March 17, 2007
The drama and intensity clearly picked up in the second round of the big dance. You have more competition, great match-ups, and the hunger and desire is obvious.
Just look at Vanderbilt-Washington State going double overtime. The stars, Derrick Low of the Cougars and Derrick Byars of the Commodores stepped up and made big plays. Vanderbilt lived all season by the trifecta and that was the key to a second-half rally. Kevin Stallings' squad hung on in the second overtime in a real Maalox Masher.
Virginia Commonwealth had an amazing comeback, rallying from a 19-point deficit to take Pittsburgh to overtime. Sam Young and company got the job done as Jamie Dixon's team moves on. Give Anthony Grant and the Rams a lot of credit for a great effort, and it was a super season for the CAA champion.
Georgetown got a super second-half performance from Roy Hibbert inside, getting past a tough, veteran Boston College squad. That was the farewell game for Jared Dudley of the Eagles, who fought so hard to the very end.
I was watching the end of the Xavier-Ohio State game when the Buckeyes had the ball and trailed by three in the final seconds. I was screaming at my TV, acting like a coach. I wanted Xavier coach Sean Miller to foul before Ohio State had a shot at the game-tying trifecta.
It wasn't meant to be.
For twenty years now, and the late Jimmy Valvano and I used to discuss this often, I would not want to allow an opponent the opportunity to tie the game. With around five seconds left I would foul and take my chances that the opposition would not get a rebound and convert.
The bottom line is, Ohio State's Ron Lewis hit a clutch trifecta and send the contest into overtime. Greg Oden had fouled out, so Mike Conley took charge in the extra five minutes, scoring 11 big points as Thad Matta's team escaped with a W. Give the Buckeyes credit for fighting back from a nine-point deficit.
The Louisville-Texas A&M game may have been the best contest of the tournament so far. In the end, the experience of the Aggies made a difference. Acie Law made clutch free throws and A&M advanced. Louisville's Edgar Sosa had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 31. He missed a pair of free throws and a long-range trifecta late.
Rick Pitino's young team gave Billy Gillispie's squad all it could handle.
What about Butler surprising Maryland? Todd Lickliter's team was so impressive early when it beat Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga to win the NIT preseason tip-off. A. J. Graves has been solid and steady and the Terps were sent home packing.
Michigan State fought so hard against North Carolina. The Spartans truly reflect the personality of their coach, Tom Izzo. The Tar Heels were too deep and strong, simply wearing down Izzo's squad. Tyler Hansbrough had a super game with 33 points and nine boards after shedding the mask that had bothered him in the ACC tourney.
Give a lot of credit to Ty Lawson, whose speed gave Michigan State trouble too.
Indiana and UCLA staged a defensive battle. The Hoosiers fought back but the Bruins got through thanks to a solid second half by guard Darren Collison, my pick for most improved player in America. Collison scored 13 of his 15 points after halftime. Now Ben Howland faces Jamie Dixon in the Sweet 16, an intriguing coaching match-up.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.