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March 26, 2011
Down Goes the Top Seed
UK Edges Ohio State

by John Gasaway

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Is being named the NCAA tournament's overall No. 1 seed a good thing? That's the question that next year's top team will need to ask itself. After last night's events the overall top seed is going to be absent from the Final Four for the third year in a row. Last year Kansas was shocked by Northern Iowa in the round of 32. Two years ago Louisville lost in the Elite Eight to Michigan State. You have to go back to 2008 to find an overall No. 1 seed that made the Final Four (North Carolina), and all the way back to 2007 before you come across one that won the national championship (Florida). On Selection Sunday 2012, don't automatically fear and respect the first team whose name is called out by Greg Gumbel.

EAST

(4) Kentucky 62, (2) Ohio State 60 [59 possessions]
The NCAA tournament is remorselessly effective at confronting great teams with opponents that can look them in the eye. (Though, granted, it's taking a while for Kansas to get that treatment.) For weeks now we've watched Ohio State space the floor and confront opponents with a cruel dilemma: double-team Jared Sullinger and give Jon Diebler, William Buford, and David Lighty open threes; or guard Sullinger straight-up and suffer the inevitable dunks and, especially, free throws. Last night, of course, Kentucky chose option B, and truth be told Sullinger did have a great game (21-16 double-double). But Sullinger had to create those points for himself, often off of (eight) offensive boards. He got to the line nine times but he didn't foul out any Wildcat big man -- in fact he didn't even draw a fourth foul on any opposing player. Sullinger was guarded for much of the night by Josh Harrellson, and here, for once, the old school has a point. Experience has its advantages. Imagining Harrellson as a freshman trying to guard Sullinger is too grisly. But the big guy's been hanging around the college game for four years now, mostly on the bench, eating three squares a day and learning some tricks. In the Big Ten Sullinger was stronger than anyone as tall as or taller than he, and taller than anyone as strong. Not so with Harrellson.

Seeing the rest of the Buckeyes guarded by long and athletic defenders who didn't need to help on Sullinger was kind of like seeing a harshly-lit mug shot of an Oscar-winner. Players that had always looked so beautiful on offense before suddenly took on a much more mundane appearance. Ohio State players not named "Jared Sullinger" attempted 28 two-point shots and made just six. Kentucky had the ability to play even with Thad Matta's team, and so it would come down to the breaks of the game in the last few possessions. DeAndre Liggins scored four points over the course of back-to-back possessions, leaving the Buckeyes down 60-57 with 36 seconds remaining. Then coming out of a timeout Diebler ducked behind a Sullinger screen at the top of the key and nailed the three to tie the game. It was left to Brandon Knight, who's making a habit of capping off statistically unimpressive nights with this kind of thing, to hit the night's last shot: an 18-footer with Aaron Craft draped all over him and six seconds left on the clock. Prior to that shot the freshman was 2-of-9 from the floor. Clearly he didn't care. Inexperience has its advantages.

(2) North Carolina 81, (11) Marquette 63 [71]
Visually this looked like a 2 vs. 11 game where the 11's from the Colonial. The ACC team was that much bigger. That fact alone didn't foreordain a UNC win, of course -- ask Florida State about their evening last night -- but it did mean certain things needed to happen for Buzz Williams' team. Things like shots going in. And, if you saw this game, you know that did not happen for the Golden Eagles. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jimmy Butler, and their mates had to stage something of a second-half accuracy rally just to get their effective FG percentage for the game "up" to 38. Carolina led 40-15 at the break, having held Marquette to 6-of-30 shooting. Tyler Zeller was 9-of-10 from the line and recorded a 27-12 double-double in just 27 minutes.

SOUTHWEST

(11) Virginia Commonwealth 72, (10) Florida State 71 (OT) [73]
Bradford Burgess made the go-ahead layup with seven seconds left in OT. Burgess is the anti-Brandon Knight: he capped off a statistically impressive evening (26 points, 6-of-7 on his threes) with the game-winner. The Rams came into this game having brushed aside three major-conference opponents (USC, Georgetown, and Purdue) by double-digit margins. But last night Shaka Smart's team had to win a close one. They got it done. VCU now has precisely what George Mason had in the 2006 Elite Eight: an opportunity to record a truly "stun"-worthy performance....

(1) Kansas 77, (12) Richmond 57 [64]
KU had a double-digit lead for the last 31:49. Thomas Robinson needed just 16 minutes to record a 12-14 double-double. For the Spiders Justin Harper was a respectable 2-of-6 on his threes. His teammates were 2-of-20. One thing that Bill Self doubtless noted with interest about the VCU-FSU nightcap: the Seminoles feasted on their offensive glass.

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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