A few thoughts from the first four games of the Sweet 16:
Villanova 77, Duke 54
I truly thought this was going to be a great game that might be decided on the last possession.
And then the game started.
While the Blue Devils only trailed by three points at the half, they had just six field goals at the break. And it was clear that Nova was a better basketball team, though one that wasn’t necessarily as disciplined as Duke.
But the defensive intensity was definitely there, and Duke was hounded and hounded and hounded. The Devils did get a bunch of open looks, but they had to work so hard to get them that there was nothing left when it was time to let it fly. It almost seemed as though the Devils were trying to play just a half-step too quickly, trying to rush a jumper for fear that somebody from Nova was going to get there in time to contest it.
It’s evident in the numbers. Duke shot a woeful 26 percent from the floor, hitting on only 15 of 60 shots. Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson combined to shoot 4-for-32 from the floor; Scheyer was blocked four different times and Henderson just couldn’t get anything to go down.
Villanova still did some things that sure weren’t great — the only times Duke had a chance to make runs came when Nova was jacking up 3s. And the Wildcats seemed to rush things as well, and their aggressive defensive style led to a lot of cheap fouls far away from the basket.
But on this night, Nova looked the best of anybody, and in holding that performance up against the likes of what Mizzou and UConn did, that says a lot. I could see Nova beating Pitt.
As for Duke, the season ends like the last few have — to a team with a dribble-penetrating point guard and tough guys inside. Nova held a huge 46-32 edge in rebounding and an incredible 25-7 advantage in second-chance points.
The bright side for Duke? After going 7-for-21 against Texas and 1-for-14 against Nova, Henderson will probably be back for his senior season.
Put him with Scheyer and Kyle Singler, whose game continues to improve, and the Duke Blue Devils will be back, and probably a lot better than they were this year.
And that’s saying something, too.
Pitt 60, Xavier 55
How did Xavier not win this game?
Sure, DeJuan Blair was a monster in the second half, and Sam Young was solid and Levance Fields hit a jaw-dropping 3 late, but the Muskateers couldn’t have been much worse in the second half. Were the rims extra tight or something, because the teams combined to shoot 32 percent from the field, and 23 percent from behind the arc.
That said, Pitt should’ve put the game away by the midway point of the second half. Xavier scored just four points in the half’s first 10 minutes, and had only 10 points 15 minutes in. But Pitt took some of the most rushed, ill-advised shots in the world, and truly looked horrible itself.
UConn 72, Purdue 60
Purdue tried to make its West Regional semifinal a game against UConn, and tried to do it several times after falling behind early. And the Boilermakers trimmed double-digit deficits back to the three-to-five-point range three different times.
But UConn always had an answer for every run, whether it was a big block by Hasheem Thabeet or big shots and run-outs from A.J. Price and Craig Austrie.
If the tournament were to be reseeded, I think UConn would be given the No. 1 overall seed. The Huskies have been very, very good.
Missouri 102, Memphis 91
Mizzou took a huge 24-point lead early in the second half, and it was enough house money to hold off a late charge by second-seeded Memphis.
A lot of people are going to try to say that this is a huge upset, but in reality, it really isn’t. Missouri coach Mike Anderson was the last coach to beat Memphis in Conference-USA — when he was with UAB three years ago.
I had Memphis in the Final Four, and this was the game I was most worried about, even with UConn as the top seed. I can’t say I saw it coming, but if I could’ve given myself a mulligan this week, this would’ve been it.
Mizzou may crash the Final Four party, but remember, it shouldn’t be a shock. If the Tigers get there, it will be with 32 wins. That’s kinda good.
One last thing — this was the game that foul shooting forgot. The teams combined to shoot a whopping 77 foul shots, and combined to miss 29 of them. That’s an ugly 62 percent.