Sizing up the second round
Every college basketball team thinks about playing on the season's final Tuesday in the national championship game. Only those that win on the first Monday and Tuesday of the NCAA tournament are anything more than dreamers.
Saturday and Sunday are about the moment, a favorite unexpectedly pushed (DePaul), an upset sprung (Marist) or the brilliance of an individual (Courtney Vandersloot). Monday and Tuesday are about a lasting imprint. The Sweet 16 is the means by which programs earn an identity. For Tennessee and Stanford, it's a birthright, base camp for almost annual ascents on the championship peak. The season begins when the second round ends for programs like that, and anything less is headline news. For teams like DePaul, Ohio State and Georgia Tech, the second round is the gateway to upward mobility or restored prestige. Win and they remain in the spotlight for a week with a chance to move within a game of reaching a program-defining Final Four. And for teams like Gonzaga, Marist and Temple, Monday night in the NCAA tournament is a chance to earn the respect that, fairly or not, no amount of regular-season wins will bring for teams that exist outside the confines of the supposed major conferences.
Play on Saturday and Sunday and you're a part of the tournament. Win on Monday or Tuesday and you define it.
With that in mind, what's on tap in Monday's second-round games (all games on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com)?
Dayton Regional early games
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 8 Marquette (7:05 p.m. ET)
A season ago, No. 8 seed Dayton knocked off No. 9 TCU in a first-round game that came down to the wire in Knoxville. Any resulting momentum for the underdog didn't survive the first chorus of "Rocky Top" in the second round, as top-seeded Tennessee cruised to a 92-64 victory and a return to the Sweet 16 after a one-year hiatus. Will things along the banks of the Tennessee River be any different now for a Midwestern team coming off a memorable late win against a team from Texas, in this case eighth-seeded Marquette beating No. 9 seed Texas on a late 3-pointer by Tatiyiana McMorris?
History, long- and short-term, doesn't bode well for the Golden Eagles. Tennessee is 22-0 all time in the second round of the NCAA tournament and is 35-0 in its past 35 games of any kind at Thompson-Boling Arena.
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Georgia Tech (7:20 p.m. ET)
Maybe one of the other coaches in Columbus, the guy who works on Saturdays, is under a little more scrutiny at the moment, but Ohio State coach Jim Foster could erase some of the sting of recent postseason disappointments with a win. Foster is just 9-8 in the NCAA tournament since taking over at Ohio State before the 2002-03 season (he was 24-16 at Vanderbilt and Saint Joseph's). In four instances, including three of the past five seasons, Foster's Buckeyes fell short of the Sweet 16 despite being seeded first, second, third or fourth in a region. Playing this game in the shadow of the Horseshoe in Columbus, with a trip down I-70 to Dayton for the Sweet 16 on the line, puts a little extra pressure on the Big Ten team. Not that pressure is ever in short supply with Georgia Tech's defense around.
As might be expected, both teams got here by playing to their strengths against weaker opponents. Georgia Tech forces nearly 22 turnovers per game and harassed a generally efficient Bowling Green team into 25 turnovers against five assists in the first round. Ohio State ranks eighth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and looked like it against Central Florida on Saturday, recording assists on 23 of 32 field goals and turning over the ball 11 times.
Philadelphia Regional early games
No. 3 DePaul vs. No. 6 Penn State (7:10 p.m. ET, also on ESPNU)
DePaul is one of two No. 3 seeds playing on an opponent's home court Monday, along with UCLA. And while few teams have as much experience as the Blue Demons, who regularly start two fifth-year seniors and bring another fifth-year and a sixth-year off the bench, they looked a little like a team playing with the weight of four consecutive first-round exits on their shoulders in a tough game against Navy on Saturday. Penn State's drought was even more severe, having not made the NCAA tournament since 2005 before Saturday's win against Dayton.
Both teams struggled from the 3-point line in the first round, but both shoot it too well and too often to expect a repeat Monday night. Penn State leads the nation in 3-point accuracy, and DePaul ranks 30th in the category.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Marist (7:15 p.m. ET)
It's no slight to the Red Foxes' accomplishments in 2007 to suggest this is not as favorable a route to the Sweet 16. When the small school from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., made its memorable run to the second weekend that year as a No. 13 seed, it knocked off fourth-seeded Ohio State and No. 5 Middle Tennessee on a neutral court in Stanford, Calif. Cumulatively impressive, yes, but not as daunting as beating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then again, six No. 2 seeds have failed to reach the Sweet 16 in the past four tournaments, a 38 percent failure rate.
Duke is the team known for winning with defense (some might phrase it as a lack of offense), but it's Marist that ranks fifth nationally in field goal defense, 25 spots ahead of the Blue Devils. The MAAC champion also has one of the lowest turnover rates in the nation, and whether it gives up free points against a Duke team that otherwise struggles to produce them at times might determine Monday's game.
Dayton Regional late game
No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Temple (9:40 p.m. ET)
One of only two true neutral-site games on Monday finds Temple looking for the first trip to the Sweet 16 in program history (Notre Dame has been there eight times). That's representative of the Atlantic 10's rising fortunes. While its membership has fluctuated over the years, the A-10 is the only conference to earn at least 10 bids to the NCAA tournament in each of the decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and not produce a winning record in the tournament in at least one of those decades. But with a 2-1 record through the first round this season (with Xavier and Dayton joining Temple in the field), the league is 7-4 so far this decade.
Historical significance aside, Notre Dame's rotation looked decidedly short in the first round against Utah. Four players combined to take all but four of the total shots by the Fighting Irish. The Owls are not a big team beyond 6-foot-4 center Victoria Macaulay, so Notre Dame freshman Natalie Achonwa might be a bigger factor than she was in the first round.
Spokane Regional late games
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 11 Gonzaga (9:35 p.m. ET)
Gonzaga proved in the first round it could beat a power-conference side at that team's own game, outrunning and outshooting Iowa's up-tempo, perimeter-oriented offense. Now it gets a chance to prove its offense is better than a postseason-caliber, power-conference defense. UCLA wouldn't take 29 3-pointers, as Iowa did in the first round, if these teams played a full seven-game series. What the Bruins will do is try to slow Courtney Vandersloot and Gonzaga's running game -- or at least make the Bulldogs' point guard run through somebody if she wants to keep going (which, not coincidentally, is exactly the kind of thing for which Vandersloot spent the offseason bulking up).
UCLA's opponents this season average just 49 field goal attempts per game, and that's exactly the number Montana took in the first round. Gonzaga averages 70 field goal attempts per game and has attempted fewer than 60 field goals just four times (twice in games in which it attempted at least 20 free throws). Gonzaga can score in a half-court game and UCLA isn't going to trip over its feet if it runs a little, but pace is clearly key here.
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 9 St. John's (9:40 p.m. ET)
While the debate (sort of) rages as to just how much smarter Stanford kids are than the rest of the basketball world, thanks to some news conference questioning during the opening weekend, the reality is the Cardinal continue a long tradition of taking care of the basketball better than just about any elite team. Whether that's because they're well-versed in the use of allegory in literature is up for you to interpret, if you really want to.
Stanford is currently fifth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. That matters on Monday night because in addition to facing Stanford on the Pac-10 champion's home court, St. John's enters as a team that doesn't shoot the 3-pointer often and isn't particularly good on the boards (it ran a significant rebounding deficit during conference play in the Big East). What the Red Storm do well is play tough defense and force a decent number of turnovers. Just ask Texas Tech, which shot 33 percent and turned over the ball 20 times against St. John's in the first round.
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 5 North Carolina (9:45 p.m. ET)
The second neutral-site game pits two teams that love to expend a lot of energy during games playing at Albuquerque's not-insignificant altitude (and in Kentucky's case, a team that got to play five additional minutes in a first-round overtime victory against Hampton). Neither team shoots the ball particularly efficiently from beyond the arc and neither lets that stop them from launching 3-pointers with regularity. Both turn over the ball quite a bit, but get away with it by ranking near the top of the charts in turnovers forced. Considering that Kentucky's A'dia Mathies still seems to be affected by a back injury, that could be a problem for Kentucky if it comes down to which guards get a hot hand.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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