Duke, UCLA, and the rest of Day 3 at the NCAA Tournament

A few thoughts on Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament…

You figured it was going to go one of two ways for Duke.

Either the Blue Devils would rip off an unbelievable shooting display for at least four games and reach the Final Four, or they would suffer through a poor shooting day and leave early.

In fact, Duke’s season ended with two poor shooting games, but one victory. But that win came at the expense of an upset-minded No. 15 seed, a game that, looking back at the numbers, Duke should’ve lost.

But they didn’t, and the Devils moved on — or maybe limped on — to the second round and West Virginia. This time though, when the shots didn’t fall, there would be no Gerald Henderson heroics at the end. 

Credit Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins with a brilliant game plan. Knowing the Devils were susceptible to quick point guards, he played two of them and got a monster game out of Joe Mazzulla, who nearly ripped off a triple-double. The reserve point guard actually had a whopping 11 rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass, as West Virginia cleaned Duke’s clock on the boards, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.

There were other factors, though. DeMarcus Nelson hasn’t played well in about a month, and had a combined eight points in the two NCAA tournament games. Kyle Singler, despite his tremendous upside, had only six points against West Virginia. And Greg Paulus, as good as he is in the college game, is only a help defender when it gets to tournament time. Athletic point guards just destroy him.

Belmont, though, deserves at least some credit in West Virginia’s win. The Bruins gave Duke 40 minutes of pure NCAA tournament hell, and for a team that relies heavily on the jump shot, Duke’s legs were spent in the second half less than two days later against the Mountaineers. Those 15 straight missed 3-point attempts had as much to do with Belmont as West Virginia.

 

In a tournament with a bunch of great games through just three days, none may have been better than UCLA’s 53-49 win over Texas A&M.

Aside from maybe the Duke/Belmont game, no contest has packed the drama of A&M taking a 10-point second-half lead on top-seeded UCLA.

But the way the Bruins came back to win was incredible. When Luc Richard Mbah a Moute decided against taking a wide open 10-footer with his team down by four with 7 minutes to go, one had to think that maybe the Aggies were going to pull this off.

But then Kevin Love took over.

The standout freshman showed why he is so highly regarded in a stunning 5-minute stretch, blocking four shots in that span — two on one possession — and swishing two dazzling fadeaways to bring UCLA to the brink of victory,

And then Darren Collison — sorry Heels’ fans, he’s better than Lawson — who had kept his team afloat in the first half, made two tough, tough runners to give the Bruins the lead.

In the end, UCLA, which was down and seemingly out and looking downright afraid, locked down and held A&M without a field goal over 7 minutes, methodically putting together an impressive comeback.

Destiny, anyone?

 

Michigan State won a typical NCAA tournament-Michigan State-type game. Tom Izzo is so good in the NCAAs, and his Spartans just kept hanging on to beat a good Pitt team. The game was close the entire way until the very end and Michigan State never let up, never lost its composure. 

Izzo’s teams are built for this time of year, and it would not be a shock if the Spartans found a way to beat Memphis next week. 

 

Xavier isn’t the greatest team in the world, but it may be the toughest.

The Muskateers fought through another game they very well could have lost, pushing past Purdue in the second round. Xavier only goes about eight players deep, but they don’t back down from anybody. The Muskateers fell behind 7-0 and came back. They gave up the lead with under 5 minutes to go, called a timeout, and came back with an 8-0 run, getting a shot-clock-beating 3 from C.J. Anderson and a big dribble-drive from Josh Duncan.

This is not a team that will be intimidated. Let’s just hope they can play UCLA. That would be a war.

 

The more I see them play, the more I like my Wisconsin Badgers pick.

I’ve got Wisconsin beating Kansas to go to the Final Four, and the Badgers did nothing to deter me from that feeling on Saturday, dismantling Kansas State with relative ease. Only Washington State had an easier time on Saturday than did Wisconsin.

 

That said, Kansas is still scary-good. But there were times in the Jayhawks’ game against UNLV when their offense stalled quite a bit. Wisconsin will try to do the same thing to them, but with better players and a better coach. 

Of course, Wisconsin would likely have to beat Georgetown first.

 

If North Carolina can avoid the upset and the ire of Duke fans everywhere when it plays Arkansas, the Heels are not going to be able to rest easy with Washington State up next. Wow, were the Cougars were awesome in hammering Notre Dame.

 

It will be interesting to see if Tennessee has as much trouble in the second round as Duke did. The Vols didn’t put American away in the first round until about the 5-minute mark, and they get Butler, a seasoned team, next. Tennessee could find that its legs are gone in the second half, too, while Butler will be fresh after routing South Alabama on Thursday.

 

Stanford slipped past Marquette in overtime in a bizarre game that featured Stanford coach Trent Johnson being ejected in the first half.

What kind of official tosses a guy in the first half in the NCAA tournament? 

Anyway, a nice win for the Pac 10, which looks pretty strong with Wazzou, UCLA and Stanford all reaching (or likely to reach) the Sweet 16. 

 

Any upsets looming on Sunday?

I’m still wary of Butler over Tennessee, and it’s impossible to pick the two 12-13 matchups. I won’t ever be comfortable about a UNC victory until the clock reaches all zeros, so I don’t know what to think about that one. And I’d like to see Davidson shoot over Georgetown, though I think the Hoyas will just be too physically imposing on the Wildcats’ shooters.

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Filed under ACC, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Duke Blue Devils, NCAA Tournament, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, UNC Tar Heels

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