NCAA Tournament 2012: Grading the Day 1 Games

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: Grading the Day 1 Games

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    Millions of bracket watchers, amateur and professional alike, already can relate to the Excedrin headache that appears to be plaguing Colorado coach Tad Boyle in the above photo.

    The lack of buzzer-beating shots and earth-shaking upsets led some to answer DirectTV's ad featuring Greg Anthony asking "Is it March Monotony?" in the affirmative.

    In the end, Boyle was one of the fortunate ones whose teams got to advance and play another day. No matter how those games may have looked aesthetically, the winners will mark Day 1 as a great one.

    The vanquished, meanwhile, will be reaching for something to ease the pain...like Vanquish. (Great stuff, if you've never tried it. Where's my check?)

    I refer to my radio show 4 Quarters as a "high-level course in sports philosophy" in which I am the professor. As many of you have endured, one thing that professors do is deliver grades. Let's look back on the first day of March Madness and give the games the marks they deserve.

South Region: No. 1Kentucky 81, No. 16 Western Kentucky 66

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    The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are this year's whipping boys for those who claim that conference tournaments should not determine NCAA Tournament participants. Luckily for those critics, teams with losing records don't stay around long once March Madness commences.

    Kentucky turned the game into a dunk contest even before the halftime break, thoroughly outclassing its in-state colleagues. The biggest spark was lit by one of their few regulars with tournament experience, forward Terrence Jones.

    He scored 15 points in the first half, looking like the All-America candidate he was expected to be in the preseason. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

    Freshman Anthony Davis made shooters' lives miserable, as he's often prone to do, blocking seven shots.

    The young Hilltoppers were led by freshman T.J. Price's 21 points, but shooting less than 40 percent from the floor against the Wildcats is no way to go through life.

    Grade: B- (The outcome was as predictable as it was supposed to be. The oddest part was that it was still Kentucky's starters on the floor as the lead ballooned to 30.)

South Region: No. 8 Iowa State 77, No. 9 UConn 64

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    Iowa State is a team that likes the three-point shot. The Cyclones average 23 long-range attempts per game, but only took 16 against Connecticut. Twelve of those were in the first half, when ISU was building a 10-point lead.

    Not settling for a lot of deep bombs in the second half was part of why Iowa State was able to keep UConn at arm's length. Fred Hoiberg's team shot 53 percent from two-point range in the second half and never let UConn within six.

    Michigan State transfer Chris Allen has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience, so if anyone was going to make the veteran plays, it was most likely to be him. Allen knocked in 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor and 5-5 from the line.

    On the night, Iowa State missed only one of its 20 free-throw attempts.

    UConn's night was symbolized by Roscoe Smith heaving a halfcourt shot to end the first half, only to cringe when he saw that three seconds remained on the clock. But, at least three is less than 11.

    Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb combined for 41 points, but UConn's post duo of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond were held to four on a combined 2-for-8 shooting night.

    Grade: C+ (UConn was sloppy and lethargic, nearly getting outrebounded 2-to-1. Mistakes like Smith's have to be a pain in Jim Calhoun's neck, let alone his back.)

South Region: No. 12 VCU 62, No. 5 Wichita State 59

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    As upsets go, this was as good as it got on Thursday Still, comparing a team that was in last season's Final Four to the team that won last season's NIT should be enough to make us disregard seed lines.

    VCU's vaunted defense was sure to get tested by a Shockers team that came into the tournament ranked 13th in the nation in field goal percentage (48.5). The defense was tested and passed with flying colors, holding WSU below 40 percent on the night.

    It was VCU's offense that kept Wichita State in the game. The Rams took 23 of their 59 shots from deep and only made six. That nearly counteracted the fact that VCU shot better than 52 percent from inside the arc.

    WSU's senior swingman Toure Murry scored only 10 points, but added four rebounds, five assists and four steals. He shot only 3-for-10 from the floor, but he was downright torrid compared to center Garrett Stutz, who went only 2-of-11.

    Bradford Burgess started his 145th straight game for VCU, extending his NCAA record, and made it count with 16 points, including what would prove to be the game-winning three with 1:30 left.

    Grade: B+ (Every bit the evenly-matched game it was expected to be, with defenses stunning in their ferocity. With a backup solution at point guard, Indiana needs to be very afraid of VCU's defense.)

South Region: No. 4 Indiana 79, No. 13 New Mexico State 66

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    When shots went up in the game between Indiana and New Mexico State, they often went in. The teams combined to shoot 57 percent from the floor, sometimes making the game look like an afternoon shootaround.

    The Hoosiers put the Aggies away with 12 steals, doubling their season average. Those thefts led to 16 points, making a substantial difference in the game.

    Cody Zeller recorded six of those steals, adding six rebounds, four assists and 14 points. Christian Watford and Will Sheehey both matched Zeller's points, and Jordan Hulls led them all with 22.

    Wendell McKines led NMSU with 15 points and seven rebounds, but the next biggest number to be found anywhere on the stat sheet was forward Tyrone Watson's seven turnovers.

    Grade: B (Staggering offensive efficiency, except when the Aggies were getting their pockets picked. IU maintaining that level of performance against VCU's "Havoc" defense will be a true upset.)

South Region: No. 11 Colorado 68, No. 6 UNLV 64

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    UNLV looked like it had a decent draw, one that could perhaps set up for a trip to the Sweet 16, if not the Elite Eight. Colorado didn't want to hear any of it, and struck a blow for the battered Pac-12 against a Mountain West Conference trying to usurp the throne of basketball on the West Coast.

    In the span of 10 minutes, the Rebels closed a 20-point deficit to three and were ready to make it one. Then, Andre Roberson blocked a shot and Carlon Brown delivered a savage dunk at the other end. While UNLV would draw back within three, the steam went out of the comeback at that moment.

    The rally was keyed by UNLV using its superior athleticism to ramp up defensive pressure. The Buffaloes committed 12 turnovers during those pivotal 10 minutes, 23 for the game.

    Still, it's concerning for Colorado that they allowed UNLV back into the game at all. The Rebels' effective FG percentage was a shameful 38.7, and it included a miserable 9-for-36 night from three-point range. Vegas did rip 12 offensive rebounds, but they only turned into five points.

    In the next round, Colorado doesn't have the same length that Baylor does, but neither did South Dakota State. We saw how that one almost turned out.

    Grade: B (If the Rebels had shown any interest in attacking the rim, things might not have gotten out of hand in the first place. Colorado nearly withered and died under the defensive pressure, giving Baylor a clear blueprint to follow. Still a great comeback, though.)

South Region: No. Baylor 68, No. 14 South Dakota State 60

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    When a jackrabbit faces off with a bear in the wild, the outcome is supposed to be highly predictable. So it was when the Baylor Bears took the court against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

    Still, Baylor has a reputation as a team that struggles with its focus, and the possibility of an upset existed all the way up until the final 23 seconds. Baylor's length, its greatest advantage, helped to hold SDSU to 42 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from deep.

    Jackrabbit star Nate Wolters scored 19 points, shooting 7-of-13 on the game. However, that included a shaky 1-6 from three-point land, from which Wolters has only drilled 24 percent of his shots this season.

    Chad White was the only reliable threat for State, knocking 5 of 9 from deep.

    The Bears' win is not without concerns, as Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy combined for only six points. Jones tore down 11 rebounds, but a player of his skill should have been able to dominate the Bunnies' overmatched front line.

    Grade: B- (Some ugly shooting only matched by the ugliness of Baylor's highlighter-yellow socks. On the upside, if the power went out, the glow-in-the-dark uniforms could have helped the crowd find its way to safety.)

West Region: No. 5 New Mexico 75, No. 12 Long Beach State 68

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    Long Beach State entered the tournament as a sexy pick for the inevitable 12-over-5 upset. Just inside the five-minute mark, the 49ers took a 61-59 lead on a James Ennis dunk, and it looked like those picks had a good chance of succeeding. New Mexico followed with seven straight points, and the Beach could never get back on the sunny side of the score.

    Drew Gordon had his typical double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) for the Lobos, and Kendall Williams produced 16 points of his own. One of the biggest anomalies on the scoresheet was the 48 percent FT/FG ratio, as the Lobos shot 24 free throws to go with their 50 attempts from the floor. When a team shoots 50 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the line, as the Lobos did, it takes a great game to beat them.

    The 49ers were well-balanced, matching New Mexico's four double-figure scorers, but their leader struggled mightily. Point guard Casper Ware suffered through a 5-for-19 shooting day, including a pair of missed layups and a missed three in the final 72 seconds.

    Ennis had 13 points and seven rebounds, while T.J. Robinson ripped a game-high 14 boards to go with his 12 points.

    Grade: B+ (Sensational efficiency from the Lobos, but it's a shame to see a great career like Ware's end with such a scattered shooting display.)

West Region: No. 4 Louisville 69, No. 13 Davidson 62

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    The Cardinal Bird was the only one in red sitting down on the job as Louisville put the clamps on the Davidson Wildcats.

    Davidson came in shooting 45 percent from the floor and 34 percent from behind the arc. The Cards didn't let them come within 10 percent of either mark (21-60 field goals and 4-19 from deep).

    It was a colossal missed opportunity when the Cats proved unable to capitalize on Gorgui Dieng's foul trouble. Dieng picked up three fouls in the game's first 10 minutes, but Louisville didn't seem to miss him. They held a seven-point lead when Dieng re-entered at the 15-minute mark of the second half, and the lead would extend as far as 15.

    Cardinal point guard Peyton Siva produced 17 points and six assists, his fifth straight game with double-figure points.

    Davidson's De'Mon Brooks struggled with fouls, but unlike Dieng, he was unable to find a way to be a positive factor down the stretch. The Southern Conference Player of the Year produced only five points and five rebounds. Junior Jake Cohen picked up some slack with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

    Grade: B+ (The Cardinals did a fine job of shutting down a potent offense, and did it in large part without their primary eraser.)

West Region: No. 6 Murray State 58, No. 11 Colorado State 41

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    Both teams entered with something to prove. Murray State sought tournament wins to legitimize a 30-1 record that didn't feature many signature wins. Colorado State sought wins to legitimize its lofty RPI rating, one that critics of that metric struggled to explain.

    Score one for the RPI haters, as CSU and its coach, Tim Miles, seemed content to win the half. Leading 24-23 at the break, the Rams allowed Murray to get out on an 18-2 run, and MSU was (ahem) off to the races.

    Colorado State's 21 turnovers turned into 20 Murray State points. Despite the defense holding MSU's star guards Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole to a combined 9-of-24 from the floor, the Rams offense could get nothing done against Murray's opportunistic defense.

    The game would have been an absolute stomping had Murray shot better than 50 percent (13-26) from the foul line.

    Pierce Hornung, one of B/R's top 20 players in the West Region, produced 12 points and 17 rebounds before fouling out.

    Canaan overcame a rough shooting day to score 15 points and record seven rebounds.

    Grade: C- (The teams combined to shoot 36.4 percent, making for some ugly passages, but defensive purists have to give a shout out to Murray's Ed Daniel for his four steals.)

West Region: No. 3 Marquette 88, No. 14 BYU 68

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    BYU shot all their divine intervention on Tuesday, when it back from 25 down against Iona. This time, the Cougars fell behind Marquette by 19 in the first half and never got closer than six again.

    Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom dominated BYU in the way that some expected Mike Glover and Scott Machado to do in their play-in game. Crowder and Johnson-Odom dropped a total of 45 points, and Crowder blitzed the glass 16 times, nearly half of BYU's team rebounding total. Crowder was named B/R's No. 1 player in the West Region, and he earned the title.

    Brandon Davies led BYU with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but didn't get nearly the support from Noah Hartsock that he enjoyed against Iona. Hartsock produced 15 points, but was held without a single rebound.

    Marquette looked like a team with Final Four potential, and its biggest weakness isn't likely to be exploited in the next round against Murray State. The Racers don't have a big man the caliber of Davies.

    Grade: A (Crowder and Johnson-Odom can carry a team a long way themselves, and they're getting support from guys like Todd Mayo and Davante Gardner. Their meeting with Murray should be a lot of fun.)

East Region: No. 1 Syracuse 72, No. 16 UNC-Asheville 65

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    If one looks at this photo the right way, it appears that Brandon Triche is giving birth to a basketball. While that wasn't the case, the Syracuse Orange were close to suffering some major pain against UNC-Asheville.

    A terrible game for the Orange was salvaged on a controversial call with 35 seconds left. Referee Ed Corbett gave the Orange possession when Triche clearly fumbled the ball out of bounds, an assertion that was even backed up by NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams.

    The Orange didn't miss suspended center Fab Melo as much as they thought, as freshman Rakeem Christmas played a strong game inside and allowed the Orange to spread out their zone, just as Melo does. Still, something was missing.

    Seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine shot a combined 6-of-18 from the floor. If the two hadn't made six free throws between them in the final 80 seconds, the game could have turned out quite differently.

    James Southerland was the late-game hero, scoring 13 second-half points and ripping eight rebounds on the night.

    Asheville got a solid 18-point game from senior J.P. Primm, but classmate Matt Dickey's 1-for-13 night proved fatal.

    Grade: C+ (While this was about as good as it got when it came to buzzer-beating drama on Thursday, Syracuse had an ugly afternoon. When the game's officiating is the primary talking point afterward, there can't be too much to get excited about.)

East Region: No. 8 Kansas State 70, No. 9 Southern Miss 64

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    Neil Watson's hand check on Will Spradling may look somewhat like an embrace here, but by the game's end, Watson and his USM teammates were the ones needing a hug.

    A much bigger Kansas State team was outfought for much of the day, ending up in the negative on the stat sheet's rebounding column. That physicality turned out to burn the Golden Eagles, as they sent K-State to the line 34 times, attempting only 17 free throws themselves.

    From the 7:38 mark of the second half, at which the score was tied at 51, the Wildcats made only three field goals, but they calmly sank 13 of 16 free throws to stay well in front. It bears repeating: Southern Miss only shot 17 freebies all day.

    Junior Rodney McGruder strapped his team to his back for the first three-fourths of the game, but only two of his 30 points came in those final seven minutes.

    USM's Darnell Dodson struck for 14 points and 10 rebounds, but his physicality, like his team's, came with a price. Dodson fouled out in the final minute.

    Grade: A- (Give Southern Miss credit for never going away. No credit, however, to their band for failing to do their research before chanting racist doggerel at KSU's Angel Rodriguez. He's Puerto Rican, kids, he doesn't need a green card.)

East Region: No. 5 Vanderbilt 79, No. 12 Harvard 70

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    Vanderbilt hadn't seen an NCAA Tournament win since 2007, losing three straight times to double-digit seeds. Commodore fans had that fact firmly in mind when Harvard closed an 11-point lead to five in the final two minutes. Finally, though, Vanderbilt was able to hang on and move on.

    Festus Ezeli's dunk with 5:36 left was the Commodores' last field goal, and it was only their ability to create contact that preserved the victory. The final 13 Vanderbilt points came from the foul line, par for the course on a day when Vandy shot 30 free throws to 46 field-goal tries. By comparison, the Crimson attempted 14 freebies.

    Harvard struggled to shoot only 37 percent from the floor in the first half, but stepped it up to over 50 in the second. Not a team noted for its shooting range, Harvard also clawed back into the game by shooting 6-of-14 from long range in the second half.

    Sophomore guard Laurent Rivard drilled six three-pointers in seven tries en route to a 20-point game, but he was outdueled by Vanderbilt star John Jenkins. Jenkins dropped 27 points, including 10-of-13 from the line. Six of those charity tosses came in the final minute, when Vanderbilt finally put the nails in the Crimson's coffin.

    Grade: B (Harvard made a strong comeback, but let Vandy get to the line too much to begin with. Vanderbilt did commit 16 turnovers, which may do them in against Wisconsin.)

East Region: No. 4 Wisconsin 73, No. 13 Montana 49

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    Usually, a player is said to carry his own team on his back. Wisconsin's Rob Wilson took the phrase a bit too literally and chose the wrong team to drag around in this picture.

    The Montana Grizzlies were on the verge of dragging themselves back from the abyss when they produced an 8-2 mini-run that trimmed Wisconsin's lead to 10 at the 12:32 mark of the second half. Unfortunately for the upset-minded, the Badgers responded with a Jordan Taylor layup and a Mike Bruesewitz three-pointer, then never looked back.

    Wisconsin teams under Bo Ryan haven't often needed to rely on the three, but this one has excelled when the long shots drop. On Thursday, the Badgers drained 10 of 19 three-pointers, including 3-of-5 from Jordan Taylor.

    Wisconsin dominated the glass, outrebounding Montana 37-21. The Griz were also victimized by Jared Berggren's seven blocks, making everyone a bit gun-shy inside.

    Taylor stuffed the box score with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and he also did not turn the ball over.

    Montana's Art Steward scored 18 points, but its regular leading scorer Will Cherry was held to 3-of-14 from the floor.

    Grade: A (Wisconsin dominated on the glass, hit its free throws and almost two-thirds of its baskets were assisted. This was the biggest blowout of the day, and it deserved to be.)

East Region: No. 7 Gonzaga 77, No. 10 West Virginia 54

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    The West Virginia Mountaineers only had to travel about 75 miles to their regional site in Pittsburgh. Gonzaga traveled more than 2,000 miles. So why was WVU the team looking jet-lagged?

    Gonzaga's lead reached 20 points in the first half, and things never got much better for West Virginia. Not that there was any reason for them to, since WVU shot 32 percent from the floor and a miserable 3-for-17 from long range. Compare that to Gonzaga's 56 percent and 9-of-17 from deep.

    Gary Browne led West Virginia with 15 points, and it's a disturbing sign for WVU fans when that phrase starts with any name other than Kevin Jones. Jones went 5-for-14 for 13 points, but even more of a failure was Jones' four rebounds. For a man averaging 11 boards per game on the season, this was the bitterest pill Gonzaga made him swallow.

    Gary Bell and Robert Sacre each dropped 14 to lead the Bulldogs.

    Grade: C- (Teams who lose badly are said not to have shown up. West Virginia may have been better off if it  hadn't.)

East Region: No. 2 Ohio State 78, No. 15 Loyola (MD) 59

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    Ohio State showed Baylor and Kansas State how a bigger team is supposed to dominate undersized opponents. The Buckeyes crushed Loyola 49-24 on the boards on the way to an easy win.

    Loyola only managed to shoot 35 percent from the floor. Forward Erik Etherly acquitted himself well with 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. As far as bright spots go for the Greyhounds, that's about as far as they go.

    Deshaun Thomas torched Loyola for 31 points and 12 rebounds, easing the pain of Jared Sullinger only going 4-for-14. Sullinger did block five shots, though.

    The game was an exercise in tempo control, with Loyola unable to get out and run the way it likes to, despite Ohio State's 18 turnovers.

    Grade: B (This game gives ammo to those who accuse the Big Ten of ugly basketball, but it was sheer dominance by the Buckeyes.)

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