With four Big Ten teams left amongst the nation's final 16, the circumstances looked very promising for the conference heading into the regional semifinals. Ohio State and Michigan State were playing teams that they were clearly better than. Indiana was playing mighty Kentucky, but the Hoosiers had already taken them down in the regular season. Wisconsin was matched up against a Syracuse defense that you knew they would have fun shooting over.
Obviously, not everything went according to plan. Although Ohio State played excellently, the other three B1G schools disappointed and will have to watch the rest of the tournament at home like the rest of us. Of course, making the Sweet 16 is no small accomplishment and Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State all still had great seasons. We wish they could have gone just a bit farther, though.
Kentucky 102, Indiana 90
The Hoosiers have made up for some defensive deficiencies this season by pummeling their opponents on offense. In Friday night's South Region semifinal in Atlanta, IU's offense was splendid, but it still wasn't enough to stop a Kentucky team that got to the free throw line at will. Although Indiana hit on 52.2% of its field goals and Kentucky managed just 48.4%, the difference in the game came from the Wildcats connecting on a ridiculous 35 of 37 free throws.
It's difficult to lose a game when you get to the line that many times, but when you make over 90% of your attempts, well, that is a pretty good recipe for success. When you combine Kentucky's free throw efficiency with its dominance on the boards (the team grabbed 42.4% of it's own misses), the advantage more than makes up for the small edge Indiana had in actually shooting the ball.
One of Kentucky's superb freshmen, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, did an excellent job personifying the UK attack with 24 points on 10 of 10 free throws with 6 offensive rebounds (10 total) and only 2 turnovers (UK had only 6 of those as a team). Sophomore guard Doron Lamb added 21 points on 8 of 8 free throw shooting, while senior Darius Miller scored 19 points.
According to John M at The Crimson Quarry, the extereme athleticism that Kentucky brought to the Gerogia Dome proved too much to overcome.
Unlike most losses in this season or any season, it's very difficult to say what IU could have or should have done differently. Kentucky is loaded at every position, and the second rough day for Davis against the Hoosiers was a good break. Ultimately, however, neither IU nor any other team in the country can do much about it when the Wildcats are determined to exploit their athletic advantage, something they did very well last night.
Indiana was led by a great game from Christian Watford. The underrated junior scored 27 points on 9 of 20 field goals and also blocked 2 shots. If he can put games like this together more consistently, Watford has a chance to be one of the better players in the conference next season. Cody Zeller joined in with 20 points and 7 rebounds on 9 of 14 shooting, while Jordan Hulls had 12 points and 9 assists and Victor Oladipo pitched in 15 points.
Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63
With 19 seconds left on the clock and Syracuse clinging to a once point lead, Kris Joseph missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then, all eyes turned to Wisconsin, who could send the Orange packing with just one more made field goal. Although Bo Ryan had one time out remaining, and it certainly seemed like he wanted to get Jared Berggren back into the game, that time out never came. Neither did the winning shot.
Ryan explained that he wanted Berggren in the game for Bruesewitz if Syracuse had gone up three points, but he didn't send Berggren down until the free throw was missed.
Syracuse disrupted Wisconsin in the back-court and Jordan Taylor was forced to attempt a 25-foot shot in traffic for the win. The desperate try fell short of the rim, and Josh Gasser's last second flailing put-back wasn't close either. Syracuse had survived.
The other story of the game was the inability of Wisconsin to get inside of Syracuse's famous 2-3 zone. There were a couple of instances in which Wisconsin was able to work the ball over to the free throw line extended for a 15-footer from Berggren or Evans, but for the most part, the Badgers were stymied. The only solution was to shoot over the zone from beyond the arc.
Shooting three-pointers proved quite useful for Wisconsin, as it converted 14 of 27 threes compared to just 7 of 22 twos for the game. All those treys kept the Badgers in the came while they struggled to contain Syracuse's athletic guards on the other end of the court. The Orange pick-and-rolled Wisconsin to death and seemingly got to the rim at will. Even when Wisconsin got in front of them, Dion Waiters seemed perfectly happy to pull up and hit a jump shot instead.
"Syracuse just has too many athletes that can do so many things, and it's hard to prepare for that on the defensive end. You think you're getting things done, but you're a step behind," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "So we did the best we could, and I thought we played great defense."
Great defense? Syracuse shot 55.1% and only turned the ball over 6 times. Don't let the score fool you, the only reason there were so few points was because the game had only 52 possessions for each team. Even the slow, slow Badgers average 59 possessions per game.
Overall, it didn't seem to matter which member of the Orange was driving to the hoop. Waiters had 13 points on 5 of 11 field goals, Brandon Triche had 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting and Scoop Jardine contributed 14 points and 4 assists while shooting 5 for 8. When the Wisconsin front line moved up to confront the guards, C.J. Fair took advantage for Syracuse, and the sophomore forward scored 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
Wisconsin got 17 points each from Berggren and Taylor, who also dished out 6 assists with only 1 turnover. I thought the Badgers did a decent job being patient against the Syracuse zone and finding those long open looks. They just didn't get enough stops to win this one.
Louisville 57, Michigan State 44
Going into this game, I thought that Michigan State would be able to overcome the 7-foot Louisville shot-blocker known as Gorgui Dieng by using their girth to pin Dieng under the basket and get him in foul trouble. Boy was I wrong.
"He was very disruptive," said Michigan State star forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green, "We’re not going to back down from anyone. We took it at him. He pulled off some great blocked shots. That’s what he does. That’s his strength."
In total, Dieng blocked 7 shots and grabbed 9 rebounds to spearhead a dominating defensive effort from Louisville that frustrated Michigan State all game long. Of course, the Spartans knew that Louisville would play great defense. It was also due to an unexpected spurt of three-point shooting that pushed Louisville over the top.
Louisville, the 253rd best 3-point shooting team in the nation at 31.3-percent efficiency, started bombing in triples. Seven of the Cardinals' eight first-half baskets were from behind the arc and the other was a dunk from inside the rim.
The Spartans went into the game thinking they'd be happy if Jared Swopshire, a 15-percent (3 of 20) 3-point shooter coming into the game, wanted to try to hurt them from the outside. Then he did the unexpected, going 2-for-2.
Michigan State had an inkling it wasn't going to be its day when Gorgui Dieng, who missed the first 3-point try of his career in the third-round win over New Mexico a week earlier, made his second against MSU.
Point guard Peyton Siva did a good job breaking down the Spartans on the inside. Although he only went 2 for 9 on his own shots, Siva handed out 9 assists. The main benefactor was freshman forward Chane Behanan, who led Louisville with 15 points while shooting 6 for 10 and grabbing 4 of Louisville's 9 offensive rebounds.
The Cardinals shot just 38.2% from the field. Said Tom Izzo, "Our game plan was to cut off the paint. I thought we did actually a very good job of that. And yet they hit some threes."
On the other end, Michigan State could only manage 28.6% shooting for themselves. They also turned the ball over 15 times. That's not a good combination. Green still managed a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but he also turned the ball over 6 times and made just 5 of 16 field goals. Brandon Wood was the only other Spartan in double figures. He scored 14 points and was 4 of 11 from the field.
Ohio State is now the lone Big Ten team remaining in the NCAA Tournament. They'll take on Syracuse tongiht at around 7:05 PM ET for a chance to go to New Orleans for the Final Four.