NCAA March Madness: The Not So Messed Up Midwest Region
This is the region responsible for the majority of busted brackets in this year’s NCAA March Madness. Michigan State, Utah, and Purdue all left the Dance earlier than most of us projected. As we arrive at the Sweet 16, the region really isn’t all that crazy. The #1-#4 seed match-up held to form. When the seeding was announced many complained that Michigan State should have been a #1 seed over Virginia. After wins over Butler and Iowa State, Virginia as a #1 seed has been validated.
Gonzaga and Syracuse are the most unlikely of the remaining 16, but they’re hardly Cinderellas. Reaching seven Sweet 16’s since 1999, or reaching five Final Fours and winning a National Championship revoke Cinderella eligibility regardless of seeding. That’s a resume fairly common among Elite 8 participants in past NCAA March Madness tournaments.
#1 Virginia vs. #4 Iowa State
Virginia is a great defensive team, but you don’t get to 28 wins while running the gauntlet of the ACC by being one-dimensional. Iowa State on the other hand, is a great offensive team that averages over 80 points per game. It’s a cliché unlikely to catch on, but today good offense and good defense beat good offense as Virginia won convincingly 84-71. Mike Tobey was a somewhat-unlikely hero. He averaged under 7 points per game over the season, but scored 18 points in this game, many of which were at key moments.
Virginia stormed ahead 17-3 in the first 6 minutes of the game. Iowa State’s primarily zone defense was shredded as Virginia shot over 60% for the half en route to a 45-31 lead. Georges Niang played much of the first half with two fouls, but managed to stay on the floor and his 15 points kept Iowa State somewhat in the game.
The Cyclones upped the tempo to a pace of their liking to start the second half. They made a run to cut the deficit into single digits when Niang picked up his 4th foul. He and his 22 points went to the bench at the 13-minute mark in an 8-point game. The momentum vanished. The pace slowed. The Virginia lead expanded. Niang returned at the 9-minute mark but the damage was done. He finished with a game-high 30 points.
#10 Syracuse vs. #11 Gonzaga
There’s that guy in everybody’s NCAA March Madness Tournament Pool who picks every higher seed to advance.
Thanks to these two teams that cheap guy has worse odds of winning your cash. Now the concern is if anyone in your pool has Syracuse in the Elite 8 after tonight’s 63-60 win. Michael Gbinije struggled shooting, but his 20 points led the offensive effort as Syracuse used suffocating defense to survive and advance.
Gonzaga has faced zone defense only 8% of the time this season, but you couldn’t tell from watching them take a 13-4 lead. Kyle Wiltjer came out on fire, hitting 6-8 FGs and 3-3 from deep in the first half. He finished with a game-high 23 points. Domantas Sabonis dominated the glass with 17 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive. Syracuse played a poor first half offensively only shooting 31%, but thanks to converting on some of Gonzaga’s 10 turnovers they cut the deficit to one at halftime.
Syracuse took their first lead on the first possession of the second half. Gonzaga struggled to penetrate the zone, at times relying on contested 25-footers at the end of the shot clock. They didn’t even attempt a free throw until nearly 30 minutes into the game. Around the 10-minute mark, the Syracuse zone appeared to weaken. This could be a result of fatigue as Syracuse only has a 7-man rotation with every starter averaging over 30 minutes. Gonzaga capitalized on closer open shots, some of which resulted from their strong performance on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs held a two-possession lead with 3 minutes to play before unraveling. The Syracuse zone may have tired, but their full-court press gave them a second wind. The pressure forced turnovers, as they finished the game on a 9-1 run to steal the victory.