2007 NCAA Tournament: Second Weekend Recap
The 2007 Final Four is set. Florida, UCLA, Georgetown, and Ohio State combine for the lowest cumulative seed count (6) since 1993, when three #1’s and a #2 made it to the third weekend. It’s a fitting cap for a Tournament in which so many outcomes went to the favorites.
If this year’s opening round matchups lacked intensity and drama, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight reminded us what March “Madness” is all about. The Final Four should be nothing short of sensational, with plenty of individual talent, unselfish team play, and fantastic coaching on the part of all four participants.
We’ll preview each team in depth this week, but here’s a quick recap of this weekend’s action:
Ohio State won the South with the inside-outside balance that made them a pre-Tournament favorite to win the national championship.
Biggest Individual Impact: Greg Oden, Ohio State.
The Buckeyes’ All-American big man was in deep foul trouble against the Volunteers, but still managed to make the game’s deciding play, a last-second swat of a Ramar Smith layup, to get the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight. Oden was completely dominant against Memphis, despite getting into foul trouble once again. But his deterrence on defense and uncanny ability to finish plays on the offensive end proved to be the difference against a very game Tigers squad. Honorable Mention: Chris Douglas-Roberts’ 29 points in two games despite a recently-sprained ankle.
Biggest Surprise: Tennessee opening up an 18-point halftime lead on Ohio State.
Full credit to Bruce Pearl and the outside shooters for Tennessee for their performance in this game. Pearl’s plan to saddle Greg Oden with fouls was executed to perfection by his team, and Tennessee’s quickness and pressing defense overwhelmed the Buckeyes’ backcourt on both sides of the ball early in the game. It took some even hotter shooting (and plenty of Mike Conley penetrations) for Ohio State to climb back in the second half.
What We Learned:Acie Law IV is human in the clutch.
The Aggies’ senior point guard short-armed a contested fast-break layup with under a minute left, for one of his few misses in the final four minutes all year. Fatigue certainly seemed to be the most likely cause of the miss, as Bill Raftery commented immediately following the play. It’s unfortunate for Aggie fans, and for all of college basketball, that he didn’t get a chance to redeem himself on the game’s final possession.
UCLA surprised its opponents (and a number of analysts) with strong interior defense and efficient offensive execution, as Bill Self once again fell short of reaching the Final Four despite superior talent.
Biggest Individual Impact: Arron Afflalo, UCLA.
After a shaky couple of games, particularly in terms of FG%, the Bruins’ All-American came through with one of his best performances of the year. The 6’5” guard lit up the Jayhawks for 24 points, including 15 in the second half, and also led with his hustle, grabbing a number of loose balls that could have turned the tide of the game. Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Mata for his performance against Aaron Gray in the Sweet 16.
Biggest Surprise: Southern Illinois’ tenacity.
I’d watched SIU on several occasions this year. I knew the Salukis were an incredibly smart team, an incredibly patient team, and had the hearts of a championship team. But still their gutty performance shocked me. SIU faced a deficit of size and talent at every position on the floor, yet outrebounded the Jayhawks by 10 on the offensive glass and forced the usually sure-handed KU guards into 15 turnovers. If the Salukis’ top scorers had made even a decent percentage of their looks from beyond the arc (Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum were a combined 2-13), Kansas would have been sent packing two days earlier. Chris Lowery should be at the top of the list for every current job opening, with the possible exception of Kentucky—the man can flat-out coach.
What We Learned: The Bruins are quicker than most people give them credit for.
UCLA shot better than 53% against a Kansas team that had held opponents to 37% on the year, largely due to quick rotations off of screens in the half-court and plenty of easy baskets in transition. There’s no team in the country quicker than KU, and the Bruins looked downright comfortable at the Jayhawks’ frenetic pace. Translation: the semifinal matchup against Florida should be a doozy.
Florida’s experience (and perimeter defense) carried them to Atlanta. However, of the four teams remaining, the Gators were the least impressive heading into the Final Four, barely escaping Butler and missing a number of key free throws against Oregon.
Biggest Individual Impact: Taurean Green, Florida.
Lee Humphrey received a ton of accolades for his 23-point performance against Oregon (and rightfully so), but Taurean Green was equally impressive in scoring 21. The Gators’ point guard also found a way to feed Joakim Noah and Al Horford consistently in the second half, which opened up a number of Humphrey’s long-range bombs. Green was the difference against Butler as well, scoring a team-high 17 points without committing a single turnover. Honorable Mention: Aaron Brooks for his 27-point outburst against the Gators, keeping his team in a tight game with the defending champs.
Biggest Surprise: Butler’s biggest weakness is…layups?
Butler controlled the tempo of their Sweet 16 matchup with Florida, were only outrebounded by four, and committed only 9 turnovers. The Bulldogs very well could have knocked off the defending champs had they been able to make a few second-half “bunnies” against the Gators. Brian Ligon, Brandon Crone, and Julian Betko all missed a surprising number of fairly open shots in the lane, though the mere presence of Noah and Horford may have influenced their attempts subconsciously.
What We Learned: Tajuan Porter does have off nights.
There hasn’t been a more exciting player in the country over the course of the last month than Oregon’s Tajuan Porter. After torching Winthrop in the second round, the Ducks’ 5-6 sparkplug dropped 33 on UNLV in the Sweet 16. Not surprising for the Pac-10 Tournament MVP, so named after scoring 61 points in three games in L.A. But the freshman shooting guard was dreadful against Florida, going 0-9 from the field until a couple of late-game threes. It was simply bad timing for one of the Ducks’ stars to have his worst game of the season—Porter will surely return to his usual form for UO next year.
Georgetown “survived and advanced” in both of its games, with its two stars leading the way. The Hoyas’ backcourt finally stepped up against the Tar Heels after some underwhelming performances in Georgetown’s earlier-round games.
Biggest Individual Impact: Jeff Green, Georgetown.
Green made the game-winner against Vanderbilt, an incredible spinning bank shot with 2.5 seconds left (that no human being could call a travel in real-time, by the way). He backed that up with a superb 22-point effort against North Carolina, including key basket after key basket in the last 6:00 of regulation. Honorable Mention: Taj Gibson for his dominance in the paint against North Carolina before being saddled with fouls late in the game.
Biggest Surprise: North Carolina going ice-cold down the stretch of the Regional Final.
Ice-cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Tar Heels’ shooting in the last 15 minutes of the game. We’re talking darn near Absolute Zero here. Carolina was 1-for-23 in the last 10:00 of regulation and the first 4:40 of overtime, in a game which featured blistering shooting for the first 30:00. It was one of the more memorable Elite Eight collapses in recent memory, along with Arizona’s meltdown against Illinois two years ago.
What We Learned: Georgetown can shoot.
Even casual fans had heard about Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, two likely NBA lottery picks in the post, prior to the start of the Tournament, but few could name another player on the Hoya squad. Jonathan Wallace showed why he deserves to be considered a key component of the “Georgetown” offense, going 7-11 (3-4 from three-point range) against North Carolina. In fact, the Hoyas shot an incredible 58% for the game as a team, most of which came against half-court defense. If their hot shooting continues in Atlanta, this team might be the favorite to cut down the nets.