The College Basketball Notebook

March 26, 2010 11:00 AM

History In Salt Lake

Wow. Wow. Wow. That’s all I could say, albeit a little more passionately and with a few more expletives laced in as I watched Xavier-Kansas State. When I was doing my little research project earlier this week to find the best Sweet 16 games played in each regional since 1976 (the post-Wooden era, scroll down through the regional overviews below to see the results), I was lamenting at the limited choices in the West bracket. Xavier-Kansas State fixed that last night with an absolutely epic double-overtime game in Salt Lake City.

K-State seemed to have the game in end on four different occasions, but Xavier escaped the first three. The first one is almost forgotten—the Wildcats jumped out to a 15-point lead in the first half and there was no indication history was going to be made. But the lead was gone by halftime and Xavier went in up one.

Finally at the end of regulation, after a back-and-forth second half, Kansas State seemed to have it in hand with a three-point lead and the clock nearing five seconds. Bill Martin instructed his team to foul and prevent a game-tying three-pointer. An obvious foul was left uncalled (though not unnoticed by CBS analyst Len Elmore who correctly called the officials on it). K-State’s Chris Meriweather reached in to try and finish the job. Replays showed him frantically pull his arms back as he realized Terrell Holloway was starting to go up. Too late. The foul was in the act of shooting and Holloway, who scored 26, coolly drained all three free throws to force overtime. While Meriweather was a little overzealous, I think a pardon for him is easier than a pardon for the missed call in the first place. The players were in the “foul first” mindset, when Meriweather made his move, Holloway hadn’t yet started to shoot and he was just too late in recovering. No question that better awareness that the time to foul had passed would have been ideal, but that’s a tough ideal to demand from a reserve that’s coming into the court thinking that they need to foul. A minor mistake that had major consequences.

At the end of the first overtime, Kansas State again nursed a three-point lead. Xavier’s offensive set broke down. Jordan Crawford, brilliant throughout this tournament banged in a three-pointer from somewhere on the outskirts of Cheyenne. Crawford finished the night with 32 and forced a second overtime.

The conclusion of the second overtime saw it all play out again—Wildcats up by three, Xavier with the ball. After surviving a 15-point deficit, needing a lucky foul and hitting a three-pointer from way out, this time saw the Musketeers get a clean look from right on the three-point line. Showing that sports can always rear its sense of irony, this one missed and K-State survived.

Kansas State’s mental toughness is to be applauded. In each instance, especially the ending of regulation and the first overtime, I was convinced the time had come for them to pack it in. But they just kept playing basketball, no one better than Jacob Pullen whose 28 points included a pair of huge treys in the second overtime. And ultimately both teams are to be applauded for putting on a show that managed to eclipse a mid-major beating a #1 seed in the opener.

Butler 63 Syracuse 59: This upset is the one that was almost forgotten by night’s end. Backcourt play was identified by the Notebook as the key to the Orange’s success, and they turned the ball over 18 times. It was enough to negate advantages in rebounding and shooting, both from the floor, behind the arc and at the line.

Looking ahead to Butler-Kansas State on Saturday (4:30 EST), the Wildcats have the players, but do they have the legs? They just played an emotional 50-minute game and have a short turnaround. Seemingly minor things like scheduling can have an impact—i.e., this is the first game on Saturday’s docket, a 1:30 PM tip time in Salt Lake, that ensures Kentucky-West Virginia can go in prime-time in the East Coast markets.

West Virginia and Kentucky each systematically dismantled their opponents. The Mountaineers and Washington played a very sloppy game with 44 total turnovers. WVA hit the boards though, with their 41-25 edge being equally distributed throughout their four-forward starting lineup. And Quincy Pondexter was positively awful for the Huskies, scoring seven points and getting only two rebounds. And the Wildcats hit the boards, played defense and got to the line in rolling past Cornell. No standout individual efforts, but the D held Cornell star Ryan Wittman to 10 points.

So you have two neighboring schools representing back-roads populations battling it out for the Final Four. It’s all in Kentucky’s hands—they have the talent, coaching and no real weaknesses. But at the halfway point of their run to an NCAA title, they’ve now passed the point where they can afford to sleepwalk like they did out of the gate in this one and through much of the second half. If Calipari’s ‘Cats don’t play a full 40, they will get beat. But I’m betting that they will. In Saturday’s early game, I lean for Butler to take advantage of fresher legs and upend Kansas State. Note that Saturday’s winners do *not* play each other in Indianapolis next weekend, they will each await Sunday’s results.

Tomorrow we’ll have more recaps as the South and Midwest go into action. Check The Baseball Notebook for more preseason previews. It was the Phils yesterday, the Red Sox today and the Cubs and Yanks to close out the weekend.

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