BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Friday evening saw a team from Texas victorious over a Big 12 opponent and two traditional football powers go at it. It wasn’t off tackle and screen passes. Rather, the ball screens and pressure defense was the order of the evening. The later doubleheader in the NCAA first round at Barclays Center saw Stephen F. Austin dominate West Virginia. In the final game of the night, Notre Dame used a strong second half to end michigan’s season.
Stephen F. Austin’s win brought to mind why a number of brackets have been shredded before the first weekend ended. Did you say Michigan State Final Four? Upsets have become the norm for several reasons.
- Unfamiliarity. If a team plays a completely different style than the one you are accustomed to, it’s a problem. You may reside in a moderate-paced tempo league and face someone pushing the ball and trapping on defense. Four days or less preparation may not be enough.
- Maturity. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins noted after his club was eliminated that a number of mid-majors have players staying for four years. Stephen F. Austin was a predominantly senior group. “On our level we get a lot of kids staying a year or two,” Huggins said. “There is a lot to be said for teams that keep their kids together four years.” It was also noted that a blue-chip 18 year old freshman may not have it as easy against a less-talented-but-seasoned 21-year-old Senior. Those years especially from a playing standpoint, make a difference.
- Getting ready mentally. The mid-majors residing in lower seeds are hungry and playing with “house money.” Villanova’s Jay Wright saw his club face UNC Asheville in the opener. The Wildcats won by 30, but Wright noted, “that (Asheville) is a good team. This time of year if you do not bring your ‘A’ game you are going home.” Several West Virginia players admitted to taking Stephen F. Austin lightly. One wonders if the same situation happened with Baylor and Michigan State to name a few.
Stephen F. Austin’s 70-56 elimination of West Virginia saw a role reversal. The Mountaineers are well known for their pressure defense. SFA handled it, committing only seven turnovers for an outstanding 10 percent TO rate. On the other end they pressured the Big 12 representatives, forcing West Virginia into 22 turnovers and an astronomically high 31 percent TO rate.
Individually, 6-4 Senior Thomas Walkup, “the best player on the floor,” per SFA coach Brad Underwood, scored a game-high 33 points. Walkup’s versatility was displayed with team highs in rebounds (nine) and assists (four). To top it off he was 19 of 20 from the charity stripe.
Notre Dame was down a dozen to Michigan at the half of the final game. The Wolverines appeared to be in the driver’s seat and headed to the next round. The final twenty minutes saw the Irish, sparked by 6-8 V. J. Beachem, rally to advance. Beachem scored a game-high 18 points, adding six rebounds, leading the Irish to the 70-63 triumph. Notre Dame outscored Michigan 41-22 during that second half.
Given their affinity for the perimeter game, John Beilein’s club had more turnovers (seven) than free throw attempts (five). Actually the TO rate was a favorable 12 percent. The difference, as noted, the second half with offensive efficiency numbers to illustrate.
Michigan: Offensive efficiency
1st half: 128
2nd Half: 76
Notre Dame Offensive efficiency
1st half: 94
2nd half: 137
What it boiled down to was defense, especially from long range. After shooting 7 of 14 (50 percent) from downtown the first half, the Wolverines were 3 for 13 (23 percent) after intermission. Inside the arc was not much better as Mike Brey’s group limited Michigan to 15 of 36 (42 percent).
The Irish moved on with a second half that saw their scoring increase, but more important, the defense become more effective.