Morrison, Redick And Roy Lead Teams

J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison turned in spectacular, if somewhat-expected, performances Thursday evening to lead their respective teams to opening-round NCAA Tournament victories. And a few other players had sparkling efforts as well.

Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick extended their seasons at least one more game but with more difficulty than most probably imagined.

 

And Mike Davis was able to extend his employment as the Indiana University head coach for at least one more game – thanks to a fortuitous deflection and the sharp-shooting ability of Robert Vaden.

 

As they say, in the NCAA Tournament it's all about "surviving and advancing", and Morrison's Gonzaga team, Redick's Duke club and the Hoosiers were three of eight squads advancing to Saturday's second round during the evening's half of the 16 opening-round games played Thursday.

 

If you're still trying to get a handle on who should be the national Player of the Year and you were hoping to use Thursday's action to see if Morrison or Redick could pull away from one another in the pecking order, you were disappointed.

 

But, if you were looking for a possible third alternative you might have been pleasantly surprised.

 

More on Brandon Roy later, though.

 

Defense and wobbly guard play were some of the issues that kept so many West Coast Conference teams closer to Gonzaga than they probably should have, even as the Bulldogs reeled off 16 consecutive victories (two of those in the conference tournament help in Spokane) against WCC opponents.

 

And those were a couple of the reasons that Xavier, which tied for seventh place in the regular season before winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, led Coach Mark Few's team most of the way in Salt Lake City.

 

But that fellow Morrison scored 35 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:56 to play to put his team ahead to stay, 72-71, before it hung on for a 79-75 victory.

 

Here's the deal, though: Either Morrison is going to have to delve into 40-land – and he's done it five times this season – or his teammates will have to turn in a collective better performance if the Bulldogs are going to get by the Hoosiers Saturday afternoon and get to the second week of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2001 season.

 

Davis' team didn't guard very well throughout most of its eventual 87-83 victory over San Diego State. The Aztecs were the very definition of "self destructive'' down the stretch before Marcus Slaughter batted a pass that caromed directly to Vaden, who knocked down the critical 3-pointer.

 

Vaden and center Marco Killingsworth had 18 points apiece and could cause the Bulldogs fits Saturday afternoon.

 

But the key Hoosier Thursday evening was Earl Holloway, whose open-court ability (he finished with 18 points, three assists, six steals and only one turnover) on both ends of the floor sparked a rally from a 10-point deficit after intermission.

 

Duke is the No. 1 overall seed in the 65-team bracket (lopped to 48 after Thursday's game) but was anything but the most impressive team Thursday. The Blue Devils saw their lead trimmed to three points early in the second half before they pulled away for a 70-54 victory over 16 seed Southern University.

 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team demonstrated marvelous scoring balance – that is, if you consider Redick and Shelden Williams splitting 58 of their team's points "balance".

 

Next up for 31-3 Duke?

 

It will be 27-2 George Washington, although that didn't seem likely the case at one point in the second half of the Colonials' game with UNC-Wilmington in Greensboro Thursday evening when they fell behind by 18 points.

 

Be certain of this: Coach Karl Hobbs' is not going to attempt to get into a grind-it-out, possession-by-possession, halfcourt slugfest with the Blue Devils. Are you familiar with the term "track meet"?

 

Those of us who thought Syracuse might have over-achieved during its remarkable four-day run in Madison Square Garden while winning the Big East Tournament last week, and that Texas A&M was undervalued as a 12 seed, saw our suspicions confirmed Thursday night when the Orange, five days after beating Pittsburgh in the Big East final, fell ingloriously to the Aggies in Jacksonville, 66-58.

 

Texas A&M, which hooks up with LSU Saturday (the Tigers laid a 20-minute spanking on Iona, coming from five points down at intermission to win, 80-64), had one of the day's best point guards in junior Acie Law (23 points, seven rebounds and five assists).

 

Illinois and Washington got out of their games in San Diego Thursday evening with relatively little fuss or muss.

 

The Air Force Academy Falcons probably did little do change the opinions – one way or another – on whether they belonged in the tournament field as an at-large, 13 seed during their 78-69 loss to Illinois.

 

They pulled to within 39-38 early in the second half before the Illini pulled away to lead by as many as 16 points late.

 

I hadn't had the opportunity to watch Illinois guard Jamar Smith play extensively in a while. And his six 3-pointers (in nine attempts) reminded me of what I'd thought of him a couple of months ago: He has one of the sweetest jump shots I've admired in a few seasons.

 

If Illinois is going to get past Washington Saturday and earn a trip to our nation's capital next week for a possible Sweet 16 semifinal game, Coach Bruce Webber knows exactly who is serving as a fairly formidable road block for the Illini.

 

And was anyone smoother, more poised and more on target – with his passes (five assists) and jump shots (four of seven on 3's, en route to a 28-point performance) – Thursday than Roy?

 

If you've got a John R. Wooden Award ballot and you're looking for someone in the three or four slot, he'd be a solid choice.

 

Come to think of it, there'd be some merit to his being your No. 1 choice, if you want to be bold – and, some would suggest, accurate.

 

Thursday's 16 games put somewhat of a dent into the season-long suggestion that the Big East was, hands down, more or less, the strongest conference in the country with the losses of Seton Hall, Marquette and Syracuse.

 

But Connecticut, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown get into the batting cage to take their cuts Friday.

 

How about the SEC, though? Its teams went four and zip (Alabama, Florida, LSU and Tennessee) Thursday.

 

Kentucky (vs. UAB in Philadelphia) and Arkansas (vs. Bucknell in Dallas) attempt to stretch it to 6-0 Friday.

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com

 



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