Day 3 games

NCAA tournament Day 3 recap

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Player of the Day: Brady Heslip, Baylor: For all the talent and all the NBA potential on the Baylor roster, the kid that saved Baylor’s season was a guy that has been a perennial afterthought. He played on a loaded AAU team, transferred to Baylor after leaving Boston College and has been nothing but a role player in his time in Waco. Not on Saturday, however, as Heslip hit nine threes en route to 27 points to lead the No. 3 Bears to a 80-63 win over No. 11 Colorado. Heslip’s biggest contributions came in the first half, when he hit six of those threes and scored 18 of Baylor’s 37 points. The Bears led by just two points at the break.

They were good too:

Marquis Teague, Kentucky: Teague played the best game of his collegiate career, going for 24 points and seven assists as the Wildcats knocked off No. 8 Iowa State in impressive fashion, 87-71.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Christmas didn’t put up huge numbers, but he was a presence inside for the Orange on Saturday. They are going to need him to play up to his recruiting ranking if Syracuse hopes to avoid a disappointing tournament run.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Like Teague, Craft played his best game as a collegian on Saturday, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists and just one turnover as the Buckeyes advanced past Gonzaga.

Team of the Day: Louisville Cardinals: You have to be happy for this Louisville team. After everything they have been through this season — the losses, the injuries, the struggles of their best players — the Cardinals have persevered and are now playing their best basketball of the season. Led by Peyton Siva’s play in the clutch, the Cardinals advanced past New Mexico and have gone from a potential bubble team in mid-January to a Big East champion and a Sweet 16 member.

Shoutouts:

Syracuse Orange: Syracuse may have given up 8,000 offensive rebounds to Kansas State, but they also put together one of their best offensive halves of the season in the second half, steamrolling the Wildcats for 50 points.

Game of the Day: Indiana 63, VCU 61: This is the closest that we have come to a buzzer-beater in this NCAA tournament. The Rams blew a late lead to the Hoosiers, who were sparked by a pair of tremendous drives from Victor Oladipo, with just 12.7 seconds left on the clock, a 12 footer baseline jumper from Will Sheehy. At the other end of the floor, VCU got a good look at a three that would have won the game, but it bounced off of the front of the rim.

For the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 18 years, the Hoosiers are headed back to the Sweet 16, where they will get a rematch of their early season classic with Kentucky. I think it is fair to say that Tom Crean officially has this program back.

They’ve had better days: Vanderbilt Commodores: Jeff Taylor had nine points on 4-12 shooting. John Jenkins had 13 points on 3-13 shooting and missed a would-be game-winner. Festus Ezeli had 14 points and 11 boards, but he was also benched early in the game for a rules violation. The ‘Dores lost 60-57 to Wisconsin. Not exactly the way this group wanted to go out.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Does Big East tourney success make it strongest conference?

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The Big East set records last season.

Eleven teams were given an invite to the NCAA tournament. Only two made it out of the first weekend. Both of them were the result of Big East-on-Big East violence; No. 11 seed Marquette upset No. 3 seed Syracuse before getting drubbed by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and, of course, UConn rolled through Cincinnati en route to the national title.

Every other Big East team — all seven of them — fell in either the first or the second round. It’s not exactly a rousing performance for a conference that had been mentioned as one of the best ever.

This year, the Big East still got nine teams into the NCAA tournament, but for a variety of reasons, the conference was generally looked down upon. It’s not easy to figure out way. Coming off of such a dismal postseason performance, the nation watched as South Florida managed to finish tied for fourth place in the conference. South Florida! One of the teams that they were tied with, Cincinnati, had lost to Presbyterian earlier in the season.

So you can see why the rest of the country had their doubts.

But this year, the Big East is actually performing. After Saturday’s games, three Big East teams have made their way into the Sweet 16 — Syracuse beat Kansas State, Marquette survived Murray State and Louisville eliminated New Mexico. And with Georgetown playing NC State, South Florida taking on Ohio and Cincinnati squaring off with Florida State, there is a good chance that two more get through Sunday, if not all three.

When do we start asking the question of whether or not the Big East is the nation’s best conference?

Because at this point, the only other league that deserves to be in the conversation is the Big Ten. The SEC has just two teams left in the tournament. Same with the Big 12 and the Atlantic 10. The ACC has three left, but in order to get three teams into the Sweet 16, the ACC needs a 3-0 day Sunday.

The Big Ten, like the Big East, already has three teams in the Sweet 16. But unlike the Big East, getting five into the Sweet 16 is not probably. Purdue would have to upset Kansas while Michigan State holds serve against St. Louis. (But since the Big East has more teams — and more tournament teams — than the Big Ten, I think it’s fair to say four Big Ten teams is roughly equivalent to five Big East teams.)

To be frank, determining conference strength based on tournament performance is not exactly an precise exercise. I don’t think anyone would be smart to argue that the Big Ten wasn’t the best league in the country.

But it is fair to say that, based on the way they were viewed during the regular season, the Big East has way out-performed expectations.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Photo of the Day: Indiana’s delight after being Sweet again

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When a basketball-proud program makes the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade, that’s the Photo of the Day.

Baylor fans might contend that this shot of Brady Heslip – he of the nine 3-pointers against Colorado – is the image of Saturday’s games. Heslip’s shooting certainly stole the show, but it would overlook the most important image of the day. And the best one.

Besides, Indiana’s dramatic win against 12-seed VCU also gave us the day’s best finish.

Will Sheehey hits a jumper with 12.7 seconds remaining, then Indiana holds on for the win? That’s sheer joy.

source: Getty Images

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Peyton Siva is Louisville’s difference-maker, even when he stuggles

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Midway through January, the discussion wasn’t whether or not Louisville had a chance to make the Sweet 16. The potential for a tournament run was secondary for a team that many thought could miss the NCAA tournament. Losing by 29 to Providence isn’t exactly the way to inspire confidence.

But the Cardinals turned things around dramatically, getting healthy and making a run through the Big East tournament before once again becoming a trendy upset pick as a four seed in the NCAA tournament.

With a 59-56 win over New Mexico on Saturday night, I think it is finally safe to say that Louisville has proved its doubters wrong as they are now headed for the Sweet 16 and a date with Michigan State.

The leading scorer on Saturday was the always-entertaining Russ Smith, who finished with 17 points, but the Cardinals best player on this night was probably Gorgui Dieng, the center that finished with 10 boards, three blocks and two steals. Louisville is a better team when those two are playing that way.

The most important player, however, was Peyton Siva. Coming into this game, Siva was playing some of the best basketball of his career. In the last five games, he had averaged 14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 2.6 spg. Against New Mexico, Siva wasn’t great. He finished with just six points and five assists, but he was the guy with the ball in his hands down the stretch, and he came up huge for Rick Pitino’s club.

After New Mexico had cut a 15 point lead to three, it was Siva that found Chane Behanan for a layup to push the lead back to five. Two possessions later, Siva split the defense for a tough layup over one of New Mexico’s big men. After the Lobos had worked the lead back to two points with a minute left, it was Siva coming off of a ball-screen and finding Gorgui Dieng for a dunk that pushed the lead to four. New Mexico never threatened again.

When Siva plays like this, he makes Louisville a different basketball team.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Brady Heslip catches fire; he’ll be Baylor’s key next week

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Conventional wisdom had Colorado needing to shut down Baylor’s front court if they were to have any chance of knocking off the Bears and advancing to the Sweet 16.

With the way that Brady Heslip shot the ball in Baylor’s 80-63 victory it wouldn’t have mattered what the Buffaloes would have been able to do in the paint.

Heslip went into “NBA Jam” mode, knocking down 9 of 12 shots from beyond the arc and finishing with a game-high 27 points. That set a school record for the most made  3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game, with the NCAA record being 11 by Loyola Marymount’s Jeff Fryer (vs. Michigan in 1990).

“I thought Colorado really made it tough for our interior to score as efficient as we normally do,” said Baylor head coach Scott Drew, who has his 2nd Sweet 16 trip in three years.

“I think we missed some easy buckets.  Because they were helping so much, it allowed Brady to get open on some of the screening action.”

This was an incredible performance by Heslip, who has shot the ball well over the last five games. The nephew of former Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano entered Saturday’s game having made 15 of 31 from deep over the last four games, but he took it to another level tonight.

Two of Heslip’s 3-pointers were part of a 14-0 run that blew the game wide open, with an Anthony Jones three giving the Bears a 75-60 lead with 4:26 remaining.

Colorado, who relied on their defense to win the Pac-12 tournament and knock off UNLV on Thursday night, didn’t have the firepower necessary to hang with Baylor on this night.

Pierre Jackson added 15 points and ten assists and Quincy Acy grabbed ten rebounds, with the Bears taking advantage of their size in the paint by grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.

But the story of the night is Heslip, a player who couldn’t get off the bench at Boston College and transferred to Baylor after that freshman campaign.

source: Getty Images

“I know how hard he’s worked.  When he came in, we knew how good of a shooter he was,” said Acy of Heslip. “Every time I went to the gym at night, I would see him in there sometimes twice a day.  He works for it.  I know whenever he gets hot, he can out-shoot anybody”

And he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity, which bodes well for the Bears’ Final Four hopes as they head to Atlanta for next week’s South Regional.

With neither Lehigh or Xavier possessing the interior talent to contend with Baylor’s big men, the Bears’ next opponent will need to compensate for that disadvantage somehow.

And given what Heslip did to Colorado, there should be little doubt that the Burlington, Ontario native can make them pay should either team decide to use their guards to help.

Indiana takes another step toward a return to national prominence

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On multiple occasions this season there were questions as to whether or not the Indiana program was “back”. Buzzer-beating win over Kentucky and a home win over Ohio State were two examples of the growth under Tom Crean.

The Hoosiers can now add their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2002 to the resume as they beat 12-seed VCU 63-61, with Will Sheehey’s baseline jumper with 12.7 seconds remaining being the difference.

Indiana got it done down the stretch by refusing to wilt in the face of VCU’s “havoc” system, which forced 22 Hoosier turnovers on the night.

Adversity that would have sunk Indiana in before this season failed to do so, and that’s another sign of what Crean has been able to do in Bloomington.

“I think Indiana deserves a lot of credit for the guts they showed at the end of this game.  They could have quit, but they really, really battled,” said VCU head coach Shaka Smart.

“They fought through some adversity. And that’s what you have to do to advance this time of year. And I think that’s a testament to the players, but also Coach Crean and his coaching staff.”

Christian Watford and Cody Zeller scored 16 points apiece and Victor Oladipo made some big plays down the stretch, and when they got the chance to shoot Indiana made 52% of their shots.

Regardless of what Indiana was able to do offensively, without their effort on the defensive end the Rams would likely be making their second straight Sweet 16 appearance.

Indiana fan reaction (h/t Troy Machir)

IU scored the final seven points of the game, keeping VCU scoreless for 2 minutes and 26 seconds. VCU shot 40% from the field and made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc, with their last three coming with 13:49 left in the game.

VCU had some good looks, most notably Rob Brandenburg’s in the final seconds, but they went cold late. The end result is a Sweet 16 trip for a program that hit rock bottom, and now that it’s up Indiana has designs on sticking around for the long haul.

Kentucky looms for Indiana in Atlanta, but on this night the Hoosiers can celebrate taking another step towards their traditional place in college basketball.

“It’s been a constant grind for us ever since the end of last year,” said Watford. “We’ve been working hard and we did a great job with adversity, and it feels great to be in this position.”

Raphielle Johnson is the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed at @raphiellej.