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March 28, 2008
Bracket Breakdown
Sweet 16, Day One

by John Gasaway

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(3) Xavier 79, (7) West Virginia 75 [68 possessions, OT]

Both these teams play similar offenses--heavy on spacing and isolations, light on screening--and both worked extremely well last night. The Mountaineers recovered from an early 18-point deficit and the second half of this game featured long runs of successful scoring possessions by both teams. (Yes, WVU struggled from the outside, making just 1-of-11 threes. Then again, they got a lot of offensive boards. So did the Musketeers.) Purists will fault the respective defenses, of course, but the fact is these are two very good offensive teams, each with several good options on any given possession.

In the end, threes won the game for Xavier. They were 11-of-19 for the game and, from the point in OT where the Musketeers trailed by six with a little more than three minutes remaining, Sean Miller's team hit all three of their treys. Most memorable was the one recorded by B.J. Raymond on a crosscourt pass from Stanley Burrell off an out-of-bounds play with just two seconds left on the shot clock. It put the X-men up four with 30 seconds to play and it proved decisive.

Question: How is it that Xavier senior Josh Duncan isn't on any draft boards? Here's a guy who, in effect, is a 6'9" wing with post moves. He shoots almost as many threes as twos and hits 43 percent from beyond the arc. He's respectable, albeit not great, on the boards. He's got a motor. He makes 58 percent of his twos and 86 percent of his free throws. He has big shoulders. How is it that he's not considered one of the top 60 players eligible for the draft this year? Just asking.

(1) UCLA 88, (12) Western Kentucky 78 [77]

UCLA is doing their best imitation of Ohio State in 2007, winning their second-round and Sweet 16 games as expected but doing so with unexpected difficulty. The Bruins led this game by 21 at the half, but their numerous turnovers allowed the Hilltoppers to pull within four with about seven minutes left to play. At that point in the game, they didn't look much like a one-seed. (Darren Collison will want to burn this tape. He fouled out in 28 minutes, having gone 1-ofor-6 from the floor with four turnovers.) Nevertheless, double-doubles from Kevin Love and James Keefe (yes, James Keefe), as well as a timely three from Josh Shipp, allowed UCLA to hang on for the win.

The Bruins will now face Xavier in the Elite Eight. With all due respect for the Hilltoppers and for Texas A&M, the Musketeers are the best opponent UCLA has faced in this tournament. Ben Howland's team will need to improve on the performance they've shown over the last two games. Again, there's a precedent here: that's what the Buckeyes did last year, beating Memphis in the Elite Eight by a surprisingly comfortable margin.

(3) Louisville 79, (2) Tennessee 60 [77]

Tennessee played Memphis in February, of course, and won. So how is it that last night the Volunteers looked so surprised to see an opponent that's just as deep as they are, just as athletic, and just as willing to press? I don't know. If not for 20 Louisville turnovers, the score would have been even more lopsided.

The long and quick Cardinals made life miserable for Tennessee's perimeter scorers, Chris Lofton in particular. The senior ended his career going 2-for-11 on his threes and 3-for-15 overall. Louisville played zone off their made baskets and man-to-man the rest of the time. Both were effective, and the switching between them seemed to prevent the Volunteers from achieving any kind of rhythm on offense. Time and time again, Bruce Pearl's team took the ball two steps too far into the paint, crashing into the ever-present David Padgett and drawing yet another charge.

Finally, in late March, the secret is out: Rick Pitino has an embarrassment of personnel riches at his disposal. Earl Clark, for example, required just 28 minutes to post a 17-12 double-double to go along with four blocks and two steals. This is a very good team. They'll need to be….

(1) North Carolina 68 (4) Washington State 47 [66]

If you'd told Tony Bennett before this game that Washington State would hold the Tar Heels to 68 points in 66 possessions, he would have felt that his team would have a chance. Then again, he couldn't have known that the WSU offense would be completely shut down in this game, by UNC and by the Cougars themselves. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver ended their fine careers by shooting a combined 9-for-29 from the floor. As a team that emphatically puts transition defense above offensive rebounds, Washington State simply can't afford to miss that many shots, not against North Carolina in Charlotte.

For their part, the Tar Heels proved they can not only win a game with less than 70 possessions, they can also make an opposing offense look ugly in the process. Their game with Louisville will feature arguably two of the best three teams left in the tournament.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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