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March 16, 2012
Day One
VCU Again?

by Jeff Nusser and Corey Schmidt

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EAST

(8) Kansas State 70, (9) Southern Mississippi 64 [65 possessions]
As we noted in our preview of this game, Southern Mississippi wasn't the most accurate shooting team this season, so the Golden Eagles weren't going to lose hope if Kansas State forced a bunch of misses. The Wildcats did indeed impose their interior defense on Larry Eustachy's team, holding them to 38 percent inside the arc, and yet the No. 9 seed managed to keep the game competitive due to solid ball control and great offensive rebounding. But Eustachy's players couldn't keep Frank Martin's off the foul line, which resulted in the Cats taking 34 attempts at the charity stripe to "just" 17 for Southern Miss. And what do you know, Kansas State made 77 percent of those freebies, up from its season-long average of 67 percent. When the Wildcats are knocking down their frequent free throw attempts, they're tough to topple. It also doesn't hurt to get 30 points on 16 shots from Rodney McGruder.

(4) Wisconsin 73, (13) Montana 49 [57]
The Badgers drilled 10-of-19 three-pointers, and Bo Ryan's team did what it does against mid-major opponents: held the Grizzlies to 0.86 points per possession. For many teams, that would be a season-best defensive efficiency, but Wisconsin has actually recorded 12 better defensive performances. The Badgers accomplished such stinginess by forcing a ton of misses both inside and outside the arc and allowing Wayne Tinkle's men to recover just 14 percent of those plentiful misses.

(1) Syracuse 72, (16) UNC Asheville 65 [60]
Ken Pomeroy said it would happen this March: a 16 would beat a 1 at last. Or at least the probability of that happening was as great this year as it had ever been. For 39 minutes, it seemed like UNC Asheville had done everything right in its attempt to take down Syracuse. The Bulldogs rebounded their misses (36 percent), didn't give the ball away (20 percent turnover rate), and hit 39 percent of their threes over Jim Boeheim's zone. The final minute, though, proved tumultuous. Down by four with 1:20 left, the Bulldogs' Matt Dickey sent Scoop Jardine to the free throw line for a one-and-one opportunity. Jardine missed the front end of the trip, J.P. Primm rebounded the ball, and the referees promptly blew the whistle citing UNCA with a lane violation. Jardine would go on to make both shots.

On the next Asheville possession Jaron Lane buried a timely three, leaving the teams to exchange free throws in the final minute. Down three with 38 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs appeared to get the break they needed: a Syracuse turnover on an in-bounds play. Without the benefit of replay, the refs ruled the ball out on Murray State, which left television viewers (and the Twittersphere) in an uproar since they had video evidence of the blown call. The NCAA's coordinator of officials John Adams would even confirm that the call was blown. Alas, the officiating miscue all but extinguished Asheville's chances for the upset, leaving the team to join a small group of No. 16 seeds that can say they at least made things interesting against the mighty 1.

(5) Vanderbilt 79, (12) Harvard 70 [65]
Vanderbilt ended up on the wrong side of an upset in its last three round of 64 games in the NCAA tournament. Harvard made a late push in this one behind some three-point theatrics from Laurent Rivard, but the Commodores ultimately prevailed to move on to their first round of 32 appearance since 2007. John Jenkins poured in 27 points for Vandy.

(7) Gonzaga 77, (10) West Virginia 54 [61]
All anyone could talk about heading into this one was how unfair it was that Gonzaga had to travel all the way across the country to play West Virginia in a city (Pittsburgh) located about 90 minutes from its campus. That the Bulldogs would have a difficult time overcoming what was presumed to be a road game seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Then a pair of freshman guards -- Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, either mature beyond their years or too ignorant to care about the circumstances -- lit up the Mountaineers for 25 points in the first half as Gonzaga went up by 18 at the break and never looked back. The workmanlike effort of Gonzaga's frontline was underrated, as Mark Few's bigs held the nation's No. 5 offensive rebounding team to a paltry 21 percent in the first half, even as the Mountaineers fired up brick after brick. Robert Sacre deserves a ton of credit for holding Kevin Jones to just 13 points and four rebounds in 40 minutes. Bob Huggins said after the game this was his worst defensive team in 30 years. The Bulldogs' 65 effective FG percentage and 1.25 points per possession certainly won't convince anyone otherwise.

(2) Ohio State 78, (15) Loyola MD 59 [72]
The overall per-possession numbers won't wow you, and the game never turned into a straight blowout, but once they overcame their slow start, the Buckeyes were never seriously threatened. Deshaun Thomas did what he does, scoring points efficiently (31 points on 12-of-23 shooting) and gobbling up offensive rebounds (seven to go along with five defensive boards).

SOUTH

(1) Kentucky 81, (16) Western Kentucky 66 [70 possessions]
What happens when one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country meets one of the worst teams at avoiding having its shots blocked? Anthony Davis erased seven two-point attempts to help hold WKU under 40 percent from inside the arc. There were no more magical comebacks for the Hilltoppers against the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, as the Wildcats went up by 22 on their first bucket of the second half and the margin was never closer than 20 until the last couple of minutes of the game.

(12) VCU 62, (5) Wichita State 59 [66]
In a day full of duds -- at least in terms of games that were back and forth down to the wire -- this was the lone exception. Relying on generating turnovers is always a risky strategy in the tournament, but VCU has made a living the last two years creating havoc for opposing offenses. Thursday was no exception, as the Rams, first nationally in opponents' turnover percentage (27 percent), forced the normally sure-handed Shockers into a bunch of turnovers to build a 13-point lead. But the Shockers applied some pressure of their own to finally pull ahead with two minutes to go. VCU answered back with a three by Bradford Burgess (the last of his team-high 16 points), and after a point-blank miss by Garrett Stutz the Rams provided the final margin when Darius Theus hit a runner that bounced about four times before finally falling through. Stutz missed a three on the final possession and the "upset" was complete. Stutz, Wichita State's leading scorer, was a non-factor all day as he struggled with foul trouble. The Shockers managed just 41 percent on their twos, quite the contrast to their season mark of 53.5 percent. That was the difference in the game.

(3) Baylor 68, (14) South Dakota State 60 [62]
The Bears can be maddening to watch because they have a tendency to rely on their length and athleticism to a fault, but it's undeniable that its the length and athleticism that have allowed them to get this far. After falling behind by 12 nearly 7 minutes in, Baylor dominated the offensive glass and everything in the paint, shooting over 68 percent on twos and cleaning up nearly 43 percent of their own misses. Credit the Jackrabbits for shooting well enough to keep the game from getting out of control, led by efficiency darling Nate Wolters' 19 points. Perry Jones III was once again a shrinking violet, but the 35 combined points from Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip compensated for the void.

(8) Iowa State 77, (9) Connecticut 64 [62]
It was a short run for the defending champs, who theoretically should have been the more ready and composed team on Thursday. But in terms of actual age, the Cyclones are the ones who are more experienced, and it showed. A familiar problem reared its ugly head for UConn, as Iowa State whipped the Huskies on the offensive glass all night long, grabbing nearly 43 percent of their own misses. Only this time UConn wasn't able to limit their opponent's shooting: Iowa State's effective FG percentage was nearly 54. Meanwhile, the Cyclones secured the vast majority of UConn's misses, thanks in large part to Royce White's 12 defensive rebounds. (His 15 points didn't hurt, either.) The result was a game in which Iowa State raced out to a 22-point lead after 12 minutes. UConn did close to within six points with about eight minutes to go, but the Cyclones were able to maintain their composure and stretch the lead back out to cruise to victory.

(4) Indiana 79, (13) New Mexico State 66 [64]
The Hoosiers came into the game with the No. 2 offense in adjusted efficiency and they did not disappoint, posting 1.24 points per possession. It was the most allowed by this year by the Aggies, who had yet to see an offense this potent. Cody Zeller showed why he's one of the elite players in the country, racking up 14 points, six rebounds and six steals. Not normally known for his passing, he even dished out four assists. Ascribing Indiana's success to Zeller alone would be too simple, though. Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey and Christian Watford combined for 50 points on 34 field goal attempts. For a school that hadn't been in the NCAA tournament since 2008, Indiana looked right at home. NMSU's Wendell McKines (15 points, seven rebounds) turned in an admirable effort for 39 minutes, being pulled in the final minute for a deserving ovation from the Aggie faithful.

(11) Colorado 68, (6) UNLV 64 [75]
Left to carry the torch for their much-maligned conference, the Buffaloes passed their test with flying colors. That they did it against a team from the conference that is the current standard-bearer out west probably made it all the more satisfying. It wasn't a work of art, but Colorado's wins rarely are. The Buffs appeared to be cruising, up 20 with 12 minutes to in the game. But as they've done so often this year, they hit a dry spell, scoring just five points over the next 10 minutes as UNLV whittled the lead all the way down to two with four minutes to play. The Rebels just couldn't get all the way over the hump; Colorado continued to force them into tough shots from the perimeter. It was a poetic way for the game to slip away from UNLV, which settled for an inordinate amount of perimeter jumpers, even for them: 50 percent of their shots came from beyond the arc. The Rebels could only hit 25 percent of them, and that was their ultimate downfall.

WEST

(6) Murray State 58, (11) Colorado State 41 [62 possessions]
Colorado State's run to the NCAA tournament was built on a solid offensive foundation of generating lots of trips to the free throw line, taking care of the ball, and making a high percentage of infrequent three-point attempts. Murray State thrived in the former two skills, too, but the Racers also had a pretty solid defense this year. They used that D to disrupt CSU on offense in the tournament's (effective) opening game, holding the Rams to a free throw rate of just 19 percent (their second-lowest of the season) while forcing turnovers on 35 percent of their possessions (their worst of the season). Tim Miles' squad also went dry from beyond the arc to the tune of 3-of-14 shooting. The Racers become the third consecutive Ohio Valley representative to win a round of 64 game and the first of those three to do so in convincing fashion.

(4) Louisville 69, (13) Davidson 62 [67]
A couple of late three-pointers by Davidson helped to close the gap in the final score, but Louisville was in control for much of the game's duration. The Cardinals' defense was staunch, much like we'd expect of a group ranked second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. But what stood out most here was Peyton Siva's day on the offensive end. The junior has a career offensive rating of 96 and has never been a paragon of shooting accuracy or solid ball control. Against Davidson, though, Siva knocked down 7-of-13 from the field and tallied six assists to four turnovers. As a team, the Cards had a 15 percent turnover rate, significantly better than their season average and their average in the Big East tournament. They'll face stingier defenses in future rounds, but that's a solid sign for a squad that was turnover-prone in conference play. Meanwhile, Davidson projects to be mighty in 2012-13. Jake Cohen, who went for 24 points and 10 rebounds, will be back for a final go-around under coach Bob McKillop.

(3) Marquette 88, (14) BYU 68 [79]
In back-to-back NCAA tournament games, Brigham Young trailed by 15 points at the half. In their First Four match on Tuesday, the team was able to cut into Iona's lead little by little and eventually pulled off the improbable comeback. At the beginning of the second half against Marquette in their round of 64 meeting, it looked like the Cougars were going to orchestrate a similar uphill climb. They cut MU's lead to eight points with 12:47 remaining, but that was as close as Brandon Davies and company would get to the Golden Eagles. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder made sure of that as they showcased their ability to knock down -- or dunk -- big buckets down the stretch. Crowder in particular put together as mesmerizing a line as we saw on Thursday: 25 points, 16 boards, four assists, and five steals.

(5) New Mexico 75, (12) Long Beach State 68 [70]
Given some of the heavyweights that populated the Long Beach State schedule, it's a testament to the kind of year the team had that it held opponents to under 46 percent two-point shooting. That particular defensive strength was absent in this anticipated 5-12 match-up. New Mexico made 62 percent of its twos, and when the Lobos weren't connecting on their close-range attempts, they were piling up trips to the free throw line. Despite a strong team rebounding performance, the 49ers couldn't match UNM's scoring output from inside.

Jeff Nusser is the Editor of CougCenter and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @NussCoug.

Follow Corey on Twitter: @cjschmidt1. This free article is an example of the content available to Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers. See our Premium page for more details and to subscribe.

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Day Two (03/17)

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