NCAA March Madness South Region – Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Round-up
(2) Villanova vs. (3) Miami (FL) The first Sweet 16 game from the South Region featured two teams that many considered capable of making a Final Four run. Yet, both teams came into this game with two very different trajectories. Miami’s first two tournament games were much more strenuous than expected. Their game against (14) Buffalo was a lot closer than expected, and (11) Wichita State certainly proved to be worthy adversaries. Villanova, however, came into the game versus Miami winning their first two tournament games by a combined margin of 49 points, while making an astonishing 23 3-point shots in the process. Even with their two different paths, Villanova was only a 4-point favorite in their Sweet 16 game versus Miami. However, it became apparent, once the game started, that Villanova was simply the better team. Aside from a 4-minute stretch when Miami cut a 29-14 lead to 31-30, Villanova was never in danger of losing. Yet, to say Miami did not play well would be mistaken. Miami still shot 53% for the game, including 58.8% from 3-point range, and they committed only 12 turnovers. Of note, Sheldon McClellan had a superb game scoring 28 points, making 8 of 12 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Even Angel Rodriguez, who truthfully had a relatively quite game, still managed to score 13 and have 8 assists. But, Villanova were simply spectacular in their performance. Villanova shot 62.7% for the game, 66.7% from 3-point range, 94.7% free throw shooting, committed only 8 turnovers, and had 17 team assists. In particular, the two standouts for Villanova were Forward Kris Jenkins and Guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Jenkins almost recorded a double-double, scoring 21 points and recording 9 rebounds. Additionally, Jenkins shoot 8 for 10, including an astonishing 5 of 6 from 3-point range, one of which was from near mid-court with the shot clock winding down. Arcidiacono also had a great shooting night, scoring 21 points as well, on 7 of 11 shooting, while shooting 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Miami’s Head Coach, Jim Larranaga, summed up the night succinctly. “They’re just an incredible offensive team,” Larranaga said. “We had no way to stop them.” (1) Kansas vs. (5) Maryland The second Sweet 16 match-up from the South Region was between the number one overall seed of the tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks, and the Maryland Terrapins. Kansas had generally easy games in the first two rounds. They dispatched of 16th seeded Austin Peay, 105-79, and in the second round, they handled 9th seeded UConn with relative ease in their 73-61 victory. Particularly impressive during these two games were Kansas’ defense and rebounding. Maryland also came into this game playing well. In their first game against 12th seed South Dakota State, they had a 20-point lead with 8:50 remaining, but they had to hold on late to secure a 79-74 win. Then, in the second round, Maryland outscored 13 seed Hawaii 32-19 in the last 10:31 of the game to pull away to their 73-60 win. With both teams playing well, Kansas entered the game as a 5.5-point favourite versus Maryland. Throughout the first half, Maryland kept the game close due to good defense, including a 5 ½ minute stretch when Kansas did not make a field-goal, and 10 points from star guard Melo Trimble. However, after Maryland tied the game at 43-43 with 17:36 remaining in the 2nd half, Kansas would go on to outscore Maryland 36-20 for a 79-63 victory. Leading the way for Kansas was Forward Perry Ellis, who scored 27 points on 10-17 shooting, and Wayne Selden Jr., who scored 19 points, assisted 7 times, and recorded 6 rebounds. In addition, besides balanced scoring, Kansas’s defense was particularly impressive in the win as they held Maryland to 40% shooting, including a second half shutdown of Maryland’s top scorer Trimble, holding him to just 5 of 16 shooting for the game. This success was due in large part to knowing that Maryland struggles with shooting, so Kansas packed the paint to force Maryland to rely on outside shooting. This was extremely effective as Maryland only shot 5 for 25 from 3-point range, allowing Kansas to pull away from Maryland in the second half. (1) Kansas vs. (2) Villanova Very rarely are we lucky, as fans, to have a big game match the pre-game expectations. Last night’s matchup between the tournament’s number 1 overall seed Kansas Jayhawks and the 2 seed Villanova Wildcats was exactly one of those games. We had a game full of runs, and constant lead changes. Big players stepped-up, and big players came up short. And, ultimately, it was the tactical nous of Villanova that determined the fate of this game. The two big storylines from the first half were Villanova’s defence, and Kansas’ feeble offense. Villanova came out playing a 3/4–court press, not aiming to cause turnovers, but to unsettle Kansas’ offense early and have them get into their halfcourt sets with less time remaining on the shot clock. Then, about 5 minutes into the first half, Villanova would switch to the system that would ultimately lead them to victory: a 2-3 zone. The general answer to beating a 2-3 zone is to move the ball around quickly and make your open 3-point shots. Kansas tried this. However, they were simply ineffective. When Villanova set-up a 2-3 zone, and forced Kansas into a halfcourt set, Kansas only made 1/9 of their 3 point shots, but when Kansas was able to get into transition, off a turnover or defensive stop, Kansas made 2/3 of 3-point shots in the first half. Therefore, Villanova discovered what they had to do: use the 3/4-press sparingly to limit quick play, and force Kansas to beat you shooting 3-point shots. However, I want to point out that Villanova dropping into the 2-3 zone did not mean they became passive. Instead, throughout the entire first half, the Nova guards harried Kansas ball-handlers, forcing 10 first half turnovers, including a stretch late in the first half when Kansas committed 8 turnovers in a 9 possession span. It was this suffocating defense that contributed to a devastating 11-0 run Villanova that lasted from the 10:20 to 4:11 marks. The correlate story to Nova’s defense is Kansas’ poor offensive first half. Kansas struggled shooting, making just 10 of 23 shots for 43.5%, and 3-12 from 3-point range. So, it is obvious that the team struggled, but let us look into who struggled specifically. At the top of the list of disappointing first half players was Perry Ellis. Ellis missed both of his close range shots, missed the front end free throw of a 1-and-1, and committed 4 turnovers. Ellis came into last night’s game as one of the more dominant players in the tournament, but Villanova just never allowed Ellis to get into a rhythm. The second disappointment for Kansas was Guard Wayne Selden Jr., who before the game CBS ran a brief video showcasing his raise in college basketball. However, he committed 2 costly turnovers, and when Kansas needed to make an open 3-point shot to break Nova’s 2-3 zone, he missed his two 3-point shots. The only bright spot for Kansas in the first half was Guard Devonte’ Graham, who shot 3 of 6 from 3-point range, and scored 11 of Kansas’ 25 first half points. Kansas knew what they had to do at the start of the second half: feed Perry Ellis the ball. They tried isolating Ellis so he could post-up on the wings, which worked to start, as Nova fouled Ellis, and he made the subsequent two free throws. Then, Kansas did something they also did not do the entire first half: pressure Villanova. With the unexpected full-court press, the Nova inbounder threw the ball away, and Kansas had a quick 4-points in 19 seconds, forcing Nova into a timeout as the lead quickly waned to 32-29. Kansas continued with their improved defensive performance, as Villanova did not make a field goal until the 16:19 mark. However, Villanova also continued to stifle Kansas offensively with the 2-3 zone, as Kansas missed makeable shots, including another 3-point miss by Wayne Selden. Perry Ellis eventually made his first basket at the 13:20 mark, which gave Kansas their first lead since 10 minutes in the first half, at 37-36. For the next four minutes, it appeared that Kansas had rediscovered their form, and may make a big run to put the game out of reach. But, Villanova made huge 3-point shots on back-to-back possessions to regain the lead 50-45, with 8:00 remaining. Although Kansas would fight back to get within 1-point many times, Villanova would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The key for Villanova down the stretch, as in the first half, was the adept switching between their 3/4-court press and the 2-3 zone, which constantly unsettled Kansas, and ultimately caused the key Kansas turnover with 34.1 seconds left to secure their Final Four birth.