That was the shortest trip to the Elite Eight I have ever experienced. All three games, I was fully expecting to win from the opening tip, and never once did my hope waver. This isn't what you expect once you enter the one-and-done nature of March, where one hot shooting night can ruin a season. But after demolishing the Portland State Vikings in Round One, outlasting the UNLV Runnin' Rebs in Round Two and simply beating the Villanova Wiildcats in Round Three, we are already among the final eight teams still playing hoops.
March Madness always goes by in a snap of the finger, as weeks and months of preparation and anticipation are all crammed together in three short weekends, but this one has been quicker than any other. At least in my opinion.
So, hopefully our Tournament lasts just a little bit longer. And while we played well on Friday night, especially the role players, we need to play better if we want to make our season last another weekend. Here is a quick rundown of how we played on Friday night, taking a look at both the good and the bad.
Sasha Kaun :: Maybe I am overblowing this, with the big stage and all, but that may have been the best game of Sasha Kaun's career. When he came into the game for the second time, quite a decent chunk of the first half already played, Villanova had grabbed 9 offensive rebounds. Sasha came in, and they grabbed a total of 2 offensive rebounds after that. He played near flawless post defense, scored 9 points and grabbed 7 key, important rebounds. Darrell Arthur brought his C- game to Detroit, at least for the first game, and Darnell Jackson was struggling as well in the first half. That left us with Sasha, whose solid play led to him getting more minutes (29) than both D-Block and DA (24 a piece). I have been down on Sasha all season long, but he played phenomenal on Friday night. Another outing like that, and we are probably on our way to San Antonio.
Russell Robinson :: Yes, I loved the way he played at the beginning of the game. He is our 5th option on offense nearly every time he is on the floor, and is mostly "just" the facilitator of our offense. So, of course, he blows up for 13 points in the first 5 minutes, leading the world in scoring. At least for awhile. Even though he only scored another 2 points after that, he still played awesome basketball the rest of the way out. He turned the ball over too much, but I can get over that. He will be vital to our success Sunday afternoon, as he will most likely see the majority of face time against Stephen Curry, so let's see how he plays.
Jeremy Case :: No real reason for this, but I love the fact that he played for 8 minutes when the game was still in question. Self was mostly just trying to keep both Mario and Brandon out of foul trouble, both of whom had three early in the second half, but still. Eight minutes? My favorite part of the game, this side of the alley-oop off the backboard from Russell to Brandon, was his half-closing three. I even said 'Game Over' as that ball tickled the twine, knowing that when J. Case is starting to knock it down, it is time for the other team to throw in the towel.
The Defense :: We were ball-hawking all night, nabbing eight steals and harassing the Villanova guards all night long. Plus, I just wanted to post this picture, a picture filled with the intensity we will need if we are to cut down the nets, not just in Detroit but also in San Antonio:
Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Sherron Collins :: Brandon and Mario both played better than Sherron, who has tonsillitis, but none made too big of an impression. Maybe I am being too harsh on Brandon and Mario, who combined for 30 points, but they both had cold shooting nights from the perimeter and did nothing "special". So, they go here. And I hope SC feels better, I honestly can't remember one player being so cursed in one season, in any sport for any team. I feel so terribly bad for him, hopefully he comes back next year (along with Mario) and plays like we all know he is capable of playing.
Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur :: Both struggled throughout, and Sasha easily outplayed both. Darrell made a bunch of dumb mistakes, and while partially making up for it with tremendous athletic ability (seriously, the move he put on Scottie Reynolds is about as sick as it gets. Reynolds is a 6'2" All-American caliber guard and a tremendous athlete. Arthur is 6'9", and he still made Reynolds look flat-out silly with that spin move. I watched it about a hundred times...), he still had a horrendous overall game. And while, again, we might be able to escape the mostly-heightless Davidson Wildcats on Sunday without a good game from Arthur, we will need an explosion if we are to beat the Tar Heels in the Final Four. Again, assuming we can actually win tomorrow.
As far as Jackson is concerned, he wasn't as noticeably awful as DA was, but did nothing of note on the positive side either, at least as far as I can recall. His stats are pretty mediocre, 4 points and 6 boards, and he didn't seem to play any better by eye.
Turnovers :: Ugh. Don't even get me started. While we played well in a couple of facets last night, we turned the ball over about 10 too many times. 18 turnovers is completely and utterly inexcusable, I don't care if it is an all-defensive team suiting up. Plenty of them were careless as well, stupid things that we shouldn't still be doing in March. It wasn't just one person, it very rarely is, but just about everyone that played considerable minutes made a stupid, turnover-inducing mistake from what I can recall. Except Sasha Kaun, which is odd. I know we already talked about Sasha, but I can't get over how well he played on Friday night. He was my player of the night, hands down.
More on the Davidson game in just a little bit, then even more content coming at you tomorrow morning/afternoon-before-game-time. Watch out for it.
Seriously, Sasha Kaun=Sweet 16 MVP. Crazy stuff.