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March 22, 2008
NCAA Tournament West Regional
Washington, D.C.

by Caleb Peiffer

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WASHINGTON--The second round of the NCAA tournament tips off today at 2:10 P.M. with a West Region game between No. 7 seed West Virginia and No. 2 Duke at the Verizon Center in downtown D.C., which will be followed by No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 3 Xavier at 4:40. Basketball Prospectus is on hand to chronicle both contests. Check back below following the conclusion of each game for a recap/thoughts/statistical points of interest.

Matchup: #7 Seed West Virginia (25-10, 11-7 Big East) vs. #2 Duke (28-5, 13-3 Atlantic Coast), 2:10 P.M. EST
Rankings: West Virginia, #19 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 16 in Big East); Duke, #8 (2nd of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 75-71 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Result: West Virginia, 73-67

Duke has built its dynasty under coach Mike Krzyzewski upon defense of the three-point line. In the second half on Saturday afternoon, however, West Virginia blew past the No. 2 seeded Blue Devils with several huge shots from beyond the arc.

After missing all six of their three-point attempts in the first half, the Mountaineers connected on 4-of-5 after the break, including several critical shots that ignited West Virginia's rally from an eight point deficit. The Mountaineers went on to thoroughly dominate the Blue Devils for the remainder of the game, posting a 73-67 victory that earned West Virginia the tournament's first berth in the Sweet Sixteen.

Leading by 34-29 at the break, Duke scored the first three points of the second half on a dunk by Gerald Henderson and a Kyle Singler free throw. Da'Sean Butler nailed a jumper to cut it to six, and then the Mountaineers hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions to tie the score at 37. The first came from Darris Nichols, in transition from a quick outlet after an air-balled three-point attempt by Duke's DeMarcus Nelson. The second was the shot that completely changed the tide of the game--an off-balance, falling away jumper from the far corner by Alex Ruoff, forced to throw it up as the shot-clock expired.

"It was just an answered prayer," Ruoff said. "I knew the clock was going down. That's all it was, an answered prayer."

"We gave up hardly any open looks," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They only hit four threes--our three-point defense was great, but those two threes were huge. Those two three's changed the game."

Ruoff's improbable shot got the crowd solidly behind the upstart Mountaineers, and, after Henderson hit one of two at the line to give Duke back a one-point lead, West Virginia's best player ensured that the fans at the Verizon Center would be on their feet and cheering for the underdog for the remainder of the game. Joe Alexander, the junior forward who leads the Mountaineers in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, drove into the lane and finished while getting fouled, hitting the free throw to put West Virginia up by two, it's first lead since the game's first three minutes.

After Duke guard Jon Scheyer tied it up with a jumper, Alexander responded again, hitting another three-pointer, the team's third in a three-minute stretch, to give the Mountaineers a lead, at 43-40, that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. For good measure, Alexander then vigorously rejected a runner in the lane by Nelson.

With the game squarely in their control, the Mountaineers extended their lead on a jumper by Ruoff and, after a Duke offensive foul, a driving layup by guard Joe Mazzulla, which gave West Virginia a 47-40 lead at the 11:50 mark and prompted a Duke timeout. In all, the Mountaineers had put together an 18-3 run in a little over five minutes from when the Blue Devils led by eight.

Mazzulla proved far too much to contain for Duke, in all phases of the game. He got into the lane at will, shooting 7-of-8 from the free throw line and scoring 13 points, and the 6'2 point guard also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out eight assists.

"The real story was Mazzulla--he looked like a mini Jason Kidd out there," Krzyzewski said. "The star on that court was [Mazzulla], no question about that. It seemed for a while there he just got so many rebounds."

Mazulla grabbed five of his 11 rebounds on the offensive glass, and West Virginia as a team collected 19 offensive rebounds to Duke's seven. For the game, the Mountaineers out-rebounded a much smaller Duke frontline 47-27.

"We knew that Duke gives up a lot of offensive rebounds, and we took advantage of it," Da'Sean Butler said of the Blue Devils defense, which ranks just 181st in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. "Coach talked to us about it a lot yesterday, and said that we can get offensive rebounds against them, so we just have to be as aggressive as we can."

The Mountaineers' strong work on the offensive glass resulted in the back-breaking play of the game for Duke late in the second half. With 4:23 remaining and West Virginia's lead at 60-51, the Blue Devils forced a missed jumper from Alexander. But Mountaineers forward Cam Thoroughman, who had played just 79 minutes the entire season in 14 games, and who was only in the game due to West Virginia foul trouble, grabbed the offensive rebound. Darris Nichols drove the lane and missed on the team's second shot, but Thoroughman again fought for the ball and ripped it away from several Duke players to prolong the possession. Thoroughman was then rewarded for his persistence, scoring on the team's third shot of the trip via a back-door layup on a feed from Alexander, which made the score 62-51 with 3:32 remaining and effectively ended Duke's chance at a comeback.

For the second straight game, Duke fell apart in the second half after holding an advantage at the break. On Thursday against No. 15 seed Belmont, the Blue Devils were bailed out by sophomore Gerald Henderson, who scored 17 points in the latter period to help Duke avoid an upset by pulling out a 71-70 win. Henderson tried to do the same again this afternooon, and he scored 14 points in the second half on 4-of-7 from the floor and 6-of-8 from the line. Again, however, Henderson had no help--junior guard Greg Paulus hit just 1-of-5 second half threes, and Nelson struggled through a rough performance in his final collegiate game, scoring six points on 2-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-3 from deep.

The Blue Devils as a team shot just 5-of-22 from three-point range, a deadly statistic for a short, perimeter oriented squad that relied all season upon the three-point shot.

"Four of [Duke's] five losses they've had under eight threes--we thought that was key that we really limit how many 3's they [make]," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We really wanted to do a better job not letting them score from three." With the win, Huggins--whose teams have been eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament eight times--brought the Mountaineers into the Sweet 16 in his first season with the team. West Virginia advances to play the winner of Purdue-Xavier in Arizona next week.

Matchup: #6 Seed Purdue (25-8, 15-3 Big Ten) vs. #3 Xavier (28-6, 14-2 Atlantic 10), 4:40
Rankings: Purdue, #24 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Big Ten); Xavier, #18 (1st of 14 in A-10)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 67-66 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Result: Xavier, 85-78

Following the final buzzer of Xavier's 85-78 win over Purdue on Saturday night, senior guard Stanley Burrell picked up his classmate and backcourt partner Drew Lavender and carried him for several steps in celebration.

Lavender and Burrell, as well as the rest of the experienced Musketeers squad, had been pining for such a chance to celebrate ever since losing in overtime to eventual national champion runner-up Ohio St. in last year's second round. Led by 18 points and nine assists from Lavender, Xavier made good on its second chance opportunity at the Verizon Center, and moved into the Sweet 16 for the first time in Sean Miller's four year tenure as coach of the Musketeers.

"These three seniors [Burrell, Lavender, and forward Josh Duncan] a year ago went through a very difficult loss in this same game," Miller said. "It's been a motivator in practice for us all spring, summer, fall, for the whole year to get back to this moment and see if we can break through."

Xavier was in danger late in the game of not making that breakthrough, and falling once more in the round of 32, as the team trailed 61-60 with 5:44 to play following a layup by Purdue freshman guard E'Twaun Moore. Xavier had possessed a 10 point lead, 60-50, just three minutes earlier, but that advantage disappeared, seemingly in a flash. A quick 11-0 Boilermakers run, keyed by a critical offensive board and five points by Robbie Hummel, and finished up by Moore's driving layup, put the Musketeers in a hole for the first time since late in the first half.

B.J. Raymond answered right back, however, getting into the lane to nail a short jumper and draw the foul, upon which he converted. From that point forward, Lavender took over. The 5'7 point guard grabbed the rebound off a Hummel missed three-pointer, then drove down the left side of the lane and banked a shot off the glass to give the Musketeers a four point lead. On Xavier's next possession, Lavender used a hesitation move to spin into the paint and, with the shot clock nearing expiration, found C.J. Anderson, who knocked down a short shot to give the Musketeers a 67-61 lead with 3:37 left.

Lavender got into the lane to score again on his trademarked running floater at the two minute mark, putting Xavier back up by six. On the team's next possession, he once more got by his defender and streaked down the lane, drawing a group of Purdue defenders before whipping a pass to Duncan underneath, who provided the punctuation on the victory with a slam dunk. Lavender, who deftly broke Purdue's desperation full-court trap in the final two minutes, made sure the ball stayed in his hands down the stretch, and hit 8-of-8 from the free throw line to put away the Boilermakers.

"Drew Lavender wasn't 100 percent [due to an ankle injury] for a full month," Miller said. "But now that Drew is back to his old self, I think from an offensive standpoint, we've regained who we were once early on in the year."

Xavier, which entered the game fourth in the nation in raw offensive efficiency (1.15 points per possession) and 11th in eFG% (54.9), shot 59 eFG% from the floor against a Purdue defense that came in ranked 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency (0.88 points per game). The Musketeers also scored the most points of any team against the Boilermakers this season.

Xavier was able to take advantage of Purdue's inability to keep teams off the free-throw line. The Boilermakers' defense has allowed 42 trips to the free throw line per 100 opponent field goals attempted on the season, and the common theme in Purdue's losses has been an opponent that has gotten to the line with regularity. Xavier continued that trend by shooting 26-of-33 from the stripe on the game, as compared to 50 field goal attempts, a free throw rate of 66.

"Coach wanted us to be aggressive and attack [the basket]," Anderson said. "He said before the game that the way they played defense would allow us to be able to get to the free throw line."

The Musketeers repeatedly cut into the heart of Purdue's defense and drew contact while finishing their shots, as they came up with six and-one plays. Three of those came from Anderson, who finished with 18 points on 6-of-11 from the floor and 6-of-8 from the line.

Purdue was led by 19 points from sophomore Keaton Grant, and 15 from Moore, five of which came in the game's first two minutes, when Purdue jumped on top 7-0. Xavier fell behind early, as it did against Georgia in the first round, and trailed 18-10 with over eight minutes gone by in the first half. The Musketeers then went on a 13-0 run to take the lead, and the teams battled back and forth from there, before Lavender put Xavier up 35-32 at the half with a contested three-pointer right before the buzzer.

The Musketeers will now move on to Pheonix to play West Virginia next week for the right to move into the Elite Eight.

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

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