Sweet 16 Observations - 16 Thoughts from Day One of the Sweet 16
In honor of it being the Sweet 16, here are 16 observations from tonight's games:
1. Without Reggie Johnson, Miami couldn't compete inside - Canes were out-rebounded 35-30, and even when they had good chances inside, they couldn't convert them.
2. Marquette is really good - This team did win the Big East regular season title (or at least split it three-ways); however, going into the tournament, they were overlooked by a lot of people. While their three-point shooting could still be an issue moving forward, they have a propensity to hit big shots and tonight, they dominated every facet of the game.
3. Vander Blue is my NCAA Tournament MVP thus far - Though he got off to a rocky start in the Davidson game, in his last 80 minutes and 30 seconds, Blue is 18-29 from the field. So far, he has 59 points and 7 steals in the tournament to go along with two game winning shots. If that doesn't make him the most valuable player, then I don't know what would.
4. Ohio State needs someone not named Thomas or Craft to step up in order to win - Deshaun Thomas is a scorer and game in and game out will get the Buckeyes around 20 points. Craft is good for another dozen. If the Buckeyes can't find another option to score or take charge on the offensive end, they can pack their bags. Tonight, in only 18 minutes, LaQuinton Ross scored 17 points on 5-8 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-5 from the line. Ross also hit the game winner at the end. Without a third option stepping up, the Buckeyes are vulnerable.
5. Arizona is on the verge - Unfortunately for Sean Miller's squad, he graduates three of his top-four scorers. But Miller has shown at Xavier that he is an excellent recruiter, and in his time at Arizona, he has completely rebuilt the program. Look for the Wildcats to be at or near the top of the Pac-12 for the foreseeable future.
6. If Syracuse's zone is active, they are an immovable force on defense - They forced 18 Hoosier turnovers, including 9 in the first 10-minutes as Indiana struggled on how to figure out the zone. Marquette will have experience with it; however, between Christmas on the inside and Carter-Williams and Triche on the outside, breaking down the zone when they start to trap is an extremely tall order.
7. Cody Zeller is not an NBA player - Zeller will likely be a lottery pick, and although he recorded a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds), Zeller shot 3-11 from the field and his lack of jumping ability was on display tonight. Zeller has struggled all year against the bigger and more athletic bigs he faces, and although he has feasted on lesser defenders, his lack of athleticism was on display tonight against the talented Syracuse front-court.
8. Victor Oladipo is one of the best player's I have seen - A commitment to defense -- check; excellent shot selection -- check; physical toughness -- check. Oladipo has all the makings of an excellent NBA player. Oladipo hurt his calf when leaping for a ball into the stands, yet still played 36 minutes. Oladipo recorded three steals tonight and averaged more than two a game, and that does not begin to describe his impact on the defensive end. Oladipo was 5-6 from the field tonight, and shot 59.4% on the season. If this doesn't scream "top-five pick" then I don't know what does.
9. Michael Carter-Williams is the second best point guard in college basketball - It would be more fitting in this scenario to say he is the best, but that crown belongs to Trey Burke. Tonight, Carter-Williams scored a career high 24 points with Oladipo guarding him for long stretches throughout the game, collected four steals, and most impressively only turned the ball over once. Age aside (he will be 22 by the time next season rolls around), Carter-Williams will be an excellent NBA point guard someday.
10. Tom Crean is not that good a coach - With no disrespect to Crean, he has shown a troubling pattern of early exits in the tournament. Similarly to Rick Barnes at Texas, Crean is an excellent recruiter with a poor track record in the NCAA Tournament, making it to the Sweet 16 only twice in his 14-year coaching career and never making it past the round of 16. Time will tell if Crean can improve in the tournament; however, while fielding easily his most talented team this year, he was stumped by Syracuse's 2-3 zone and couldn't scheme up something to break it open.
11. Buzz Williams is one of the best coaches around - 5 years at Marquette, 5 seasons with more than 22 wins. Williams, after inheriting the team from Crean, has reeled off 5-straight tournament appearances, winning a game in four of the five, and reaching the Sweet 16 for the third straight season. Though Marquette doesn't pull in a ton of top-100 talent, Williams maximizes the potential of the players he does get, and this Elite Eight run has shown the resiliency of his current group. At only 40 years old, we will be seeing a lot of Buzz over the foreseeable future.
12. Wichita State is a force to be reckoned with - Wichita State finished second in the grind of the Missouri Valley Conference, only one game behind Creighton. Combining that with their early season win at VCU, and Wichita State had the makings of a good team all year. Additionally, they have shown a versatility to win in a number of ways. Against Pitt, they were only 2-20 from three; against Gonzaga, 14-28; against La Salle, 5-12. This ability to find ways to win even when not having a great shooting night is important as they continue through the tournament.
13. They can rebound too - They were the 27th best rebounding team in the country (11th in the field) this season and tonight, that was on full display. They out-rebounded La Salle 44-23 and 15-5 on the offensive glass.
14. The First Four is a great idea - In it's first year of existence, VCU proved that having 3 extra teams in the tournament was a worthwhile endeavor as they went from the First Four to the Final Four. Last year, South Florida was minutes away from the Sweet 16, and this year, La Salle made it to the Sweet 16. While at first, I was skeptical, clearly having three more bubble teams in and starting meaningful games on Tuesday is a great idea.
15. La Salle deserved their bid - On January 19, the Explorers were 12-5, 2-2 in conference, with their best win coming against Villanova in overtime at home. A week later, they were 4-2 in conference with wins over #9 Butler and at #19 VCU and their prospects brightened considerably. That week probably got them into the tournament and did they come through. After a convincing nine-point win over an upstart Boise State team, they defeated Kansas State in Kansas City, and then, playing their third game in five days, defeated the Marshall Henderson's in an incredibly hard-fought game. Kudos to them as they continue to improve under coach John Giannini, who in his past two seasons, has won 45 games (a total that took him the prior three years to accomplish).
16. If today was any indication, tomorrow will be a great day of basketball - Two double-digit seeds play, Izzo vs. Krzyzewski, Kansas vs. Michigan, and will the slipper still fit for Florida Gulf Coast tomorrow, only time will tell.