The chalk finally ran out last night, though I guess you could argue there's really not much madness to be had in two three-seeds beating a couple of two-seeds. I would respectfully suggest in response, however, that there's a tournament's worth of madness wrapped up in just one number from last night. One shockingly outlandish number that is simply one digit too large to be believed:
(3) Missouri 102, (2) Memphis 91 [83 possessions]. Memphis had perhaps the best defense of any team in the country this year, but they didn't have it last night. Missouri scored 1.22 points per trip against this vaunted D. Moreover, if you saw this game you know Mizzou didn't do it with the benefit of a lot of Memphis turnovers. (In fact, John Calipari's team coughed up the ball on just 17 percent of their possessions. Which reminds me: Did I see the first tempo-free graphic in the history of CBS last night? Something about Missouri opponents committing turnovers on 25 percent of their possessions? Nah, I must have been hallucinating wishfully.)
No, the Tigers from Columbia, Missouri, did it by playing fast, driving the ball into the paint, and getting to the line. Missouri shot 45 free throws in this game, and though they made just 30 of those attempts, the material point is that every trip to the foul line put one more Memphis player into foul trouble. Shawn Taggart, Antonio Anderson and Roburt Sallie all fouled out. All this while time and time again, Tyreke Evans (33 points) went through the Missouri defense like a latter-day Tyus Edney. It wasn't enough, because Missouri was a wonder to behold for the first 24 minutes of this game. Make that a well-coached wonder. (Programs with openings, take note!) In the game's final four minutes, Memphis had Roburt Sallie on the floor for his three-point ability. In response, Mike Anderson often had whoever was guarded by Sallie drive straight to the rim, most often resulting in still another Memphis foul.
One last thing: I really hope you saw Marcus Denmon's buzzer-beater at the end of the first half, the purest 60-foot swish you'll ever see. Who knew those points actually would matter? As Memphis worked furiously to rally late in this game, they could never quite get it down to a one-possession game.
(1) Connecticut 72, (5) Purdue 60 . Purdue couldn't score against Connecticut. If you'd told Matt Painter before tip-off that his team would hold UConn to something at least in the neighborhood of a point per trip, he probably would have taken those odds. He couldn't have known, however, that his team would be unable to make not only twos but also threes against the Huskies. Robbie Hummel was 3-of-10 outside the arc and actually fouled out after 35 minutes on the floor. Connecticut was simply too big for the Boilers. Hasheem Thabeet recorded a 15-15 double-double that included 11 defensive boards. It was one and done all night long for Purdue.
(1) Pittsburgh 60, (4) Xavier 55 . I've spent the better part of the past two weeks thanking the hoops gods that I am not a Pitt fan. If I were, I'd be in the ICU by now. No one can beat the Panthers right now, but let it also be said that the Panthers can't pull away from anyone either. I wonder if that's going to work against Villanova, which has played nearly flawless basketball now for five consecutive halves. We will find out.
We'll get to find out in large part because of the three that Levance Fields made with 53 seconds left in the game. It put his team up by one, and even as it left his hand I was thinking it was a bad shot. Maybe it was--it followed a no-pass, all-dribble sequence. Then again, it went in.
In their upcoming game, the Panthers will want DeJuan Blair have a better first half than the oddly subdued one he had against the Musketeers. In fact Pitt trailed by eight at halftime and I thought maybe their recent Sweet 16 losses were getting to them. Even after they stormed back in the second half, the Panthers played like a team aware of and defensive about their history. When Fields and Gilbert Brown got their signals crossed on a turnover with four minutes remaining, it seemed like they bickered about it for a little longer than players on a top-seeded team usually would.
(3) Villanova 77, (2) Duke 54 . On any normal night, one where Memphis didn't allow an opponent to score 102 points, I'd be leading by asking how in the world Duke could be held to just 54 points in 74 possessions. Well, for one thing they didn't make any shots. Jon Scheyer was 3-of-18. He was lucky. Gerald Henderson was 1-of-14. The Blue Devils shot threes (27) and missed them (recording just five makes). Great defense or poor offense? To hear the Duke players talk after the game, it was mostly the latter. Either way, the Wildcats will now play Pitt in an all-Big East regional final.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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