Sweet Jesus — what else is there to say about the Midwest Region after THAT?
What’s THAT? Sunday, of course.
Easter witnessed a resurrection almost as improbable as Texas A&M’s Palm Sunday escape from Northern Iowa the week before — and in a certain sense, Syracuse’s surge past Virginia was more shocking to the senses.
Take it away, ESPN’s Rece Davis:
UVA was 68-0 with a double-digit halftime lead under Tony Bennett.
— Rece Davis (@ESPN_ReceDavis) March 28, 2016
It’s not as though a structural flaw in the Cavaliers was exposed.
They had the backcourt studs to handle a 54-39 lead with nearly 10 minutes left, a 58-49 lead with 7:30 left. They had the big men who could rebound against the Syracuse zone, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey. They had an offense which gave them structure and balance — it’s an offense which played quite well in the second half against Butler and throughout the Midwest Regional semifinal against Iowa State on Friday. It’s an offense whose seamless, integrated quality is often taken for granted (at best) and dismissed as inadequate by the Charles Barkleys of the world (at worst).
That 68-0 stat — now 68-1 — shows how well Tony Bennett drilled basic concepts into his team. Virginia even had some success cutting through the Syracuse press before the house fell down. It’s not as though the Cavaliers didn’t know what to do.
They lost composure… after showing composure all season.
Veteran players exhibited steadiness and focus for 32.5 minutes… and then scored only four points in the final 7.5 minutes.
It’s absurd, it doesn’t make sense, and it never will… which means this was the precise event the 2016 college basketball season was begging for in the Big Dance.
Virginia happened to be the recipient — and author — of this cranium-cracking, intellect-extinguishing development.
While trying (and failing) to understand why Malcolm Brogdon could go silent to the extent he did when his team’s season was on the line, let’s try to pick through other aspects of the Midwest Region that are worth recalling before we shift our focus to the Final Four.
The runs Syracuse made in second halves of all four of its Midwest Region wins are truly remarkable. This team caught lightning in a bottle…
Wait a minute — that’s not a good image.
Syracuse stole every other team’s thunderbolts… the Orange simply rendered opponents impotent in second halves with Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
Dayton scored just five points in the first 13 minutes of the second half in round one.
Middle Tennessee scored just two points in a 10-minute stretch (16:02 to 6:02) of the second half in round two.
As we documented after the Sweet 16, Gonzaga scored just four points in the last six minutes of the first half, three in the last six minutes of the second half against the 2-3 and some Syracuse pressure.
Then came Sunday. Virginia scored four points in the final 7:30.
Add up all those second-half figures (removing the first half against Gonzaga from the tally), and Syracuse has allowed 14 points in second-half subsections totaling 36:30 from its four Midwest Region wins.
Most of the other stories in the Midwest Region are ones that have already been covered. Michigan State really blew it. Utah was exposed. Iowa State needed Naz Long against Virginia. Seton Hall faced a rough travel situation, going to Denver and playing near 11 p.m. Eastern time after playing three games in three days in New York.
If something larger can be said about the Midwest Region, you tell me. This region did not offer a collection of events which pointed to a natural or profound truth about college basketball other than its endless capacity to confound and amaze.
Ultimately, the one thing everyone will remember from the 2016 Midwest Region is that it produced the first 10 seed to ever make the Final Four. That’s this region’s place in NCAA tournament history, whether you love Jim Boeheim or not.