Go ahead and take a breath. After four straight days of suspenseful, heart wrenching action, we certainly deserve a break. Day four of March Madness provided some upsets, blowouts, and arguably the best finish of the tournament’s opening weekend.
Another Buzzer Beater
Michigan State looked like a lock to advance after maintaining a double digit lead for the majority of the second half. With less than eight minutes remaining in the game, Michigan State was comfortably ahead by 15. How quickly things change. Led by their leader and ACC first-teamer, Greivis Vasquez, Maryland clawed their way back to within one with just over a minute and a half left on the clock. Here’s where this ending rises above the rest of the weekend’s close finishes. Normally, in the closing seconds of a tight game, we see a missed shot here and another flawed possession there before someone finally finds the basket. Not here.
Trailing 80-79, Vasquez knocked down a 3 foot leaner with 39 seconds left to put Maryland ahead 80-81. Michigan State head coach, Tom Izzo then called what would be the game’s final timeout.Out of the timeout, Draymond Green buried a 19-footer to regain the lead. 82-81 Michigan State. 20 seconds left. Play continued.
Vasquez, ball in hand from end to end, again rose to the occasion and put Maryland back ahead by one with another short leaner in the lane. 82-83 Maryland. Again, no stoppage. Play continued. 6.6 seconds left.
With their star player, Kalin Lucas out with injury, Michigan State gave Korie Lucious the ball just beyond the three point arc with 2.1 seconds left. Lucious pumped once, took a step left to avoid his defender, and with just .7 seconds remaining, released the shot that would determine the 2010 fate of both schools. Make it, and Lucious’ Spartans move on. Miss it, and Maryland advances to the Sweet 16. The shot hung in the air for what seemed like minutes before it caught the inside of the back rim and sunk through the net. Game over. Michigan State survived Maryland’s unthinkable comeback to move onto the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.
We all love Gus Johnson. His enthusiasm for calling a sporting event, especially the NCAA tournament, is unmatched. Many of my most enjoyable March Madness memories were called by, and because of Gus. His heart attack call after Adam Morrison and Gonzaga collapsed down the stretch to UCLA in 2006 was classic. One year later, he carried me through Ohio State’s late run to top Xavier and avoid a devastating upset. What makes Gus so special is that his excitement crescendos with the game he’s calling. As the game grows more tense and exciting, you feel it in Gus’ calls. Unfortunately, the first weekend of the 2010 tournament left us without a classic “Gus” game. Despite numerous shocking upsets, buzzer beaters, and tight finishes, Gus didn’t call one close game. I feel cheated. I’m stilling waiting for my token 2010 Gus Johnson moment. Hopefully, it will come next week.
Unlike Saturday, none of Sunday’s outcomes were earth-shattering upsets. Most were even expected. Yes, even Cornell beating Wisconsin. If you’ve watched Wisconsin at all in the past two weeks, you knew Cornell was poised to roll right through the Badgers.
Elsewhere, Missouri managed to stay within striking distance of West Virginia, but failed to really threaten the experienced Mountaineers. Whenever the deficit would close to within a basket, the Mountaineers would rally and inflate their lead back to five or six. It was as if the NCAA was teasing me. “Look, Gus is going to call a close finish … this could be crazy!!! … Oh wait, just kidding.” It was just that kind of weekend for Gus.
My sleeper Final Four team also had a disappointing day. Despite a rough outing, Pittsburgh battled their way back to within three with just over 10 seconds left thanks to some clutch threes by Gilbert Brown and timely misses at the free throw line by Xavier. Unfortunately, Brown had fouled out, so Pitt was forced to look elsewhere for one more heroic shot on their final possession. Pittsburgh managed to get off two quality shots in an attempt to tie the game, but missed on both. Now I’m down to one Final Four team. How embarrassing.
As for the Sweet 16, here are the conference breakdowns. Remember, last week I mentioned that we could see more than a handful of Big East teams advance to the Sweet 16. I was slightly off… just slightly. The Big East advanced two conference representatives as did the Big 12 and SEC. The Big 10 surprisingly leads the scoreboard with a total of three teams left. The ACC, A10, Pac 10, Ivy League, Horizon, Missouri Valley, and West Coast Conferences all have one team still alive. Not exactly what we all expected, but then again, it wouldn’t be March Madness without a few bombshells.
Here’s hoping Gus Johnson gets to call the next one…