NCAA Tournament 2013: Winners, Losers, Heroes and Goats of Sweet 16
Here's where the dreaming turns to expectation.
Here's where all those vague notions of net-cutting catharsis begin to feel like concrete possibilities.
We've got eight teams left in the NCAA tournament, and all of them will fall asleep tonight knowing they're one game—one 40-minute block of basketball—away from realizing a lifelong goal.
How those eight teams arrived at this giddy moment is the subject of our slideshow ahead as we take a look back at the Sweet 16 that was.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com.
Winner: The Syracuse Frontcourt
The length of Jim Boeheim's team was an obvious obstacle for the Hoosiers, and it showed on the stat sheet.
In their 61-50 loss to Syracuse, Indiana forwards Christian Watford and Cody Zeller shot a combined 7-of-22 (31.8 percent), the duo's worst aggregate field-goal percentage since January 23.
Meanwhile, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Jerami Grant and Baye Keita swatted a total of 10 shots, and, along with Trevor Cooney, added another 12 steals.
Syracuse isn't a perfect team, but the Orange's roster is stacked with mobile forwards in the 6'8"-to-6'10" range. When that group is locking down the lane and obstructing sight lines on the perimeter, the Orange are exceedingly difficult to break down.
The nation's best offense found out just how difficult on Thursday, and it'll be a long, uncomfortable summer in Bloomington before Tom Crean's crew gets another shot at christening the program's resurgence.
Loser: The Pac-12
After the Round of 64, many media media types—myself included—groused about how the selection committee had supposedly undersold the Pac-12.
To a certain extent, that still holds. Oregon and Cal were under-seeded, and Arizona was probably a bit closer to the team that went 12-0 out of conference than the one that lost three times to UCLA during the league slate.
But we also have to admit that the selection committee's general grasp of the Pac-12 was pretty solid.
The suits clearly believed that there wasn't an elite team in the conference this year, and the tournament largely validated that conclusion.
Losses by Arizona and Oregon in the Sweet 16 mean the conference will be without an Elite Eight representative for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Hero: Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State
Wichita State forward Carl Hall did commendable work against La Salle, racking up 16 points and eight boards in just 27 minutes of action.
That said, La Salle was without center Steve Zack and running with a four-guard set that essentially told opponents: "Take what you want inside. We'll get ours elsewhere."
That's why Boise State's Ryan Watkins was 5-for-6 against the Explorers in the opening round. And why Kansas State's Jordan Henriquez bested his season average by a dozen in Round 2. And why Ole Miss' frontcourt shot 47 percent from the floor in the Round of 32.
So while Hall did a nice job, particularly early, it says here that Shockers guard Malcolm Armstead was the difference in Wichita State's 72-58 win. The Oregon transfer scored 18 points, knocked down a couple of threes and was instrumental in keeping La Salle's dynamic backcourt under wraps.
Armstead is in line for a mammoth challenge this weekend when he locks horns with Ohio State uber-best Aaron Craft, but he passed a pretty stiff test already against the Explorers and should be primed for a showdown.
Winner: Kevin Ware, Louisville
Sophomore Kevin Ware first caught my eye midway through the first half of Louisville's win over Oregon with a dazzling ball-handling sequence that culminated in perhaps the single most awesome, out-of-control turnover of all time.
Though it could have been taken any number of ways at the time, the dribbling wizardry turned out to be a good omen for the Louisville guard, who scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the Cardinals' 77-69 win.
Watching Ware in action, it's almost impossible not to see a younger version of current Louisville star Russ Smith. Both men stand under 6'3" and weigh less than 180, but make up for those physical limitations with searing quickness and the kind of enduring unpredictability that makes defenders uneasy.
It'd be folly to suggest that Ware will someday achieve Smith has in Louisville uniform, but at the very least, you can see Pitino using him in a similar capacity when Ware's time comes.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also shout out Smith in this slide. The pint-sized dynamo scored 31 points against Oregon and is now shooting 26-of-47 (55.3 percent) for the tournament and attempting 9.33 free throws per game.
Loser: Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Freshman guard Damyean Dotson deserves a good deal of credit for getting the Ducks this far, but Friday night was a struggle. The Houston native had a miserable first half against Louisville, shooting 0-for-6 and air-balling a three-point attempt as the session wound down.
By that point, the Ducks trailed 45-31, and even a 5-for-8 second half from Dotson wasn't enough to close the gap. His three second-half turnovers weren't exactly a welcome addition.
He and fellow freshman Dominic Artis should have plenty of bright days ahead. There's no doubt Dana Altman has this program marching forward.
Against an experienced and athletic Louisville team that had no problem playing at the Ducks' frenetic pace, though, Oregon's young guys looked a step behind.
Hero: Trey Burke, Michigan
I'm sure every media outlet in the country is scrambling for hyperbolic ways to describe Trey Burke's performance in Michigan's 87-85 overtime win against No. 1 seed Kansas.
I won't even try. Instead, I'll leave you with an un-annotated log of Burke's most notable Friday night accomplishments.
1. Trey Burke scored all 23 of his points in the second half and overtime.
2. Burke scored eight points in the last minute and a half of regulation, leading his team back from a late six-point deficit. That sequence included a 30-foot three-point shot with five seconds remaining to tie the game.
3. Burke scored his team's first five points in overtime.
4. He did all of it in what basically amounted to a road environment.
5. Michigan is headed to its first Elite Eight since 1994.
Now you know.
Goat: Elijah Johnson, Kansas
During the first half of Michigan's 87-85 victory over Kansas, Jayhawk point guard Elijah Johnson ambushed Wolverine forward Mitch McGary with a not-so-subtle blow to the groin.
I have no idea what transpired between the two men or what caused the aggression. Maybe it's a blood feud that spans generations.
But even if McGary had done the exact same thing to Johnson earlier in the game, it's nearly impossible to justify a human being deliberately hurting another human being's happy sacks.
If being the bigger man means not punching another man in the beanbags, then please, Elijah Johnson, other basketball players, people of the world—be the bigger man. Do it for yourself. Do it for the unborn children of your adversary. And above all, do it for the rest of us so we don't have to entertain what that feels like.
Karma took note of Johnson's transgressions and caused him to miss a key free throw down the stretch in regulation, shoot 1-for-3 in the overtime session and make a wild pass on Kansas' last possession that led to an even wilder desperation heave.
The universe, it would appear, is a college basketball fan.
Winner: Ben McLemore, Kansas
Even if it was in a losing effort, Kansas freshman Ben McLemore made himself some dough on Friday night.
After shooting a combined 2-of-14 in his first two NCAA tournament games, the presumptive lottery pick scored 20 against the Wolverines, all of which came during a torrid 18-minute stretch.
With some help from his teammates, it would have been enough to see Kansas through to the Elite Eight.
Instead, it was a memorable parting shot for a player that could well go No. 1 overall in this June's NBA draft.
Loser: Big, Empty Stadiums
Alright, soapbox time....
Now, I understand that college sports is a business. And I also understand that it makes good business sense to hold an NCAA tournament regional final at a venue that seats, say, 40,000 rather than one that holds 15,000.
But I would also submit that the extra revenue provided by 25,000 tickets is secondary to the quality of the telecast. And as a viewer of many college basketball telecasts, I would further submit that a game played in close confines in front of 15,000 is many times more engrossing than a game played in a converted football arena in front of 40,000.
I have no doubt that the fans who turned out at Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium this week yelled themselves hoarse. But I also I have no doubt that the acoustics they produced sounded distant, scattered and altogether unworthy of such consequential games. That's the nature of a seating structure that might be properly described as the anti-Cameron Indoor.
College athletics are an atmosphere-driven entertainment niche, and transmitting as much of that atmosphere as possible to the fan at home should be a priority. Instead, the NCAA latches onto the biggest echo chambers it can find. Frankly, it makes me grumpy.
Plus, that whole sunken-bench dynamic is awkward—especially when the players have the coaches sit on that little sideline bar stool.
Can we at least work on that?
Hero: Mark Lyons, Arizona
The Arizona Wildcats came up a hair short against Ohio State, but senior point guard Mark Lyons deserves a nod for his heroic play in this NCAA tournament.
All season long, the Xavier transfer was cast as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde figure, the type whose erratic play could sink Sean Miller's team come tournament time.
This time, Lyons was a model of consistency when the games mattered most, shooting 50 percent or better in all three games and averaging 24.3 per.
Against Ohio State, the New York native hit six field goals and nine free throws, the final one of which came attached to a three-point play that tied the ball game with 21 seconds left.
Loser: Gary Harris, Michigan State
A fantastic debut season for Michigan State guard Gary Harris came to a painful end on Friday night against Duke.
The freshman standout shot 2-of-11 from the field and managed just six points, his third-lowest total on the season. He also seemed to re-aggravate an earlier shoulder injury when Seth Curry fouled him on a layup attempt midway through the second half.
It's hard to know if the lingering pain was to blame for his 0-of-4 finish to the game or whether or not he was simply spent from 35 minutes of chasing Duke's shooters around the perimeter.
Whatever the cause, Harris looked out of sorts and out of answers against a Blue Devil team that looked Final Four-worthy on defense.
Hero: Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
When he wasn't bricking breakaway dunks (see above), Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon was setting the defensive tone in his team's 71-61 win over Michigan State.
Matched against a talented Spartan backcourt that featured Keith Appling and fellow freshman Gary Harris, Sulaimon (with an assist from Quinn Cook) sealed the defensive perimeter and kept Sparty from getting the penetration needed to spring Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix inside.
And although Sulaimon's 2-for-6 shooting performance on offense won't jump off the page, the Houston native did manage 16 points thanks to 12 free throws in 14 attempts.
Sulaimon's jump shot has been a bit hot and cold this season, but his defensive intensity hasn't wavered. With Seth Curry (who had 29 points in this game) scoring, Cook distributing and Sulaimon providing the defensive bite, Duke's backcourt looks mighty formidable.
Winner: Billy Donovan, Florida
No one had a harder coaching job this week than Florida's Billy Donovan.
Pitted against one of the most universally beloved Cinderella teams of the past decade, his Gators were in that precarious place where a win seemed somehow both expected and impossible.
When the Dunk City Eagles surged ahead 15-4 in the game's first six minutes, you wouldn't have blamed Florida for shifting into full-on panic mode. In that moment, it seemed like everything—the crowd, the momentum, destiny—was set against them.
Donovan wisely called for time, soothed his team's nerves and made sure Florida was recommitted to defense instead of stoking its more reckless instincts. Under another coach, the Gators may well have gone nuclear trying to play catch up. Instead, they settled into exactly the kind of barrel-chested affair that would make life miserable for the undersized Eagles.
From then until halftime, Florida Gulf Coast had as many turnovers (11) as points (11).
Florida took a hard-earned four-point lead into the break and rode its athleticism the rest of the way for a 62-50 win.
Hero: Florida Gulf Coast University
Thank you, Florida Gulf Coast.
Thank you for the picture above.
Thank you for reviving the chicken dance, or whatever this is.
Thank you for Amanda Marcum Enfield.
Thank you for wrecking our brackets in a way that made the wrecking a bit easier to swallow.
And above all, thank you for reminding us that it's a game and it's supposed to be fun.
Come back soon.
Winners and Heroes Review
In case you missed it, the following folks were named either "winners" or heroes" in Thursday's installment of this column.
Buzz Williams, Marquette
Jamil Wilson, Marquette
LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
Carl Hall, Wichita State
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Losers and Goats Review
In case you missed it, the following folks were named either "losers" or goats" in Thursday's installment of this column.
Evan Ravenel, Ohio State
Durand Scott, Miami
Tom Crean, Indiana
Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Ramon Galloway, La Salle
D.J. Peterson, La salle