March Madness: Day 3 Recap

By: Josh Wasserman.

Today I was asked an interesting question regarding the happenings of the 2014 NCAA tournament. The question was: “Do you think that this is just one of those years? Or that the teams that are winning are the truly better teams?”

I think that question is somewhat misconstrued because, as we all know, the truly better team loses far more often in sports than expected. But in regards to the first part of the question, I don’t think that this is one of those years where the upsets are David vs. Goliath and completely unforeseen. Roughly the top 40 teams in college basketball were so good this year and they swapped places within the AP Top 25 poll so consistently that the poll reached a point where it wasn’t representative of the scope of the nation’s college basketball competitiveness.

I find that the teams in this year’s tournament were far more equal than in years past and also generally on a higher level of competence. That being said, let’s explore the results of the first day of the round of 32.

1 Florida defeats 9 Pittsburgh 61-45

Once again, Florida came out flat in the first half before taking the game away in the second. Pittsburgh’s flawless performance in the round of 64 excited some people into believing that they could pull of an upset of the number one overall seeded Gators. Alas, they floundered in their next game, acting merely a shadow of who they were a few nights before.

No Panther scored more than ten points as they shot just 37% from the field and porous defense allowed the Gators to put up far more points than they should have for an altogether mediocre night shooting the ball. Florida’s defense was integral to their success as they snatched 10 steals, rejected 5 shots, and conceded just 7 fouls. Put that together with only six turnovers and a cleanly-played game propelled them to victory on a night where they didn’t score nearly as much as they usually do.

4 Louisville defeats 5 Saint Louis 66-51

After their narrow victory over NC State in overtime in the round of 64, Saint Louis had a less successful outing against fourth-seeded Louisville. The 3-point shooting that saved the Bilikens in the first round completely evaded them against the Cardinals as they failed to make a single shot from beyond the arc.

On the whole they only shot 39% from the field, and foul trouble limited crucial minutes for star forwards Rob Loe and Dwayne Evans even as they combined for over half of Saint Louis’ 51 points. Louisville had more success on offense than their counterparts (four players had double digit scoring nights) and they ruled the glass for the most part (7 more rebounds than St. Louis), but an excessive amount of fouls and turnovers gave their opposition more of a chance than they should have had.

They’ll need to cut down on mistakes like those and improve their free throw shooting (16-24 last night) if they want to continue their tournament run.

2 Michigan defeats 7 Texas 79-65

Michigan stuck it to their challengers last night after going lightly against their first round opponent Wofford. The Wolverines hit 14 of their 28 3-point attempts (which accounted for 58% of their total field goals), which was enabled by guard Nik Stauskas’ terrific orchestration of their sharp passing scheme (Stauskas ended with 8 assists and no turnovers).

Their high-powered offense, led by Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III as usual, helped conceal their weak presence on the boards. But when you’re scoring the ball as efficiently and protecting the ball as formidably as they did last night, it doesn’t matter much that they got outrebounded by the fourth best rebounding team in the country. And that kind of capacity for scoring will be essential as they face the 17th best defensive team in the nation next in Tennessee.

4 San Diego State defeats 12 North Dakota State 63-44

Xavier Thames continued his immaculate stretch and furthered his campaign for player of the tournament by scoring a game-high 30 points against the Bison in an absolute drubbing by the Aztecs. The Bison, who pulled off an astonishing win in the first round over 5 seed Oklahoma (though E-I-C Dylan Elder was all over the prediction), struggled in all facets of the game last night as they made just 15 field goals, snagged 11 fewer boards than the Aztecs, racked up just 1 steal and 2 blocks, and gave up 17 fouls.

Thames is certainly making his case for Most Outstanding Player of the tournament

Thames is certainly making his case for Most Outstanding Player of the tournament

Cornerstone guard Taylor Braun, who led the Bison all year, had a particularly rough night as he went 2-14 from the field and tallied three personal fouls. His foil, Thames, however, thrived once again shooting 9-19 for the field and 4-9 from downtown. Dwyane Polee II added 15 points to San Diego State’s onslaught, but Thames was the obvious catalyst and was able to score even when he was doubled coming off ball-screens, one of his most unique strengths. Thames will have to keep up his incredible play if the Aztecs want to reach the Elite Eight.

11 Dayton defeats 3 Syracuse 55-53

Dayton had the most shocking upset of the round of 64. They followed up that accomplishment by toppling 3-seeded Syracuse, potentially the most shocking upset of the round of 32. The win was completely deserved though, as they shut down a dangerous Syracuse offense.

As I noted in Day 1’s recap, the Orange find themselves in trouble when their stars fail to find their game. And that’s exactly what happened: C.J. Fair went 4-14 from the field, Tyler Ennis went 7-21, Jerami Grant scored 4 points, and Trevor Cooney converted just one field goal (a two-pointer at that). And with absolutely no depth beyond their starters, the Orange can’t rely on a spark from their bench. So they are completely vulnerable when their starting five is off.

Dayton’s offense was potent though, as they continued their series of solid shooting nights. Clutch free throw shooting down the stretch also helped seal the game for the Flyers as Tyler Ennis, Syracuse’s lauded point guard, faltered twice with the game on the line, missing two potential game-winning shots. The Flyers face Stanford on Thursday and a very even matchup of underdogs could see either team playing in the Elite Eight.

2 Wisconsin defeats 7 Oregon 85-77

I had Oregon winning this one, and in all respect to Wisconsin’s comeback efforts, the Ducks probably should have won this game.

Up by 14 with seconds left in the first half, Oregon mysteriously imploded in the second half en route to succumbing to a 34 point swing by the Badgers. Exorbitant fouling, poor defense, and a nonexistent presence down low spelled defeat for the streaking Ducks.

Guard Joseph Young was excellent once again on a 10-19 shooting night, and backup guard Jason Calliste contributed 20 points of his own to Oregon’s effort. But Wisconsin, who had another paltry first half this tournament, ramped up the production in the second half as every starter scored at least 12 points.

Frank Kaminsky bounced back from a challenging first round game to score 19 points, Ben Brust knocked down four three-pointers for 12 points, and Traevon Jackson converted 9 of his 11 free throws for 16 points. However, Wisconsin will have to stop digging themselves into a hole in the first half if they want to see future success.

4 Michigan State defeats 12 Harvard 80-73

Harvard’s dream journey through the tournament was abruptly devastated by preseason #1 Michigan State. The feisty Crimson backcourt that pestered fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the first round put up great numbers against the Spartans (Wesley Saunders scored 22 points, Brandyn Curry went for 12, and Siyani Chambers put up 10), but they couldn’t stop Michigan State’s up-tempo offense, especially in the paint.

Adreian Payne scored just 12 points after notching 41 in a career outing in the first round, but his fall was alleviated by the stellar play of guard Branden Dawson, who attacked the rim ferociously on his way to hitting 12 of 15 field goals and hoarding 9 rebounds as well. Additionally, Gary Harris found his stroke after a vanishing act in the first round, tallying 18 points on 5-11 shooting. Keith Appling’s slip has continued though, and he has been a nonfactor so far for the Spartans.

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7 UConn defeats 2 Villanova 77-65

As I said in my stars of the tournament post, Shabazz Napier sustained his impeccable tournament run by willing the Huskies to victory over a, in my opinion, overrated two-seeded Villanova. Though the Villanova squad has been praised all year for its experienced core of players, they committed crucial turnovers on offense and had no answer for Napier’s quickness on defense.

The Huskies racked up 11 steals (4 coming from backup guard Lasan Kromah) and went to the line 28 times (scoring 22 of those attempts). Their energetic defense was complemented by their sharp three-point shooting and overall success from the field. UConn deserved this win and outplayed the Wildcats in all aspects of the game, and as E-I-C Dylan and I predicted, UConn is in the Sweet Sixteen and ready to traverse deeper into the Madness.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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