Defense wins championships and all that and yadda yadda, but Saturday at the NCAA Tournament was a showcase of offenses unquestionably ruling the day.
The start of the second round of this year’s tourney had some competitive games but very little in the way of down-to-the-wire finishes, which is to say it was rather ho-hum, almost a mild disappointment by the lofty standards set by an incredible Friday. What the winning teams had in common, though, was that their offensive execution ranged from very good to blindingly hot, and-no matter what they did on defense, even as a lot of it was good-it is the No. 1 reason all eight teams advanced.
Collectively, the winners combined to shoot 53.6% from the floor for the day. Five of the eight winning teams shot at least 52%. Four winners shot at least 47.2% from three-point range. The worst shooting performance by a winner was 46%-and that was by a Duke team in a 71-64 win over Yale that hit 11 of 23 (47.8%) from three-point range.
Miami (Fla.) hit nine of its first 10 shots, and its hot start (plus an equally icy start and some uncharacteristic turnovers for Wichita State) were the difference in a narrow 65-57 win. Iowa State shot 56.6% and hit 11 of 21 from three in a 78-61 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. Virginia shot 73% after halftime, finishing at 55.8% for the game and needing all of it in a 77-69 win over Butler. Gonzaga hit 55.7% from the floor in a stunningly easy 82-59 rout of Utah.
There is no one-size-fits-all description for the reasons for the offensive outburst. Four rank in the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage, but none of them were shooting 53.6% for the season (Indiana was closest at 50.5%). Wichita State, Arkansas-Little Rock and Connecticut (a 73-61 loser to Kansas) were some of the better defensive teams in the country, and this is the second round of the NCAA Tournament, so there are few slouches on either end of the court. Of course, some will note that seven of the eight winners this morning are rated among the top 12 in offensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy’s statistics.
(Also: if anyone doubts whether Saint Mary’s was a dubious snub from this year’s tourney, Saturday could settle it. The Gaels beat Gonzaga twice this year, lead the nation in field goal percentage and by any measures were one of the nation’s top offensive teams.)
Sunday will bring a new day, eight more games and perhaps a different trend among winners. But if form from Saturday follows again, we will have more blazing shooting displays leading teams to the Sweet 16.
- Among winners not covered above, Indiana (48.1% FG) also moved on with a 73-67 win over Kentucky. The Hoosiers move on and now will face North Carolina in a battle of titans after the Tar Heels and their 52% shooting pulled away in the second half for an 85-66 win over Providence.
- Saturday can’t pass without the mention of some of the many seniors who completed their careers and won’t soon be forgotten. Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel will be remembered for years for all they’ve accomplished in putting the Shockers back on the national map, with a Final Four appearance, an NCAA tourney 1 seed, and a total of nine NCAA Tournament wins over four years. Roosevelt Jones of Butler was a unique player whose game will never be duplicated; Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod of Yale were terrific inside players who finally got the due on a national stage they richly deserved; and even Josh Hagins and Roger Woods of Arkansas-Little Rock must be mentioned for how they helped turn around a program that was-incredibly-just 13-18 a year ago but became a 30-game winner this year.
- One NIT game on Saturday saw Creighton rout Wagner 87-54. Also in the CIT, Coastal Carolina ended New Hampshire’s season 71-62 and Louisiana-Lafayette won at Furman 80-72. The Chanticleers and Ragin’ Cajuns are now both in the quarterfinals.
- Reports surfaced on Saturday that Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell is about to be named the new head coach at Rutgers. Pikiell has done a terrific job in 10 years at Stony Brook, taking a program from 4-24 in his first year to three trips to the NIT and, at last, the program’s first NCAA tourney appearance this year. He also was known for the class in which he handled the Seawolves’ numerous near misses before finally getting to the Big Dance, and certainly should have the level nature and patience that will be needed in rebuilding the Rutgers program.
- The rest of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament will be set after eight more games. CBS’s national schedule starts with Iowa against Villanova, Stephen F. Austin taking on Notre Dame and then VCU against Oklahoma. TNT will feature Middle Tennessee State against Syracuse followed by Wisconsin vs. Xavier. TBS will host Hawaii against Maryland and Saint Joseph’s meeting Oregon, and truTV will have the Northern Iowa/Texas A&M game.
- Two second round games in the NIT have Florida at Ohio State and Georgia on the road at St. Mary’s.
- The CIT also has one game as Tennessee-Martin is at Ball State.
Have a terrific Palm Sunday.