Tis the season, March Madness is here and heating up by the day. Not only is this the height of the college basketball year, but the PAC-12 conference had four teams in the mix going an impressive 7-1 through the first two rounds. To put it in perspective the ACC had nine teams in the tournament with only UNC in the sweet sixteen. Time to breakdown the runs so far, team by team, may tell us how long these runs will last.
The story headed into the tournament for the Ducks was the ACL injury to their starting center, Chris Boucher, who averaged 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds throughout the season. While the temptation is to overreact to a big win over a 14 seed, the Ducks dominance over Iona was impressive.
There were teams that had some early trouble despite their high seed, Gonzaga vs. South Dakota and West Virginia vs. Bucknell come to mind, the Ducks win was never in doubt. Tyler Dorsey’s 24 points and Jordan Bell grabbing the double double with 17 points and 12 rebounds led the stat sheet but Oregon had four starters top 15 points. All the starters showed up to play on both ends and that helped lead to a 93-77 blowout. The most impressive part was the Ducks transition offense, as they used their speed to consistently get behind the the defense and throw the defense off kilter. While the depth of this team could be a problem, they had 13 points off the pine, their speed that throws a defense off their edge is the biggest weapon the Ducks have, and it showed in their game against the Rohade Island.
The Rams where a stout team down low, with Stanford Robinson balling out off the bench for 21 points. Yet again the drive and pitch was the strength of the Oregon offense, with Dillion Brooks putting up 19 points. Brooks was everywhere, which helped get Tyler Dorsey get open in the corner to go 4-5 from deep and end with 27 points. Leaving their shooters open on the perimeter time and again, especially on the game winning shot from Dorsey, was the biggest difference in both games and will be what to watch against Michigan.
This team was a lot of fun while it lasted. The USC upset over SMU was one of the best early games, with the Trojans coming back from a 12 point deficit in the first half to come roaring back in the second, sealing the win with great offense from Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, Stewart also sunk the game deciding three with 36 seconds left on the clock. It was not a pretty game, and USC shot 28 percent form deep, but they got the W with that late “clutch factor” that really talented players can muster after missing for 38 minutes.
In game two they were also the heavy underdog. Yet again a big deficit, 10 points, found them early against a team dominating them 0-10 on the offensive glass. Yet again they came storming back to lead the game late in the second, riding Chimezie Metu’s huge night that saw him nail 11-14 for 28 points and five boards. Unfortunately the length under the basket for the older Baylor squad gave them the advantage and Manu Lecomte scoring six of his 12 deep in the second half kept the Trojans from advancing.
However, this was still a great turnaround game for the Trojans, who shot 54 percent from the field and 40 from down town. This team is young and will be on the rise next year.
One of the favorites to head deep into the tourney, the Wildcats put up a 100 burger on North Dakota in game one without breaking a sweat.
Game two was when Arizona received the scare plenty of high seeds received in the round of 32. Saint Mary’s was a surprisingly tough out, and Arizona found themselves down 30-29 at halftime. In the second half the old Arizona came back to play, with Lauri Markkanen (aka young Dirk!) with his 16 points and 9-10 from the charity strip. Despite losing the turnover battle 9-13 and barely winning the rebounding battle 32-30 the Wildcats pulled out a victory with 82 percent shooting from the free throw line. When your studs can get to the line and hit clutch free throws down the stretch, it makes you a tough out.
Do we need to talk about the Kent State game? They shot 50 precent from deep and had five players score double digits.
But in round two the team averaging 90.2 points a game through the year was up against a traditionally stout Cincinnati defense that only lets up 61.1 points. Early they looked to have problems with the Bearcats big men in the paint and seemed to have the Bruins on their heels. But then Lonzo Ball happened. Ball had an incredibly efficient shooting night, going 7-10 from the field and 4-7 from three land. He hit a pair of timely threes late in the first half to regain the lead. Holiday also came off the bench to nail his one three of the game before the half and a Bearcat team that had hung around all half suddenly had the wind taken out of their sails.
Now the epic rematch between the country defense vs. the Ball and the UCLA defense is set to face off for the second time this season, with much higher stakes.
The PAC-12 is playing stud basketball and with three teams in the sweet sixteen, they have a shot to put a team in the final four and beyond.