The First Four games of the tournament proved to be a microcosm of the first weekend; Filled with furious comebacks, but also a couple clunkers. The first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, what many people consider the true start to the Tournament, was filled with the clunkers. Only the VCU-Wichita State and Colorado-UNLV games were decided by less than 5 points and most of the other games were all but over by the second half. Many fans were scared that this year’s Tournament would fail to live up the the annual hype, but the rest of the weekend was there to remind us that Madness is everywhere. Although there have been no buzzer beaters or overtime games, these last 3 days were filled with stunning upsets, thrilling conclusions, and intense battles. Here are some of the first weekend’s awards:
Player of the Weekend: Draymond Green, Michigan St./Jae Crowder, Marquette
This weekend’s award for the top player had to be shared by two Conference Players of the Year, who continued their strong play throughout their team’s first two games.
Draymond Green joined two Hall of Famers, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, as the only players to have two career triple-doubles in the NCAA tournament. While he may never have the NBA career of the two aforementioned greats, Green has carved his legacy into Michigan State history next to the names Cleaves, Magic, Izzo. Not only is Green an unbelievable player, averaging 20 points and 12.5 rebounds this postseason, he is one of the top leaders in the NCAA and his teammates have a general joy of playing with this gentle giant. He always has a smile on his face and seems to be a genuine extension of Coach Izzo on the floor. He has continually improved throughout his career, adding a new talent every year, and will get better and better as he embarks on an NBA career.
The co-player of the weekend is Big East Player of the Year, Jae Crowder of Marquette University. You would be hard-pressed to find a more relentless player in college basketball than Crowder. Playing with a fire similar to the one Tyler Hansbrough used to exude at UNC, Crowder has been able to lead his less talented Marquette team to a 3 seed and now the Sweet 16. Through the first weekend Crowder is averaging a staggering 21 points and 14.5 rebounds, while also chipping in over 3 steals a game. As far as talent goes, Crowder is not the best shooter in the country, not the best rebounder, passer, defender, but he plays harder than any other player when he steps on the court and makes it his mission to outwork his opponent.
The similarity between these two players is neither was a highly touted recruit. Both were stuck with three star ratings, generally relegated for players projected to be college role players, but worked their way through the college ranks to become the superstars they are today. Neither will go top 10 in the draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise if neither went in the first round this summer, but neither can say their college careers were a disappointment.
Performance of the Weekend: Brady Heslip, Baylor
There are a few defined roles on almost every major college basketball team: the star, the intimidator, the walk ons, the senior leader, and the sniper. The snipers job is to find open spots on the floor, hit three-pointers, fire the team up and turn a game around with their shooting. Well Brady Heslip had a dream game for every sniper on every team in the history of college basketball. On Saturday, against Pac-12 Cinderella Colorado, Heslip went 9-12 from three-point land, amassing all 27 of his points from downtown. The amount of minutes he sat for matched the amount of 2-pointers he took, 1. Any time Colorado started to mount a comeback on 3-seed Baylor, Heslip was there to drain a long range bomb and bump that lead back up. The Buffaloes couldn’t stop Heslip, whether he was pulling up, pump faking his defender to clear space, or running through ten screens on one play, which he does fairly often, to find an opening he kept taking shots and they kept falling. Heslip may never have another game like this in his career, but in twenty years there will be shooters on college teams dreaming of having the game Brady Heslip had in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Play of the Weekend: James McAdoo’s dunk
There has yet to be a buzzer beater this year in the tournament, so it has to be this ridiculous display of athleticism from the UNC Freshman.
Game of the Weekend: VCU-Indiana
As an IU Student am I biased towards Hoosier basketball? Yes. Were there other games deserving of this title such as Missouri-Norfolk State? Yes. But were there any games better than this thriller? No.
The VCU-Indiana game featured everything you like to see out of an NCAA Tournament game. Before even analyzing the game, you just need to look at the teams. In one corner was last year’s surprise Cinderella, VCU, coached by the hottest coaching candidate in basketball, Shaka Smart. Smart has been feverishly linked to one of IU’s biggest rivals, seen as the favorite for the open Illinois coaching job. Through the use of their HAVOC defense, the Rams have captured fans attention throughout the country and gained a following of people who couldn’t locate VCU on a map before last season. They had already defeated Wichita State in a thrilling game and were more than amped to play the Hoosiers.
In the other corner, we had the redemption story. The exact moment when Indiana basketball returned to prominence is debatable, some will say when Cody Zeller committed, as someone who was there I would say its when Christian Watford’s three-pointer knocked down #1 Kentucky, but college basketball is better when Indiana is good and this year they announced they’re back. Many pundits, led by Seth Davis, picked the Hoosiers as a chic upset pick, likely going down before even reaching the Sweet 16, and this gave Coach Tom Crean ammo to motivate his players.
The game had yet to be played and there was already mass intrigue surrounding it. This is when a classic game unfolded. The ranked Hoosiers trailed nearly the whole game, at times it looked as if it was over. Down 9 before half, things were slipping away when Watford hit a 3 pointer and screamed, he was ready to go. He scored 5 more points before the half ended and cut it to a 1 point deficit going into halftime.
Things got heated between the coaches when Tom Crean took offense to Shaka Smart and during an exchange between the two yelled at him to “Coach Your Own Team!” When things returned they played out as they had in the first half, Indiana was unable to set up their offense, being forced into turnover after turnover. Down 3 with a minute left and VCU at the foul line, the Hoosiers could have looked forward to next season, but they didn’t. Both free throws were missed and sophomore Victor Oladipo scored an And-1 to tie the game. After VCU failed to capitalize on their opportunity, Oladipo drove down the lane as fast as he could and was blocked, but there was his partner in crime, Will Sheehey, in perfect position waiting for the ball. There were 12 seconds left, he could’ve held the ball for the last shot, but he played with the same aggressive nature he has all season and pulled up for a 12 footer and hit the closest thing we have seen to a buzzer beater this tournament.