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March 17, 2007
Two days down, two to go. We've asked Rivals.com's Andrew Skwara to watch every single second of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, or at least as much as possible with scheduling conflicts and CBS coverage. Below, he breaks down his thoughts on the best and worst moves of the second half of Day 2.
On fire: Virginia Tech guard Deron Washington's temper. Note to any future Hokies opponents: Don't get Washington mad. The fiery junior picked up a poorly called technical foul for accidentally bumping into an Illinois player with the Illini up 50-45 and 4:36 to go. Washington proceeded to nail a pair of 3-pointers and then drive into the lane and bank in a jumper to give the Hokies a 53-52 edge in the final minute.
Misfired: Hall of Fame coaches. Arizona's loss to Purdue means that the Wildcats' Lute Olson, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Texas Tech's Bob Knight won't be sticking around for the second round. Olson should be the most disappointed of the bunch. The Wildcats have more talent than the Blue Devils and Red Raiders combined. Their roster includes a pair of future first-round draft picks (Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams), a senior point guard (Mustafa Shakur) and a 15-point-per-game scorer in the post (Ivan Radenovic).
On fire: Purdue role players named Chris. Unexpected outbursts from unheralded guards Chris Kramer (6.6 points per game) and Chris Lutz (5.9) made the real difference in their first-round win over Arizona. Kramer and Lutz had 16 and 15 points respectively. Kramer even hit a jumper from his knees after falling on the floor and the duo combined to go 11-of-17 from the field.
On fire: Reggie Theus' coaching stock. Does anybody want to see what Theus can do in one of the major conferences? You can bet more than a couple of athletic directors would answer with an emphatic yes. In two years at New Mexico State, Theus took a program coming off six wins and guided it to 41 (16 came last season). Theus led the Aggies to their first NCAA Tournament since 1999 and might have gotten out of the first round if not for having to face Kevin Durant from the get-go. More importantly, he proved he could recruit extremely well, luring away a handful of high-profile transfers and landing a commitment from five-star prospect Herb Pope.
Misfired: Attendance in the Spokane region. Don't be surprised if the NCAA Tournament doesn't return to Spokane, Wash., anytime soon. Rows and rows of empty seats seemed to surround the court for every game at that site. It looked like a Thanksgiving tournament with a bunch of mediocre teams. The players who worked so hard all season to get into the Big Dance deserved better.
On fire: Kentucky's balance. Randolph Morris may remain the key for Kentucky, but the big man needed and got plenty of help in the Wildcats' win over Villanova. Guards Jodie Meeks (12 points), Ramel Bradley (11) and Joe Crawford (10) each took turns hitting big shots. Morris did as well, scoring a team-high 19 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
On fire: Big-name freshmen. So much for the pressure and bright lights of the NCAA Tournament slowing down the freshmen who have made such a big impact this season. Kevin Durant got to the free throw line 16 times, sunk 15 of those freebies, and scored 27 points, the most of any player in the night session. His classmate D.J. Augustin also played a pivotal role in their win over NMSU, scoring 19 points and adding seven assists. USC's Taj Gibson played one of his best games of the entire season, scoring 18 points, grabbing eight boards and blocking three shots. Villanova's Scottie Reynolds (23 points), Arkansas' Patrick Beverley (15) and Arizona's Chase Budinger (15) each led their teams in scoring as well.
On fire: UNLV's heart and hustle. The Rebels couldn't seem to score a field goal down the stretch against Georgia Tech, but they couldn't seem to lose possession of the ball either. With the score tied at 59, the Rebels grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds during one sequence in the final two minutes (they grabbed four during a first-half sequence), the last coming when Jo Van Adams chased down his own errant 3-pointer, dove out of bounds and flung the ball off a Georgia Tech player. Wendell White's layup put the Rebels up for good seconds later. The Rebels played an ugly-second half, but made up for it by grabbing 24 offensive boards. Even Georgia Tech's Jeremis Smith admitted the Jackets were outhustled.
Misfired: Georgia Tech's first 15 minutes. The Jackets looked like a team that doesn't belong in the NIT for most of the first half. They rushed shots, struggled with their spacing on offense, missed assignments (especially when it came to boxing out) and made too many mental errors. The result was a 10-point deficit at 22-12. The Jackets were able to come back, thanks in large part to a poor shooting performance from the Rebels, but it makes you wonder, what would have happened if they hadn't played in such a funk for nearly half the game?
On fire: Memphis' depth. Take away a pair of starting guards from most teams in the tourney and they'd immediately hit panic mode. The Tigers don't even seem to notice. With Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts (arguably their best player) on the bench in foul trouble, the Tigers put together a 12-2 run to close the first half and pull away from North Texas. Reserves Andre Allen, Jeremy Hunt and freshman Doneal Mack all took turns making big plays. What's the lesson? Attacking the Tigers back court is a mistake. No team in the nation may have a deeper set of guards.
Misfired: Notre Dame's 3-point and free throw shooting. It's not difficult to find where the blame belongs for the Irish loss. They made just 5-of-22 attempts (22 percent) from 3-point range, including just 1-of-11 in the first half, and also went 3-of-13 (23 percent) from the free throw line. Leading scorer and senior Russell Carter missed all six of his shots from beyond the arc in his final college game.
On fire: Virginia guard J.R. Reynolds vs. the Great Danes. The most entertaining part of the Virginia-Albany matchup was seeing if Reynolds could outscore the entire Albany team. It actually looked possible in the first half. Reynolds was up 18-17 at one point and trailed just 25-23 at the half. Unfortunately, the game turned into such a blowout that Reynolds stopped shooting. He still wound up with a game-high 28 points.
Misfired: Wisconsin's start. Remember that ugly performance the Badgers put together in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament? Well, it continued right into the NCAA Tournament and lasted for much of the first half against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Badgers made two field goals and had just four points in the first 11 minutes. They trailed 25-7 at one point. Critics questioned the Badgers' ability to score enough points to make a deep run, and the Badgers made it even tougher to believe otherwise.
Misfired: Long Beach State's D. I would like to have seen a reporter ask 49ers coach Larry Reynolds what he thought of his team's defensive effort at the post-game news conference. After giving up 121 points, any answer not synonymous with pathetic would be incorrect. The Vols and 49ers looked like they were playing a pick-up game at some YMCA, except someone was holding down the fast forward button for 40 minutes.
On fire: Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor. Any list of the nation's most dangerous players must include this streak-shooting senior. Taylor isn't one of the nation's elite guards, but for a two-minute stretch in the second half he certainly looked like it. Taylor scored 11 points over a period of 1:49, hitting three 3-pointers and a short jumper. He wound up with 24 points, all of which came in the second half.
Misfired: Nevada star Nick Fazekas. This preseason All-American must be feeling fortunate that his college career isn't over. Fazekas turned in a subpar performance ? at least, by his standards ? against Creighton, scoring 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting. With the Wolf Pack clinging to a 63-62 lead and 3:06 left in overtime, the senior made a rookie mistake, trying to steal the ball from Creighton's Nate Funk. He was correctly whistled for his fifth foul. If it wasn't for guard Marcelus Kemp the move might have been fatal. Kemp carried the Wolf Pack to a hard-fought victory, scoring a game-high 27 points, including nine in overtime.
On fire: Miami-Ohio's image. Nobody was perceived as being more lucky to be in the field than the Redhawks. Guard Doug Penno banked in a controversial 3-pointer at the buzzer in the finals of the MAC Tournament to lift the small school to a thrilling win and an automatic bid. If the shot hadn't fallen, that would have been the end of their postseason. But the Redhawks looked like one of the nation's top 65 teams against third-seeded Oregon, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, coming back from a double-digit deficit and using some scrappy defense to give the Ducks a scare up until the final seconds.