Burlison: Wrap-up of Elite Eight

UCLA and LSU use great defensive efforts to make it to Indianapolis, where they'll be joined by the big surprise of the tourney, George Mason, and a surging Florida team...

With freshmen- and sophomore-dominated rosters, the LSU and UCLA teams looked to be capable of making strong runs at the Final Four.


And that's what they've done, successfully, at least year before most – at least those who don't reside in Baton Rouge, La., and Westwood, Calif. – thought it was likely to happen.


John Brady's Tigers and Ben Howland's Bruins played national championship-caliber defense Saturday during the respective regional championship victories over Texas (in Atlanta) and Memphis (in Oakland).


The teams will hook up in the RCA Dome next Saturday afternoon in one of the Final Four semifinals and will taking different travel routes to Indianapolis.


But the method used in extending their seasons another week were remarkable comparable, at least from a defensive standpoint.


Their defenses all but enveloped potent frontcourts while pressuring jump shooters and rendering transition offenses negligible.


LSU generated much more in the way of offensive productivity during its 70-60 overtime victory over the Longhorns than did UCLA in its 50-45, ugly-as-all-get-out victory over top-seed Memphis.


And that was due to the performance of post players Glen Davis (26 points) and Tyrus Thomas (21), who dominated a frontcourt that included the Big 12's Player of the Year (P.J. Tucker) and the possible first choice in the next NBA Draft (LaMarcus Aldridge).


Needless to say, the preparation-obsessed Howland and his staff are probably already getting bleary-eyed squinting at game footage of the Tigers while trying to fashion a scheme to keep Davis and Thomas from doing to the Bruins what they did to Texas Saturday and Duke two evenings before.


As for LSU's preparation for the Bruins' offense . . . well, if Saturday was a barometer, that wouldn't seem to be much of a problem.


Other than center Ryan Hollins (six of seven from the field), UCLA's starters were a combined three of 25 from the field.


Once again, that was 22 misses in 25 attempts with the only shots to sink being two first-half 3-pointers by Arron Afflalo and a jumper along the right baseline late in the game by his backcourt mate, Jordan Farmar.


But Garrett Temple, who did a solid job on Duke All-America J.J. Redick (three of 18 from the field), and the Tigers' only senior starter, Darrel Mitchell, will undoubtedly draw the assignments on Afflalo and Farmar, respectively.


And how easily could we be talking about a different pair of teams representing the Atlanta and Oakland regions in Indy next Saturday?


Very easily.


Remember, LSU needed a 3-pointer from Darrel Mitchell to edge Texas A&M, 58-57, in a second-round game in Jacksonville.


And the Bruins trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half Thursday night before scoring the final 11 points to edge Gonzaga, 73-71, in the most stunning comeback of the tournament.


Scout.com's All-Regional teams:


MVP: Glen Davis (LSU)

The others: Tyrus Thomas and Garrett Temple (both LSU); Kenton Paulino (Texas); Shelden Williams (Duke); Kevin Pittsnogle (West Virginia).



MVP: Ryan Hollins (UCLA)

The others: Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (both UCLA); Adam Morrison (Gonzaga); Rodney Carney and Darius Washington (both Memphis).


OK, anyone out there who had George Mason reaching the Final Four when you made out your NCAA Tournament bracket sheets, feel free to take a bow.


Yeah, sure you did!


In the first 10 days of the tournament, a new-found respect was gained across the country for the "mid-major" teams.


On the 11th day, a team from a school located in Fairfax, Va., showed us why, once and for all, the term "mid-major" should not be used condescendingly when discussing a program that isn't a member of one of the so-called "power" conferences.


In fact, it should be stricken from college basketball jargon altogether.


And there will never be better support for that notion that in what the George Mason Patriots – members of the Colonial Athletic Association – have as part of their collective agenda this week:


They're bound for Indianapolis and the Final Four.


Repeat after me: George Mason is in the Final Four.


It boggles the mind, doesn't it?


The Patriots' 86-84 overtime victory over Connecticut Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C., secured their airfare to Indianapolis and made them the only the second double-digit seed to play on the final weekend of the season, joining another No. 11 seed (LSU, 20 years ago) to pull off the trick.


They clearly outplayed the nation's most talented team (aka, "Connecticut") in the second half and the only reason the Huskies were able to put the game into overtime (well, besides the sensational play of Marcus Williams) was the reverse layup by Denham Brown during which the ball bounced three times on the iron as the buzzer sounded before falling in.


And Jim Calhoun's team – which needed a couple of miscues by Washington and a 3-pointer by Rashad Anderson to put its Friday night game into overtime before prevailing – nearly advanced to the Final Four that most everyone had it as a lock for all season.


But Brown's 3-pointer from the left corner, just in front of his bench, was just-this-much-long as the buzzer sounded, setting off  the Patriots' "lets rip off our jerseys and leap on the press tables" celebration.


The Patriots, with the possible exception of Florida, executed, offensively, better than any other team in the tournament field. And, with the exception of those same Gators and the other two Final Four entrants, UCLA and LSU, no one played better, defensively.


Coach Jim Larranaga's team demonstrated that it is a legitimate threat to win the national title seven days before knocking off the Huskies Sunday.


That's when the Patriots beat North Carolina, two days after defeating Michigan State in the first round of the tournament.


They'll be the underdogs against Florida next Saturday night in the RCA Dome – the Gators, in fact, will likely be the consensus choice of the "expert" set to cut down nets on April 3.


But nothing the Patriots might do in Indianapolis, including winning a couple of games, should surprise anyone now.


And we should have a pretty good notion as to which team that those without a rooting interest in or emotional attachment to, Florida, LSU or UCLA will be pulling for next weekend.


In the other regional final Sunday in Minneapolis, Florida finally did what every team tried – and all but a few failed at – to do against Villanova this season.


The Gators exploited, time and again, the smaller Wildcats with the frontcourt play of sophomores Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer (a collective 44 points and 33 rebounds) during a 75-62 victory that eliminated the final top seed in the field. That means that the Final Four will be without a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1980.


Defensively, Billy Donovan's team – anchored by the shot-blocking ability of Noah and Horford – was able to pressure Villanova's jump shooters and still negate the Wildcats' guards' ability to penetrate off the dribble.


Villanova's starters were a combined 15 of 63 – 23.8 percent – from the field.


That kind of defense (or "bad shooting", if you prefer) is why the last of the four finals was the only one without any real suspense as to the eventual winner down the stretch.


Scout.com's All-Regional teams


MVP: Marcus Williams (Connecticut)

The others: Will Thomas, Lamar Butler and Jai Lewis (all George Mason); Brandon Roy and Jamaal Williams (Washington).



MVP: Joakim Noah (Florida)

The others: Al Horford and Taurean Green (both Florida); Randy Foye (Villanova); Craig Smith (Boston College); Jeff Green (Georgetown).


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.frankhoops.com

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