Wesner’s 4-Point Play: The NOT SO Wild West, the rise of #12 Middle Tennessee & fall of #12 Nevada

Photo courtesy of Getty Images and Mike Ehrmann.

1. The NOT SO Wild West
The complete West Regional was in action on Thursday. 

Let’s just someone left the chalk out.

In eight games, just one featured a lower seed prevailing victoriously; #11 Xavier defeated #6 Maryland, 76-65.

Though, is an Edmond Sumner-less Musketeers beating an overrated Terrapins team an upset? 

Absolutely not! 

Bracket brainiacs know Xavier OWNS City Beautiful, aka Orlando, Florida. Since November 2015, Chris Mack’s squad is 7-0 with two early season tournament championships (2015 Advocare Invitational and 2016 Tire Pros Tip-Off) in Orange County (Florida). Equally impressive is the individual play of the junior sensation Bluiett, underneath the Florida sun, is averaging 17 points per game in Orlando during his collegiate career.

Despite defeat, mid-major scoring guards lived up to their expectations. #13 Bucknell sophomore Kimbal Mackenzie netted 23 points (7-of-15 shooting), #14 Florida Gulf Coast junior Brandon Goodwin finished with 28 points (12-of-27 shooting) and 7 rebounds and #15 North Dakota senior Quinton Hooker had 25 points (10-of-21 shooting). Though, a common denominator, outside of defeat, is all three had shooting percentages under 50 percent.

Efficient performances are imperative for star mid-major guards if one wants to advance to the next round.

2. #5 Virginia and #4 Florida kill upset fun

When the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, the Virginia Cavaliers and Florida Gators were immediately put on upset alert. Both lost the first game of their respective conference tournaments and appeared to be sitting ducks (No pun intended, Oregon) for #12 UNC Wilmington and #13 East Tennessee State.

It’s always sunny in Orlando.

The two higher seeds held off competitive showings from their opponents to force a Saturday night showdown for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

For a second straight game, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers struggled to string stops together on the defensive end. Against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, Virginia gave up 71 points, which is the same amount the Seahawks posted.

Upperclassmen London Perrantes and Marial Shayok outshined the heralded UNC Wilmington duo of C.J. Bryce and Chris Flemmings, combining for 47 points on 17-of-28 shooting as opposed to the latter’s 9-of-27, 26-point total. 

One positive Virginia can take away on defense is the blanket they threw on Bryce. The Seahawks leading scorer, normally responsible for about 18 points per game, was limited to 8 points.

While Cavalier Nation had to sweat out 40 minutes, the heartbeat of the Florida faithful raised very little. The Gators exploited East Tennessee State’s lack of athleticism and frontcourt size in route to an 80-65 victory.

Devin Robinson did it all. The junior stuffed the stat sheet via a 27-point, 7-rebound, 2-block performance. Senior Kasey Hill neutralized the impact of Buccaneers guard T.J. Cromer (19 points) with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.

3. #12 Nevada caged by poor shooting

Two years ago, Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline both wore maroon.

Marshall, who was the star on Missouri State, and Caroline, a freshman at Southern Illinois, started their collegiate careers within the Missouri Valley Conference.

Then, the mass transfer exodus of 2015 occurred. Marshall and Caroline, along with other big names, like Illinois State’s Reggie Lynch and SIU’s Deion Lavender, grabbed their sneakers and headed elsewhere. 

On a day when Lynch’s NCAA Tournament title aspirations evaporated with Minnesota, Marshall and Caroline had a chance to seize a win over #5 Iowa State.

11-of-32 shooting will NEVER get the job done.

Although the tandem scored 36 points, missed field goals turned into wasted possessions for Nevada, resulting in an 84-73 defeat.

The Wolfpack did a very good job causing turnovers — they forced the Cyclones to spin into 14. However, they failed to rebound against Iowa State’s Big 12 bodies, losing the rebounding battle, 38-28, and was taxed to exhaustion due to a lack of depth.

Nevada only went six deep. In comparison, Iowa State played eight with FIVE chipping in at least 12 points. Cyclones senior Monte Morris pushed the envelope for a triple-double, yet was two rebounds and two assists shy (19 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists). 

Iowa State will face arguably the nation’s best frontcourt, #4 Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, on Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Sports.

4. The blossom of a perineal mid-major

If there was one school every bracket brainiac despised last season, it was none other than #12 Middle Tennessee. As a 15-seed, the Blue Raiders burned a multitude of brackets by defeating Michigan State in the opening round.

This year, Middle Tennessee had a chance to be its haters’ best friend with a win over #5 Minnesota. 

A villain was turned hero.

Led by scary seniors JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw, not to mention junior Giddy Potts, Middle Tennessee stayed one step ahead of Minnesota to defeat its second Big Ten NCAA Tournament opponent in 12 months. 

All three members of the trio posted double-digits. Upshaw seized the spotlight with 19 points and 9 rebounds against the Golden Gophers, who are known for their rebounding ability (via Reggie Lynch).

Thursday’s win for Middle Tennessee has solidified their reputation as a bona fide bracket buster. With Belmont and Monmouth falling to the NIT, Middle Tennessee, outside of Wichita State and Gonzaga, may be the most dominant mid-major of the 2016-17 season.

New will meet old on Saturday; past mid-major and current Big East team #4 Butler will face the new kids on the block for a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line.

Starting Five

1. Trevon Bluiett (#11 Xavier)

  • 21 points (7-15), 4 rebounds, 4 assists.
  • Averaging 17 PPG in games played within Orange County (Fla.).

2. Bryant McIntosh (#8 Northwestern)

  • 25 points (10-16), 4 rebounds, 3 assists.
  • Made pair of free throws to give Wildcats 1-point lead with 15 seconds left.

3. Reggie Upshaw (#12 Middle Tennessee)

  • 19 points (7-13), 9 rebounds.
  • Averaging 18.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG since start of Conference USA Tournament.

4. Donte DiVincenzo (#1 Villanova)

  • 21 points (9-15), 13 rebounds.
  • 1st double-double of collegiate career.

5. Dwayne Bacon (#3 Florida State)

  • 25 points (11-17), 9 rebounds.
  • Has posted double-figures points in 33-of-34 games this season.

Photo courtesy of Florida Seminoles athletics.

Stay tuned for more Wesner 4-point plays as the NCAA Tournament continues to supply madness in March.

— P. Wesner