NCAA Tournament: Iona’s Second-Half Breakdown gives BYU shocking win in First Four; More South Region Picks

By: Kels Dayton

For 16 glorious minutes of basketball, tiny Iona College of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference looked like the 1986 Celtics. The Gaels were pummeling BYU in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, executing their perfect-scenario gameplan with Tyson-like intensity, surgeon-like precision and a confidence that belied their number 14-seed.

Ahh, the way they were. Mike Glover and Iona devastated BYU with an incredible first-half performance.(Greg Shamus/Getty Images)

Iona was racing up and down the court, dodging BYU defenders like traffic cones in a dribbling drill. They were running and gunning, zipping passes to the perfect spot at the perfect time, their point guard Scott Machado dropping dimes with a refined basketball wizardry rarely seen in the college ranks.

The Cougars were left backpedaling, breathless, dazed and confused.

It was beautiful to watch, and it sent basketball aficionados like myself scurrying back to their brackets to frantically move the Gaels on to the Sweet 16.

“Iona looks like the Miami Heat right now,” CBS analyst Steve Kerr said.

He wasn’t wrong.

They were pitch-perfect, and by the 16-minute mark the Gaels had scored 55 points, and led BYU by 25.

And then the Gaels flatlined.

It was almost like someone had pulled the rug out from underneath them; the Cougars fell back into a zone and Iona couldn’t figure out how to make a shot.

The Gaels scored an awful 17 points over the final 24-plus minutes of play, shooting 7-for-35 from the field and 1-for-18 from three-point range.

Compare that with a torrid 24-for-35 start, including 5-for-7 shooting from three point range. Iona also turned the ball over 17 times in the final 24 minutes, compared to just 3 over the first 16.

It was the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, and one of the most jarring turnarounds imaginable.

“It’s a game that we’ll have to deal with for the rest of our lives,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said.

“[The way we played] in the second half, you’re not going to beat anyone that way. When we don’t make shots, we’re not the same team. We weren’t good enough in the second half.”

Courtesy: ESPN

BYU head coach Dave Rose said he’ll never forget the way his players responded during a timeout after BYU had cut the lead to single digits in the second half.

“The look in our players’ eyes at that time was, ‘Game on. We’ve got a chance here,” he said. “And we were able to finish it off.”

There’s no shortage of ways to describe what happened in this game. The Gael’s collapse was as stunning as their torrid start, and Iona hit the deck harder than a college kid on ‘Four Loko’.

After the game, CBS’ Kenny Smith pointed out that Iona had switched to a zone defense in the second half, which helped to ramp down their ball pressure and allowed BYU to get open looks in the half-court. Tim Cluess admitted that he “let his team down,” with that adjustment, although he gave much of the credit to the Cougars’ defense, which tightened up and forced the Gaels into perimeter looks.

Iona couldn’t penetrate BYU’s zone in the second half, and it almost looked like the Cougars had found a cheat code or read the basketball version of sparknotes on Iona at halftime.

Noah Hartsock led BYU with 23 points.

Scott Machado finished with 15 points and 10 assists for Iona, which would be a good line if he hadn’t put up 9 assists in the first half and left CBS’ Jim Nantz wondering aloud if he was going to break the all-time NCAA Tournament record of 18 in a single game, held by Mark Ware of UNLV.


By: Jonathan Abbott


Most Enticing Second Round Game:  9 Connecticut vs.  8 Iowa State

Huskies guard Jeremy Lamb (Photo: Slam

UConn is coming into the tournament off a three-point loss in the Big East semifinals to a Syracuse team that included Fab Melo. The defending champions had a disappointing year with a 20-13 record, thanks largely in part to a lack of leadership both on the court and the bench. With coach Jim Calhoun’s return to the team and the chance to make a march for back-to-back championships, look for the Huskies to play with purpose under a true leader in Calhoun.

Iowa State is not a team to be overlooked by any means. This is the same team that defeated both Kansas and Baylor in the regular season and posted a 12-6 record in a tough Big 12 conference. ISU can flat-out shoot the ball from behind the arc, but determines their own fate by living and dying by the three-ball.

If you don’t close out and get a hand in their shooter’s faces then chances are you’re going to be heading home. Led by Royce White, who averages 13.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 5.1 APG, the Cyclones certainly have the fire power to take down even the best teams.

UConn is playing to prove they are better than they showed in the regular season, and to win another championship before they lose almost everything next season.

Iowa State is playing to prove they are not a fluke by knocking off the defending champs in their first round of play.

Expect a very close game with UConn pulling away at the end and getting the win.

Upset Watch: 12 VCU over  5 Wichita State

Many people are still intrigued by last year’s VCU team, which made it all the way to the Final Four as an 11-seed by knocking off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and No. 1 Kansas. This year’s team is even better, and still has the mastermind Shaka Smart coaching the Rams.

Bradford Burgess leads the team with an average of 13.3 PPG and 4.9 RPG, and guards Juvonte Reddic (10.6 PPG and 6.8 RPG) and Troy Daniels (10 PPG and 3.3 RPG) make this a dangerous team to go up against. While these are all great characteristics for a team to have, they aren’t even VCU’s strongest! That would be their defense, defense, defense! (Editor’s note: Baby!!!!) 

VCU plays nonstop, heavy pressure defense, and is constantly in their opponents’ face. The Rams are no stranger to creating turnovers, and then capitalizing on them.

If VCU shoots the ball as well as they are capable of, then the Rams can easily shock the Shockers with a second round upset.

Baylor forward Perry Jones III will be a key if the Bears meet Duke in the Sweet 16. (AP Photo)

Best Potential Matchup:  Baylor vs.  2. Duke in the Sweet Sixteen

The Baylor Bears have been a very inconsistent team this season. When they’re on, they’re incredible, but when they’re off, well…they’re just bad. With Perry Jones III, (better known as PJ3), dominating the front-court and guard Pierre Jackson (13.3 PPG , 5.8 APG) in the backcourt, the Bears absolutely have the firepower and depth needed to make a deep run in the tournament. If Baylor comes with their heads in the game and plays to their considerable potential, they can absolutely take down the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke is another team who has shown signs of inconsistency throughout the season, losing to Miami and Temple as well as being dominated by both North Carolina and Ohio State. However, when their heads are in the game, their guard-play is nearly unstoppable with Austin Rivers and Seth Curry leading the way. Both average more than 13 PPG and 42.5% shooting from the floor.

Then there are the Plumlee brothers, Mason averaging 9.1 RPG and 10.9 PPG and Miles 7.2 RBG and 6.7 PPG. Together, their front-court play is magnificent. Oh yeah, not to mention the man orchestrating all this productivity, college basketball’s all-time winningest coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is looking to win his fifth NCAA Men’s Basketball championship.

Both teams are talented and well-rounded enough to win the championship, but will most likely have to face each other to get there. Only one can survive to move into the Elite Eight, so expect an absolute battle of will, skill, and coaching to the final buzzer. I have a feeling that the end of regulation won’t be the end of this game, but when it is finally all said and done Baylor will take down Duke and advance to the Elite Eight.

Toughest Path to Final Four: 1 Kentucky

It may seem crazy that the top seed of the entire tournament has the toughest path to the Final Four, but that’s exactly the case. Kentucky’s only easy game in the entire tournament will be their second-round game against Western Kentucky. From there on, there is no such thing as a sure win or easy game.

Kentucky will face a daunting challenge in trying to navigate the South Region. (Getty Images)

Kentucky will have to face a strong-shooting and hard-working Iowa State team, or a well coached UConn Huskies squad. Both of these match-ups are daunting, and certainly not teams that the Wildcats would like to play in their second game of the tournament.

If they survive the Round of 32, the Wildcats will most likely have to face Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen.

Indiana went 25-8 while playing in the Big Ten, arguably the toughest conference in the nation.

The Hoosiers own impressive wins over Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan…and oh yeah KENTUCKY!

It definitely would not be shocking if the Wildcats fell to the Hoosiers again. Then if the Wildcats survive the Hoosiers, they will still only be in the Elite Eight, where they will have to most likely go up against either 3rd-seeded Baylor or 2nd-seeded Duke.

Both of these teams have the depth, manpower, shooters, rebounders, play makers, and coaches to not only compete with Kentucky but to take the overall number one seed down. The Wildcats are certainly in for a tough and wild ride through the bracket, facing challenging opponents in every game of their journey through the tournament…they don’t call it March Madness for nothing!

Region Champion:

When it’s all said and done, John Calipari leads the Kentucky Wildcats through one of the toughest roads that any team in the field this year has to face to their school’s fifteenth Final Four. The Wildcats simply have too many weapons and by far the most versatile team in the tournament this year, leading to nobody having the firepower to take them down. Until the Final Four that is…

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