Originally Published: March 22, 2013

In low-scoring tourney, playmakers still matter

By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

They say defense wins championships.

Oh, really?

Friday's results belied that notion. Wisconsin was the Big Ten's top scoring defense in conference play (55.8 PPG allowed). Its abrasive man-to-man style anchors Bo Ryan's philosophy. Force tough shots on defense, work for smart shots on offense -- even if that means using all 35 seconds on the shot clock for each attempt.

And in the first half, the strategy worked. Marshall Henderson, the SEC's top scorer, made just one of his first 13 shots. And then, he began to feel it. A few 3s, a floater, a drive. The most polarizing figure in college was suddenly a hero after halftime.

The Badgers couldn't identify a similar offensive star. They recorded just one field goal in the final 6:52 of the loss. Once the Marshall Henderson Show began after halftime, Ryan needed his own initiator to counter the Ole Miss star.

Not just another stop.

When Dr. James Naismith invented the game, he didn't start with a 1-3-1 zone. His idea began with a peach basket and a ball. The goal? Score more than your opponent.

Eddie Murray
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesThe Eagles of FGCU were flying all over the place on Friday night.

Offense is still the great equalizer in college basketball. There's the 3-point line, the layup, the dunk, the hook, the free throw, the jump shot, the runner, etc. Success via any combination of the aforementioned methods can lead to victory. Something that a man-to-man or zone scheme can't achieve on its own.

Ask Georgetown.

The alley-oop is not just a play. It's a statement. Any squad that throws one -- whether designed or spontaneous -- aims to score and embarrass its opponent. That's why men and women cover their mouths, scream and jump when they see one. They understand its intentions.

So the college basketball world rose, yelled and gasped in unison when Brett Comer threw a picture-perfect lob to Chase Fieler for a one-handed dunk in the final minutes of Florida Gulf Coast's upset of 2-seed Georgetown on Friday night.

Defense is a pivotal component of any team's success, especially in the postseason. But the day's results also suggested that playmakers are equally essential.

The Eagles, a 15-seed, won their first NCAA tournament game in just their second season of eligibility. Their school (founded in 1991) is younger than some of their players.

Their head coach, Andy Enfield, is married to a former cover model. He reportedly makes $150,000 a year. John Thompson III's seven-figure salary tops the $971,000-plus sum that Florida Gulf Coast pays all of its head coaches each season, per the U.S. Department of Education. Enfield has three Europeans and a trio of Division I transfers on his roster.

Sherwood Brown, a senior from Orlando, wasn't even rated by ESPN.com's RecruitingNation in the class of 2009. His profile is blank.

But the Atlantic Sun -- not the Atlantic 10 or even Sun Belt -- player of the year led the Eagles to the third 15-over-2 upset in the last two seasons. He scored 24 points. He hugged cheerleaders. He shook the hands of analysts on the sideline before the game clock had expired. He took pictures with his new fans after the game.

The unlikely victory is even more fascinating when Georgetown's defensive numbers are considered. The Hoyas entered the game fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Eagles were 149th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy.

But Florida Gulf Coast played relaxed and loose. Once Georgetown's offense began to stall and future lottery pick Otto Porter (5-for-17 on FGs) couldn't pull the Hoyas forward, Thompson's team was doomed.

Cincinnati, too.

The Bearcats, another defensive force at this level, couldn't keep Creighton quiet. The Bluejays shot 45 percent from the field and 46 percent from the 3-point line. Doug McDermott made shots inside and outside the arc (7-for-15 overall, 2-for-4 from the 3-point line). He was perfect at the charity stripe (11-for-11).

Doug McDermott
Eileen Blass/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati is known for its defense, but it couldn't hold back Creighton All-American Doug McDermott.

Cincy kept it close. But its missed shots were just as significant as its late stops.

Down in Texas, Illinois' Brandon Paul (17 points) hit a critical late 3-pointer and went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the final minute of a win over Colorado. The Buffaloes scored just five points in the final 9 minutes, 30 seconds of the loss.

The difference between NC State and Temple? Khalif Wyatt (31 points).

P.J. Hairston dropped 23 points in North Carolina's win over Villanova.

Freshman Georges Niang (19 points, 9-for-13 on FGs) was the best player on the floor when Iowa State defeated Notre Dame by 18 points.

For every highlight, however, there have been many lows in the NCAA tournament thus far.

The Badgers' hockey team had a higher shooting percentage (25.9) in a Thursday matchup than its men's basketball team had against Ole Miss (25.4 percent) on Friday. In all, the 32 squads that played in the round-of-64 games on Thursday shot a combined 41.1 percent from the field, second-worst in round-of-64 history per ESPN Stats & Information. It was also this round's lowest scoring team average (64.5 PPG) since the shot clock became a part of the game more than a quarter-century ago (1986).

There were many bricks, air balls and awkward attempts on Friday. Angel Rodriguez took a shot from behind his own backboard on Kansas State's final possession in its loss to La Salle. Even the game's most convincing evangelists could not have used most of the material that was produced on Friday to convince any doubters.

The defense of the day wasn't that compelling, either. Any team that will win it all will need balance. That's what Thursday's and Friday's results emphasized.

Nine teams ranked among the top 25 of Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings have already exited the Big Dance (22 made the NCAA tournament). Some of the game's toughest teams were searching for complimentary contributors on the other end of the floor when their defensive efforts weren't sufficient.

That's why playmakers are the separators, especially in March.

Five years from now, we won't remember Andy Kennedy switching defenses to confuse Wisconsin's offense. We'll remember Henderson and his bizarre 19-point effort.

We'll remember McDermott and Wyatt and Hairston and Brown.

Plus, one dunk that exemplified the offensive freedom that our latest Cinderella enjoyed on a special night.

And, of course, the teams that scored more than their opponents.

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