5. Jae Crowder is Also a Monster
Another guy who I would love to have on my team is Marquette’s Jae Crowder. Crowder, like Draymond Green, won his conference’s player of the year award, and he has continued to shine in the NCAA Tournament so far.
Crowder has put up averages of 21 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 3.5 steals in the first two games of the tourney, and he plays with a tenacity that few other players can muster.
Despite being only 6-6, Crowder plays much larger, and what he lacks in height he makes up for in bulk and hustle. Marquette’s identity is that of a tough defensive team that maintains high intensity for 40 minutes, and Crowder is the perfect player for the Golden Eagles.
It remains to be seen what his NBA draft potential will be, but it is clear that Crowder is a guy who places winning above all else and will bring it 100% every time he steps in the floor.
4. Ohio Teams Account for 1/4 of the Sweet Sixteen
Full disclosure: I’m from Ohio. I’m a Michigan fan, however, so I’m not including this as a homer story. After all, I can’t stand Ohio State and the Bobcats of OU just eliminated my Wolverines.
When you think about the fact that a state like Ohio – not really known as a basketball state in the vein of say North Carolina or New York – has 4 teams in the final sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, it really is pretty amazing.
Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier, and Ohio are all still dancing, although at least one of the Ohio squads will be eliminated in the next round as Ohio State and Cincinnati will face each other. As mentioned, Ohio will face 1-seed North Carolina, while Xavier plays 3-seed Baylor.
I think the Buckeyes are peaking at just the right time, so I like their chances to be the Ohio team that represents the state deeper into the tournament.
3. #2 Missouri Upset by #15 Norfolk State
When someone came up with the name “March Madness,” this is what they had in mind. Upsets like this don’t come around very often (unless there are two in one day!), so we have to take time to savor the moment when they do.
Missouri, a 2-seed that many thought deserved a 1-seed, plays a guard-heavy rotation with an uptempo style, and pretty much everyone thought they would blow by Norfolk State, who were appearing in their first NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State had other plans though, as they shot 54% from the floor and 3 players – Kyle O’Quinn, Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin – scored 20 or more points.
Brackets all over the country were busted with this game. Even though Norfolk State got destroyed by Florida in the round of 32 by a score of 84-50, we will all remember their stunning win over Missouri.
2. #1 Syracuse Ekes Out Controversial Win Against #16 UNC Asheville
No 16-seed has ever knocked off a 1-seed, but on Thursday, UNC Asheville gave it about as good a shot as any 16-seed ever has.
After leading at halftime 34-30, Asheville managed to stay within striking distance throughout the entire second half. Down 62-58 with 1:20 left in the game, Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine went to the free throw line to shoot a 1-and-1. He missed the shot, but a lane violation was called against Asheville. The crowd immediately objected, and the call has been hotly debated since. Jardine, given a second chance, sank the front end as well as the second, and Syracuse went up by 6.
To make matters worse, Asheville trailed by only 3 when a ball went out of bounds off Syracuse’s Brandon Triche. The referee awarded the ball to Syracuse, despite replays clearly showing the ball bounce off Triche. That sealed the victory for Syracuse, as Asheville was forced to foul and the Orangemen made 6 free throws to close out the game.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim further ruffled feathers during the postgame press conference by refusing to admit that his team benefited from the two calls and by not acknowledging how well UNC Asheville had played.
Syracuse went on to win their next game against Kansas State as well, so we’ll see how they fare in the Sweet Sixteen.
1. C.J. McCollum and Lehigh Eliminate Duke
To the delight of basketball fans across the nation, 2-seed Duke was upset by 15-seed Lehigh on Friday.
Perhaps no program is basketball is more hated than the Blue Devils (note: I don’t hate them, but I usually don’t root for them, either), so fans delighted in seeing their collapse against supposedly lowly Lehigh.
But what no one saw coming was the onslaught of Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum. Sure, McCollum has proven that he can fill the stat sheet as the Patriot League player of the year and leading returning scorer in Division I, but it’s safe to say no one thought he would have his way with a powerhouse like Duke with a star like Austin Rivers on him.
The junior guard poured in 30 points, grabbed 6 boards and dished out 6 assists in leading Lehigh to a 75-70 upending of Duke. Upsets are always among the best things about March Madness, but when a potential star emerges to deal the damage, it adds even more to the story.
McCollum is just that sort of player, as he seems to have the tools necessary to play in the NBA. He needs to work on shot selection, but part of the reason he takes so many shots (including more than a few ill-advised ones) is that he is clearly the playmaker for Lehigh and their offense goes as he goes.
Lehigh lost a tough one 70-58 to Xavier Sunday night to end their season, but they acquitted themselves very well, even in defeat. We don’t yet know if McCollum will be coming back for his senior season or throwing his name into the NBA draft, but either way we will always have the memory of him leading the Mountain Hawks to a stunning victory over the Blue Devils.