Friday, March 27, 2009

Saturday Morning Shootaround: And The Elite 8 Is Set

The Elite 8 is set, and if anything has become clear during the last ten days, it is that the Big East was far and away the best conference in the country. Four teams from the conference have made the Elite 8 (along with two from the Big XII and one from both the Big XII and the ACC). With the tournament officially halfway done, half of the teams left are from the Big East.

Think about that for a second.

That is pretty impressive.

One Big East team is guaranteed to be in the Final Four (Pitt plays Villanova), but with the way that Louisville and UConn have looked, would it surprise anyone if three teams from the league reached the Final Four?

Didn't think so. Let's get into the night's Sweet 16 action.

Louisville 103, Arizona 64: The Cardinals showed how good they can be tonight. Take a look at some of these stats:

  • 57.6% shooting from the field
  • 14-29 from deep
  • 29 assists on 38 field goals
  • Committed 9 turnovers
  • Held Zona to 38.6% shooting
  • Got an offensive rebound on 11 of their 28 misses
That is just the beginning of it. They looked dominating defensively, making every pass and every shot difficult for the Wildcats. On the offensive end, crisp ball movement and beautiful passing led to open threes and lay-ups. And the Cardinals did not miss.

The Cards opened up a 17-9 lead early in the first half. After a quick 14-4 run, they took a 34-19 run with six minutes left in the half, and eventually went into the half ahead 49-28. The play that epitomized the day happens at the 1:00 mark in the following highlight clip:

T-Will grabs a defensive rebound, whips it around his back to avoid getting the ball stripped, then leads a fast break that results in an Earl Clark three from the corner.

Clark led the Cards with 19 points and 9 boards, T-Will added 14 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, and 2 steals, and Jerry Smith chipped in with 16 (13 in the first half). Chase Budinger has 22 for Zona, while Jordan Hill added 14 points and 11 boards.

Oklahoma 84, Syracuse 71: Syracuse just wasn't ready for the Sooners. Oklahoma jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and while they were able to get that lead down to one point on a couple occasions during the first half, Oklahoma pulled away at the end of the half before jumped on the Orange in the second half. By the time Syracuse decided to start playing, they were down 56-29 and the game was all but over.

Blake Griffin added a ho-hum 30 points and 14 rebounds, but he was not the star for the Sooners. That honor would go to Tony Crocker, who scored a career-high 28 points, hitting 6-11 threes. It was Crocker who hit a three at the end of the half (and scored 8 of the last 11 for the Sooners) as OU opened up a 39-26 halftime lead.

The biggest play in this game came with about a minute to go in the half. Blake Griffin was driving to the rim, and Jonny Flynn slid over to try and take a charge. It was called a block, and Griffin finished a three-point play to give the Sooners a 10 point lead. Flynn ended up with a bad bruise on his back, and did not get a chance to try and make a play on the ensuing Orange possession. Instead, Tony Crocker hit a three right before the buzzer to send the game into halftime. Instead of being down 33-26 with the ball, the Cuse had to head into the half down 13. They were never able to recover.

Flynn led the Orange with 22 points, the majority of came in the second half when the game was already out of reach.

Bonus dunk video: Blake Griffin showing off his insane athleticism by hitting his face (not the top of his head, his left cheek) on the back board on a dunk:

Michigan State 67, Kansas 62: The Spartans trailed Kansas 32-19 at one point in the first half, but that is when the MSU defense woke up. The Jayhawks committed 19 turnovers on the day, 10 of which came in the second half, as MSU was able to crawl all the way back and eventually take a lead late in the second half.

This one was billed as the Sherron Collins-Kalin Lucas show. For much of the game, it was a disappointment. Lucas struggled to find his shot, while Collins was hitting tough jumper after tough jumper.

That changed down the stretch. After Lucas found Raymar Morgan for a dunk that tied the game, Collins committed a costly turnover on an errant pass intended for Cole Aldrich. At the other end, Lucas drove by Collins, finishing in the paint and earning a three-point play. After the teams traded free throws, Collins was fouled on the perimeter with a chance to cut the lead to two, but he missed the front-end. Lucas would knock own two more free throws (he scored the last seven for the Spartans) and MSU would hang on to win.

This game also featured a good match-up inside as Cole Aldrich went toe-to-toe with Goran Suton. Aldrich ended the game with 17 points, 13 boards, 4 assists, and 4 blocks, but was not as much of a factor late (Kansas only scored two points in the paint in the second half). Suton was. He led MSU with 20 points, 9 boards, and 5 steals (just about all of which came by knocking away an entry pass).

This game also featured the funniest moment of the day. After MSU hit two free throws during the second half, Idong Ibok took the ball out of bounds under the MSU basket, while the Kansas players just stood there and looked at him.

UNC 98, Gonzaga 77: North Carolina looked absolutely dominant against Gonzaga in the first half, to the point where they were just about unstoppable offensively. The Heels put up 53 points, scoring in just about every way imaginable - on the break, on post-ups, on dribble penetration, by hitting threes, beautiful back court cuts for dunks (like the one Lawson threw to Green early in the first half.

There were two problems for Gonzaga last night. The first was that they absolutely could not get a stop. UNC was hitting everything they threw at the rim, and the only turned the ball over twice in the half. Gonzaga, on the other hand, committed four turnovers in the first six minutes, which led to 10 Tar Heels points. The Zags did go basket for basket with the Heels for a while, but the Heels were just too efficient.

The Heels were up 17 midway through the half, but a 10-2 Gonzaga run cut the deficit to 51-42. But, as they have always done, UNC answered. Hansbrough scored the last hoop of the first half, and then the Heels scored the first three buckets on the second half, pushing the lead back to 17 and taking the air out of Gonzaga's sails.

Ty Lawson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half to help UNC open up the big lead. Hansbrough added 24 and 10 boards.

No comments: