Madness in Tampa

Four double-digit seeds awoke the sleeping giant that is March Madness in Tampa, FL on Friday, sweeping four sub-regional games played at the same site for the first time in tourney history. All said, six higher seeds notched victories, three games saw double-digit comebacks, two needed overtime to decide the winner, and five guys cracked the 30-point barrier,one reaching 40 while another matched his opponent point for point in the entire second half.

Western Kentucky opened the day in Tampa by opening a lead as high as 17 points against this season’s mid-major darling, Drake, led by a three-point barrage from Tyrone Brazleton. Keno Davis’ Bulldog squad showed mettle rallying in the second half to send the game into overtime, despite an 0-10 shooting day by leading scorer Adam Emmenecker, who did can 11-12 from the line. Drake regained held a 99-98 lead with 5.7 seconds in an entertaining, back and forth battle. Brazleton, already sitting on a career-high 33 points, raced the ball past half court towards the three point line, but opted to drop it back to Ty Rogers. Rogers buried a dramatic 26-footer with two defenders running at him and the buzzer sounding to propel the Hilltoppers to their first tournament win since 1995, ending a magical Drake season, setting off a frenzied celebration. Rogers trey set an NCAA record for most three’s attempted in a game (70) and most made (30). The madness had begun.

UConn took the floor next riding a 14-game win streak in opening round games. The dramatic opener seemed to sap the energy from what was a raucous crowd, as San Diego faced off with the favored Huskies, and 7’3″ center Hasheem Thabeet. Calhoun’s squad played lackadaisical early, as the West Coast tourney champs hung neck and neck until the 9:39 of the first half. UConn’s leading scorer, AJ Price, grabbed his right knee on a drive to the basket, and went down in a heap. His teammates had to carry him of the court, when CBS cameras cut to Price on the bench with tears streaming down his his fate for this game was sealed, no return. Without Price, later found to have a torn ACL leaving him out up to six months, UConn lacked a consistent offensive approach, and had no answer for Gyno Pomare. San Diego stretched its lead to 12 points in the second half, the 6’6″ Pomare shooting 10-12 from the field, controlling the frontcourt. Calhoun’s troops had another run in them, leaning on a solid effort from Jeff Adrien, who led the Huskies with 18 points and 11 boards. Adrien used strong post moves, and used his 6’8″ frame to get good post position on the smaller Torero forwards. UConn sent the game to overtime, fouled out San Diego’s top two scorers, Pomare and Brandon Johnson, and grabbed a one point lead in the final seconds. De’Jon Jackson had one more trick up his sleeve, nailing a jumper from the right wing with 1.2 seconds left to stun UConn, giving San Diego its first ever tournament win.

UConn experienced a negative carryover effect from the Big East tournament. Thabeet struggled again, failing to capitalize against a much smaller team, drawing the ire of Calhoun on multiple occasions. Jerome Wiggins and Stanley Robinson had disappointing finishes to an inconsistent season that ended earlier than many thought. Credit San Diego, winning the game without its top two scorers on the court, and especially the valiant effort of Johnson, playing most of overtime clearly hampered by an injured ankle. In the end, losing Price, their floor leader, cost the Huskies the game.

Double-digit doom did not end there in Tampa. MAAC champ Siena opened the night session with a blowout of Vanderbilt, the second largest margin of victory by a 13-seed over a 4-seed. If the ‘Dores did not know Kenny Hasbrouck before Friday, 30 points later they won’t soon forget him. The nightcap matched a hot Clemson team against Villanova, who grabbed one of the last at-large bids. Clemson carried the momentum from the ACC tournament into the first half, jumping out to a 18-point lead with 5  minutes left in the first half, thanks to hot shooting and pressure defense. At halftime, the teams must have switched locker rooms, because the second half saw a role reversal, Villanova dominated offensively putting up 48 points led by Scottie Reynolds 21. Clemson could not withstand the onslaught, as the Wildcats blew past them late in the game, and withstood a mini-rally by Clemson late in the game. A 24-point turnaround by ‘Nova when all was said, the fourth low seed to win in Tampa on Friday, though an upset only in seeds since Villanova plays in the Big East and entered this season with high expectations and lots of talent. Makes for an interesting Round Two come SUnday.

  • One Man Shows : While the underdogs ruled in Tampa, two players single-handedly carried their teams to victory. Stephon Curry, followed up his coming out party in last years tournament, with the first 40-point tournament performance since Gerry McNamara in 2004. In a match of mid-major powers, Curry caught fire in the second half, scoring 30 points including 8 three-pointers, to erase a Bulldog lead, and give Davidson its first advantage of the game with under 3 minutes left. Gonzaga resorted to an extended zone focusing on Curry late in the game, but he grabbed an open look off a long rebound and made the most of it, nailing another three to break a tie with under a minute left, leading Davidson to its first tourney win in 40+ years. The slim sophomore put on a show, hitting from all angles – off balance, off one-foot, you name it – extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 23. Meanwhile, Jack McClinton did him two better in the second half of another 7-10 match, matching St. Mary’s entire second half output with 32 points, in route to a career-high 38 points to lead Miami into Round Two. McClinton and Curry single-handedly dismantled the WCC powers. Credit the two stars, but letting one player beat you in the one and out NCAA scenario is inexcusable. Gonzaga started to extend out on Curry late in the game, too little too late, while McClinton took it to St. Mary’s the entire second half, scoring at will. Coaches need to adjust defenses, throw double-teams at them, go box and one, pick up full court. In one and done scenarios, if a superstar gets hot, force anyone else to hit a shot. Both teams failed to do that, and paid the ultimate price.
  • Ho-hum Day Big Names: A trio of two-seeds – G’Town, Tennessee, and Texas – and a pair of one-seeds – UNC and Memphis – all won convincingly. American pushed the Volunteers for a portion of the game, but never really threated to pull the upset. Each team should expect tougher match-ups come Sunday.

The Butler did it. Arguably under estimated with a 7-seed, the Bulldogs blew the doors off fellow mid-major South Alabama winning by 20. Butler’s dynamic backcourt of AJ Graves and Mike Green dominated. Sunday’s match with Tennessee should be fun to watch, don’t be surprised with Butler.

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