March 24, 2006

Sweet 16 games deliver excitement

Fifty-seven games in, seven to go.'s national college basketball writer Andrew Skwara is on a mission to watch as much of the NCAA Tournament as possible. That continued with Friday night's games. Skwara offers his critique of the day's performances, placing his opinions in "On Fire" and "Misfire" categories.

On Fire: The NCAA Tournament. After two very competitive first rounds, the quality of play and drama increased in the Sweet 16. The Villanova-Boston College matchup turned into an old-school slugfest with players on both sides showing great heart and poise down the stretch. If the Final Four produces similar outcomes this may go down as the best tournament in history from a fan's perspective.

On Fire: Randy Foye. If there were any doubt entering the game over who Villanova's best player is, there isn't now. Without Foye, who scored a game-high 29 points, the Wildcats may have fallen out of striking distance in the first half. He also made the big plays down the stretch, hitting a free throw with 2:14 remaining to give the Wildcats their first lead at 52-51 and hitting a big 3-pointer in the final minute. The clutch performance proved he ranks among the nation's top guards and top players.

Misfire: Officiating. For the second consecutive night, the referees made some glaring mistakes. A lack of consistency was the main problem this time. A lot of quick fouls were called in the first half, but much more physical play was allowed in the second half. In the final minute, BC's Jared Dudley was literally dragged to the floor by a Villanova player, but was called for traveling.

On Fire: Villanova's adjustments. The Wildcats started the game by firing a series of 3-pointers and quickly trailed 25-9 after hitting just three of their first 16 shots. The guards started to pass up open looks and penetrated to the hoop. They began to break down BC's defense, draw fouls and fought their way back into the game thanks to the move.

On Fire: George Mason coach Jim Larranaga . The Patriots looked like the looser, more relaxed team from the tip against Wichita State, jumping out to a 9-0 lead and playing like a program that had made a string of Sweet 16 trips. That was a reflection of their optimistic coach, who compared his players to kryptonite in his pre-game speech against North Carolina.

On Fire: Connecticut senior forward Rashad Anderson. Put the underrated veteran on the list of the nation's top clutch shooters and anoint him as the Huskies' savior. He nailed two 3-pointers in the final minute to force overtime, including one in the final seconds with Ryan Appleby in his face.

Misfire: Georgetown's Princeton-style offense. The Hoyas, particularly their guards, weren't aggressive enough. No Gator ever landed in foul trouble and the Hoyas went to the free-throw line just eight times. The Gators 2-3 zone is to credit for some of that, but the Hoyas were far too cautious on the perimeter.

On Fire: Florida sophomore center Joakim Noah. This big man continues to play well in the big games. He was relentless on the glass and came down with a game-high 10 rebounds and also had five blocked shots. It's time to consider him one of the nation's elite post players.

Misfire: Mike Jensen's fifth foul. With UConn trailing 80-76 and 11 seconds left, Huskies point guard Marcus Williams drove towards an open hoop. Jensen made contact with Williams as he released an easy layup and it turned into a 3-point play. If Jensen stays away from Williams, Anderson never gets a chance to force overtime.

On Fire: Georgetown sophomore center Roy Hibbert. The Hoyas have another great big man in the making. The 7-foot-2 giant isn't the next Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning yet, but don't rule out the possibility he could be in a couple of years. He improved immensely this season, and had a solid effort against one of the nation's top frontcourts.

Misfire: Wichita State's offense. The Shockers settled for far too many 3-pointers and were remarkably inaccurate, going 3-of-24 from beyond the arc. That cold streak combined with their lack of aggressiveness cemented their demise.

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