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March 22, 2009
Bracket Breakdown
Underdogs Need Not Apply

by John Gasaway

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Maybe today will provide some Madness, but yesterday gave us precious little. I love our President and all, but when he goes eight-for-eight on the day with his decidedly non-wacky bracket, you know the tournament is holding to form. If you want to theorize that last year's all-one-seed Final Four heralded a new Era of Chalk, yesterday did little to disprove your theory.

(3) Villanova 89, (6) UCLA 69 [75 possessions]. I have rarely seen a team as visibly dispirited as UCLA was yesterday afternoon at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. What an odd and uncharacteristic end for players like Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, whose very names have become synonymous with April hoops the past couple years. Then again, Villanova helped along that odd and uncharacteristic end with a dominant performance that plainly overwhelmed the Bruins. As they did all season long, the Wildcats harassed the opponent into a lot of turnovers. The new wrinkle on this day, however, was an outstanding performance on the offensive boards. It's been a very long time since Ben Howland has watched his team fail to take care of its defensive glass in an NCAA tournament game. Dante Cunningham continued his excellent play for 'Nova, recording an 18-10 double-double in just 24 minutes. It's a safe bet that Mike Krzyzewski and his staff will be breaking down a lot of tape on Cunningham this week.

(2) Duke 74, (7) Texas 69 [63]. Forgive me for opening this recap with a kudo for the losing team, but I really like the way Rick Barnes adapts to his personnel, both from year to year and even from game to game. Yesterday in the second half, with Duke blanketing A.J. Abrams and with Dexter Pittman sitting on the bench with foul trouble, Barnes started running the offense through Varez Ward. Yes, Varez Ward, a freshman averaging 15 minutes a game, one who'd scored his career-high 12 points back in December against Texas Southern. I doubt there are a dozen coaches in all of D-I who would put the ball in the hands of that player late in a second-round NCAA tournament game against Duke. Barnes did, and it worked. Time after time the Longhorns ran clear-outs for Ward and time after time he drove the ball to the rim and scored. Even bold coaching wasn't enough in this game, however. The Blue Devils prevailed simply because they had more bites at the apple, committing just nine turnovers while extracting 15 from the 'Horns. Congratulations to Coach K and his team, back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.

(1) North Carolina 84, (8) LSU 70 [66]. On paper LSU had a pretty good interior D this year, but if A.J. Ogilvy was able to maul the Tigers on behalf of Vanderbilt, you did have to wonder what a team like North Carolina could do. Trent Johnson's team hung in this game for exactly 32 minutes before the Tar Heels pulled away with emphatic finality. It was a short life for the SEC in this tournament. As for the Heels, Ty Lawson looks like he's fine: 23 points, six assists, no turnovers.

(4) Gonzaga 83, (12) Western Kentucky 81 [70]. I continue to be persuaded of the efficacy of the no-timeout counterpunch strategy in a game's final seconds. We saw it again yesterday. Steffphon Pettigrew tied the game at 81 for Western Kentucky with a tip-in with 11 seconds remaining, whereupon Demetri Goodson drove the length of the floor for the game-winner. There was still less than a second on the clock and Hilltoppers coach Ken McDonald signaled for a timeout, but neither the refs nor, more importantly, four out of five of his players saw him. WKU inbounded the ball and the clock ran out. Note that the CBS studio talent broke some pretty interesting cognitive ground in professing to doubt Gonzaga's defense. Then again, the way the Zags allowed points in this game (the Hilltoppers made 12-of-25 threes), you can hardly blame the gang in New York for believing their eyes.

(2) Memphis 89, (10) Maryland 70 [68]. In stark contrast to Thursday, the Tigers looked like the Tigers right from the start of this game, which wasn't as close as a 19-point final margin would indicate. John Calipari's team will get the winner of today's game between Missouri and Marquette.

(2) Oklahoma 73, (10) Michigan 63 [62]. When Zack Novak and pretty much anyone else on the Michigan roster double-teams Blake Griffin, you just have a feeling it's not going to go real well for the Wolverines. Griffin recorded a 33-17 double-double, and keep in mind that was with 5-of-10 shooting from the line. The Sooners will play the winner of today's early game between Syracuse and Arizona State.

(5) Purdue 76, (4) Washington 74 [70]. Bracketeers, please note that the Boilermakers are a classic instance where efficiency margin is misleading. This team played much of the Big Ten season with Robbie Hummel either hampered or benched with a bad back. He looks healthy now, though, and his team is in the Sweet 16, after having crossed three time zones to edge the Pac-10 regular season champion in Portland. Neither team shot particularly well in this game--the real fun came when the shot was missed and the battle for the rebound began. The much-touted collision between Jon Brockman and JaJuan Johnson (brawn vs. beanpole) would have to be labeled a draw. Brockman owned Johnson on the glass, getting five offensive rebounds to Johnson's zero defensive boards. However Johnson recorded four blocks, including two crucial swats on one possession with a minute left to play.

(1) Connecticut 92, (9) Texas A&M 66 [66]. Best wishes for continued good health to Jim Calhoun, who returned to the bench for this game. The Huskies are still looking for their first real competition in this tournament. It will be up to Purdue to see if they can be that team.

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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Bracket Breakdown (03/21)
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Bracket Breakdown (03/23)

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