The NCAA Tournament got back into the swing of things Thursday night with four games in the South and West Regions. Despite all of the craziness which took place over the first four days of the tournament, these two regions made it through essentially true to form, with Maryland as a No. 5 seed being the only “outlier.” Although there was late-game drama, each of the winners displayed an impressive imposition of their will power.
Villanova exploded out of the gates, and despite some first half resistance from the Hurricanes, the Wildcats ended Miami’s season in dramatic and catastrophic fashion. This is the Villanova team that can be devastating to just about any opponent when they hit shots, and disrupt defensively. Miami was rattled early by the three-quarter-court press applied by Nova. While they did get back in the game temporarily, they couldn’t withstand the pure fire produced by Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono. Those two combined for 9-13 from beyond the arc; and when the Wildcats shoot like that, there’s simply no defense for it.
The Cats set up that shooting perfectly, by making a concerted effort early to get paint touches, which is typically outside of their character. I’ll admit I didn’t trust this Villanova team coming in to the tournament based on recent history, along with their style of play. It appears that Jay Wright’s team is hell-bent on torching their path to the Final Four. If their play continues without a cold shooting night, they will be terrifying.
Sooners Lay the Boom on A&M
Unfortunately, both of the early games on Thursday turned out to be blowouts, but Oklahoma’s demolition of Texas A&M was nearly as impressive as what Nova did to Miami. The Aggies were able to jump out to a decent lead in the opening minutes, with Alex Caruso bothering Buddy Hield defensively. Once the Sooners worked the kinks out, they showed America why they’re so good, and why Texas A&M spent 39 minutes on Sunday being outclassed by Northern Iowa. A&M spent much of the first half settling for perimeter jumpers, and trying to match the pace of Oklahoma. That was a horrible idea.
Even though Buddy Hield didn’t light them on fire, his running mate Jordan Woodard picked up the slack. The Sooners got bonus points from Khadeem Lattin, and little used Christian James who combined to contribute 22 points. Although an emotional comeback can sometimes serve as a catapult, it certainly did not tonight for Texas A&M. Once Oklahoma got rolling, they couldn’t provide any serious response. The Sooners are going to be a tough out.
Experience and Fundamentals Matter
After a very entertaining, hard-fought first half, which ended with Kansas leading by just two points; the Jayhawks utilized fundamentals and defense to put the clamps on Maryland. Perry Ellis displayed his usual array of solid if unspectacular offensive skills, cruising to 27 points to lead the way for Kansas. Ellis, along with Wayne Selden, led the methodical breakdown of Maryland in the second half. Time after time, the Jayhawks worked the ball until they found the cleanest looks at the basket.
On the defensive end, they forced the Terps into long drawn out offensive sets, which led to a lot of perimeter shots, which just weren’t dropping. Unlike the game on Sunday in which Maryland was able to get Diamond Stone involved, he was simply unable to get going this evening. Early on it looked as though Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon would control the offensive tempo, but in the second half they were forced into a lot of panicked over-dribbling, leading to poor shots. The Jayhawks put on a clinic tonight, and have a crisp look to their execution. Their balance and surgical precision versus the hot-shooting Wildcats of Villanova should produce some fireworks on Saturday.
Oregon’s Athleticism Runs Duke out of the Gym
This half of the bracket had an interesting dynamic to it, in that several of the teams were considered untrustworthy tournament contenders. Oregon’s lack of basketball pedigree, and questionable No. 1 seed put the Ducks in that category. Well, they showed on Thursday evening that they’re for real and can make it out of the West Region. Oregon leveraged their superior depth and athleticism, to simply push Duke to its limit. The Ducks spread out the Blue Devil’s zone defense, and were able to slice into the gaps, creating easy buckets.
While Dillon Brooks did the most offensive damage, they also got huge contributions from Jordan Bell off the bench. Not only did he chip in 13 points, but he sent Duke shots back at them on several occasions, causing a ton of havoc defensively. As the game wore on, the Ducks simply wore out the Blue Devils. By the end Duke looked like they were exhausted and just chasing the game. Oregon put the rest of the bracket on notice. They are a legitimate threat to make it to Houston.
Once again, even after all the high-drama of the first weekend, it’s all chalk in the South and the West. Saturday will bring us No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Villanova, and No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Oklahoma. That’s some serious firepower and up-temp action for sure, and two primo matchups for two spots in the Final Four.
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Photo via Flickr/Phil Roeder