By Budd Bailey
At least the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament is half as long as the first round.
It’s tough enough to follow four games in one day on television. That’s a lot of basketball, going from noon until midnight.
But at least those persons get a nice break in the middle. For those watching in the KeyBank Center on Thursday, the four games were even a tougher test of endurance.
I’m sure there were those who bailed on at least one of the later games of the day. Then again, they are the ones who were wishing they hung around a little longer. After all, all four of Buffalo’s first-round games were decided in the final minute or less. All that was needed was overtime. Well, you can’t have everything.
That might have been a function of the seeding. We didn’t get any of the top three seeds in a particular region, and those are the ones that are the most likely to get one-sided wins.
But there might be something else going on here too. It used to be that when some of the low seeds would play a close game in the tournament, they would hang on to the lead for a while and then just wear down and stop scoring. And they’d lose. Chattanooga looked a little like that in putting up a great but ultimately fruitless performance against Illinois.
But at other times, those double-digit seeds not only have gotten the lead but held it until triple zeroes. We had a couple of examples of that on Thursday. Richmond wasn’t even supposed to be here, but won the Atlantic 10 Tournament to sneak in the back door. Then the Spiders go out and knock off an Iowa team that won the Big 10 Tournament. The same could be said about a New Mexico State team that did a great deal right during the regular season. The veteran squad then refused to buckle when facing a Top 25 team in Connecticut.
What’s going on here? Certainly some of the low seeds have more juniors, seniors and grad students that have been around the block a few times. And maybe the way the kids transfer to other schools has made it easier to spread the talent out, which produces a little parity.
It just feels like you don’t know what you might get on a given game. It’s maddening, but it’s fun.
I offer the now usual disclaimer about covering games here. You can get the play-by-play story in other, more traditional sources. These are my thoughts on what happened.
Providence 79, Richmond 51
Sometimes a top seed can look a little nervous in playing its first game of the NCAA tournament, and then they settle in for a good second game two days later.
That could be applied to the team from Providence College this weekend. But there are a couple of simpler explanations for the win against Richmond on Saturday night.
The first is – three-point shooting, in either direction, sure can make a difference. In this case, it worked both ways. Providence was 12 of 22 from long distance, while Richmond was 1 of 22 (yes, 1 of 22). That will do it. Good defensive teams can force shooters to hurt those long shots, and it sure looked like the winners qualified.
One observer thought that the Spiders’ shots from downtown were often short. Could it be that Richmond was a little low on gas after playing six games in a little over a week? Did Providence get the Spiders out of the comfort zone? A little bit of both?
The Friars came out firing right from the start. They hit seven threes in the first 11 minutes of the game. The score after the last one was 30-14. While you never say never at this time of the year – ask Baylor and North Carolina – it sure seemed like the Spiders were in big trouble. And they were.
The rebounds also went heavily in Providence’s favor. The final margin was 38-27. During much of the first half, Richmond took and missed some long-range shots, and only white uniforms were around the basket to grab the rebound. In other words, there were few offensive rebounds and easy baskets to be found that way. The Friars had a 12-0 edge in second-chance points in the first half; the final total was 14 to 3.
Five different players were in double figures for Providence (27-5), which was led by Noah Horchler’s 16 points and 13 rebounds. Nathan Cayo had 18 points for Richmond (24-13) on 9 of 11 shooting.
“That was as well as we’ve played all year, and we picked the right time to do it,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.
With about four minutes left, the Providence fans in the KeyBank Center started chanting, “We want Kansas.” They’ll get them … in Chicago, on Friday night.
Arkansas 53, New Mexico State 48
Some basketball games are like a track meet, with players flying down the court showing spectacular effort. This game was more like a football contest, methodically advancing down the court for three yards and a cloud of dust.
Consider the fact that Arkansas shot 27.5 percent from the field, including 3 of 16 on three-pointers. Usually that’s good for a ticket home. Instead, it was good for a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen in San Francisco next week. The Razorbacks knocked off New Mexico State, who had hoped to add Arkansas to its list of NCAA victims after Thursday’s win over Connecticut.
The first half will not go into the Museum of Artistic Basketball. A total of five points were scored in the first five minutes. The Aggies had a 9-7 lead with 11 minutes gone, and then scored one basket during the next nine minutes. Arkansas had a 13-point lead in the final seconds, which was reduced by a rare four-point play in the final moments by Clayton Henry.
The Aggies turned up the defense in the opening part of the second half, and finally took the lead at 33-32 with 8:06. Everyone who wasn’t from Arkansas was rooting for the Aggies. But Arkansas played like a top 20 team at last, going on a 9-0 run to take control of the game. The Razorbacks had some nervous moments down the stretch, but good free throw shooting maintained a lead.
One story of the game was that Arkansas held NMSU’s Teddy Allen to 12 points; he had 37 against Connecticut on Thursday night.
“They just doubled on me when I had the ball in attacking position,” Allen said. “Credit to them for having a good gameplan.”
JD Notae led Arkansas with 18 points, while Johnny McCants had 16 for New Mexico State.
It was the sixth and final game of the NCAA tournament, and all but one were memorable. That’s a good batting average. It was also the last game for McCants, who no doubt will remember Buffalo for the rest of his life. It was the place where he won his first and only NCAA tournament game. He paused on his way out of the arena for a moment to take it all in.
“It was the end of my college career,” he said. “I gave thanks to Coach (Chris) Jans for taking me in. Gave thanks to the fans and my teammates. It was the last moment I had. It was a blessing to be here.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)