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March 23, 2009
Bracket Breakdown
Playing Favorites

by John Gasaway

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This is indeed the most true-to-form bracket of any Sweet 16 in modern tournament history. Even a nominal 12-seed, Arizona, was favored by the brackets in their second-round game against 13-seed Cleveland State. Say this for low-drama hoops, though. The first weekend may have been short on stunners, but anyone who makes it to the Elite Eight will have earned it.

(3) Syracuse 78, (6) Arizona State 67 [63 possessions]. If you predicted that Rihards Kuksiks would take more shots for Arizona State in this game than James Harden would, please e-mail me and explain how this whole economy thing is going to shake out. That aside, other parts of this game were much easier to anticipate. What happens when a perimeter-oriented team like the Sun Devils plays a zone team like Syracuse? They shoot threes. (It's true!) ASU devoted fully 71 percent of their attempts to shots from beyond the arc. Harden notwithstanding (0-of-5), Herb Sendek's team actually did OK from outside (37 percent), but they couldn't keep up with Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, who were a combined 8-of-18 from long range. The Orangemen have now won two tournament games: a defensive struggle against Stephen F. Austin and a shootout (albeit a slow-paced one) against Arizona State. The latter would figure to be the better training for their upcoming game against Oklahoma.

(3) Kansas 60, (11) Dayton 43 [70]. The 17-point margin of victory may look fairly standard, but you won't often see the total suffocation of an offense that has made it to the second round. Dayton managed just 43 points in a game that was actually faster-paced than the tournament average. A lot of the credit here goes to KU's Cole Alrdich, who recorded a triple-double: 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks. I'll say it again: Aldrich is good. He probably would have been player of the year in at least a couple major conferences this year. Too bad Aldrich plays in the same league as whatshisname at Oklahoma.

(2) Michigan State 74, (10) USC 69 [69]. Considering they received just three points and zero rebounds from Taj Gibson, the Trojans came amazingly close to winning this game. For Spartan fans looking for good omens, Tom Izzo is pretty clearly in human-wave mode with his rotation, just like he was with his most recent Final Four team in 2005. Kalin Lucas logged 35 minutes, but none of the other seven MSU players who saw quality time were glimpsed for more than 27 minutes. So it was all the more striking that Travis Walton, traditionally a pass-first guard, took no fewer than 13 shots in this game. He did so in just 26 minutes. USC was unable to make any perimeter shots against the Spartans, going just 1-of-10 on their threes.

(12) Arizona 71, (13) Cleveland State 57 [63]. You'll hear a lot this week about how Arizona's presence in the Sweet 16 proves the selection committee was correct to give them a bid. Say this for the Wildcats, they've taken care of the opponents that have been put in front of them: Utah with Luke Nevill in foul trouble the whole game, and Cleveland State. For my part, I have little doubt that Creighton, San Diego State or any one of several other uninvited teams could have done the same. (Though, again, give the 'Cats credit for getting Nevill into foul trouble in the first place.)

(1) Louisville 79, (9) Siena 72 [70]. My colleague Anthony Macri was very nearly prophetic, was he not? The Saints may have come up short, but they did provide anyone fated to come across the Cardinals with a nice demonstration of how to stay in the game against Rick Pitino's team: don't turn the ball over. Ronald Moore and Kenny Hasbrouck had their struggles getting the ball in the basket (they were a combined 5-of-27), but the fact that they took excellent care of the ball against the Cards' pressing D gave Siena a fighting chance. Arizona coach Russ Pennell will likely have Nic Wise taking a very close look at the tape this week.

(1) Pitt 84, (8) Oklahoma State 76 [64]. If you saw the first half of this game, you witnessed some amazing shooting from both teams. Of course if you wanted to see that glass as half-empty, I guess you could have called it poor defense--Bill Raftery quipped that both coaches must have signed a non-aggression pact. All during that time, however, the Panthers were also collecting offensive boards in bulk. They've been known to do that on occasion. The hero for Jamie Dixon's team was Sam Young, who not only scored 32 points but also snagged five offensive boards. (He even recorded three blocks.) Right now Xavier coach Sean Miller is printing up T-shirts for his team: "Don't Go for Young's Shot Fake."

(4) Xavier 60, (12) Wisconsin 49 [65]. A total defensive beat-down of the Badgers, courtesy of the Musketeers. Well, a beat-down of every Badger not named "Marcus Landry." He was fine, but his teammates were a combined 8-of-42 from the field. I know I've said this before, but I'm really looking forward to a game between Pitt and Xavier. Irresistible interior offense force (DeJuan Blair) meets immovable interior defense object (the Musketeers collectively). Should make for some very savory hoops viewing.

(3) Missouri 83, (6) Marquette 79 [71]. Marquette looked absolutely dead in the water late in the first half of this game, and with Missouri's penchant for eliciting second-half fatigue from their opponents it didn't take too much imagination to picture this thing really getting out of hand. Give the Golden Eagles credit, then, because they came roaring back. Indeed there was palpable fear in the eyes of these Tigers with about six minutes left to play. It was a tie game when J.T. Tiller was fouled by Jerel McNeal with 5.5 seconds remaining. Tiller got up off the floor and wobbled to the bench, whereupon his free throws were shot by Kim English, whose FT percentage is actually lower than Tiller's. To make things even more confusing, Tiller then tried to check back into the game after English made both free throws. That's a no-no, and Marquette coach Buzz Williams quite rightly went nuts, a scene captured by CBS's cameras but missed entirely by their announcers. It was a strange end for the illustrious careers of McNeal, Dominic James, and Wesley Matthews.

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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