The big least Top conference fails
The Big East is going down. Hard.
Everyone was talking about the league all season long and its power in numbers, but now the conference has just two teams left standing following Notre Dame’s loss to Florida State on Sunday night.
And even that number is a bit deceiving — both UConn and Marquette, the two Big East teams still playing, defeated other Big East teams in the third round over the weekend (Connecticut defeated Cincinnati on Saturday night and Marquette knocked off Syracuse on Sunday). So before the third round began, the worst the Big East could do was send two to the Sweet 16. Indeed, it did its worst.
There were a record 11 teams from the conference in the tournament, but nine have been knocked out in the first week of play. On the flip side, for all the criticism that the ACC took this season, no conference has more teams left standing: Duke, North Carolina and the Seminoles all moved on.
Here’s the rest of the Sweet 16 by league:
ACC — 3
Big Ten — 2
SEC — 2
Big East — 2
Mountain West — 2
Big 12 — 1
Pac-10 — 1
A-10 — 1
CAA — 1
Horizon — 1
Recapping the weekend’s action:
Game of the Weekend: Butler’s crazy win over top-seeded Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Bulldogs won it on a Matt Howard free throw with 0.8 left on the clock. Here’s how it went down: Shawn Vanzant put Butler ahead, then Gilbert Brown was fouled at midcourt on a miscue from Shelvin Mack with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first free throw but missed the second to tie a game seemingly headed to overtime. But Pitt’s Nasir Robinson committed an ill-advised foul on Howard, who won the game at the free throw line.
Big Shot: Duke freshman Kyrie Irving hadn’t hit a field goal the entire game Sunday, but he stepped up and delivered a huge eight-foot floater with 32 seconds left that gave the Blue Devils a 72-69 lead over Michigan. Irving missed 26 games with a toe injury before coming back Friday against Hampton.
The Savior: John Henson. We gave him our national defensive player of the year award for a reason. He’s long — and his length paid off when he deflected Washington’s Justin Holliday’s inbounds pass in the closing seconds and the ball was controlled by North Carolina, which turned a one-point lead into the final three-point margin of victory.
David Lighty, Ohio State. The Buckeyes senior finished with 25 points and buried all seven of his 3-point attempts against George Mason.
Bradford Burgess, VCU. The Rams pulled yet another upset — knocking off No. 3 Purdue — and Burgess led the team with 23 points and eight boards.
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette. DJO nailed a big 3-pointer late and finished with 17 points for Buzz Williams’ team against Syracuse.
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina. The Tar Heels freshman point guard had 13 points and a team tournament-record 14 assists in the win over Washington.
Markieff Morris, Kansas. The lesser-known of the Morris twins went for 24 points and a dozen rebounds in the win over Illinois.
Jimmer Fredette, BYU. The Jimmer scored 34 points and was 7 of 12 from beyond the arc while dishing out six assists in the easy win over No. 11 Gonzaga.
Erving Walker, Florida. The diminutive Gators point guard scored 21 points — including a huge 3-pointer in the final couple of minutes and also four free throws in the final minute — to beat UCLA.
Brandon Knight, Kentucky. Two days after hitting the game winner, the Wildcats freshman guard went for a career-high 30 points in the victory over West Virginia.
Jake Pullen, Kansas State. Even in the losing effort, the Wildcats senior was stellar in what became his collegiate swan song, scoring 38 points against Wisconsin.
Kemba Walker, UConn. The Huskies point guard finished with 33 points, five rebounds and four assists in the win over Cincinnati.
Story of the Weekend: The little guys. Five teams that aren’t in one of the Big Six leagues advanced to the Sweet 16: BYU and San Diego State moved on from the Mountain West, Butler advanced out of the Horizon, Richmond got in from the A-10 and VCU is still representing the CAA. Also, four double-digit seeds are still alive — No. 10 Florida State, pair of No. 11’s in VCU and Marquette, and No. 12 Richmond.
Biggest Upset: While Butler took the finish of the weekend, the Bulldogs have been there, done that in the round of 32. VCU earns this honor again — two nights after throttling Georgetown — after a resounding 94-76 victory over Purdue. Burgess led Shaka Smart’s team with 25 points and point guard Joey Rodriguez added 12 points and 11 assists.
Most Impressive: On Sunday, Ohio State blew out a George Mason team that has been as hot as just about anyone over the last couple months. Lighty couldn’t miss from deep and Jared Sullinger and William Buford each added 18 points for Thad Matta’s team. A day earlier, BYU, led by The Jimmer’s 34 points, pulled away and beat Gonzaga with ease. Jackson Emery had 16 as BYU wound up winning by 22 points.
Most Unimpressive: Texas. The Longhorns were far more talented than Arizona at just about every spot, but it was the Wildcats who advanced to the Sweet 16 with Sunday’s victory.
Under the Radar: Richmond. The 12th-seeded Spiders took care of Morehead State on Saturday, holding Kenneth Faried to just 11 points. Kevin Anderson had 14 points, four assists and no turnovers for Richmond while Justin Harper had 19 points and six boards for Chris Mooney’s team.
Best Sweet 16 matchup: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4. Kentucky, Friday in Newark, NJ. There’s no shortage of talent in this matchup, but the key may be how Wildcats coach John Calipari chooses to try to defend Buckeyes big man Sullinger: Do you play him 1-on-1 with Josh Harrellson or double Sullinger and leave other guys op
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Biggest disappointment: Let’s single out one more Big East flameout: West Virginia. We can’t put Joe Mazzulla in this class, but the rest of the Mountaineers didn’t give him enough help. Kevin Jones struggled, John Flowers was in foul trouble and was ineffective, and Casey Mitchell went cold down the stretch.
We’ll miss you: The first three guys that come to mind all played in the state of Indiana: Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough and the Purdue duo of JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. They join the stellar list of Pullen, who became Kansas State’s all-time scoring leader in the Wildcats’ loss to Wisconsin; Pittsburgh’s Brad Wanamaker; Gonzaga’s Steven Gray; West Virginia’s Mazzulla; and Morehead State’s Faried.
Never would have thought: That VCU would put up 94 points against Purdue. The Boilermakers are known for their tough, hard-nosed stingy defense, but the Rams had no difficulty putting points on the board Sunday.
Shocking Decision: That Washington coach Lorenzo Romar would have given the ball to Venoy Overton instead of Isaiah Thomas with the game on the line Sunday. Romar said afterwards that he would have given to it Thomas if he had an opportunity to do it all over again.
Stat of the Day: San Diego State’s senior guard D.J. Gay played all 50 minutes in the double-overtime win over Temple on Saturday.
Quote of the Day: "I've been playing basketball my whole life and I know I shouldn't have done that. It was a stupid play. It wasn't the ref's fault. It was my fault." — Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson after his foul with less than a second left against Butler.
Can’t wait for the Sweet 16:
1) No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET at Newark, NJ. These might be the two most talented starting five’s in the country.
2) No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU, Thursday at 7:27 p.m. ET at New Orleans. A rematch of last year’s first-round game in which The Jimmer went for 37 points and the Cougars knocked off the Gators.
3) No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Butler, Thursday at 9:57 p.m. ET at New Orleans. Bo Ryan’s Badgers will get their shot against Brad Stevens and last year’s Cinderella story.
4) No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 VCU, Friday at 9:57 p.m. ET at San Antonio. One of these double-digit seeds will move a step away from the Final Four.