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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Round 2: Two Down, Four To Go

There is a large measure of satisfaction in this Wisconsin team (31-4) making the Sweet 16 after last season's collapse. Setting a new school mark for total victories in a season stands on its own merit too. The team is soaking it in, but has its sights set on bigger things. To loosely quote a great video game, "Congratulations Bucky, but our princess is in another castle."

Wisconsin is one-third of the way through the national championship journey. The Badgers now hold the Omaha belt, but need to win two more "mini-tournaments" to claim the prize of an undisputed champion. Thankfully, next weekend's venue has a Big Ten flavor (Detroit) rather than being in Davidson's home state, where second-seeded Georgetown ran into quite a partisan crowd. That was actually the last game I filled out on my personal bracket. I knew Davidson could scare the elite teams as they had North Carolina, UCLA and Duke early in the season, but didn't have 100% faith in Stephen Curry and Co. to actual knock Georgetown out. Although Davidson might be a better matchup for Wisconsin, I couldn't help but want the Badgers to get a shot at the Hoyas.

Davidson has a recent history of losing to high-ranking Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament, but it's safe to say this is not your father's Davidson Wildcats. Sophomore Stephen Curry has been the breakout star of the tournament, scoring 70 points in the 10th-seeded Wildcats' two NCAA victories. Davidson will undoubtedly be another en vogue pick to upset Wisconsin. The university has revamped their home page to center on the phenomenon. Most people are probably excited to see Mike Flowers match up with Curry, but I think Curry will be a different assignment than a player like Drew Neitzel. Curry does not have to work nearly as hard to get his open shots -- heck, he doesn't need to be open at all to get a look. As we've seen, even from the Badgers, the team that hits its 3-pointers will most likely win. Good thing Wisconsin has outscored its last three opponents 107-76 in the second half. Nice adjustments Bo.

While some teams like UNC blow out the opposition with hundreds of points, the Badgers have shifted into another class. Along with Washington State, Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams in the tourney because they are systematically choking their opponents over the course of the game. If Bill Simmons is right that this year "the best MacGyver team is going to win" than Wisconsin is in great shape. Apparently, the Sports Guy doesn't know that Wisconsin is one of those teams he's talking about, since he picked USC to beat the Badgers.

Greg Stiemsma proved his worth in shutting down Michael Beasley (along with Butch and Landry) and giving him fits on the offensive end as well. The Stiemboat's efficiency numbers were off the chart (14 pts/7 rebs in 14 mins) and his body control on the 3-on-1 fast break finish that led to an old fashioned three-point play was my favorite play of the game [box score].

Like Stiemsma, Trevon Hughes had a phenomenal and efficient game as the Badger guards completely outclassed Kansas State's guards. Even though Hughes led the team in scoring, I was surprised to see that he had scored 25 points ... I'm too used to everyone chipping in their 8-12 points I guess. Do you think the announcers will start to acknowledge that Wisconsin has developed into a very good outside shooting team? They act so shocked when UW's shots start to fall. Wisconsin actually had their fifth-best offensive efficiency performance of the year, posting its second-highest effective field goal percentage (62%).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's nemesis Michigan State got the benefit of some terrible officiating down the stretch in its win over Pittsburgh. A highly questionable moving screen call on Gilbert Brown was followed by an outrageous charging call on Levance Fields in the final minute. It may not have mattered, but Kailin Lucas was nowhere near having position on Fields as he drove, not to mention a clear-cut swipe by Neitzel that caught all arm. Please Sparty, no more complaints to Badger fans about officiating, huh? Nevertheless, Saturday was another great round of games, particularly because Duke, the nation's nemesis, lost. Sunday's round of cakewalks left something to be desired.

Round 2 data
How the Big Ten fared: 2-1 (5-2 overall)*
(5)Michigan State 65, (4)Pittsburgh 54 [box]
(3)Xavier 85, (6)Purdue 78 [box]
*.714 winning % is best among conferences with more than one team

How the other #3 seeds fared: 3-0 (8-0 overall)*
Xavier (see above)
(3)Stanford 82, (6)Marquette 81 [box]
(3)Louisville 78, (6)Oklahoma 48 [box]
*only the #1 seeds are also undefeated; #2s: 6-2, #12s: 4-2

My picks: 31/48 (64.5%) overall | Round 2: 9/16 (56%)

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