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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/17/2006 09:59:00 PM

Reporting From The Philly Bureau

Jamar Wilson
Jamar Wilson and Albany put a serious scare in No. 1-ranked UConn.
AP

The blog is stuck in Jacksonville, Fla., where they're celebrating St. Patty's Day on the Landing with no open container laws and a bad reggae band, and N.C. State-Cal just hogged the CBS primetime feed. But that doesn't mean we can't use the full resources of Sports Illustrated to bring you speedy coverage of what was nearly the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history. We just checked in via cell phone with writer B.J. Schecter, who was sitting courtside in Philadelphia for the almost-shocker-of-the-century, No. 1 UConn's 72-59 escape of No. 16 Albany, a game in which the Huskies trailed by 10 midway through the second half.

Blog: What the heck was UConn doing during the first half -- and the start of the second?

Schecter: The Huskies were beyond flat. No one was playing. They weren't running anything offensively, they weren't going inside -- they just had no life or rhythm whatsoever. [Coach Jim] Calhoun went through one stretch where he must have shuffled Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien in and out for each other five times in a minute-and-a-half stretch. And Albany wasn't scared. They didn't back down and they just kept hitting shots.

Blog: And how was the crowd in Philly -- which I'm sure had a lot of UConn fans -- reacting? (We called you earlier, and the noise was deafening ...)

Schecter: Once Albany went up 10 in the second half, the crowd started going crazy and believing that holy crap, this could actually happen. At first it just seemed like everyone was stunned. It looked like the Huskies had lot of people there, and they were absolutely shocked. Albany had just one section, but all of the other fans -- from Kentucky, UAB and Villanova -- really started getting into it. And every time Albany did anything, whether it was as steal, a circus shot, or a runner in the lane, the place exploded.

Blog: So how did UConn end up pulling this thing off?

Schecter: The reason they came back was Marcus Williams. He was the one guy who didn't get rattled, and he held the team together. He hit the 3 to first crack into Albany's 10-point lead and get the comeback started. Rudy Gay was the typical Rudy Gay -- he wasn't in the game at all, and had that incredulous look like, "Do you guys really think you can beat us?" The big guys -- Boone, Armstrong, and to a lesser extent, Adrien, didn't do anything. UConn had the size advantage and could pound Albany inside, but they just didn't do it.

Blog: Was this a sign that UConn is no longer a viable title pick?

Schecter: Obviously, they've got to get it together. They've had two straight bad games, but this is still the most talented team in the field, even if it hasn't been playing like it. If the Huskies played with the heart of Albany, they would have won by 25.

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3/17/2006 03:45:00 PM

Jermaine, With A J

Jermaine Wallace
Jermaine Wallace made history on Friday in Auburn Hills.
AP

"An impossible shot!"

Could the last, long rebound of Iowa-Northwestern State have caromed into better hands? The guard who grabbed it, Demons senior Jermaine Wallace, had hit 100 shots this season, and 63 of them were 3s. His team, a lowly 14 seed with a chance to knock off No. 3 Iowa, was trailing by two, and the clock was running out. So, from the deep left corner, with a man in his face, Wallace swished a trey that will be replayed long after his career is over. As Wallace fell to the floor, the fan holding the sign that read "Cinderella wears Purple" was right: NSU 64, Iowa 63. "Northwestern wins! An impossible shot!"

Jermaine, join the club -- of the top five buzzer-beaters in first-round upsets since 1990 (follow the links to refresh your memory):

5. Terrell Taylor, No. 12 Creighton over No. 5 Florida, 2002.
4. Gabe Lewullis, No. 13 Princeton over No. 4 UCLA, 1996 (with 3.9 seconds left, but we'll count it).
3. Maurice Newby, No. 14 Northern Iowa over No. 3 Missouri, 1990.
2. Jermaine Wallace, No. 14 Northwestern State over No. 3 Iowa, 2006.
1. Bryce Drew, No. 13 Valparaiso over No. 4 Ole Miss, 1998.

Readers, these are up for debate. Start filling up the comments.

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3/17/2006 02:45:00 PM

Scarlet and Gray and Ice-Cold

Jekel Foster
Je'kel Foster is seriously struggling with his shot in March.
AP

Ohio State weathered Davidson's storm today, 70-62, after trailing 29-25 at halftime in front of a partisan crowd in Dayton. And while the Buckeyes avoided the embarrassment of becoming the first No. 2 seed to bow out since Iowa State in 2001, there were some troubling numbers in the box score:

- As a team, OSU shot 5-of-22 from 3-point land, and its five starters were just 1-of-11.
- Guard Je'kel Foster, who was once the NCAA's top long-distance shooter, was just 1-for-5, and showed no signs of breaking out of his deep freeze. In February, Foster shot 22-of-45 from 3 (48.9 percent). In March, he's shooting 16.6 percent, making just 6-of-44 -- a total free-fall.

The conventional response to this is, Sure, the Buckeyes may not be hitting 3s, but they can just depend on the nation's best power forward, Terence Dials, in the post. Dials may have been the Big Ten Player of the Year, but the following chart tells the story -- of 65 NCAA tournament teams, only eight (and just four that are still alive) depend on the 3 more than OSU.

Rk. Team          Sd.     Pct. of
Pts. on 3s
1 West Va. 6 42.6
2 Air Force 13 42.1
3 NC State 10 37.0
4 Indiana 6 36.3
5 Villanova 1 36.2
6 So. Alabama 14 35.1
7 Davidson 15 34.2
8 Marquette 7 34.1
9 Ohio St. 2 33.7
(data from kenpom.com)
Foster needs to be defrosted. Because at their current rate, the Buckeyes could be headed for a second-round exit.
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3/17/2006 03:45:00 AM

The Last Defense

Acie Law
Texas A&M fans showered their star with chants of "Acie, Acie" after the game.
AP

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For those of you who still believe that offense is the most important factor in the tournament, I present Texas A&M, which has the nation's 68th most efficient offense (at 107.3 points per 100 possessions) and its No. 4-ranked defense (at 86.6 points per 100). The Aggies, as guard Chris Walker said, "play ugly," and they brought Syracuse's formerly hot offense to a halt, holding it to just 21.1 percent shooting from 3-point-land.

A&M, a 12-seed in the Atlanta region, was the lowest seed (along with Montana) to win on Saturday, partly because, as guard Acie Law explained, "we played a totally different style than [fifth-seeded Syracuse] was accustomed to." Law, who led the Aggies' charge with 23 points, said that, "We watched film on [the Orange], and no disrespect to Big East teams, but they weren't as physical as we try to be in the Big 12. And we brought it to them today."

While A&M brought it, I don't think it was a coincidence that every team from our "inefficient D" post that played today was in trouble: No. 2 Tennessee barely escaped No. 15 Winthrop, No. 3 Gonzaga edged No. 14 Xavier, No. 4 Boston College needed two OTs to beat No. 13 Pacific, and No. 6 Oklahoma lost to No. 11 Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Which leads us to our three questions for you to discuss on Friday morning:

1. Stewart Mandel says the Zags, Eagles and Vols' close calls could spark deep tourney runs ... I say they're simply a sign that the clock is ticking on their weak defenses. With whom do you side?

2. Who are the biggest upset candidates for Friday? West Virginia? Pitt? Someone else? I think it's the Mountaineers.

3. Do you realize that, out of our 327-person Tourney Blog Pool -- and thanks, everyone, for signing up in such insane numbers -- I'm tied for second, with every pick right other than (damn you, Larry Krystkowiak) Montana? Sorry -- I had to talk some smack before bed. Now, let Tea for the Tillerman carry us off to sleep. It is, after all, 3:30 a.m. ...

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3/17/2006 02:02:00 AM

The Curtain Drops On G-Mac

Gerry McNamara
A right groin injury kept Gerry McNamara from finishing his career in style.
Luke Winn/SI

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There was Gerry McNamara, in crunch time ... sitting on the bench, hunched over, with a towel wrapped around his neck. The hero of Syracuse's magical run through the Big East tournament last week -- and the reason the Orange were in the NCAA tournament at all -- had nothing left in the tank against Texas A&M here on Thursday. His right groin injury limited him to just 23 minutes of play (including only 10 in the second half) and a measly two points in the 66-58 loss. G-Mac's last shot -- the final heave in a career that spanned 103 wins and an NCAA championship as a freshman -- was a 3 with 5:07 left in the game that barely grazed the front rim.

And in his last press conference, following the Aggies' 12-over-5 upset, McNamara went out with the same aggressive style that defined his game. An edited recap, from my notes:

Media: "Gerry, how did you feel tonight?"

McNamara: (Barely looking up) "I'm alright."

Media: "Were you hampered at all by any sort of injury?"

Mac: (Barely looking up) "I'm alright."

Media: How do you feel about your performance then?

Mac: "I feel great about my performance. I feel great. My last game we lost probably because of me. It's fantastic, a great feeling."

Media: "As tough as it is to lose this game today, don't you feel like your legacy will be left with the four wins in four days at the Big East tournament?"

Mac: "Repeat the last part?" (Media repeats). "My what? I didn't hear it."

Coach Jim Boeheim, interrupting: "That's over with. Why are we talking about that? Let's talk about this. This is today. Let's not talk about what happened last week or last year. His legacy will be winning 103 games and winning the national championship, two Big East tournaments and a regular-season title. Is that good enough? Does that answer the question? Don't ask a kid to evaluate himself."

Media, to Boeheim: "Why wasn't he on the floor? Did you just not play him?"

Boeheim: "That's for me to know." (Exhales audibly)

In the locker room just minutes later, Boeheim was willing to elaborate for a smaller group of reporters. Here, an edited synopsis of what he said about McNamara:

"I don't know whether the combined wear and tear of those four days caught up with [McNamara], but he just couldn't move tonight. I probably shouldn't have played him at all after the first five or six minutes; he didn't have it. It's like you were watching a wounded guy try to play. It's cruel as a coach."

"He said [to me early on] that he couldn't push off. I believe in the kid, so I kept going back to him; in retrospect, it was probably a mistake, but it wouldn't have mattered -- we wouldn't have beat them without him playing better. Gerry's been hurting, but he's overcome it all year. I didn't see this coming tonight."

"[In the end] I thought we had a better chance to win -- we cut the lead to four [at 49-45] -- without him. Gerry knew that. He never asked me to go back in."

"Nobody feels worse than he does, I guarantee it. He's crushed. He's the ultimate competitive player, and he's devastated when something like this happens. To ask a question of what his legacy is ... if you don't know what it is, then you don't know anything."

McNamara left the game for good with 5:02 on the clock, and walked through the tunnel at Veterans Memorial Arena, dejected, at four minutes after midnight. It was an unfitting end to a storied college career.

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