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March 20, 2008
NCAA Tournament West Regional
Washington, D.C.

by Caleb Peiffer

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WASHINGTON--The NCAA tournament tips off today at 12:20 with a West Region game between No. 3 seed Xavier and No. 14 Georgia at the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. Basketball Prospectus is on hand to chronicle each of today's four first round games, which also include No. 11 Baylor vs. No. 6 Purdue, No. 15 Belmont vs. No. 2 Duke, and No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 7 West Virginia. Check back below following the conclusion of the games for a recap/thoughts/statistical points of interest from each contest.

Matchup: #14 Seed Georgia (17-16, 4-12 Southeastern) vs. #3 Xavier (27-6, 14-2 Atlantic 10), 12:20
Rankings: Georgia, #81 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in SEC); Xavier, #18 (1st of 14 in A-10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 69-60 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 17%
What to Watch: Momentum doesn't exist--or does it? The Musketeers are clearly the superior team in this game, but Georgia is coming off a remarkable run through the SEC tournament, in which it won three games against favored competition in 48 hours.
Result: Xavier, 73-61

Georgia's improbable drive into the NCAA tournament was stopped by No. 3 seed Xavier on Saturday afternoon, as the Musketeers used a 12-0 second-half run to turn around an 11-point deficit and run away with a 73-61 victory. The loss prevented the Bulldogs from winning a fifth straight postseason game against a favored opponent, after they swept through the SEC tournament in a memorable performance that included three wins in the span of 48 hours.

The Bulldogs (17-17, 4-12 Southeastern) led for most of the game up until the final seven minutes. Georgia pulled out to a 35-26 lead at halftime, as Xavier (28-6, 14-2 Atlantic 10) missed a number of point-blank shots in the opening period and shot 41 eFG% to Georgia's 58. The Bulldogs extended their advantage to 41-30 when point guard Sundiata Gaines, Georgia's best player, stripped Xavier's 5'7 guard Drew Lavender and took it the other way for a score early in the second period.

"We were a little tight in the first half--I'm not sure why," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "We've been pointing towards getting back here for some time, and it almost worked against us in the first half."

That would be the Bulldogs' high-water mark of the game. After Georgia's Billy Humphrey hit a three-pointer to put the Bulldogs up 49-42 with 10 minutes to play, the Musketeers reeled off the game's next 12 points over a little more than two and a half minutes to take their fist lead since early in the first half, and this time the team would not relinquish its hard-earned advantage.

"Georgia played an excellent first half, and we played an equally bad first half," Miller said. "Very few times can you flip it at halftime like we did. I thought our tournament experience helped us, and we became more of the team we've been all year in the second half."

The critical run was capped by three-pointers on consecutive possessions for Xavier, which had shot 4-of-15 from three-point range up to that point. Junior B.J. Raymond hit the first to tie it, and then, after Georgia sent most of its players to the offensive glass to try for a second chance opportunity, guard Stanley Burrell was able to grab the rebound off a missed Jeremy Price layup attempt, start a fast break, and find a wide open Dante' Jackson on the wing for the shot that put Xavier ahead for good with 7:23 remaining.

Xavier, which ranks 21st in the country in free throw rate and 17th in free throw percentage, shot only four free throws in the first half, but the Musketeers got to the line continuously down the stretch, as the Bulldogs were unable to stop Xavier's big 6'9 forward Josh Duncan. Duncan got to the line nine times after halftime, and Xavier as a group shot 29 second-half free throws.

"I thought the big difference in the game was we attacked a lot more in the second half. That's really our style--we shoot more free throws than our opponents," Miller said. "We put them in a position to foul us. That's a big stat for us, being able to get to the line."

Free throws provided the difference in the game, as Georgia--which shot better from the floor than Xavier and out-rebounded the Musketeers--got to the line only five times total, and made only three of those shots, the fewest in a game for the Bulldogs all season. On the year, Georgia ranked 268th in Division I in free throw rate, at 22 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

Georgia was led by junior forward Terrance Woodbury, who scored 16 points, including 10 on 4-of-5 shooting in the Bulldogs' excellent first half. Duncan led all scorers with 20 points thanks to his 11-of-14 showing at the foul line, and sophomore forward Derrick Brown added 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Up next for Xavier, which is making its third straight NCAA tournament appearance, is the winner of the Baylor-Purdue game. The Musketeers made it to the second round last year as a No. 9 seed, where they lost in overtime to eventual national champion runner-up Ohio St.

Matchup: #11 Seed Baylor (21-10, 9-7 Big 12) vs. #6 Purdue (24-8, 15-3 Big Ten), 2:50
Rankings: Baylor, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in Big 12); Purdue, #25 (4th of 11 in Big Ten)
Pomeroy Prediction: Purdue, 77-74 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
What to Watch: Can Purdue's turnover-inducing defense generate steals against a sure-handed Baylor squad? Can the Boilermakers keep the Bears off the free throw line?

Result: Purdue 90, Baylor 79

The Boilermakers jumped to a 46-27 lead over Baylor at halftime in the second of Saturday's regional games at the Verizon Center, and the closest the Bears came throughout the second half was within 11 points, the final margin, in a 90-79 victory that was never in doubt down the strech. Purdue shot 58 eFG% from the floor in the first half, and held Baylor to 36 eFG%, and the Boilermakers for the game had eight of their nine players score between eight and 17 points. The Boilermakers now advance to play Xavier in the round of 32.

Some notes from the blowout:

  • The officials really let both teams play in the first half. Purdue shot zero free throws--amazingly, Baylor was whistled for just one foul--while Purdue committed just four fouls, leading to four Baylor free throws. For Purdue, much of the reason for that paucity of fouls was because the Boilermakers were killing the Bears with three-pointers and jump shots. Baylor frequently pounded the ball inside later in the first half, however, and while there was often contact, the whistles were generally pocketed. This greatly favored Purdue, because, as outlined in today's preview, the Boilermakers defense has been particularly hurt by opponents making trips to the line.

  • The game played out in a fast 74 possessions, which is more Baylor's pace than that of the Boilermakers--the Bears average 71 possessions per 40, and Purdue 66. The Boilermakers seemed very comfortable running up and down the court with Baylor, however.
    "This was a different game, it was more of a loose game, a lot of possessions," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We've been able to play that way, we've been able to play different styles."
    "Our team is very versatile. We can play at a variety of styles, we'll play at whatever pace you want," forward Chris Kramer added. "We've got to pick our spots--there are chances to run, there are times you have to slow it down."

  • One of the other keys to the game, besides the free throw line, was whether Purdue's defense, sixth in the country in turnover percentage, could force the sure-handed Bears to cough it up. Baylor turned it over on 20 percent of possessions in the first half, certainly not a damaging figure, but the Bears shot just 36 eFG% from the floor and were out-rebounded on the offensive glass.

  • With 13:46 remaining in the second half, Baylor junior guard Henry Dugat was streaking down the court on a fast break, but his seemingly open layup was blocked by Purdue sophomore Keaton Grant, who materialized from Dugat's right to swat his shot over the Baylor bench and into the stands. The fantastic defensive play drew a huge gasp from the crowd, the loudest reaction produced out of the Verizon Center all game.

  • Baylor had several chances to build a significant run to get back into it, most notably with around seven minutes remaining, when guard LaceDarius Dunn knocked down two free throws to cut the Purdue lead to 69-56. Baylor's full court press then produced a turnover, and the Bears pushed it up and into the hands of forward Mark Shepard, who was fouled. Shepard missed both free throws, however, and two straight Purdue jumpers pushed the lead back up to 17, ending the threat.

  • The game was effectively ended by Purdue less than a minute later. Two more Baylor free throws, this time from guard Curtis Jerrells, cut the lead back down, but Purdue forward Chris Kramer was able to push it quickly up the court and draw a foul while converting a layup in transition, making the score 76-58 with 5:18 to play. The Boilermakers were able to score in transition all game long against Baylor.
    "We knew that they were very poor in transition," Purdue sophomore Keaton Grant said. "I really realized that the first couple of minutes of the game, when I came down the court and there was no one guarding me for about 10 seconds, so I knew I could get some shots."

Matchup: #15 Seed Belmont (25-8, 14-2 Atlantic Sun) vs. #2 Duke (27-5, 13-3 Atlantic Coast), 7:10
Rankings: Belmont, #160 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in A-Sun); Duke, #6 (2nd of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 95-70 in 77 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 3%
What to Watch: Belmont's offensive strategy. The Bruins shoot a ton of threes--will that continue against the team that holds its opponents to the lowest 3PA/FGA ratio in the nation, or will Belmont venture inside against a weaker Duke interior defense?

Result: Duke, 71-70

Fifteenth seeded Belmont had possession of the ball and a one point lead over No. 2 seed Duke with 47 seconds to play, but Gerald Henderson took away the Bruins' chance at possibly the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Duke's sophomore rebounded Belmont guard Alex Renfroe's missed layup, and then drove the length of the floor before the Bruins defense could organize itself, finishing with a scoop layup with 13 seconds left that gave the Blue Devils back the lead, 71-70.

"I just told the kids that we need one stop, and I'm not calling a timeout, you push it and you make it happen, attack the rim," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And [Henderson] made one of the great plays for us this year in going down the court like that."
"Coach said if we get the ball just to push it up the court, get them off balance a little bit," Henderson added. "Right when I got to the three point line I saw there was a lane, so i just went up, finished it--I knew that we neded a two so I just took it to the rim strong."

The Bruins had plenty of time remaining for a final shot, but could not find the space for a clear look. Senior guard Justin Hare fired an off-balance fadeaway on the baseline, and two players tangled for the rebound--one from Belmont, and one from Duke. The resulting call was a held ball, and the possession arrow favored the Bruins, who inbounded the ball on the baseline with four seconds left.

Coach Rick Byrd called up a play during a timeout, and guard Alex Renfroe inbounded, throwing a lob pass into the lane. Instead of finding Shane Dansby, its intended target, the ball ended up in the outstretched arm of Duke's lone senior, DeMarcus Nelson, who had fought his way through a screen to snatch the entry pass out of the air. Nelson was fouled with two seconds to play and missed the free throw on the other end, but the Bruins, having to go the length of the court in two seconds, could get nothing more than a running 35-footer from the left sideline from Alex Hare, which came up short.

"It's an unpredictable tournament," Krzyzewski said. "I've coached in 89 of these [tournament games], and as far as game pressure goes, this would have to rank in the top 3 or 4."

Belmont played Duke tough in the first half, but still found itself down by seven, 42-35, at the break. Duke pushed that advantage to 10 shortly after halftime, but the Bruins stormed back with a 9-0 run to cut it down to one. The Blue Devils pushed their advantage back to six, but the Bruins ripped off eight more unanswered points, the last three coming on a layup and free throw conversion by Renfroe, that gave Belmont its first lead since the first half, 58-56 with 10:59 to play.

Duke took the lead right back, and held a 69-65 lead with 2:40 left after two Henderson free throws. Then Belmont guard Andy Wicke, who had already nailed 3-of-4 from downtown, hit another huge three, a corner shot that brought with it the thunder of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center, and Hare added two free throws on the next possession to make it 70-69 Belmont and set up the game's tense final two minutes.

"We played against a team that played an amazing game. They're very good. We were ready to play. You won't hear any of our players say that we overlooked them--there's no way," Krzyzewski said. "Watching them on tape, they looked very good, watching them in person they're even better. They're just real dificult to defend, and I thought they played really good defense against us."

Belmont shot 51 eFG% from the floor, including 8-of-23 from three-point range against a Duke team that entered the game having allowed just 21 percent of opponent points to come via the three-pointer, the fourth lowest figure in the nation. Belmont was effective from two-point range against Duke as well, getting a number of backdoor cuts that led to easy baskets against the Blue Devils. Most surprising, however, was the Bruins defense--Belmont entered having allowed its opponents to shoot for a 52 eFG%, but Duke, possessors of the seventh best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country, mustered just a 48 eFG%.

"A lot of it has to do with style of play--they're not as big as some of the teams that we've seen, they also shoot a lot of threes, they have a similar style of play [to us]," Hare said. "We matched up well, we saw it on tape, and we just knew we could play with them."

Play with them they did, and the Bruins certainly outplayed the entire Duke team in the second half--except for Henderson. The sophomore swingman had perhaps the finest half of his career when the Blue Devils needed someone to step to the fore and save them from being the fifth No. 2 seed to fall to a No. 15. With his teammates ice cold--a combined 5-of-19 from the field in the latter period--and the crowd furiously supporting Belmont's attempt to make history, Henderson took command, scoring 16 of his 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting, grabbing six rebounds, dishing two assists, and also collecting two steals.

Henderson's efforts helped Duke avoid an upset loss in the first round for the second straight year. Last season, the sixth seeded Blue Devils fell to Virginia Commonwealth. This year, they have already epitomized the key ability of this time of year in college basketball--survival--and will advance to play the winner of West Virginia/Arizona in the round of 32.

Matchup: #10 Seed Arizona (19-14, 8-10 Pacific 10) vs. #7 West Virginia (24-10, 11-7 Big East), 9:40
Rankings: Arizona, #22 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Pac 10); West Virginia, #23 (5th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 68-67 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
What to Watch: Jerryd Bayless's eFG%. If the standout freshman guard pulls out of his shooting slump, the Wildcats will have a great chance at upsetting the No. 7 seed Mountaineers--that is, unless West Virginia forward Joe Alexander puts up another of the monster games he's been having of late.

Final: West Virginia, 75-65

Arizona and West Virginia, two teams within three spots of the Pomeroy Ratings, matched up in the last of the four first round games at the Verizon Center in Washington. West Virginia led 31-30 at halftime. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts from the second half:

  • Early on, West Virginia and Arizona trade offensive fouls on back-to-back possessions. College officials certainly love to blow the whistle against a player attacking the basket on offense. Do they love it even more in the NCAA tournament?

  • Jordan Hill throws down a thunderous one-hander to tie it at 34 with under 18 minutes to play. On the next possession, however, Hill puts his shoulder down and draws another offensive foul, Arizona's second in three possessions.

  • Nic Wise hits a three-pointer from the corner to cut the WVU lead to 39-37. Wise, the team's 5'9 point guard, hasn't shot quite as well since coming back from an injury that shelved him for seven games--a 50 eFG% in four games as compared with 56 on the season--but if the Wildcats can get him going, the team could be very dangerous.

  • Chase Budinger collects a long carom of teammate Jerryd Bayless' missed three with about 14 minutes to play and Arizona down 43-39. Offensive boards have been rare for Arizona this season--coach Kevin O'Neill has sent his players back on defense rather than to the offensive glass to prevent transition buckets. The strategy has worked, to a certain extent--the Wildcats defensive efficiency has dropped two tenths, from 1.04 points per possession allowed last year to 1.02 this season. Last year the Wildcats' offensive rebounding percentage was 37.5, 43rd best in the country, and this year it's just 28.6, 295th. The lost offensive boards haven't cost the Wildcats much, as Arizona is still 12th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency this season.

  • Alex Ruoff gets a screen, steps to the side and hits a three-pointer that puts the Mountaineers up 48-39 with a little under 13 minutes to play. Chase Budinger failed to fight though the pick to contest the shot, but he redeems himself a minute late with a three pointer from the top of the key that cuts the WVU lead to 50-44.

  • Nic Wise nails another three to make it 52-47, and then comes up with a spectacular play, using his quickness to sneak through two defenders into the lane and grab an unclaimed carom, and then, in less than an instant, flick the ball across the paint, a no-look feed for forward Jordan Hill. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Hill can't hang on to the pass, and the ball is taken away by West Virginia.

  • Da'Sean Butler collects a Joe Alexander miss and deposits it for a 56-49 West Virginia lead with a little more than eight minutes to play. The Wildcats aren't much better at rebounding their opponents' misses than they are their own. They are eighth in the Pac 10 with a 66.6 defensive rebounding percentage.

  • With 5:57 to play and Arizona down 58-56, Budinger drives and draws a shooting foul. Given his ability to break defenders down off the dribble, Budinger should probably shoot more free throws than he does--his rate of 30.4 free throws/100 field goal attempts is last among the team's top six in percentage of minutes played. Budinger hits one of two.

  • Jerryd Bayless nails a three-pointer to make it a 60-59 game with four and a half to play. Bayless has yet to get it going in this game, as after a missed layup on the team's next possession, he has shot just 4-of-10 (1-of-3 from three) for 11 points.

  • Junior guard Darris Nichols answers back for West Virginia, throwing up a long-range shot that rattles around, pops out, and then falls back into the hoop, and then Ruoff hits another triple coming off a screen on the next West Virginia possession to make it 66-59 with a little over three minutes to play. West Virginia has shot 10-of-16 from three on the game. This year's Mountaineers team, unlike those of the past few years under coach John Beilein, has neither shot a large number of threes or converted at a high percentage. But Bob Huggins' team is certainly channeling Beilein's old offense tonight.
    "We felt that we could play inside-out, and those are easier shots to make," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after the game, referring to the team's ability to throw it in to forward Joe Alexander, who has been playing extremely well lately, before kicking it out. "When you grow up in your driveway, those are the shots you take--step-in shots."

  • Nichols strikes again, hitting his fourth three pointer of the night (in five attempts) to make it 69-61, which might be the end for Arizona. It's certainly hard to lose a game in which you hit 11-of-18 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats entered the game having held opponents to 33.7 percent from deep.
    "We knew we were going to get the looks, because of all the attention Joe [Alexander]'s been getting because of how hot he's been," Ruoff said.

  • With the score 71-65 West Virginia and a little over a minute to play, Arizona badly needs a stop, and gets it when the Mountaineers finally miss a three, as Da'Sean Butler misfires. But once again Arizona's defensive rebounding inability kills the team, as the long rebound is grabbed by Joe Alexander, forcing West Virginia to foul with under a minute to play.

  • The cap is put on the evening by Ruoff, who grabs an Arizona miss and runs ahead of the pack for a breakaway layup to set the final score at 75-65.

  • Ruoff scored 21 points on 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three to lead West Virginia, while Butler contributed 19 on 9-of-13 shooting. Budinger kept the Wildcats in it with his 23 point effort on 69 eFG%, but Bayless finished with his lowest point total (11) and shots attempted (10) since a loss to USC six games ago. The Mountaineers advance to play Duke in the second round in Saturday's afternoon game.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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