It feels like a week ago that I was sitting in the Barclays Center, getting ready to watch Maryland take on Kentucky in the first-ever college basketball game played in the House That Hova Built.
Believe it or not, that was more than five-and-a-half months ago, as we head into a Saturday afternoon in late March where we’ll crown our first two Regional Champs and Final Four participants.
The action kicks off in DC at 4:30 p.m. as No. 3 seed Marquette and No. 4 seed Syracuse square off to see which future ex-Big East member will be representing the conference in Atlanta, followed up by a 7:05 p.m. tip out in LA as No. 9 seed Wichita State looks to advance past No. 2 Ohio State.
Let’s start with the East.
Take away that brutal final 16 minutes against Louisville in the Big East title game, and the Orange may be playing the best basketball of anyone in the country during the postseason. They rolled over Montana, they knocked off an under-seeded Cal team and then they manhandled Indiana on Thursday night. Michael Carter-Williams has played much better of late, while Brandon Triche finally seems to be hitting some shots.
But Marquette is a different team that Indiana. They have more physical bigs, they have bigger perimeter players, and they love to make rim runs at the offensive glass. Ask Miami, because they found that out the hard way:
Marquette has already beaten Syracuse this season, but that loss came at a time when the Orange weren’t playing well. If there is a knock of the Golden Eagles, it is their struggles to shoot from the perimeter — it’s no secret that they wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for some improved three-point shooting, including the three threes they hit against Davidson in the final minute that allowed them to stave off an early upset.
And while there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding this matchup, the more entertaining game may be out west, as Wichita State has a real shot at knocking off Ohio State.
Here’s the way I see it: what Ohio State wants to do is go small. They want to play Deshaun Thomas at, essentially, the five-spot, with LaQuinton Ross and/or Sam Thompson out there on the floor with him. They want to spread the floor and force you to risk guarding one of those three with your center or to play a smaller lineup without your best players on the floor.
La Salle does something similar, and the Shockers punished them for it. Carl Hall went off for 16 points and seven boards in that win, doing most of his damage early in the game as WSU’s lead grew to as large as 22 points.
If he can play that way again on Saturday night, Gregg Marshall may be taking a Missouri Valley team to the Final Four.
Not bad for a guy that entered this season with just one NCAA tournament win in eight trips to the dance.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.