Vanderbilt, Missouri and FSU could still be playing
The editors at Athlon Sports tackle a few questions on college basketball with the Sweet 16 quickly approaching. Here's No. 1.
Which team are you most surprised did not make the Sweet 16?
Nathan Rush: After Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game, it looked like the Commodores were coming together at just the right time. When the bracket came out, VU appeared to have a shot to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, with matchups against Harvard and Wisconsin (most likely) on the first weekend. I doubted Duke and Missouri, but thought Vanderbilt had a team built to last in March. But John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor got cold at the wrong time against a tough Badger defense.
Mitch Light: Missouri is the obvious answer, but I picked Florida to beat the Tigers in the Round of the 32, so I can’t really say I’m surprised that Fran Haith’s team, as a No. 2 seed, is not in the Sweet 16. I’ll go with Florida State. The Seminoles played very well down the stretch and appeared to be the most complete team in the Nashville pod of the East Region. FSU survived a scare from St. Bonaventure in the first round, but could not get past the scrappy Bearcats from Cincinnati in the Round of 32. The Noles’ defense was strong, as usual, but they had trouble on the offensive end, shooting .380 from the field while committing 17 turnovers. Any team that beats both North Carolina and Duke twice in the same season is clearly talented enough to advance to the Sweet 16, but the Seminoles simply didn’t get it done when it mattered most.
Patrick Snow: I’m still shocked about Missouri, who did not even make it to the Round of 32. The senior-dominated Tigers entered the tourney at 30–4, and they had just won a Big 12 Tournament title by beating all three opponents by at least 14 points. Then came the game with Norfolk State. Most heavy favorites lose early in the tournament because they have a bad shooting night and do not take care of the basketball. However, that was not the case with Missouri. Frank Haith’s crew shot over 50 percent from the field and only committed eight turnovers in scoring 84 points. Mizzou simply did not bring it on the defensive end and could not match the hustle (14 offensive rebounds for the MEAC Tournament champions) of Anthony Evans’ club. Norfolk State did not have anyone averaging over 16 points per game on the season, yet three Spartans scored at least 20 points against the Tigers. I definitely thought ultra-experienced Missouri would make the Sweet 16, instead of becoming history’s fifth No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 15 seed.
Mark Ross: Vanderbilt seemed to have all the momentum coming off its victory over No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship and did something the Commodores had struggled to do recently — win their opening game in the NCAA Tournament. Vanderbilt seemed to match up well against Wisconsin, and many were even looking ahead to a potential Sweet 16 matchup against No. 1 seed Syracuse, who is without the services of big man Fab Melo. But the Badgers had other ideas. Wisconsin’s defense held Vanderbilt’s big guns John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor in check, and the Badgers took a page out of the Commodores’ play book and scored half of their 60 points via the 3-pointer. Vanderbilt shot poorly from beyond the arc (5-of-19) and committed several offensive fouls in the first half that limited their chances to put points on the board and put some players in early foul trouble. Jenkins had a chance to give Vanderbilt the lead late in the game, but his 3-pointer was long. The 60–57 loss was not how these group of Commodores envisioned their season would end back in November.
Braden Gall: The Missouri Tigers. This team featured the best backcourt combination of experience, talent, confidence and poise of any team in the nation. Mizzou rolled through the Big 12 Tournament and had won 12 straight games over teams not from Kansas. And frankly, the Tigers didn’t play a terrible game where they missed shots and committed uncharacteristic turnovers. They were simply outworked on the glass by a bigger team and didn’t deserve to win. Those Mizzou seniors will spend the rest of their lives wondering if they played with enough urgency in the second half against Norfolk State.