2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament logo2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Sweet 16 Scores: What We Learned from Thursday's Action

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 22:  Ryan Evans #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers crashes into the Syracuse Orange bench while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds during their 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Semifinal game at TD Garden on March 22, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 23, 2012

Thursday's Sweet 16 action gave us two upsets, a near escape by a No. 1 seed with a habit for near escapes, and a beatdown of one of the Big East's best teams.

It was a wild day of action, one that has set up some pretty intriguing storylines as we head into the Elite Eight. We learned a great many things that we didn't know before.

But let's keep this simple. Here's a rundown of the key lessons that we learned from each of Thursday's Sweet 16 tilts.

 

No. 4 Louisville defeats No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44

What We Learned: Louisville's defense makes it good enough to hang with anyone.

The Cardinals went through a couple rough stretches during the regular season, during which their defense betrayed them and they lost because they played sloppy basketball.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 22:  Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks up as Chane Behanan #24 and Wayne Blackshear #25 react from the bench in the first half while taking on the Michigan State Spartans during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Wes
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Even when the Cardinals are clicking on all cylinders, it still looks like they're playing sloppy basketball. This was very much the case on Thursday night against Michigan State, as Louisville shot just 38 percent from the field and scored a mere 57 points.

But it's clear now that winning sloppy games is something of a specialty for Louisville, and it's able to do that consistently because of its ability to put the clamps on defensively.

The Spartans are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country when they're rolling, but Louisville never let them get on track on Thursday night. They forced the Spartans into turning the ball over more than they typically do, and they forced the Spartans into taking a lot of three-pointers. Michigan State just had a hard time getting its shots.

In the end, the Spartans had shot just 28.6 percent from the floor, making a grand total of 14 buckets. That's as ugly as it gets.

The Cardinals are far from the most talented team in the tournament, but Rick Pitino's leadership makes them much better than the sum of their parts. They force opponents to play their game, and that's obviously worked quite well to this point.

 

No. 7 Florida defeats No. 3 Marquette, 68-58

What We Learned: Florida was drastically under-seeded.

People were crying foul about all sorts of things on Selection Sunday. One of the more minor outrages was the No. 7 seed that was given to a Florida team that played outstanding basketball all season before stumbling down the stretch.

The Gators still bear the No. 7 seed, but it's obvious now that it's not a fair indication of their overall quality.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 22:  Patric Young #4 and Bradley Beal #23 of the Florida Gators celebrate the 68-58 victory against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Semifinal game at US Airways Center on March 22, 2012 i
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Florida didn't have a whole lot of trouble having its way with Marquette on Thursday. The Golden Eagles had no answer for Bradley Beal, and their two best players‎—Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom—went a combined 10-for-30 from the field.

What's interesting about the Gators' victory is that we know they can be better offensively. It was actually something of an off night for them, and they still managed to win by 10 points.

Florida will have to be as sharp as possible on offense going up against Louisville in the Elite Eight. Another off night will not result in an easy victory. Against Louisville, an off night will result in utter embarrassment.

But at this point, nobody should be too quick to count the Gators out of anything. This is a very talented team led by a coach in Billy Donovan who has been there and done that before.

 

No. 1 Syracuse defeats No. 4 Wisconsin, 64-63

What We Learned: The basketball gods are on Syracuse's side.

They may be a No. 1 seed, but at this point I think it's fair to say that the Orange have surpassed expectations. Few people expected them to go this far without the help of Fab Melo.

But let's face it, Syracuse has benefited from some good fortune to this point in the tournament.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 22:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Syracuse Orange reacts after a play as Jordan Taylor #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during their 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Semifinal game at TD Garden on March 22, 2012 in Boston, Massac
Elsa/Getty Images

It started with Syracuse's win over UNC-Asheville, which contained several controversial calls that went in favor of the Orange. Take those calls away, and we could be talking about a Syracuse team that became the first No. 1 seed to fall victim to a No. 16 seed.

Thursday night's tilt against Wisconsin should be remembered for Wisconsin's collective braincramp at the end of the game. The Badgers basically didn't know what to do when they had the ball for the last shot, and they ended up settling for a long three by Jordan Taylor that never had a chance. The subsequent offensive rebound and shot by Josh Gasser never had a chance either. 

Syracuse definitely did not play a bad game, mind you, but Thursday's game is one the Orange could have lost pretty easily. 

They're not complaining, nor should they. It's not their fault they're getting a few breaks here and there.

 

No. 2 Ohio State defeats No. 6 Cincinnati, 81-66

What We Learned: It takes bigs to beat Ohio State.

This was a tough matchup for the Bearcats from the word "go," as Cincinnati's guard-oriented style of play was doomed to fail against an Ohio State team that features two very good forwards in Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 22:  Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates from the bench towards the end of the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats during their 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Semifinal game at TD Garden on March 22, 2012
Elsa/Getty Images

Sullinger and Thomas took this game as an excuse to go off, combining for 49 points and 18 rebounds. It was largely thanks to them that the Buckeyes shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Bearcats 33 to 26.

On balance, nobody should be surprised that Ohio State won by 15 points. This one was a little too easy for the Buckeyes.

The sledding will be much tougher for Ohio State when it goes up against Syracuse in the Elite Eight. Even without Melo, the Orange have the length to play with sirs Sullinger and Thomas, and their 2-3 zone will keep the Buckeyes from running up the score.

Plus, we've already established that the basketball gods are Syracuse fans. The Buckeyes are in for a stiff challenge.

 

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