By Paul Gotham
There was barely enough time to polish the luster of the Atlantic 10’s accomplishments when patina formed on the shiny metal.
A-10 teams started Saturday as the talk of the tournament with a pristine 6-0 record. Less than 20 hours later, a trio of A-10 teams dropped three, one more fell on Sunday and those feats were dimmed by a coating of green film.
When it was over, La Salle was left standing.
VCU’s Rams struggled in the half court. St. Louis met its match with an athletic zone. Butler ran out of last-second charm, and Temple let one slip one away.
VCU entered play Saturday leading the nation steals per game (11.8) and turnovers forced (19.9). Michigan trimmed those numbers just enough, and Trey Burke showed experience beyond his years as the Wolverines topped the Rams 78-53 in the South Region.
VCU was able to get Burke to turn the ball over five more than his season average, but the sophomore dished out seven assists and scored 18. Several of those helpers found the hands of Mitch McGary who finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds – both game-highs.
“We were able to turn Burke over seven times, which, you know is a great number for someone that’s that good of a player,” said VCU head coach Shaka Smart. “But overall, we only forced twelve turnovers, which is much lower than what we normally do.
They were able to, when they did break the press, really make us pay, and I’m sure that was their game plan. We didn’t fix it well enough out of the press. So that was one of the big differences in the game.”
At the same time, Michigan slowed VCU’s offense. The Rams hit just 23-of-58 (39.7 percent) from the field. Troy Daniels who nailed 123-of-299 (41 percent) threes taken this season, connected on just one-of-nine from long range Saturday. With the Rams struggling to score, they could not get their press in place.
“It is a risk/reward situation, but when we’ve been at our best, we’ve been able to press people, and even when they do break the press, we’ve been able to get matched up and then make them run their half court offense,” Smart explained. “We did that at times tonight, but way too often Burke was able to get in the lane, other guys were able to get in the lane. Then our big guys had to help up, and they dropped it off to McGary or kick it out for three. And Michigan did a tremendous job of capitalizing on those opportunities. Sometimes when you force those type of situations, it ends up actually being good for you because the other team takes a hurried shot and misses. But Michigan capitalized almost every time.”
Similarly, St. Louis struggled against Oregon. Winners of 16 of 17, including the A-10 championship, the Billikens struggled to find a consistent rhythm on the offensive end. Oregon’s Ducks limited Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell with a 2-3 zone, and the rest of the Bills struggled.
“They didn’t surprise me that they played zone,” said SLU head coach Jim Crews. “Usually we’ve done better against zone, we’ve had other people zone against us. I just really think that we tried to shoot our way through some situations that maybe our problem was executing our way through it. So we were a little quick with shots.”
“I’m not a big statistic guy, but they were 4 for 6 in the first half from three, and we were 0 for 10,” Crews added. “It wasn’t shooting, they were getting shots inside, out. We weren’t getting shots inside, out. We were on the perimeter not looking inside the house, we were just staying outside the house.”
Damyean Dotson did the damage for Oregon hitting five-of-six behind the arc and eight-of-12 overall.
Marquette gave Butler a lesson in the fair play of turnabout. The team who managed dramatic victories this season over Marquette (72-71), then no. 1 Indiana (88-86 ot) and Gonzaga (64-63) found the limits to their charm. Butler had a pair of opportunities to capitalize in the final seconds but could not convert. Trailing by two, Rotnei Clarke came off a high ball screen going left, got a clean look, but could not cleanly get into his shooting motion and misfired with five ticks left on the clock.
Despite falling behind by four after a pair of Davante Gardner free throws, Butler still had another chance. Andrew Smith took a full-court pass from Emerson Kampen and finished with three seconds remaining. Marquette succumbed to Butler’s pressure on the ensuing inbound giving the Bulldogs an inbound pass just below foul-line extended with two seconds to go, but the Bulldogs could not convert.
“They had mixed up zone and man all game, side out” Butler head coach Brad Stevens explained. “Lot of times they went zone to man, and we had a couple of looks. The way that they aligned, they switched their matchups so they put Gardner on the ball on Roosevelt (Jones) and matched everybody else accordingly, and I think our guys mistook that for zone. And so we probably didn’t have guys that were in the right spots, but that’s part of it. That’s one of the reasons why you don’t want put yourself in that position with 2.4 seconds, and also I need to do a better job simplifying it for them out of that timeout. May not end up with as good as a look as I had hoped, but, you know, ultimately, that one will eat at me, that’s for sure.”
Temple’s Owls led much of the second half in Sunday’s East regional against the no. 1 seed Indiana. Khalif Wyatt hit two free throws with 3:09 remaining to give Temple a 52-48 advantage. Those would be the last points the Owls scored as the Hoosiers went on to a 58-52 victory. Wyatt scored 31 on 12-of-24 shooting for the game, but Indiana took away his opportunities in the closing minutes of the game.
“The whole game they were overplaying me, but I think the last six minutes maybe they just all‑out face guarded me full court,” Wyatt explained. “It was real hard for me to get the ball. I think, when I did get it, I made a couple of nice plays. It was just hard for me to get the ball. (Victor) Oladipo is a really good defender. And that kid (Remy) Abell is a really good defender. It was just really difficult for me to get the ball.”
Tyrone Garland got into the lane in the final seconds and used a “Southwest Philly Floater” off the glass to give La Salle a 76-74 victory over Ole Miss.
“When the time was running down, it was flat,” Garland recalled. “I had a feeling I could make the drive, so I told Ramon Galloway), switch. It wasn’t even in the plans, I just told him to switch. And when Tyreek (Duren) drove, like coach always said, ‘(I) cut behind him.’ I saw the opening, I laid the ball in.”
The no. 13 Explorers will take on no. 9 Wichita State, Thursday night. Tip off at the the Staples Center is scheduled for 10:17 pm.
La Salle, with its four-guard lineup, looks to put an exclamation point an a season that started with great promise, experienced a semblance of upheaval and looks to the future with an ever-changing lineup.
Before 2012-13 tipped, Temple and Charlotte expressed their plans to leave. The 49ers head to Conference-USA. Temple is now part of the conference formerly known as the Big East.
But the pre-season touting must have affected other conferences. The Big East, obviously feeling its brand threatened, made the shrewd move to split. Subsequently, Butler and Xavier also have announced their intent join the new basketball-centric league.
They will join a conference that earned a television contract equal to its hype. There is no question the Big East is a great conference, but Butler and Xavier join Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette along with St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul.
Other defections are in the offing.
The A-10 is already taking care of business. George Mason joined the conference today.
If nothing else all these moves should make for interesting conversations in future years.
Looking forward to Thursday. Go La Salle!