NCAA Scores 2012: Ranking Friday's Best Early Matchups
Four of the afternoon games Friday were blowouts. The other four NCAA Tournament games were won by an average margin of three points. Cincinnati, Creighton, Florida State and Norfolk State—yes, the Norfolk State Spartans—won in dramatic fashion.
Games like those make March Madness exactly what it is—the best tournament on the planet.
I expected Virginia to beat Florida—or at least give them a hard time. The Cavaliers have one of the best defenses in the country. It wasn't even close. Florida won 71-45.
Belmont started to make a run at Georgetown late in the second half, but the Hoyas would just pull away and win 74-59. NC State and San Diego State played it close at times, but the Wolfpack would also pull away and move on to the next round with their 79-65 win.
North Carolina was without John Henson's services, but still put it on Vermont 77-58.
Yes, the second and third rounds can sometimes be dull and uncompetitive. But it is always laced with some pretty intense games—and the ever-exciting upset.
4. No. 6 Cincinnati 65, No. 11 Texas 59
Ten minutes into the game, Cincinnati's Jaquon Parker hit a three to put the Bearcats up 16-2. By the half, Cincinnati would have a 31-17 lead and the game looked well in-hand.
The second half would start no differently as the Bearcats inflated their lead to 19 points off a Dion Dixon jumper with 16:02 left in the game.
Then the light turned on for the Texas Longhorns.
Texas went on a 33-14 run to tie the game at 52. The Longhorns' Jonathan Holmes flew in to snag a rebound off a missed layup by Clint Chapman and put it back up to tie the game at the 3:46 mark.
During that run, the Longhorns' Sheldon McClellan hit back-to-back threes and would score all 10 of his points. However, his performance would come to a grinding halt.
McClellan jacked the ball from Jaquon Parker and missed a fast-break dunk with 4:54 left. He wouldn't make another shot the rest of the game.
McClellan wasn't the only one that disappeared in the final minutes for Texas. They went 3-of-9 as a team, after tying it up at 52. J'Covan Brown led all Longhorns with 19 points.
Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon, Jaquon Parker and Cashmere Wright would score Cincinnati's final points—going 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-7 from free-throw line, as a group.
What looked to be a barnburner turned into a pretty good game. If Texas had pulled off the upset, I would have ranked this game much higher.
In the end, it was too little, too late for the Longhorns and their comeback merely served as entertainment in what was a poorly executed game.
3. No. 8 Creighton 58, No. 9 Alabama 57
After a great back-and-forth first half that saw five lead changes, the lead would only change one more time. It should come as no surprise that the go-ahead bucket would come from Creighton's star forward Doug McDermott.
The Missouri Valley Conference MVP would pick up a double-double and lead all scorers—and rebounders—with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Alabama held Creighton scoreless in the final five minutes of the first half and headed to the locker room with a seven-point lead. Less than three minutes into the second half, Alabama's Trevor Releford dropped a three-pointer to put the Crimson Tide up by 11—the largest lead of the game.
Three minutes later the score would be tied again, on a 10-1 run by the Bluejays. The Crimson Tide took the lead again and pushed it to seven, but the Bluejays just wouldn't go down.
Once McDermott put Creighton ahead at the 5:40 mark, they never lost the lead again—though, they didn't close it out very well. The Bluejays kept the Tide in the game, by going 2-of-7 from the line down that stretch.
Fortunately for Creighton, Alabama was only 3-of-9 from the field in the last five minutes.
I had a feeling this game was going to be an exciting one, and it certainly didn't upset. The nail-biting 58-57 win was Creighton's first tournament victory in 10 years.
Now Creighton will face North Carolina in the third round and two former teammates will meet again—this time as foes. Doug McDermott played with Harrison Barnes at Ames High School in Iowa.
2. No. 3 Florida State 66, No. 14 St. Bonaventure 63
St. Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson scored 20 points, but it wasn't enough to take down the Florida State Seminoles.
After winning the ACC championship and taking out both Duke and North Carolina twice, the Bonnies weren't given much of a chance. They showed the world they did belong in the tournament and proved to be a worthy opponent for Florida State.
The Bonnies scored the first seven points of the game and held the lead for nearly 35 minutes.
With 5:19 left in the game, FSU took the lead on an Ian Miller three-pointer and never looked back. St. Bonaventure played an all-around great game, but hit a slump and Florida State jumped all over it.
The Bonnies went over five minutes without a field goal and the Seminoles put up 12 points in that span to take the lead and push it all the way to eight.
St. Bonaventure made it a game again in the final two minutes. The Bonnies knocked down three three-pointers on three straight possessions, with Demitrius Conger nailing two of them. The score was 65-63 in favor of FSU with 30 seconds to go.
The Seminoles gave the Bonnies one more chance, by going 1-of-3 from the free throw line and keeping it a one-possession game.
In the end, it was not to be, and my bracket was saved—I have the Seminoles in the Final Four. St. Bonaventure missed its final two shots and the upset was averted. Though they lost, it was an extremely gutsy performance by the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure.
1. No. 15 Norfolk State 86, No. 2 Missouri 84
Most upsets involve the favored team stinking it up. That was not the case in this game, and that's what made it so special.
The Missouri Tigers shot nearly 53 percent from the floor and turned the ball over less than Norfolk State. The difference was the rebounding and three-point shooting advantage of the Norfolk State Spartans.
Norfolk State was 10-of-19 from bonus land snagged 12 more rebounds than the Tigers— eight of those were on the offensive glass.
Missouri even had three players with over 20 points in the game. Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon had 20, 20 and 22, respectively.
Well, so did Norfolk State. Senior center Kyle O'Quinn led all scorers with 26 points—12 of those came in the final 10 minutes. O'Quinn also grabbed 14 rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks. Needless to say, the man was a beast.
Chris McEachin and Pendarvis Williams both finished with 20 points—and accounted for eight of Norfolk State's 10 three-pointers.
The Spartans led for the first 22 minutes of the game, but Missouri just rode their back the whole time. Only in short stints, did the lead ever increase to more than two points.
Just as the Spartans started to pull away at the end, Missouri scored six unanswered points to tie it back up at 81—with 50 seconds on the clock. Norfolk State scored the next four points, but Missouri's Phil Pressey buried a three-pointer with 11 seconds on the clock to bring it within one point.
Norfolk State's Rodney McCauley would hit a free throw to put them up 86-84.
Hanging on to a two-point lead with three seconds to go, O'Quinn would miss two free throws and give Missouri a chance to win it on a buzzer-beater. On a final attempt, Pressey pulled up a little early and out of balance—only catching iron on the three-point attempt.
A team that many saw making it to the Final Four was eliminated.
Not only was this the best game out of the early-day matchups, it was the first big upset of the tourney—and we all look forward to those. It was also Norfolk State's first win over a ranked opponent since they joined Division I.
God, I love March Madness.