NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Day 1: Big East Tops Big Ten
In a pair of Big-East-versus-Big-Ten matchups, it was Syracuse and Louisville of the Big East that came out on top. So how did these teams get the victories and the berths in the Elite Eight?
(1) Syracuse 64, (4) Wisconsin 63
-- Critical play: Kris Joseph misses the front end of a one-and-one with 16 seconds left. Wisconsin gets possession and the final shot, but the Orange defense forces the Badgers to an NBA three, then a floater from the baseline. Wisconsin misses both as time expires.
-- Game MVP: Syracuse forward C.J. Fair - The sophomore led the Orange with 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals. He has had shooting struggles in March (2-of-17 in his last four games), but found his stroke in Boston. Fair went 7-of-9 from the field against a usually stout Wisconsin defense.
-- Why Syracuse won: Strong perimeter play - Guards Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Walters hit their shots in what was a back-and-forth offensive showcase the whole way through. The three guards combined to shoot 15-of-26 (57.7 percent) from the field. It also didn't hurt to have an orange-clad crowd at the TD Garden in Boston.
-- Close but no cigar: The Badgers' loss came despite some incredible three-point shootign. Wisconsin finished the night 14-of-27 from beyond the arc (52 percent), including six straight 3-pointers during the second half.
-- Key quote: "That's one of the best games I've seen in a long time," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to CBS's Bill Raftery after the contest.
-- Telling Tweet:
Someone should go back and RT all the Fab Melo tweets from the day he was declared ineligible & everyone said Cuse was done.
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) March 23, 2012
(4) Louisville 57, (1) Michigan State 44
-- Critical play: How about a series of plays? With Michigan State down just seven points with 2:40 left, MSU's Keith Appling misses a critical free throw and Louisville's Chane Benahan collected the rebound. Louisville then went on an 8-0 run over the next two minutes, effectively icing the game as the Spartans' couldn't hit their shots. Louisville's win makes coach Rick Pitino a perfect 10-0 in Sweet 16 games.
-- Why Louisville won: Defense, dear reader. Michigan State averages 72 points per game, one of the most talented offensive teams in the country. The Cardinals held MSU to just 44 points on Thursday night in Phoenix, including 18 in the first half. They forced 15 Michigan State turnovers and held the Spartans to just 28.6 percent shooting from the field.
-- Game MVP: Louisville center Gorgui Dieng. The 6-foot-10 big man from Senegal was a one-man block party. Literally. Dieng blocked a career-high seven Michigan State shots, collecting all of Louisville's blocks in the game. Dieng added a team-leading nine rebounds, but it was his ability to swat away the Spartans' attempts down low that frustrated Tom Izzo's offense.
Honorable mention goes to Louisville's Chane Benahan, who scored 15 points, all in the second half, to keep the Cards ahead for good.
-- Close but no cigar: Michigan State forward Draymond Green has been one of best players in the country, and he showed why on Thursday night. His shots weren't falling (5-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-7 on three-pointers), but he still made his presence known with 16 rebounds. It was far from his best game, but Green's ability to clean the glass limited Louisville's second-chance opportunities and at least kept the Spartans within striking distance.
-- Telling Tweet:
A new low: the 44 points and 28.6 FG pct are the worst ever for Michigan State in the Men's Basketball Championship #MarchMadness
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 23, 2012