NCAA Tournament 2014: Winners and Losers of Day 5
No overtimes? No 40-point games?
Man, Saturday was slacking.
OK, maybe Thursday and Friday left us a bit greedy, but the third day of the tournament (play-in days do not qualify) didn't exactly live up to to the precedent that had been set.
There was a bit too much defense and too much sloppiness—Saint Louis and Louisville, my eyes are still hurting—but Oregon-Wisconsin, John Beilein, Shabazz Napier and Xavier Thames made up for it with some visually-pleasing performances.
And we almost got another buzzer-beater, only Mr. Clutch, Tyler Ennis, ran out of magic. Dayton and Sean Miller's little brother were cool with that. The Flyers were a big winner and the first double-digit seed to move on to the Sweet 16.
Let's take a look at the other winners and losers on this not-quite-epic Saturday.
Winner: Shabazz Napier
Three years ago Kemba Walker owned the NCAA tournament. Two games in, Shabazz Napier is putting his stamp on the dance.
The Connecticut senior guard, once a sidekick to Walker, carried his team into the Sweet 16 with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in a 77-65 win over Villanova. He even mixed in a right leg injury late in the game, returning to help close out the win.
His contested jumpers off the dribble will be lingering in Villanova defenders' nightmares long after this one. Napier just kept knocking down big shot after big shot to put away the second-seeded Wildcats.
Another great performance to add to his All-American season and legacy at Connecticut.
Loser: Florida Skeptics
If there was a reason to doubt that Florida could win the national title, it was the lack of a NBA prospect who can take over a game when nothing else is going right.
Well, can we retire that narrative now?
Scottie Wilbekin may not make millions in the Association, but he is playing as well as any point guard in the tournament and has been a great closer all season. He showed the country that in the final nine minutes against Pittsburgh when he scored 13 of his game-high 21 points, his final three buckets all coming late n the shot clock. The Gators took care of Pitt, 61-45.
Florida's defense, which held Pittsburgh to a season-low 0.82 points per possession, is dominant enough to carry the Gators to a title. What makes them great is they play without ego. But don't say they don't have a star. Wilbekin is that guy.
Winner: Archie Miller
Arizona coach Sean Miller's little brother could be the next big thing in coaching at Dayton.
It's funny how one shot—in this case, Tyler Ennis' failed buzzer-beater—can be what gets a coach a new job. But that'll likely be the case for Archie Miller.
By getting to the Sweet 16 with a 55-53 win over Syracuse, Miller is in line to get a bigger job if he wants it. Wake Forest maybe?
Miller has definitely done a fine job with this team and appears to have the coaching chops of his brother. He was likely already destined for a major-conference someday. The Sweet 16 appearance will likely just speed up the process.
Loser: Pittsburgh's Luck
Here's a fact that should make Florida fans giddy: Three of the last four teams to knock Pitt out of the tourney (Wichita State in 2013, Butler in 2011 and Villanova in 2009) have all advanced to the Final Four.
You could say the Panthers need to win more games and get a better seed. Well, they were a No. 1 seed in 2011 when they ran into Brad Stevens and eighth-seeded Butler.
Jamie Dixon has developed a reputation as a coach who does well in the regular season but not the postseason. The truth is he has had some tough draws.
Winner: Anyone Who Watched Wisconsin-Oregon
Hey look, there's still some good offense being played in college basketball.
Oregon and Wisconsin put on a great show on a day that included some ugly offensive performances. Yeah, Louisville-Saint Louis, Dayton-Syracuse and North Dakota State-San Diego State, we're looking at you.
The Badgers showed that Bo Ryan teams don't have to win slow, running and gunning and out-dueling the Ducks at their pace in the 85-77 win.
Sure, there wasn't a lot of defense being played in this one—the two teams combined for six steals and two blocks—but there was plenty of defense being played elsewhere. It was nice to see the ball go through the bucket for a change.
Loser: Anyone Who Watched Louisville-Saint Louis
Not that I don't appreciate great defense (I do), but it was more than just great defense that led Louisville and Saint Louis to score a combined 41 points in the first half.
Lots of traveling, fumbling and brick laying made for eye bleeding. That was bad basketball. The 37 combined turnovers reflect that.
Credit to the Cardinals for winning ugly in the 66-51 slopfest, but they're going to need to get their offense fixed at some point to keep advancing. It would certainly help if star guard Russ Smith gets back on track. In two tourney games, Smith is shooting 31.6 percent and has 13 turnovers.
Winner: John Beilein
John Beilein won the 700th game of his coaching career and his two-guard offense dominated the game.
The Wolverines ran Beilein's sets to perfection, turning the ball over only four times and knocking down 14-of-28 threes in a 79-65 win over Texas.
Michigan will get to play a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16—the winner of Mercer-Tennessee—and Beilein's team looks to have a legitimate shot at back-to-back Final Fours after starting the season 6-4.
Loser: Syracuse's Shooters
Ice-cold shooting didn't just kill Syracuse on this night. It was the undoing of the Orange the last month.
The Orange missed all 10 three-point attempts against Dayton and had shot just 29.7 percent from deep over the last eight games, five of those losses.
If there was one guy who was key to Syracuse's ups and downs, it was Trevor Cooney. At one point this season, Cooney made 31 of 59 threes over an eight-game stretch (all wins). He missed all four of his attempts against Dayton and made only 13-of-57 over Syracuse's nightmare final eight games.
Winner: The Big Ten
Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State moved onto the Sweet 16.
A year ago, the Big Ten was the consensus best league in America, but this year many experts agreed that the Big 12 was the country's best.
What about now?
The Big Ten is the frontrunner to have more representation in the Sweet 16 than any other conference. The Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and American all have chances to match on Sunday. For the Big 12, all three remaining teams (Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State) have yet to play in the round of 32; the Pac-12 still has Arizona, UCLA and Stanford; the SEC has Kentucky and Tennessee with a chance to join Florida; and Memphis could join fellow AAC squads Louisville and UConn.
Baylor, Stanford, Kentucky and Memphis are all underdogs. Odds are no one will be able to match the Big Ten.
Loser: The Cinderellas (Small Majors)
Let's go ahead and retire the term "mid-major." It's too difficult to define. Are the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West mid-major leagues? I don't think so.
But Harvard (Ivy League) and North Dakota State (Summit League) are certainly small-major schools that got to live that Cinderella life for a few days. Their runs ended on Saturday.
Mercer and Stephen F Austin have a chance on Sunday to become America's little sweetheart in the Sweet 16 this year.
As for Dayton and even Wichita State, those schools are from leagues that we've come to know and respect. They are no Cinderellas.
Winner: Xavier Thames
San Diego State has a great defense and is a one-man show on offense.
When that one man, Xavier Thames, plays like he did on Saturday, the show will go on.
Thames dropped 30 points and had five assists as the Aztecs rolled to a relatively easy win over the North Dakota State Bison.
The senior guard set himself up for a possible redemption game in the Sweet 16 against Arizona. Against the Wildcats in the second game of the season, Thames scored 19 points, but was only 5-of-16 from the field in the 69-60 loss. He'll need to be better for the Aztecs to have a chance in the potential rematch.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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