Well, hi there. It's been a while since I wrote a piece for the Juice. And after watching the games last night (and because I happen to be bored right now), I thought I'd write something on the Sweet 16.
UConn- 74, San Diego State- 67
This was the game that I most wanted to watch because of two reasons- Kemba, and because I picked the Aztecs to make the Final Four. San Diego State had been a solid team all season long- deep, talented, and armed with a tremendous defense and a NBA player in Kawhi Leonard. Their only losses coming in were to Jimmer Fredette and BYU (whom they beat in the Mountain West tournament to get the 2 seed they deserved).
The first half was OK- UConn didn't open up too much of a lead, but did create a little space heading into halftime. In the second half, SDSU made their run, breaking down UConn's defense and using their advantage up front (as well as some DJ Gay deep balls) to storm back and take the lead. UConn made another mini-run when Walker got hot, but SDSU made another comeback. With UConn leading by just one, there came an opportunity for the Aztecs to take the lead. Then Kawhi Leonard pulled a Jeff Robinson.
Leonard, a sub-.300 shooter from deep, decided to pull up for a three. Mind you this was after SDSU had pretty much all the momentum behind them (playing in front of what was essentially a home crowd in Anaheim). Leonard missed the shot, and on the next possession, the Huskies got an offensive rebound, found Jeremy Lamb for a back-breaking triple, and that was that.
You guys know how I feel about Robinson doing what Leonard did, so I'll spare you the histrionics. Another one of my Final Four teams goes down. It seems like SDSU could beat anyone this year except 2 of the 3 transcendent players in college hoops today in Walker and Fredette (the other being Arizona forward Derrick Williams- more on him in a bit). Nevertheless, the Huskies are back in the Elite 8 after finishing 9th in the Big East. Anyone who says they thought they would be in this position heading into the Big East Tournament is lying to you. This kind of run was unexpected, even with Walker there.
Follow the jump for further reaction from last night's games along with my predictions for tonight's match-ups.
Florida- 83, BYU- 74 (OT)
The Brigham Young Jimmers faced a re-match of the overtime thriller from last year's second round, and this time, the Gators were ready for them (him?). In a game where everyone was chucking from the Great Beyond (71 three-point attempts in this game, more than half the shots attempted by both teams combined were threes), it was the inside domination of Alex Tyus (19 PTS, 17 REB) and the defense of the Florida backcourt that won this game for the Gators.
The reason this game went to OT was because Jimmer made Jimmer plays, including a Hazell-range three from the hash mark that made every highlight list on SportsCenter (I still refuse to call range that deep 'Jimmer-Range' like everyone else does because Hazell did it first). But Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker made him work for everything he got, and by the time OT came around, Fredette had no legs left to either make those deep shots or even attempt to defend the perimeter; Walker and Boynton blew by Fredette and the Cougars all they wanted in the OT session, and two made triples from that tandem in the extra session sealed BYU's fate. Fredette finished with 32 points, but needed 29 shots to do it (a la 08-10 Jeremy Hazell ), while no other Cougars scored more than 9. One player cannot beat a good team like Florida by himself. Valiant effort, Jimmer, but you just got beat.
On a lighter note, check out this tweet from 1050 ESPN Radio's Brandon Tierney, describing what he would do if he were Jimmer, who is likely to get drafted into the NBA. I found it extremely funny.
Butler- 61, Wisconsin- 54
If you like defense, this was the game for you. If you like offense, you turned this game off 4 minutes in and never looked back.
When you get a game like this, a low score is not only accepted as opinion, but as truth. Butler's defense was tremendous for 3/4 of the game, holding the Badgers to just 1-16 shooting at one point in the second half. They did a great job of neutralizing dual post threat Jon Leuer (1-12, 3 PTS, 6 REB, fouled out) while playing well enough on offense to make you think it was going to be a blowout. Inexplicably, Wisconsin pulled themselves together and made it a game down the stretch, nearly causing Gus Johnson on TBS to lose his mind. But Shelvin Mack hit a dagger fadeaway that ended an over-9 minute drought on offense, sealing the W for Brad Stevens and Butler. The Bulldogs got a phenomenal game from Mark Zuckerberg look-alike Matt Howard (20 PTS, 12 REB), and just enough from Mack and Shawn Vanzant while Wisconsin was left scratching their heads at their offensive output.
Bo Ryan's teams will never be confused with, say, UNC in terms of offensive prowess, but that performance was worse than usual- even with Butler's defense being good, you would have expected Wisconsin to play better than they did.
Arizona- 93, Duke- 77
The game of the night. Anaheim was one lucky city to have Kemba as the opening act to Mr. Derrick Williams and the reborn Arizona Wildcats .
In the first half, Duke's skill players were just too good for Arizona to stop. Singler, Smith and company played well, made their open shots, and Arizona just couldn't quite get a handle on them, especially Singler (18 PTS, 8 REB), who used his face-up skills to take the ball into the paint with good success. Arizona was kept in the game by a transcendent first half from Williams, a sure-fire top-5 NBA pick after this game. Williams' 25 PTS, including a big contested three on the last possession of the first half, kept Arizona within striking distance.
And strike they did, with a vengeance.
Arizona in the second half came out swinging for the fences, and knocked the Blue Devils back on their heels immediately, then kept it up for the rest of the half. In a 4-minute span, the Wildcats went on a 19-2 blitz that saw Duke turn the ball over in 5 of 7 possessions. That gave Arizona an 11-point lead and Duke would never threaten again.
Williams and Jamelle Horne made sure of that.
With about 8 minutes to go, Williams threw down a vicious, message-sending, rafter-rattling dunk that sent all basketball fans into a frenzy, the Arizona fans in attendance into an altered, out-of-body state. Just over a minute later, Horne grabbed an offensive rebound, stopped on the low block for a second, spun around Miles Plumlee (shedding him like he was made of paper), rose up and brought the hammer down over Singler. The crowd went berserk. The Arizona fans lost their collective you-know-what. Sitting in my apartment watching what had just unfolded, I knew one thing (apart from "WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!):
Game. Set. Match.
Anyone who has ever played hoops at any level knows that it is the sport that is most driven by momentum. Those dunks swung the momentum behind the Wildcats irreversibly. Duke looked lost, helpless, and beaten. Super-frosh Kyrie Irving (28 PTS off the bench) tried his best down the stretch, but the last 7 minutes of the game were a foregone conclusion.
The Wildcats were the aggressors on both ends of the floor, forcing turnovers with their ball pressure on defense that led to a slew of points in transition, and knocking down the open shot. Lamont "Mo-Mo" Jones was tremendous with his perimeter play (16 PTS, 6 AST, 0 TO) as well as his defense and completely out-played Nolan Smith, who was the poster child for Duke's uncomfortable-looking offense in the second half. Williams ended up with a career-high 32.
Arizona's waxing of the defending champs is the surest example I can give that no one is safe in March Madness. No one.
Marquette vs UNC, 7:15 PM, CBS
The Golden Eagles look to dispel some Prudential Center demons as they take on the Tar Heels. The story of the game will be free throws- Marquette gets to the line better than any other team in the Big East and UNC sends opposing players there less than any other team in the country besides Ohio State. Also look for the length of Tyler Zeller and John Henson (who's been great lately) to give Marquette issues on defense.
Prediction- UNC , but it could be close.
Richmond vs Kansas, 7:27 PM, TBS
The Spiders now have a rough task ahead of them. When Richmond plays well, they tend to do so because the opposing bigs can't stay with Justin Harper on the perimeter. That's not only a non-issue for Kansas- they actually have depth with guys who can do that. Richmond is a fun team to root for, but Kansas is just too good. The X-factor will be Kevin Anderson's shot-making. If he gets in a groove, this could be close for a while.
Kentucky vs Ohio State, 9:45 PM, CBS
The nightcap (er, late-nightcap) in Newark is number one overall seed OSU taking on the young Kentucky Wildcats . Both teams are positively stacked with talent, and youth, at key positions. Jared Sullinger is the best freshman in the nation, and point guard Aaron Craft plays well beyond his years. Opposite them are Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, two highly-skilled, but sometimes inconsistent players. These teams both shoot the three well, both defend well, and both execute well. They are so well- matched that I sincerely hope it's close throughout. Ultimately, I think Ohio State will make just enough plays to win it. Jon Diebler is the best shooter in the nation, and I'd look to him for a big three to seal it.
Prediction- OSU , but in a close, potentially classic game
VCU vs Florida State, 9:57 PM, TBS
Both teams come in rolling off of big wins in the last round. VCU dismantled Purdue, while Florida State dispatched Notre Dame. This is a tough matchup for VCU because of FSU's defensive prowess. They are the best defensive team in the nation for the second year in a row, and they have length down low that the Rams don't have. Look for VCU to push the pace with senior point guard Joey Rodriguez to try and make this game interesting. In that type of game, VCU has the advantage, but if FSU makes enough shots to slow it down, the Rams won't be able to stay in it for long.
Prediction- VCU. I should mention that I don't have much confidence in FSU's "shooters."
The Madness Marches On.