Tennessee knocked off the favored Buckeyes while the clock struck twelve for Cinderellas Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s. Oh yeah, Duke won too.
Tennessee Outduels Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes were a popular “sexy” pick to win the national title. Well that’s the end of that. I’ve had a disastrous March as far as my picks are concerned, but Tennessee’s victory on Friday night was the highlight of my 2010 bracket. (I know, I know, I’m getting excited about an Elite Eight pick. Cmon, allow me this victory.) It wasn’t the craziest pick but when Georgetown and Ohio State are standing between you and the Elite Eight, there aren’t many people who believe in you. I believed in Bruce Pearl. Because of that faith, I can now frame one tiny part of my bracket and sleep peacefully until tomorrow when my bracket is completely finished. Sometimes the small victories give us the strength to press on.
Speaking of meaningless victories, Ohio State’s Evan Turner was once again the best player on the floor. Unfortunately, even he wasn’t enough to overcome the young men from Rocky Top. While Tennessee had no answer for Turner offensively, the Volunteers were able to force him into turnovers (he led all players with 6), and took away his offensive support, especially sharpshooter Jon Diebler, who finished 1/8 from three. (By the way, I replayed the final seconds multiple times after the game. It was hard to get a read on whether or not enough time remained, but Diebler–Ohio State’s best 3 point shooter–was wide open at the top of the arc as Turner elevated for his final shot. Turner’s shot was ultimately blocked. I’m just saying.)
Tennessee’s depth and their unique combination of size and athleticism smothered Ohio State’s shooters and dominated the glass on both ends. Ohio State finished with 33 rebounds, 10 were offensive. Tennessee finished with a total of 54 rebounds, a third of them coming off the offensive glass. That’s a lot of second chance opportunities for a team that thrives down low. Heavyweights Wayne Chism and Brian Williams were no match for Ohio State’s front line. Evan Turner was the best player, but Tennessee was the better, deeper team.
One final note. I’m extremely happy for Bruce Pearl. In January, Pearl dismissed forward Tyler Smith, one of Tennessee’s best players, after he was arrested on gun and drug charges. It’s not often that a collegiate coach takes such a tough stand with players, especially star players. Pearl has always established close relationships with his players and demands from them what any father would. Pearl did what was best for his team and his program. It’s not always a popular decision to dismiss a star player, but Pearl’s decision was vindicated on Friday night. Good for Bruce Pearl. Good for Tennessee. Good for college basketball. Athletics could use a few more Bruce Pearls.
Baylor Bears Maul St. Mary’s
There’s not a lot to say about this game because the score said it all (72-49, 46-17 at halftime). I won’t pretend to breakdown the game either because I didn’t see it–CBS ran from the blowout faster than a liberal from a Tea Party rally, and rightfully so. The game was brutal. I’m pretty sure Jim Nantz started working on his “Masters” voice halfway through the first half. You know the voice. The one where Nantz commentates while whispering softly as Tiger sends another dirty text…uhhh I mean sinks another putt. Seriously though, Nantz has my dad doing the sleepy head bob 20 minutes into the Sunday telecast. Speak up, Jim! It’s not a bedtime story. I digress. Back to basketball.
Obviously, Baylor steamrolled St. Mary’s. At times, Baylor’s lead swelled to more than 30 points. This can only mean one of three things. 1. Baylor is really, really good (I’m not buying they’re THAT good). 2. St. Mary’s just had an off night (possible, but I doubt it). 3. Villanova was really that bad (Yup! There it is, this one makes sense). And that’s all I have to say about that.
Clock Strikes 12 for Cinderella
I’ll defer to CBS’s Verne Lundquist for the call here; “And the dream …(pause for dramatic affect)… has died for Northern Iowa.” It was a valiant run for the little known school out of the Midwest. Knocking off the tournament’s top seed is quite a consolation. Unfortunately, even beating Kansas won’t be enough to ease the pay from a disappointing performance in Friday night’s regional semifinal.
After hanging with Michigan State all night, it was a ten minute field goal drought that ultimately doomed the Panthers. Following a three point field goal at the 10:22 mark in the second half, Northern Iowa proceeded to miss their next ten shots and scored only 10 points in that span, all from the charity stripe. Obviously, not the way to pull another upset.
N. Iowa didn’t just give the game way, Michigan State won it outright. Rebounding and connecting on 36% of their threes were key to the Spartan’s victory. Oh yeh, Tom Izzo too. This just in; Izzo knows what it takes to win in March.
In 2009, Izzo’s Spartans were the surprise team to crash the Final Four. They’re only a victory over Tennessee from an encore. Izzo deserves the credit for another impressive run as Michigan State establishes itself as a perennial threat in the NCAA tournament. His teams are always playing their best when April approaches. This year they’re even doing it without their best player, Kalin Lucas. They’re not flashy and tonight’s victory was less than pretty, but Izzo and Michigan State find a way to win in March.
Yes, that’s all.
(What do you want me to say? That was an ugly game. It resembled a Big Ten football game; slow, boring, physical, and offensively inept-with the exception of JaJuan Johnson. I enjoyed watching him.)
If Duke reaches the Final Four, I may never forgive Jay Wright, ever.