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The Big Ten began the Big Dance with seven teams—and has four still standing as we enter the Sweet 16. There is so much to look at in today’s daily links. Let’s start here, with this homage to Big Ten dominance.
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Sometimes a team just has to survive and advance. That was the case Sunday for East Region No. 1 seed Indiana, which trailed almost the entire second half before rallying in the final minutes to dispatch No. 9 seed Temple and advance to its second consecutive Sweet 16.
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Ohio State is headed to its fourth straight Sweet 16, the program’s longest streak and the nation’s longest current streak. How did it get there? Simple: Aaron Craft. The junior hit a buzzer-beating trey to make up for a trio of late missed free throws and send Ohio State past Iowa State, 78-75.
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For the fifth time in the last six seasons, Tom Izzo and Michigan State are headed to the Sweet 16. The Spartans clinched their latest regional semifinal berth by dispatching Memphis, 70-48, Saturday afternoon.
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Many experts thought VCU’s “Havoc” defense would give Michigan fits. Not so much. The Wolverines, despite committing 12 turnovers, steamrolled the previous Cinderella program, 78-53, en route to becoming the first team to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Gophers often found easy access to the rim, hitting 50 percent of their shots. And Minnesota was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 9-of-16 (56 percent). No doubt, UCLA missed injured star freshman Jordan Adams, as the Bruins had a short rotation. Still, Minnesota deserves credit.
The Buckeyes shot lights out throughout the game, hitting 50 percent in the first half en route to building a 43-33 edge at intermission. For the game, Ohio State knocked down 48 percent of its shots. Aaron Craft was all over the court, impacting in a variety of ways. Sound familiar? The junior defensive demon had seven steals and seven assists, while also chipping in four points. And he played his usual suffocating defense, helping force 19 turnovers. A 10-point game at halftime quickly became a glorified scrimmage in the second half, with the Buckeyes notching an eye-popping 52 points after intermission in this lopsided opening NCAA triumph.
It was defense that boosted Illinois to victory on this day. Illinois was especially stingy in the first half, which it allowed only 21 points and closed the final 7:05 of the half on a 13-0 run to take a 37-21 halftime edge. And the Illini showed an ability to withstand adversity in the second half, squandering a 16-point halftime lead and falling behind 44-39 with 9:00 left. But Illinois stayed composed and regained the lead, finishing the game on an 18-5 run.
This game basically was over at tipoff, as Indiana outclassed James Madison—which had to win a play-in game to advance—in every facet of the game. It was a nice tune-up for the Hoosiers, who were just 3-3 in their six games entering the Big Dance after getting bounced by Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten tourney. Indiana shot very well, hitting 52 percent of its shots and 39 percent from 3-point range. And IU dominated on the glass, 40-29.
The Badgers never got into an offensive rhythm, shooting an abysmal 25 percent (15-of-59) overall and 23 percent from beyond the arc (7-of-30) in the 57-46 loss to Ole Miss. Credit Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, who deftly switched between a zone and man defense. That disrupted the Wisconsin shooters, who never got on track. The Badgers led at halftime, but Ole Miss ripped off 17-5 run early in the half to take a 47-41 lead with 3:26 left. The Rebels never looked back and cruised to victory.
We had to wait until close to midnight for our first big upset of the NCAA tourney, with No. 14 Harvard shocking No. 3 New Mexico. What will Day Two bring? Hopefully not an upset for No. 1 Indiana, which takes its first step toward a national championship today vs. James Madison. And, it’s Final Four or bust for a Hoosiers team that has some pressure on it. But, it’s embracing it.
The matchup between Trey Burke and South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters was much hyped but it didn’t pan out, as both players struggled. Burke missed his first eight shots and didn’t sink his first bucket until the 12:46 mark of the second half. The sophomore hit just 2-of-12 shots and finished with a season-low six points, failing to reach double-figures for the first time this season. Still, No. 4 seed Michigan handled No. 13 seed South Dakota State, 71-56.
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It’s time to reach into my mailbag and answer your pressing questions. Lots of good questions this week, as usual. Yes, spring football is heating up. But with March Madness here, hoops are on your mind. So, let’s start there.
The Spartans were too big, too athletic, too strong and just plain too good for the Crusaders in this second-round game. In fact, the final score is deceiving. This game wasn’t that close. Michigan State played one of its most complete games of the season, being especially dominating on the glass as it aims for a seventh Final Four appearance under Tom Izzo.
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Welcome to one of the greatest days on the sports calendar! Where to begin? How about here, with Ohio State, one of my Final Four picks? When you think of Ohio State’s sprint to the NCAA tourney, ripping off eight victories in a row, you think of an offense that has featured a steadier stream of contributors around Deshaun Thomas. But defense has been the catalyst. And one of the biggest defensive sparks has been provided by Shannon Scott.
As if you needed any more reasons to celebrate the full-fledged start of the greatest spectacle in sports, here are 64 more—in no particular order—on why the NCAA Tournament is without peer. Why not 68? Because I don’t like the play-in games.
Strength of schedule figures to be a big component of the criteria used to determine who will play in the coming four-team playoff in 2014. To that end, Wisconsin’s 2015 slate will get a big boost from having a game with Alabama on its slate.
On the eve of the NCAA tournament, hope spring eternal for every team. Get hot, rip off six victories in a row, and you will be national champion.
Tom Crean and the Hoosiers didn’t get the No. 1 spot in the Midwest—and the chance to play the second weekend of the tourney in Indianapolis that came along with it–but they are No. 1 in the East and open in nearby Dayton, Ohio. All in all, it’s not a terrible draw, especially when one looks at the loaded field in the Midwest. However, Indiana is only 3-3 in its last six games.
Illinois is a tough team to read. On any given night, John Groce’s club is capable of beating any team, evidenced by signature wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. Then, on other nights, they look like they can lose to just about any team. Which Illinois team will show up when the tourney tips off? That’s the question.
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It has become an annual spring rite: President Obama filling out a NCAA bracket. And he has two Big Ten teams in his Final Four: Ohio State and Indiana. There is no better place to start daily links on the eve of the NCAA tournament.
It looks like we are getting closer to divisional realignment in the Big Ten in anticipation of Maryland and Rutgers joining in 2014, according to an ESPN.com report. The big remaining question: Will Indiana or Purdue have to play in the West Division?
The Buckeyes are one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning eight in a row en route to capturing the Big Ten tourney title.
What’s the best part of the NCAA tournament? It’s the upsets. They are what we remember from year to year.