Thursday's Action Underwhelms But Colorado & VCU Win
The first full day of action in the NCAA tournament didn't produce the number of surprises that many fans both expected and wanted, with just two lower-seeded teams advancing to Saturday's action. While one should come as no surprise to the country the other finds itself carrying the banner for an entire conference...in its first season in the league. Here are the key happenings by location, highlighted by wins for Colorado (Albuquerque) and VCU (Portland).
Albuquerque: Colorado builds a large lead and holds on to beat 6-seed UNLV, winning thier sixth straight game.
Tad Boyle's Buffaloes put together a performance similar to their win over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final on Saturday. Colorado got out to a big lead and controlled play for much of the game, ultimately running out of gas down the stretch but finding a way to hold on. Austin Dufault scored 14 points and Andre Roberson added 12 and 16 rebounds to lead Colorado to the 68-64 win, giving the Buffaloes their first NCAA tournament win since 1997. UNLV shot just 32.4% from the field but was able to close the margin to two points due to their pressure, which forced 23 Colorado turnovers on the night.
But Chace Stanback and Mike Moser combined to shoot 7-of-27 from the field, and the Runnin' Rebels could get no closer. Next up for Colorado is old Big 12 foe Baylor, who held off a tough South Dakota State team by the final score of 68-60. Few expected the Buffs to compete for a spot in the top half of the Pac-12 when the season began, but here they are carrying the banner for a struggling conference with 40 minutes between them and the Sweet 16.
Louisville: Iowa State drops the hammer on UConn early, advancing to face top seed Kentucky on Saturday.
The immediate reaction of many on Selection Sunday was excitement in regards to a possible matchup between the defending national champs and top over all seed Kentucky on Saturday. There were so many speaking as if a UConn/Kentucky match-up was a lock that two important factors were ignored. One, the Huskies really hadn't played well despite picking up two wins in New York City. Two, and most importantly, was the fact that UConn had to deal with a good Iowa State team to reach Saturday.
And they couldn't. Royce White was solid with 15 points and 13 rebounds, setting the tone of a game UConn didn't look too prepared to play with a dunk on the opening possession. Iowa State led by as many as 20 in the first half, and whenever the Huskies looked to be making a run they'd make a bad decision. Iowa State advanced with the 77-64 win, and one has to wonder about the direction of the Connecticut program. There's a strong chance that the Huskies won't be eligible for next year's tournament, and if the ban is upheld following the school's final appeal in April that may trigger a mass exodus for their best players. Troubling times in Storrs, that's for sure.
Pittsburgh: Syracuse rallies late to beat UNC Asheville in a game that left many upset with the officiating.
The battle between the Orange and Bulldogs was a wild one, and even with Syracuse not having Fab Melo the game was much closer than anyone anticipated. Eddie Biedenbach's team hung around throughout despite Matt Dickey shooting 1-of-13 from the field, but they couldn't get that one play they needed down the stretch to complete what would have been the first-ever win for a 16-seed over a one. Syracuse hung on for the 72-65 win, advancing to take on 8-seed Kansas State for the right to go to the Sweet 16.
James Southerland came up big off the bench, just as he did in the Big East Championship win over UConn in the quarters, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight boards. Outside of Dickey the Bulldogs had other issues, most notably a few whistles that did not go their way late. But to be fair the game was horrendously officiated throughout out, with both teams ending up on the short end of the stick. Did UNC Asheville outplay Syracuse? For much of the afternoon they did, but the final score is what ultimately determines which team advances and which one sees its season end. Syracuse found a way to survive and advance, and regardless of the aesthetic beauty (or lack thereof) of the win that's all that matters in March.
Portland: VCU makes the big plays late to beat 5-seed Wichita State; gets Indiana next.
In the matchup practically no one wanted to see at this point in the tournament given the potential of both teams it was VCU who found a way to win. Bradford Burgess' three with 1:33 remaining gave the Rams the lead for good as they beat the Shockers 62-59. VCU will look to unleash their "havoc" style of play on Indiana, who beat New Mexico State in the final game of the night. Burgess scored 16 points and Darius Theus and Troy Daniels added ten apiece. VCU did its best work on the defensive end as they were able to harass Wichita State into shooting just 38.7% from the field.
Garrett Stutz, whose three just before time expired went long, struggled to deal with the pace within each possession and VCU's D.J. Haley defended the First Team All-MVC player well throughout. Neither team shot well from three but it was VCU's superior percentage inside of the arc that proved to be the difference. It's unfair to attempt to compare this year's group to last year's, but rest assured that the current group of Rams are just as capable of doing even more damage in the tournament.
Three Notable Performers
1. F Jae Crowder (Marquette)
25 points, 16 rebounds and four assists in the Golden Eagles' 88-68 win over BYU.
2. F Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State)
31 points and 12 rebounds in the Buckeyes' 78-59 win over Loyola (MD).
3. G Rodney McGruder (Kansas State)
30 points (11-16 FG) four rebounds and four steals in the Wildcats' 70-64 win over Southern Miss.