-I must say that I was more surprised by Xaviers play in this tournament than I have been by any other team so far. I barely had them in my bracket projections and believed theyd get a #11 seed, if they got in at all. I was a little surprised that they were seeded as good as a #9. Then, in looking at the first-round match-ups, I clearly thought BYU would own them in the frontcourt and really shut down Xaviers offense. In some twist of irony, I thought theyd have an easier time match-up wise with most of the #6 seeds than they would with #8 seed BYU. Xavier hung in with BYU throughout the first half, and overcame a nine-point deficit in the second half to win one of the most exciting games of the first round 79-77. Guard Derrick Brown
, who was an offensive highlight reel for most of the season, but did little on defense or on the glass, exploded for 16 rebounds in the game. Strangely enough, he only saw 16 minutes of action.
-This created the much-anticipated match-up between Xavier and Ohio State. The two schools never really had much respect for each other anyway because it is rare that Ohio State plays any other schools from the state of Ohio in basketball. Things got even more heated (at least on Xaviers end) when Thad Matta left Xavier to accept the head coaching job at Ohio State in the 2004-2005 season. Before the game began, I remember thinking that XU fans should really be careful about what they wish for. Playing Ohio State could sometimes be no fun at all. Before the game even started, I was of the thought that Oh well, at least they made the second round. Any time a team advances in the NCAA Tournament, its exciting.
-Xavier played their best defensive game, perhaps ever, against Ohio State. There was a huge mismatch in terms of size and ability, but sometimes positioning is more important than size and Xavier just kept getting position. Greg Oden
was completely frustrated throughout the game, and that fact alone probably limited his play. The only problem was that Xavier couldnt hit any shots of their own in the first half, despite the fact that they were doing a great job of moving the ball and getting good looks. The second half began, and Xavier was in a flow. Their defense never let up, and their offense heated up, and the Musketeers actually had a lead throughout most of the half, and went up by as many as 11 late in the game. Just when I was beginning to mentally pencil in the Muskies for the Sweet Sixteen, and was feeling pretty good about their next rounds match-up against either Tennessee or Virginia, Ohio State scored about six points in nine seconds to cut the lead to 59-56. Part of the run was sparked by a Xavier turnover while in-bounding the ball (perhaps their only mistake of the day). OSU forced a stop on Xaviers next position and in the final two minutes of the game cut a nine-point lead down to one (59-58). Xavier went to the line again on their next possession and hit two freethrows to push the lead to 61-5 with less than a minute to go in regulation. Another Ohio State freethrow made it 61-59. After a great defensive stop, Justin Cage
of Xavier got a big rebound with less than ten seconds to go and was immediately fouled by Greg Oden
, his fifth of the game. Cage went to the line with a chance to ice it, but hit just one of two. Ohio States Ron Lewis
took about the only shot a team can take in a situation like that, and that is a low percentage contested three point shot. Unfortunately for Xavier, he hit it and forced overtime.
-At no point of the overtime was Xavier really in a game. Ohio State jumped out to a big lead and never looked back. They ended up winning 78-71 and will advance to the Sweet Sixteen to face Tennessee. In some ways, I believe Greg Oden
fouling out hurt Xavier. So much of their defensive game plan revolved around stopping him that they really didnt know what to do once hed left the game.
-The one thing about this game that has caused so much controversy was the foul on Oden at the end of regulation. Many now are saying that it was clearly an intentional foul. The funny thing is that I was at a bar full of Xavier fans, and no one was screaming for an intentional at the time. In watching it again, none of the Xavier players or coaching staff seemed to be screaming for it either. People were screaming so loud in the bar because they thought Xavier had virtually won that I didnt hear what the announcers said, but the outcry for an intentional foul was something that didnt happen right away.
-Initially I felt sorry for Justin Cage
, who missed the second Xavier freethrow that would have completely iced the game. The reason for that is because he played such a great game, then made such a good defensive play at the end to get himself to the line, then hit one of the two freethrows in a high pressure situation where a worst case scenario was that Ohio State hits a prayer and sends it to overtime. After doing all that, it would be a shame for everyone from here on out to simply talk about the one freethrow that he missed (which fans seem to do). However, it looks like XU fans are content to focus on the intentional foul that wasnt called rather than giving Cage a lifelong guilt trip.
-To make matters worse, I was in an accident on my way home after the game. A lot of the money I saved from not having to travel to San Antonio has not gone into buying myself and the car that I hit a new side rear-view mirror. Just when I think my day cant get any more dismal, it usually does. OTHER HEARTBREAKING LOSSES
-Xavier isnt the only team who has undergone a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Tournament, and by no means will they be the last. BYU, the team Xavier beat in the first round, probably watched that game thinking that had one or two things gone differently, they would have had a shot to beat Ohio State. Several other teams went through the same thing that very day.
-After beating Duke on a last second shot, VCU again trailed Pitt for most of the game, but overcame a 51-32 second half deficit to draw even and even gave VCU a two point lead in the final minute of the game. The upset against Duke was big, but this would have been huge because I dont think anyone expected them to beat Pittsburgh. Pitt managed to force overtime and ended up winning 84-79. They will face UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen, which is intriguing because former Pitt coach Ben Howland is now the head man for the Bruins. Pellotrosa and Walker each had 20 points for VCU.
-Washington State has had a great season and generated the kind of enthusiasm around that program this year that we really havent seen in 20+ years. They were on the brink of the Sweet Sixteen, but fell in double overtime to Vanderbilt 78-74. Wazzu is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but they couldnt stop Derrick Byers of Vanderbilt, who ended up with an amazing 27 points in the game. Despite the loss, Wazzus turnaround season this year is one of the most incredible stories and accomplishments of the college basketball season.
-Virginias first trip back to the NCAA Tournament since 2001 also ended in heartbreak in a very exciting game against Tennessee. The lead seesawed back and forth in a somewhat fast paced, ballgame, and probably would have continued to seesaw back and forth for 80 minutes if college basketball games lasted that long. Unfortunately they only last for 40 minutes and Virginia was behind when time ran out. Virginia guard Sean Singletary
, who played a very good game, missed a three pointer as time expired that would have tied the game and force overtime. Both Virginia and Tennessee have completely turned their programs around in a very short time. It certainly wont be the last time we see these two teams at this stage of the tournament. OTHER NOTES
-Butler looks to me to be a great example of how a conference can make a team look worse than they really are. The Bulldogs struggled down the stretch of conference play, but were facing teams that they play twice a year every year. The familiarity that exists within conference play evens the playing field a little bit. Butler has played outstanding basketball in the NCAA Tournament, and have now advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. They beat a very good Old Dominion team in the first round and did so by controlling the tempo and flow of the game. They did the same thing against Maryland in the second round, who is a pretty athletic team themselves (much more athletic than Butler anyway), and who ended the season on a red hot tear with wins against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. The 62-59 win over Maryland puts Butler into the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in four years. For a team that tends to fly below the radar, that is an amazing accomplishment. They will face Florida next, and the run could very well end there, but if you were to compose a list of teams who have been to two Sweet Sixteens over the last four years, youd have a very short list, and Maryland is one of many high profile teams that wouldnt be on it.
-UNLV, who is proving those who believed them to be underseeded correct, upset Wisconsin 74-68 in an exciting second round game and will face a very strong Oregon team in the Sweet Sixteen. UNLV guard Wendell White
had 22 points in just 29 minutes of play, and played a huge role in the win.
-Oregon got a much bigger scare from Miami, OH in the first round than from Winthrop in the second round. Oregon was never in any real danger of losing to a Winthrop team that I really expected would play better. Nevertheless, it was a great year for Winthrop, who got to the second round for the first time in school history.
-Texas A&M put down Louisville in another thriller. Louisville, despite being the better seed, had most of the crowd behind them because they were playing less than 100 miles from home. The two were close the entire way and the lead changed hands a few times, but TAMU ended up pulling it out 72-69. They will now be playing in San Antonio, which should be a very friendly TAMU crowd.
-Florida got a little bit of a scare from Purdue, but held off the Boilermakers for a 74-67 win.
-UCLA and Indiana played in an ugly, but exciting game. UCLA wasnt doing much, but Indiana was doing nothing, so the Bruins were able to build up a lead. Indiana came back, but ended up losing 54-49.
-Southern Illinois, Kansas and USC were also winners.NEWS AND NOTES
-Ill have my picks for tomorrows games posted late tonight/early tomorrow. I went 11-5 in the second round, which makes me 36-13 for the tournament so far. Thats not a bad record, but some of the early round games are easier to pick. From this point on, anyone can really beat anyone.