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Premium Article Don't Bury UNC Yet (03/19)

March 19, 2012
Day Four
A Crushing Win for UNC?

by Corey Schmidt

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MIDWEST

(11) NC State 66, (3) Georgetown 63 [62 possessions]
Trailing by three at the half, John Thompson III told the CBS sideline reporter that the key for his team going forward was to get Henry Sims back on the court. The Georgetown centerpiece missed much of the first half with foul trouble. How limited was he in the first 20 minutes? Look no further than his appearances in the play-by-play sheet:

18:13 Henry Sims Defensive Rebound
16:03 Foul on Henry Sims
16:03 Henry Sims Turnover
15:50 Henry Sims Defensive Rebound
14:20 Foul on Henry Sims
14:20 Henry Sims Turnover

And that was it for Sims in the first stanza. Zero shot attempts, zero assists. Hollis Thompson did his best to keep the Hoyas in the game, but sans an effective frontcourt mate, the Hoyas couldn't mount the run they needed to overtake NC State later in the second half. Of course, the Wolfpack nearly gave away the lead themselves during a rough stretch in the final minute that saw Lorenzo Brown miss the front end of a one-and-one and Scott Wood miss one of his two attempts (he's a 92 percent free throw shooter). But Mark Gottfried's squad gathered itself on the next defensive possession, denying Sims an opportunity near the basket and forcing Otto Porter into a tough jumper that fell short. Lorenzo Brown, who was the catalyst for NC State this weekend, would make three of four remaining free throws to ultimately seal the game and the first Sweet 16 appearance for the Wolfpack since 2005.

(1) North Carolina 87, (8) Creighton 73 [73]
If there's ever a good time for a little scrum, John Henson picked the perfect moment. For six minutes this game was a ho-hum affair, but then Grant Gibbs fouled Henson on the wrist -- the same injured wrist that caused the big man to miss his team's opening game. Henson responded to Gibbs with the face of fear, which resulted in a technical foul. Creighton briefly took the lead as a result of said technical, but North Carolina used Henson's fire to trigger a fiery run. The Tar Heels poured in 1.56 points per possession from the time of that technical until their last bucket of the half. While the Bluejays are no offensive slouches, even their high-powered offense couldn't make up the points to recover from such a run.

While UNC got Henson back from a wrist injury just in time to help contain Creighton's Doug McDermott, the team now finds itself in another carpal conundrum with news that Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist. The point guard scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting to go along with 11 assists on Sunday, and it goes without saying he's the guy who makes this Tar Heel team click. Roy Williams and company have overcome several personnel losses this season, but the loss of a floor general like Marshall would offer a major hurdle to clear in their quest for a national championship.

(13) Ohio 62, (12) South Florida 56 [56]
I'd wager that casual and avid college basketball fans alike didn't see much of South Florida or Ohio this season. While the former resides in the Big East, they're not exactly a regular on Big Monday. Nor do the Bulls play a brand of basketball that provides much in the way of offense. The latter program plays in the MAC, which hasn't produced a ton of noise since its teams were regularly winning NCAA tournament games at the turn of the millennium. Those unfamiliar with the two programs were treated to a rare 12-versus-13 tilt featuring diminutive point guards. USF's Anthony Collins and Ohio's D.J. Cooper put on a show for newbies as they used their agile bodies to connect on a number of circus shots late in the game. While Cooper's team got the best of the USF defense, Collins made a name for himself this March both in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. He's just a freshman.

The difference-maker in this one, however, was Walter Offutt, a former Ohio State Buckeye. Despite the Big Ten pedigree, Offutt had only scored 20 or more points once in his inaugural year as a Bobcat. Against the Bulls, the 6-3 guard tallied 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. Such three-point theatrics are usually expected of teammate Nick Kellogg (a 42 percent long-ball shooter), but Offutt's outpouring gave Ohio just the firepower it needed to damage South Florida's No. 11-ranked defense.

(2) Kansas 63, (10) Purdue 60 [58]
At Basketball Prospectus we live by the mantra "hype-free and reality-based," but I say the reality of this game requires exclamation points for three players who one way or another had us and the nation exclaiming.

Robbie Hummel! Though his team lost after a last-second heave by Ryne Smith clanked the front end of the rim, the senior had a game that will not be quickly forgotten. His shooting performance in the first half was incredibly efficient. He drained both of his two-point jumpers and 5-of-6 threes, but he wouldn't make another triple in the final 20 minutes.

Tyshawn Taylor! The man who has inspired much consternation among the Jayhawk faithful has had a fantastic senior season, all told, but he could have been the goat in this one had Smith's heave connected. After all, Purdue had a final opportunity only because Taylor opted to dunk the ball on a run-out rather than dribble to a corner to let time expire.

Elijah Johnson! He normally plays a secondary role to Taylor in the KU backcourt, but on this night Johnson was taking the big shots. The junior guard hit a three-pointer with 3:06 remaining to give the Jayhawks their first lead of the night, and then when his team was down again with 25 seconds left he stole the ball from Lewis Jackson and took it the other way for the go-ahead basket that would ultimately be decisive. In between those plays he also threw a risky half-court lob to Taylor who caught it and dunked it, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks across households in Lawrence.

The Kansas guards are high-risk, high-reward, but on a night when Thomas Robinson struggled to score, their risks proved to be the component the team needed to wrestle the game away from Purdue in the final minutes.

WEST

(1) Michigan State 65, (9) Saint Louis 61 [60 possessions]
Saint Louis only once had a lead in this contest -- for a minute and some change early in the first half -- but Rick Majerus' team made a game of it despite a trying shooting night from the field. The Billikens were able to close the gap by drawing a ton of shooting fouls on the Spartans. At one point during a particularly jarring run from around the eight- to four-minute mark in the second half, Michigan State committed six straight fouls, five of which were called on guards who struggled to contain SLU's Jordair Jett off the dribble. A Jett free throw with 4:03 remaining would put his team within two, but Keith Appling and Draymond Green ensured that the Billikens would get no closer than that by making big plays in the waning minutes.

All told Green followed up his round of 64 triple-double with another stat sheet-filling effort: 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Through the opening weekend the senior has been one of the tournament's best, and his presence all but guarantees that MSU will be a force next week in Phoenix. But going forward it's worth noting that the Spartans have been a bit too forceful when defending. Long Island had a free throw rate of 46 percent and Saint Louis had one of 45 percent. Michigan State's average FT rate against those two opponents was 23 percent. As the competition becomes more difficult such a disparity in trips to the line could give an MSU opponent an edge.

(7) Florida 84, (15) Norfolk State 50 [66]
Norfolk State's upset of Missouri featured a confluence of the conditions needed for such a feat: hot three-point shooting, quality ball-control, and a monster effort by a senior big man who imposed his will on the opponent. The Spartans found those conditions difficult to replicate for a second time in three days in their round of 32 match versus Florida, resulting in as lopsided an outcome as we've seen in the tournament thus far. We'll remember Kyle O'Quinn and his teammates more for this than for this beatdown. Meanwhile, the Gators have earned a second straight appearance in the Sweet 16 behind a strong effort from its quartet of guards.

MIDWEST

(10) Xavier 70, (15) Lehigh 58 [66 possessions]
Like fellow No. 15 seed Norfolk State before them, the Mountain Hawks were unable to conjure up the upset ingredients twice in one weekend. They fell to a Xavier team that has found a second level in the second halves of tournament games this season.

In the final 20 minutes, it was Kenny Frease and Tu Holloway who ignited the Musketeers' run to take the lead away from Lehigh. In fact, they were the only reason Chris Mack's team was in the game in the first place. The senior duo combined for 46 points on 17-of-28 shooting. Their teammates shot just 7-of-26 from the field. They'll need more balance to contend with Baylor, but then again the last time Xavier played a Big 12 squad in the Sweet 16, it was mostly propelled by the histrionics of a talented duo. They'll only hope for a different result this time around.

EAST

(6) Cincinnati 62, (3) Florida State 56 [65 possessions]
The final game of the tournament's first weekend did not disappoint. While Florida State's known for their defensive game-planning, Cincinnati has been a bit of an amorphous team that has won some games with offensive outbursts and others with a defensively-inclined approach. This game definitely favored the latter, and the Bearcats beat the Seminoles at their own game. Florida State becomes the ninth opponent in Cincy's last eleven games to be held to well below a point per trip.

Follow Corey Schmidt 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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