March Madness: Day 4 Recap

By: Josh Wasserman.

We have officially reached the sweet sixteen and it has been nothing short of a wild ride so far. This has been one of the most unpredictable tournaments in recent history, as we’ve seen stunning displays and shocking meltdowns. The Sweet Sixteen has a wide variety of teams, ranging from all different seeds, playing styles, and conferences. Let’s take a look at the final few teams that made the cut the other day.

10 Stanford defeats 2 Kansas 60-57

Arguably the most incredible upset of the round, this game is as close as the score line reads. The Jayhawks, without Joel Embiid, lacked any sort of inside presence, as the Cardinal frontcourt of Stefan Nastic, Josh Huestis, and Dwight Powell owned the area around the rim.

Those three accounted for four blocks on the game, but the most important piece of the Cardinal squad against Kansas was guard Chasson Randle, who shot 6-12 from the field on his way to 13 points and a whopping 6 steals. Furthermore, Kansas’ starters had pretty dismal outings aside from Tarik Black, who finished with 18 points.

The other four (Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and freshman top recruit Andrew Wiggins) combined for 20 points on 7-29 shooting. Backup guard Conner Frankamp kept the Jayhawks afloat down the stretch with clutch three-point shooting, but the rest of the team’s struggles were too great to overcome, especially without Embiid. Wiggins’ lackluster performance, like Jabari Parker’s days earlier, may throw somewhat of a cloud around his decision to enter (though most likely not because he’d go 1 or 2).

8 Kentucky defeats 1 Wichita State 78-76

And the first one seed has fallen, and the most lovable ones at that. The Shockers from Wichita State, unbeaten throughout the regular season, finally fell to a formidable Kentucky team. Neither team pulled far ahead of the other as each traded shot for shot with each other, often responding to a drive to the lane with a posterizing dunk, or tough fade-away jumper with a contested three.

For the Shockers, my “Big Man on Campus” pick Cleanthony Early once again led the offensive charge, going for 31 points and 7 rebounds on 12-17 shooting from the field and 4-6 from three-point range. Shooting guard Ron Baker also supported Early’s efforts by hitting four threes as well, shooting 7-12 on the whole.

However, the Wildcats were as solid and complete as they’ve been all year. My pick to bust this tournament Andrew Harrison finished with a team-high 20 points, sinking numerous crucial free throws in crunch time. Julius Randle added a double-double, Aaron Harrison, twin brother of Andrew, knocked down four three-pointers, and James Young put up 13 points. A great game between two huge NCAA powerhouses, if Kentucky can maintain this level of play, they look poised to make a threatening run to the title.

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3 Iowa State defeats 6 UNC 85-83

Out of all the fantastic games that happened on Sunday, this one was my favorite for a litany of reasons. For one, UNC lost, a great day for any loyal Duke fan. Secondly, Fred Hoiberg, personally one of my favorite coaches in the game, succeeded in bringing his Cyclones to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000. Lastly, I love the way DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim play.

Kane notched 24 points and 10 rebounds as a guard, and Ejim struck for 19 points while contributing a pair of steals, a block, and a couple of assists. Three other Cyclones scored in double digits as they passed the ball efficiently (conducted by Kane, who finished with 7 assists as well) and shot 43% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc.

 

UNC played them step for step though, essentially matching Iowa State’s tallies. Sophomore starlet Marcus Paige scored a team-high 19 points, but turned the ball over in a vital spot in the last minute to lead to a layup that put the Cyclones up by 2. Underpublicized Tar Heels Kennedy Meeks and Leslie McDonald also had uncharacteristically good games as Meeks snagged a double-double and McDonald knocked down 4 threes en route to 19 points. Though it was heartbreaking for UNC, I picked the Cyclones to make a deep postseason run, and this performance reinforced that belief.

11 Tennessee defeats 14 Mercer 83-63

Mercer’s unprecedented victory over third-seeded Duke was followed by a humbling defeat to eleventh-seeded Tennessee, who continues to play impressive basketball. The Bears took advantage of sharp shooting from the field and at the line and an atrocious Duke performance to eke out a win in the round of 64. But a few days later, the Volunteers went to work on them, pulling down 22 more rebounds, tallying 15 assists, and shooting nearly 50% from the field.

Jarnell Stokes, who has been monstrous all tournament long, notched a career-high 18 boards in addition to 5 assists and 17 points. Likewise, the Tennessee backcourt carried on their deadly form as guards Antonio Barton, Jordan McRae, and Josh Richardson put up 18, 14, and 26 points respectively. Utter dominance in the paint by Stokes, in conjunction with a controlling performance by the Volunteer guards, helped pull out an easy win over a Mercer team that clearly had ridden out their magical streak.

4 UCLA defeats 12 Steven F. Austin 77-60

Steven F. Austin’s unbeaten streak finally reached a close on Sunday night as UCLA put them away early with a ten-point lead at half that they only built upon later. Jacob Parker, the Lumberjacks’ typical catalyst, was off his mark as he went just 1-7 from the field, and other major contributor Desmond Haymon shot 3-11, representing the Lumberjacks’ shooting woes on the night.

However, UCLA’s play was far more significant a reason for Steven F. Austin’s first loss in months. The Bruins committed only 3 turnovers on the night and racked up 22 assists, all while shooting 55%. UCLA’s backcourt shared the distribution burden as three players tallied more than four assists. Their dynamic passing attack provided them with open looks at the hoop, as guards Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams took clear advantage of their opportunities.

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Adams has been a stud all tournament, leading the Bruins in points both nights thus far. That being said, top prospect Zach LaVine struggled as he made one sole free throw on the night to finish with 1 point. The rest of the team is picking up his slack, but the addition of another powerful force could put the Bruins up and over the edge as they move through the bracket.

6 Baylor defeats 3 Crieghton 85-55

Doug McDermott’s flawless college career came to a disappointing end Sunday night as he finished the season on the sidelines watching his fellow seniors get destroyed by a far superior Baylor team. McDermott, whose stellar play had never abated throughout the entire season, shot well on the night, but had issues with foul trouble, which limited his minutes.

On the other side of the ball, the Bluejays couldn’t touch Baylor’s unbelievable offense. The Bears shot 64% from the field and 61% from three-point range, amazing marks for a team that ranked just 104th in the nation in field goal percentage during the season with a 45% clip.

Center Isaiah Austin once again took over the game inside as he bullied the Bluejays’ post players en route to a 7-11 shooting night. Almost as pass-happy as the Bruins, the Bears notched 19 assists, 8 coming from the dexterous hands of forward Royce O’Neale.

Furthermore, on the whole, Baylor minimized their fouling and turnovers, restricting the unwarranted opportunities they gave to Creighton. A convincing victory for the Bears over a usually staunch Creighton opponent bodes well for Baylor in the future.

1 Virginia defeats 8 Memphis 78-60

UVA kept rolling in their win over Memphis as they continue their scorching hot run that started with their ACC tournament win. They fired on all cylinders as they shot 56% while holding their opponent to just 40%, not to mention that the Tigers ranked 35th in points per game and 23rd in field goal percentage in the NCAA this year.

Key players Shaq Goodwin and Joe Jackson had tough nights for Memphis as they couldn’t find a way around Virginia’s tenacious 2-3 zone defense. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were knocking down plenty of their shots, even capitalizing on about half of their three-point shots (which this year they are anomalously not reliant upon). Physical play on the boards and a high-powered offense carried the Cavaliers cruising through these first two rounds of play.

1 Arizona defeats 8 Gonzaga 81-64

Gonzaga’s usually potent offense couldn’t prevent them from getting blown out by the Wildcats, who played at their peak performance on Sunday in their victory. Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs had no answer for the efficient Arizona offense despite putting up 64 points themselves.

Freshman forward Aaron Gordon, usually not the centerpiece of Arizona’s offense, scored 18 points and notched 6 assists while being a stalwart on defense, snagging 6 steals as well. Nick Johnson stayed hot as he put up 17 while additionally contributing 4 blocks, 3 steals, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, the epitome of an all-around great performance.

T.J. McConnell, who disappeared in the Wildcats’ first game, found his form again as he went 3-4 from beyond the arc while dishing out 6 assists. This kind of play from Arizona could be the type of game they need to get going, a game that could propel them even further into the tournament.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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