The 2009 NCAA tournament started with a nation of furious office pool entrants directing their fury at a hitherto obscure but undeniably dashing Basketball Prospectus writer named John Gasaway. Relying in part on Gasaway's endorsement, many readers apparently picked Memphis to do rather well this year. Those readers were therefore not happy to see that same team trailing a 15-seed by six points with ten minutes left to play:
OK, I've been reading your work for the past few weeks, and you convinced me that Memphis is a powerhouse despite their conference affiliation. Following your advice, I put them in the finals of all my brackets. They are currently up by just two against some ridiculous 15-seed. If they lose in the first round, I want my $20 pool entry fee back, capiche?
Just as tar and feathers were being readied for Gasaway, however, the Tigers rallied.
(2) Memphis 81, (15) Cal State-Northridge 70 [71 possessions]. The most amazing thing about this game isn't that Roburt Sallie scored 35 points for Memphis when his previous career high was 13. No, the most amazing thing is that the Tigers needed 35 points from a reserve to put away a 15-seed. Sallie made 10-of-15 threes against the Cal State-Northridge zone, while his teammates went a collective 1-of-13. Meantime the Matadors put together an incredible seven-minute run in the second half, scoring on 13 of 17 possessions against the best defense in the nation. Memphis didn't take the lead for good until less than seven minutes remained.
(10) Maryland 84, (7) California 71 . If you like offense, I hope you caught this game featuring two of the more permissive major-conference defenses in the field of 64. Greivis Vasquez recorded 27 points for the Terps. He needed 21 shots to do so, however, and my colleague Bradford Doolittle reports from Kansas City that Memphis might prefer to see Vasquez instead of Cal's smaller and quicker scorer, Jerome Randle. We shall see.
(1) Connecticut 103, (16) Chattanooga 47 . Coach Jim Calhoun missed the game because he wasn't feeling well. He was hospitalized overnight last night for observation.
(9) Texas A&M 79, (8) BYU 66 . Bryan Davis had a phenomenal game for the Aggies, scoring 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting. His teammates weren't bad either, as A&M made 69 percent of their twos. Still, the surprise here wasn't so much that a good offense like the Aggies' had a good game; the surprise was that a good offense like BYU's looked so flat against a pretty average D. The Cougars' big three of Jonathan Tavernari, Lee Cummard and Jimmer Fredette went a combined 14-of-36 from the floor.
(5) Purdue 61, (12) Northern Iowa 56 . The Boilers seemed to have things pretty well in hand before the Panthers made things a little more interesting with an 18-13 run over the final nine minutes. Matt Painter's defense often hangs some ugly numbers on a scorer from the opposing team. This game's victim was UNI's Adam Koch, who went 3-of-14 from the field.
(4) Washington 71, (13) Mississippi State 58 . The Bulldogs were utterly helpless (Ravern Johnson and Dee Bost were a combined 4-of-23) against the Huskies' defense, which, rather quietly, was the Pac-10's best this year. Note that four-wins-in-four-days wonders from the SEC are now 0-2 the last two years.
(8) LSU 75, (9) Butler 71 . Marcus Thornton's dogged campaign to get the nation to notice him continues. I've done all I can and, apparently it wasn't enough. Maybe Thornton scoring 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting in an NCAA tournament game will do the trick. As for Butler, it's the first time they've been sent home winless since Florida's Mike Miller made a memorable last-second shot to beat the Bulldogs in 2000.
(1) North Carolina 101, (16) Radford 58 . The Tar Heels didn't need Ty Lawson, who missed his third game with an injured toe. He says he expects to play tomorrow against LSU.
(4) Gonzaga 77, (13) Akron 64 . Josh Heytvelt scored 21 points on just 12 shots as the Bulldogs overcame mediocre outside shooting to hang 77 points on the Zips despite playing in the day's slowest-paced game.
(12) Western Kentucky 76, (5) Illinois 72 . The upset of the day in seeding terms didn't look like an upset in real time. For the game's first 36 minutes the Hilltoppers had their way with the Chester Frazier-less Illini, making threes at one end and either forcing or welcoming missed threes at the other. Sergio Kerusch needed just 27 minutes to record a 14-11 double-double for WKU. In the game's final four minutes Bruce Weber's team tried to channel its inner 2005 and pretend that Western Kentucky was Arizona, but it was not to be. Had the Hilltoppers not missed nine free throws, it wouldn't have been this close at the end.
(10) Michigan 62, (7) Clemson 59 . Every year with Clemson there are athletes. Every year with Clemson there is a strong start. Every year with Clemson there is a decline. Life is cruel for Clemson fans. That being said, Trevor Booker is a warrior.
(2) Oklahoma 82, (15) Morgan State 54 . The clip of DeJuan Blair flipping Hasheem Thabeet over his head accidentally has now been replaced by one with a much more intentional flavor. Meanwhile Blake Griffin was only going 11-of-12 from the floor.
(3) Villanova 80, (14) American 67 . The Wildcats' home-court advantage at the Wachovia Center didn't look like too much of a problem for the Eagles for the first 21 minutes of this game, as Jeff Jones' team built a 14-point lead. Then fatigue and fouls did what they will often do to underdogs, as 'Nova finished the game on a 49-22 run. Note to UCLA: Dante Cunningham is good. Guard him.
(6) UCLA 65, (11) VCU 64 . Though they trailed for the balance of the evening, Anthony Grant's Rams were very much the equal of the Bruins throughout this game, limiting Darren Collison to 3-of-10 shooting and shooting six more free throws than the power-conference bully. As in VCU's 2007 first-round game against Duke, Eric Maynor had the ball in his hands for the final play of the game. This time he missed.
(7) Texas 76, (10) Minnesota 62 . During Big 12 play this season the Longhorns ranked dead last in three-point percentage. Try telling that to Tubby Smith and his Gophers. Texas sank 11-of-19 threes in this game, led by A.J. Abrams' 8-of-15 effort from beyond the arc.
(2) Duke 86, (15) Binghamton 62 . In a game that was not in much doubt past the 10-minute mark of the first half, we can make note of a box score oddity. The Bearcats actually shot better from the field than did the Blue Devils--and lost by 24. Free throws and offensive rebounds do come in handy.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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