The 2011 Sweet 16 is now set, and the first thing everyone has pointed out is that it contains just two teams from the Big East: Connecticut and Marquette. This after the league received a record 11 tournament bids. After four days of basketball, the conference is just 9-9. More on this later.
Otherwise note that this Sweet 16 looks a lot like last year's. Average seed of the 16 survivors: 5.0, same as 2010. Also the same, three No. 1 seeds made it to the second weekend each year.
(2) North Carolina 86, (7) Washington 83 [74 possessions]
Maybe I'm weird, and I'll admit that the final minute had its share of strange choices. (More on that directly.) But through the wonder of Twitter I could see yesterday that I liked the first 39 minutes of this contest a lot more than did many of the people I follow. These defenses have proven over the course of the year that they're either pretty (Washington) or even very (UNC) good. On this day, however, the offenses were better. (In large part because there were just 22 turnovers in 148 combined possessions.) In pure percentage terms the Huskies didn't exactly feast on the interior (they made 43 percent of their twos), but Matthew Bryan-Amaning did make half his shots, while Aziz N'Diaye snagged five offensive boards in just 20 minutes. Results like that opened up the perimeter, where Washington made 10-of-19 threes thanks in large part to wings Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox. An opponent that didn't have Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller (45 points on 33 shots) likely would have come up as short as a Venoy Overton buzzer-beater. (Har!)
Alright, about that: Overton was bringing the ball up the floor in the game's closing seconds and his team down by three. He was expecting to be fouled, so he flung the ball up in anticipation of a whistle. That doesn't excuse the fling, of course. (It was too early, and the ball came nowhere near the basket.) But it helps explain how odd it looked. And as for the whole business of whether the clock should have stopped when the ball hit the floor out of bounds (1.2 seconds remaining or thereabouts) or on the ref's whistle (0.05), NCAA supervisor of officials John Adams says the rules are what they are (clock stops on the whistle). Fair enough. I'm very pro-rule. Now, in the offseason can we look changing the rules to allow reviewing how much time should be on the clock -- even if it means reviewing when the whistle should have blown? I've spent a good portion of my life watching refs watch replays to get the clock right. i could have done it again yesterday and lived to tell the tale. Who knows, maybe Washington would have had about 140 percent more time than they were given for their last play. Probably wouldn't have made a difference, but it would have been good to find out.
(11) Marquette 66, (3) Syracuse 62 
The Golden Eagles have lost a ton of close games the last two seasons, and so they've been pretty consistently underrated. We at Prospectus like underrated teams -- they're fun to get in on the ground floor on -- and, anyway, Buzz Williams practically wears an "I (HEART) TEMPO-FREE" t-shirt. So what's not to love here? Nothing, I just wish Syracuse hadn't been hurt and hurt badly by a blown call late in this game. With 51 seconds left and the score tied at 59, Dion Waiters inbounded the ball from the sidelines to Scoop Jardine at halfcourt. Jardine came down with one foot on the halfcourt line, clearly thinking it was a violation. Sure enough, whistle, backcourt violation, ball goes to Marquette. Unfortunately what Jardine did was not a violation, even if Jardine (and Waiters) thought it was. Give Ken Pomeroy credit. He was all over the mistake immediately. The ball can't go from the frontcourt to the backcourt in one team's control, of course, but it can go from the sidelines or the endlines to the backcourt. And Jardine never established himself in the frontcourt. He was fine. It was a blown call. Marquette may have still ended up winning, of course, but it would have been nice to play it out according to the rules (pdf).
(1) Ohio State 98, (8) George Mason 66 
And it wasn't that close. Seriously. After Mason opened the game with an 11-2 spurt, the Buckeyes outscored them the rest of the way 96-57. Thad Matta's team looks incredible. (David Lighty. Really, 7-of-7 on threes? Really? Amazing.) If I could offer a word of caution, however, it would be a simple reminder. The team that everyone was talking about last year because they looked so incredible recording a blowout in the round of 32 ended up not even making the Final Four, much less winning the national championship. Just saying. Lot of basketball to be played.
(1) Duke 73, (8) Michigan 71 
The Blue Devils looked unbelievably shaky coming down the stretch in this game. And here I thought they had that fabled senior leadership everyone's always talking about. Late in the game Duke's strategy for "attacking" the Wolverine zone primarily involved staring at it for lengthy intervals, apparently in the hope that it would become a man-to-man. Mike Krzyzewski's team led by as many as 15 in the second half and still led by 12 with 6:25 to play, but that's when Michigan started a 15-4 run. As John Belein's team whittled the lead down to a single point Jordan Morgan, Tim Hardaway, and Darius Morris all took turns freaking out the opposing senior leadership. Actually it was freshman Kyrie Irving who finally sank a shot after the Blue Devils had been stuck on 70 points for two minutes. Then with just nine seconds remaining, Nolan Smith missed a free throw and gave the Wolverines one more chance. Morris drove down court with Michigan down two and just missed sending the game to OT when his floater bounced off the back iron. Considering no one expected the Wolverines to do anything this year, the way the season ended has to be classified as most encouraging for fans in Ann Arbor. Also note that future Duke opponents will be interested in this tape. Oh-so-perimeter-oriented Michigan carved up the Blue Devils' interior, draining 20-of-32 twos.
(5) Arizona 70, (4) Texas 69 
The Longhorns had the ball and a two-point lead with 14.5 seconds remaining, yet somehow they're going home and the Wildcats are headed to the Sweet 16. Texas did a lot right to be in a position to blow this game. They held Derrick Williams most of the game, and they staged a nice comeback after trailing by eight or nine points for much of the second half. But, no, they did not win. With 14.5 seconds left Cory Joseph turned the ball over when he couldn't inbound the ball within five seconds. One old-fashioned three-point play from Williams later, and that was your ballgame. Longhorn fans thought Joseph got the short end of a really fast five-second count, nor were they happy about no foul being called on UT's last-gasp efforts under their own basket as the horn sounded. Nevertheless, Arizona's heading to the Sweet 16 the Butler way, by winning really close games.
(1) Kansas 73, (9) Illinois 59 
The Illini were within two early in the second half, but on a night when the Morris brothers were recording 16-of-26 shooting for KU the inevitable could not be delayed for long. Markieff had the 24-12 double-double; Marcus, somewhat shamefully, recorded just 17 points and 12 boards. For Bruce Weber's team Demetri McCamey made a three 56 seconds into the game. From that point on he was 1-of-8 from the floor. The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in a region whose remaining teams are the 10 (Florida State), the 11 (VCU) and KU's next opponent, 12-seed Richmond.
(11) VCU 94, (3) Purdue 76, 
Let's put this surprise into context. During the regular season VCU had a pretty good offense, but not a great one by any means. George Mason's was far better than the Rams' offense in CAA play, and even Hofstra's was a little better. Meanwhile over in the Big Ten, Purdue was single-handedly keeping defense alive in a conference that had gone crazy for (very slow-paced) scoring. The Boilermakers allowed Big Ten opponents just 0.99 points per possession, easily the best mark in the league. So how in the world could Shaka Smart's team score 1.41 points per trip against Matt Painter's defense? Painter's theory is as good as any: These are not the same Rams we saw during the regular season. I should say not. But please don't accept any accounts of this game that talk about how VCU "held" E'Twaun Moore to just 10 points or how they wore out JaJuan Johnson late in the game. The former's most certainly true and the latter may have been, but even so Purdue scored 76 points in 66 possessions. With a night of normal Boiler defense, that's plenty. This, however, was not a normal night. Give the credit there to Shaka Smart and his Rams.
(10) Florida State 71, (2) Notre Dame 57 
Forget the awesome FSU defense. A round of applause, please, for the Seminole offense, which rang up 1.12 points per possession against a No. 2 seed in the round of 32 -- and did so without Chris SIngleton. Only once in ACC play (at home against North Carolina State in January) was Leonard Hamilton's team able to top that number. Last night Florida State sank seven three-pointers before intermission, a shocking display that probably helped along the defense. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough combined for 39 points, but they needed 31 shots to do so. And let us not speak of Carleton Scott's line in the box score. Just know that the Irish saw five long and athletic Seminoles on defense last night and decided to shoot 30 threes. They made seven.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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