V-RECAPS | Sweet 16 | Friday, March 28
(7) Michigan State 60, (6) Maryland 58 -- Coach Tom Izzo's Spartans survived a major scare. Maryland rallied from a 54-40 deficit to take the lead, but in the end Spartans diaper dandy Paul Davis was too tough in the clutch.
Davis scored his team's last six points -- including the game-winner -- to send Michigan State to the Elite Eight. This has been an amazing run for the Spartans, especially considering their 70-40 loss at Illinois on Feb. 18.
Q: All four No. 1 seeds have never reached the Final Four. How many No. 1s will get there this year?
VITALE -- I feel that all four No. 1 seeds will make it to New Orleans. Simply put, I believe they're the most talented teams in the tournament.
Oklahoma in the East, Texas in the South, Kentucky in the Midwest and Arizona in the West ... to me, there's no doubt that they're the best of the best in college basketball.
The selection committee did a great job seeding the field. The bottom line is, the cream will rise to the top. Chalk City, baby -- the talent and the chalk will prevail in 2003!
Michigan State has now won eight of 10 games. Defense has been the key so far in the NCAA Tournament; the Spartans are yielding just 56 points per game. Holding Maryland and Florida in check is a major accomplishment.
Izzo has to be concerned about the lack of a true point guard when facing pressure defense, as Maryland's 15-0 run was aided by a number of turnovers and Steve Blake steals. Speaking of Blake, I'm glad I got to see him play the past four years with the Terps. He's been a dynamite maestro man.
Next the Spartans play the best guard in America, T.J. Ford of Texas, my choice for national player of the year. He's the Roy Jones Jr. of college basketball -- pound for pound, he's the best player in America, baby!
(1) Texas 82, (5) Connecticut 78 -- Texas certainly had the home-court advantage, as there was a sea of orange down in San Antonio. The Longhorns had great fan support, but they were really challenged by coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies.
When Texas maestro man T.J. Ford got into foul trouble in the second half -- picking up his fourth foul with 10:30 left -- Connecticut was able to rally from a double-digit deficit and take a three-point lead.
But Brandon Mouton wouldn't let the Longhorns lose, scoring 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Mouton hit 4-of-7 trifectas while the rest of the Longhorns were 1-of-11 (5-of-18 overall as a team; UConn also struggled at 4-of-13).
When Ford returned with about three minutes to go, he did what he does best -- penetrate and create. Ford made a pass to Mouton for a big score, and then he iced it on the free-throw line.
UConn super soph Emeka Okafor had -- no surprise -- a double-double (21 points, 17 boards).
But Texas was able to prevail against an outstanding UConn team that has a bright, bright future. With Okafor and fellow sophomore Ben Gordon returning next season, the Huskies will make lots of noise as one of the nation's elite teams.
Today, though, the moment belongs to coach Rick Barnes and the Longhorns, who are on their way to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1990. Texas will play Michigan State for the right to go to the Final Four.
The Longhorns need Ford to avoid foul trouble against the Spartans, because he brings another dimension to their offense with his unbelievable passing ability.
(3) Syracuse 79, (10) Auburn 78 -- Wow, what a rally by Auburn. After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Tigers chipped away and then made a furious charge to the finish line, hitting four trifectas in the game's final 78 seconds.
But Syracuse held on, thanks to diaper dandy Carmelo Anthony, who scored all 18 of his points in the second half. Sophomore guard Josh Pace scored 14 and sophomore forward Hakim Warrick 15 for coach Jim Boeheim's club. Senior guard Kueth Duany added 12 points -- including four huge free throws (on four attempts) in the last 27 seconds.
Give Auburn credit and respect. Coach Cliff Ellis' Tigers battled back -- and remember, some experts said they didn't belong in the Big Dance, baby! Once they got their bid, they made the most of it, advancing to the Sweet 16.
In his last college game Friday, Auburn senior forward Marquis Daniels was magnificent (27 points, nine rebounds). Sophomore guard Nathan Watson added 16 points, hitting 4-of-7 trifectas, including three in the last 1:35.
Now Syracuse moves on to face Oklahoma in the Elite Eight on Sunday. Let me tell you, with a home-court advantage in Albany, the Orange could pull off the W. The selection committee needs to make more of an effort to avoid giving teams virtual home games in what's supposed to be a fair tournament. But I believe the experienced and talented Sooners will prevail.
(1) Oklahoma 65, (12) Butler 54 -- Oklahoma marches on and now has a chance to return to the Final Four (remember, the Sooners got to Atlanta last year, losing to Indiana in the national semifinals).
One key stat that stood out for the Sooners had nothing to do with points, assists or rebounds. All-American guard Hollis Price, who has been bothered by a pulled groin muscle, played 37 minutes (scoring 12 points). This is great news for Oklahoma. Price had limited playing time in the first two tourney games and just eight points.
But the Sooners' star of stars was Ebi Ere, who struggled with his shot during the season (37.4 percent) and in the tourney's first two games (3-of-19). On Friday he was brilliant, utilizing his size advantage over the smaller Butler defenders, scoring 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Diaper dandy Kevin Bookout added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Butler really struggled shooting the 3-pointer (4-of-13). Against Louisville in the second round, the Bulldogs hit 14-of-22 trifectas. So you knew that coach Kelvin Sampson's club would be ready to contain the 3-point barrage of Darnell Archey, Brandon Miller and company. Archey, who hit 8-of-9 trifectas vs. Louisville, was 1-of-3 on Friday.
Still, it was a great effort from Butler, who proved that when you play as a team, you can challenge the big boys of college basketball -- just ask Mississippi State and Louisville, the teams Butler beat on the way to the Sweet 16.
Sampson keeps adding to his resumé and has quickly become one of America's elite coaches. He gets the most out of his players defensively and molds them into a team. He is a star in the coaching fraternity.