Philadelphia, PA – The first night of the Sweet 16 followed suit with the previous results of the tournament as unexpected outcomes continued to pile up.
There will be an All-Big East matchup in the Elite 8 as Marquette and Syracuse both pulled off shocking upsets. Neither side has been to the Final Four since 2003 when Carmelo Anthony led the Orange and Dwyane Wade spearheaded the Golden Eagles. Syracuse eventually took the national crown, although it didn't have to face its Big East foe.
Marquette's imposing defense had a big-time effect on Miami-Florida. The ACC Champion Hurricanes looked like they had spent the week at a masonry convention instead of shoot-arounds against the Golden Eagles, who seemed to have no trouble getting decent looks on the inside. Buzz Williams has a reputation for running one of the toughest training camps in NCAA basketball. It seems that the hard work has paid off. Aside from one short stretch where Miami grabbed what seemed like a myriad of offensive rebounds, Marquette was the more physical team and approached every loose ball like it was a winning lottery ticket. The Golden Eagle big guys -- Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner -- were all very influential in the victory. Wilson came up big on both ends as he finished 3-of-4 from beyond the arc to go along with eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Trent Lockett pulled down 11 rebounds, one of which came on a momentum building put-back slam dunk. Marquette's pressure on Miami's Shane Larkin made a big difference as it kept the Hurricanes' floor general out of sync for the majority of the 40 minutes.
Syracuse also pulled away from the highly-regarded Hoosiers using a strong defensive effort. Indiana went 16-of-47 from the floor in the contest, including an ice-cold 3-of-15 showing from beyond the arc. Tom Crean grew increasingly frustrated as his squad committed 18 turnovers. Michael Carter- Williams improved his draft stock substantially with 24 points, six rebounds and four steals. The Orange also received solid contributions from Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair and managed to prevail behind the trio's leadership. Indiana was one of the most dynamic offensive teams all season, but Cody Zeller disappeared and Victor Oladipo had to work for all 16 of his points. The usually steady Jordan Hulls had zero luck connecting on his jumper and Christian Watford wasn't much more successful. The Hoosiers had 10 of their shots sent back by the Orange, who seemed relentless in pursuit of their second national title. Jim Boeheim is now just three games away from a big- time addition to his legacy.
On the other side of the bracket, there was one much more thrilling game. Ohio State won on a last second 3-pointer for the second consecutive game as LaQuinton Ross converted a clutch shot from beyond the arc to lift the Buckeyes to a 73-70 win over Arizona. Thad Matta's team looked like it was destined for an early flight home to Columbus as it fell behind by 11 points early on. It used a huge run spanning the intermission to take control on its way to survival. Deshaun Thomas continued to be the go-to-guy in the victory as he poured in 20 points. Aaron Craft, who knocked down a triple at the buzzer to send the team to a 3-point win over Iowa State en route to the Sweet 16, tallied 13 points and dealt out the game-winning assist. Craft's decision to dish it off at the end showed great awareness as many players would find it hard to pass up on a chance to be the hero. Arizona blew its early lead and fell behind by double-digits in the second stanza before it attempted a late rally. The Wildcats were charged by Mark Lyons, who played in the Sweet 16 a season ago as a member of the Xavier Musketeers. The senior guard from Brewster Academy netted 23 points in his final collegiate game, but he was denied a chance to send it to overtime as Craft reeled in a tipped-inbound pass to seal the deal.
The Buckeyes won't have to deal with a No. 1 seed in the regional finals, but they will be tested by a very confident Wichita State program. The Shockers ended La Salle's Cinderella run with some intensity as they came out strong and protected the early lead the rest of the way. With the Explorers' backup center Steve Zack still unable to play, Wichita State focused on attacking the rim and did so with ease. It also hit 5-of-12 from beyond the arc to keep the Big 5 school from packing it in. To its credit, La Salle showed the spirit associated with Philadelphia and continued to fight until the final buzzer. Ramon Galloway was denied the open looks from 3-point range he was getting against Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss in the first three rounds. Tyreek Duren was also bottled up and despite tallying 16 points, Tyrone Garland finished 5-of-15 from the floor and without an opportunity to display the Southwest Philly Floater in the closing seconds. Instead, WSU's Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall were the stars of the late game. Coach Gregg Marshall has built something special at the Missouri Valley Conference program, which could be the last school from the state of Kansas to play this season if the Jayhawks fall on Friday.
Although only one buzzer beater on the night, the upsets continued the March Madness theme and built intrigue for Friday night's matchups. Oregon will look to continue taking offense to its low-seeding as it battles Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals. Michigan and Kansas both could very well win it all as they both are riddled with talent. Two of the best coaches in college basketball history will square off as Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski collide. Coach K is 7-1 all-time against MSU coming into the bout. And to close out the action, Florida Gulf Coast and the Gators has all the makings of a classic David and Goliath fight.