- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

For a while, it looked like Xavier was going to provide the bracketbusting upset that was lacking from the NCAA tournament’s first two days.

Xavier’s near toppling of top-seeded Ohio State and Greg Oden was the game of the tournament so far and was reminiscent of a few close calls involving nine-seeds and one-seeds in recent years.

Gonzaga’s double-overtime loss to top-seeded Arizona in 2003 probably belongs on a list of the top ten best tournament games of all time. And many fans might recall Saint Joseph’s near-upset of Stanford in 2001, in a game that introduced a little player by the name of Jameer Nelson to America.

Long-time Xavier fans might recall the second round of the tournament in 1993, when the ninth-seeded Musketeers gave Bob Knight and Indiana fits in a 73-70 loss. That same year, ninth-seeded UCLA took a Fab Five-laden Michigan team to overtime in an 86-84 loss.

The last nine seed to make the second round: Alabama-Birmingham in 2004. Before that, it was Boston College, which beat North Carolina in 1994 en route to the Elite Eight.

Free throw woes

It’s no secret Maryland fell to Butler in large part because, unlike Butler’s A.J. Graves, it shot poorly from the free throw line. The Terps shot just 7-for-15 from the charity stripe in a game where every point mattered.

Louisville, meanwhile, might be celebrating a Sweet 16 berth if guard Edgar Sosa hadn’t missed two free throws that would have given the Cardinals the lead with 30 seconds to go. (Talk about painful misses: Sosa shot 15-for-17 from the line for the game and scored 31 points.)

A cursory look at the statistics from several of the games suggests that poor foul shooting and losing aren’t mutually exclusive. Notre Dame shot just 4-for-13 from the line in its loss to Winthrop. Georgia Tech was just 10-for-17 against UNLV. Illinois shot 8-for-16 in its close loss to Virginia Tech.

On the flip side, Oregon, Nevada, and Southern Illinois all shot more than 75 percent from the line in their opening round wins, while Ohio State missed just three of 20 free throws in its close win against Xavier yesterday.

Ugly endings

Boston College didn’t make a basket in the last four minutes of its loss to Georgetown.

Washington State went without a basket in the last seven minutes of its double-overtime loss to Vanderbilt.

Michigan State managed just one basket in the final eight minutes of its loss to North Carolina.

Texas A&M; didn’t make a field goal in the last 4:27 of its game against Louisville, which would have meant a loss had the Cardinals made more than one basket in the last 5:21.

Other teams including Villanova, Holy Cross, Illinois and Georgia Tech also failed to score down the stretch in close losses.

It’s hard to win when a team doesn’t score, and it’s even tougher when that team can’t make a shot at the end of the game.

Guts, but no glory

There’s a popular basketball quotation that says “If you’re hot, shoot the ball. If you’re cold, shoot until you’re hot.”

Virginia Commonwealth must have had that quotation in mind when it was just 2-for-11 on 3-pointers and trailing by 19 against Pitt. The Rams never truly got “hot” but continued to shoot the ball throughout the second half and managed a desperate rally to send the game into overtime. VCU’s Jesse Pellot-Rosa and B.A. Walker hit back-to-back 3s in the second half to cut Pitt’s lead from 16 to 10, and then did it again to cut the lead from 11 to 5.

Alas, it was Pitt’s 3-point shooting that made the difference in the extra period, as the Panthers made two shots while keeping the Rams scoreless from beyond the arc.

Racing to 50

Boy, that UCLA-Indiana game was a frenetic display of scoring wasn’t it?

It’s strange to see a national title contender happy to keep the total score below the century mark, particularly since Indiana was able to get back into last night’s game by hitting just a few shots. But a win is a win, as they say in the land of trite sports phrases.

For a shot at the Elite Eight, UCLA will face Pittsburgh, another team that’s more than happy to score 55 points and win.

A similar score might come from today’s game between Southern Illinois and Virginia Tech. Las Vegas puts the over/under of the game at a low 118, but even 100 might be too high if those teams’ scores from round one are an indicator. Southern Illinois scored just 61 points in beating Holy Cross on Friday, while Virginia Tech scored a mere 54 points in its win over Illinois.

The Salukis play a stifling defense and take about 33 seconds before taking a shot, while the Hokies are perfectly content to run a halfcourt offense and might even play a funky zone reminiscent of some high school squads. Start drinking some caffeinated beverages now.

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