonishing performances. Furthermore, the overtime games today helped confirm a tournament record for most overtime games in the Round of 64, providing plenty of excitement for fans across the country. Let’s dive in to the numerous games that have left my bracket, and countless others, in tatters.
14 Mercer defeats 3 Duke 78-71
Aside from the monumental upset overall, one of the integral storylines of the game was Jabari Parker’s complete mental absence. Though he is one of the most celebrated recruits in the world, this game will throw some doubt towards his ability to handle pressure, something that he has had his share of trouble with over the past season. Parker turned the ball over 4 times tonight while shooting 4-14 from the field and looking bewildered on defense, allowing an important three to give Mercer a one point lead before halftime. However, the game does not rest on his shoulders entirely. Rodney Hood, also projected to be a top draft pick this coming draft, scored just 6 points while fouling out and giving up a 3 point play that put Mercer up by 5 with less than a minute to play. Give the Bears credit though: they were devastating shooting the ball and never gave up regardless of the score, often controlling the momentum even. Mercer pulled out a well-deserved win over a Duke team that failed to show up, even when the game was just a half an hour away from home.
6 Baylor defeats 11 Nebraska 74-60
Neither team played exceptionally tonight, but Baylor was able to grind out a win against an undisciplined Nebraska team. Free throws were the divider in this game as the Cornhuskers conceded 31 fouls that led to 48 free throw attempts for Baylor, 38 of which they converted. Compare that to the 10 free throws that Nebraska made and the correlation to winning is simple. The Bears also worked well down low as center Isaiah Austin and forward Cory Jefferson put up 13 and 16 points respectively, almost all of which came around the rim or at the free throw line. Three-point shooting is not their game, which is good because they were pretty pathetic from 3-point range tonight. Solid rebounding bodes well for Baylor though as they move on through the tournament. Though the Cornhuskers rank just 251st in the nation in rebounding, power in the paint on offense and on the glass will give them a major advantage against the perimeter-happy Bluejays from Creighton.
10 Stanford defeats 7 New Mexico 58-53
The seeding might not show it, but this result was a pretty major upset in the grand scheme of things. New Mexico, the perennial rival of San Diego State, fell victim to a remarkable display by the Stanford squad. The Cardinal, led by guard Chasson Randle with 23 points, were deadly from beyond the arc, firing at a 53% clip, in addition to playing staunch defense on the other side of the ball. Stanford had its hands full with 7-foot center Alex Kirk and dominant power forward Cameron Bairstow, but they managed to hold them in check just enough to eke out the win. Bairstow had a phenomenal game, putting up 24 points and 8 boards, but Stanford’s defense and their timely 3-point shooting buried the Lobos before they could embark on their tournament crusade.
1 Arizona defeats 16 Weber State 68-59
For their first trip to the tournament in seven years, Weber State actually put on a decent display against a very good Arizona team. Arizona was bound to win, but Weber State kept them on their toes the whole game. They even managed to outrebound a team sporting top rebounders Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski. However, Arizona’s size paid more dividends on defense than on the glass, as both of the aforementioned players finished the game with 5 blocks. Add to that Arizona’s 15 assists and 50+% shooting percentage from the field and from three and the game’s difference is clear. Weber State didn’t play badly; they were just on the wrong end of an unfortunate draw. Nick Johnson was filthy as usual, and Arizona’s big men had their way for the most part down low. T.J. McConnell’s lackluster play is a point of concern though for the Wildcats. They will need his play to be at its peak if they want to fulfill their expectations as a one seed.
11 Tennessee defeats 6 UMass 86-67
The Tennessee Volunteers continued their stunning play as they advance to the round of 32 after routing a highly overrated UMass team. Once again, forward Jarnell Stokes and guard Jordan McRae took over the game with their various strengths. Stokes owned the paint, earning 13 free throws (of which he made 12) and posting 14 rebounds. McRae’s high volume shooting paid off as he shot 56% from the field. In all honesty, the Minutemen didn’t really deserve to be a 6 seed. They don’t have enough formidable pieces to strike fear into their opponents. My pick for possible sleeper Cady Lalanne fizzed as he mustered just 8 points against the Volunteers. UMass reverted to fouling too often and overall, they lack the scoring threats that propel a team in the tournament (though don’t count on this year’s Duke squad as a blueprint). Tennessee is scorching hot right now, and their momentum is only skyrocketing.
3 Creighton defeats 14 Louisiana-Lafayette 76-66
Don’t think that I’m one of those Doug McDermott fans as a lot of people are Johnny Manziel fans. I’m not obsessed with him and my knowledge of him extends to his basketball prowess and nowhere else. But Doug McDermott is a damn good basketball player. Reaffirming that he should unanimously receive the Naismith Player of the Year award, the beefy forward put up 30 points and 12 rebounds while shooting at a 57% clip from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. And two other players on the team even scored…in double digits. The Bluejays do have impressive ball movement though, which allows them to sink opponents with their three-point shooting (as they very often do). In my opinion, that’s a great formula for success. Having Doug McDermott as the cornerstone and a bunch of three-point specialists complementing him could carry them into the Elite Eight, if not further.
2 Kansas defeats 15 Eastern Kentucky 80-69
It’s hard to upset a number two seed when the other team tallies more than two times as many rebounds as you. And it’s even more challenging when they shoot 60% from the field. Eastern Kentucky was given maybe a bit more respect than they deserved heading into this matchup, as Kansas played extremely well to help seal the deal. It was close for most of the game, but the Jayhawks pulled away towards the end to assure the win. Unlike Jabari Parker, freshman Andrew Wiggins tore up the Scottrade Center in St. Louis en route to 19 points, four rebounds, and 2 blocks. Role player Jamari Traylor also contributed an unexpected 17 points and 14 boards to the Kansas effort. Traylor’s play helped cover up the absence of star center Joel Embiid. However, the Jayhawks played well enough to win this game and, if they can survive one more without Embiid, could be on their way to a Final Four run.
8 Gonzaga defeats 9 Oklahoma State 85-77
Oklahoma State’s rollercoaster season took a turn for the worst as they lost their fourth straight March Madness game, this time to an underwhelming Gonzaga squad. Top prospect Marcus Smart was on his game tonight as he tallied 23 points, 13 boards, and 6 steals (despite 6 turnovers). But the Cowboys’ inefficient defense was spotlighted by Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs’ deadly shooting night. One of the nastiest highlights of tournament play today was Pangos’ hesitation move that froze his man at the arc before icing a three-pointer without contestation. Gonzaga shot an incredible 50% from three and 50% from the field, helping to put away the Cowboys and capping Marcus Smart’s college career with a disappointing year.
8 Memphis defeats 9 George Washington 71-66
This game was an even fight between two merely average teams. Neither team excelled, but neither team flopped. In the end, it was Memphis’ passing attack that opened up George Washington and led to their first-round win. George Washington forward Isaiah Armwood had a game-high 21 points and Memphis guard Michael Dixon Jr. posted 19 points off of 6-9 shooting, but the rest of the performances were run-of-the-mill at best. The Tigers were not impressive enough to instill confidence in me that they will continue their tournament run another round.
6 UNC defeats 11 Providence 79-77
Providence had this one in the bag and they almost alleviated my disappointment from the Duke loss earlier in the day. But lackluster boxing out and rebounding came around to bite an undersized Providence team where it hurt. Bryce Cotton, who I mentioned as one of the underrated stars of the tournament and reminds me somewhat of Portland Trail Blazer C.J. McCollum, was undoubtedly the most impressive player on the court, finishing the game with 36 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, rivaling Adreian Payne’s dominant performance for Michigan State last night. Only one Friar bench player saw the court though, underscoring Providence’s severe lack of depth. Star guard Marcus Paige and energetic forward James Michael McAdoo led the charge for the Tar Heels, bringing them back from a 12-point deficit at its largest. If UNC can remain in control of the game and avoid falling behind big early, they have the potential to make a (as much as I hate to say this) successful tournament run.
1 Wichita State defeats 16 Cal Poly 64-37
One of my stars for the tournament, Cleanthony Early led Wichita State to the largest margin of victory for a one seed thus far. Early’s 23 points were the only ones in double figures for the game, as Cal Poly’s leading scorer managed just 9 points. Stifling defense held the Mustangs to a mere 20% field goal percentage and they were atrocious at the line, converting 44% of their free throws. The Shockers weren’t exceptional on offense either, but they hoarded the rebounds and passed the ball as well as usual, which helped at least in some part to mask their disappointing shooting night. Wichita State can play so much better though, and they will have to show it in the next round if people really want to believe that they are a deserving one seed.
12 Stephen F. Austin defeats 5 VCU 77-75
Stephen F. Austin’s magical run continues as they augment their current wining streak to 29 games. While doing my picks, I thought that VCU’s tenacious defense would have terrified SFA into an easy win for the Rams. And it looked that way for most of the game, but SFA remained in the game by outrebounding and outshooting VCU. It came down to the wire, and VCU had the chance for the lead with 10 seconds left, but two missed free throws by Jordan Burgess confirmed VCU’s demise. Maybe the Lumberjack’s streak will continue, who knows. If they can get past a defense like VCU’s unscathed, the next thing they’ll have to prove is that they can contain an offense as potent as UCLA’s, which they face next.
1 UVA defeats 16 Coastal Carolina 70-59
UVA’s oft-praised defense wasn’t at its peak performance tonight, but it turned out not to matter as they pulled out the win against Coastal Carolina. Down 5 at half, UVA upped the intensity on both sides of the ball on their way to outscoring the Chanticleers by 16 in the second half. Four players reached double digits for UVA as they shot 52% from the field and 47% from three-point range, two figures that will be important for the Cavaliers to maintain as they progress through the tournament. With their heavy reliance on three-pointers for offense, they’ll have to be converting those shots every night if they want to make it farther than most anticipate.
8 Kentucky defeats 9 Kansas State 56-49
Not known for their defense, Kentucky actually may have been better behind the ball than with it. Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle were the only two Kentuckians to score above ten points, but Kentucky also grabbed 13 more boards than Kansas State. Minimal fouls and strong post defense powered Kentucky to the win over Kansas State. It’s nice that what Kentucky needs to prove is what they are typically good at; a problem that will swiftly be solved by the various superstars under John Calipari. They will have to limit their turnovers though if they want to be a true threat for the title.
3 Iowa State defeats 14 North Carolina Central 93-75
Iowa State took a big hit tonight when they lost key player Georges Niang for the rest of the tournament, especially after his impressive numbers tonight. His 24 points and 6 boards paved the way for the Cyclones as every starter had at least 14 points and 2 assists. Their high-octane, high-tempo, highly skilled offense left the Eagles with no chance at a win. They were composed on defense, mindful of the ball on offense, and took it straight to North Carolina Central without dithering. This is the type of confident play coaches love to see their teams playing come tournament time, though it is quite possible that the coach, Fred Hoiberg, is the reason for the team’s quality.
4 UCLA defeats 13 Tulsa 76-59
Personally, I don’t understand why people doubted UCLA’s ability. They topped Arizona for the Pac-12 crown after putting together a very good regular season campaign. And tonight’s score line should help to dissipate the criticism they’ve received so far. Even with point guard Kyle Anderson far from his best form, the Bruins easily handled Tulsa, notching 11 steals, 17 assists, and just 10 turnovers. Zach LaVine also struggled for UCLA, but Jordan Adams and Norman Powell helped pick up the slack by going a combined 12-24 from the field and 3-7 from downtown. If LaVine and Anderson play like their usual selves, in conjunction with the high quality play from Adams and Powell, I foresee the Bruins barreling through the tournament into the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight.
All stats courtesy of ESPN