On Thursday night, four teams took the next step towards the Final Four. Three teams gave a valiant effort but fell short. And one team should have just stayed home rather than humiliating themselves. See who stood out, for better and for worse...
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut: At 7' 3", he should be a man among boys. But on Thursday night... oh wait, he was a man among boys. Thabeet thoroughly controlled the paint on the defensive end in UConn's win over Purdue. The Boilermakers rarely even went to the basket, and when they did they typically flipped up wild, high-arching shots that had little chance of going in. Thabeet threw down his share of vicious dunks on the offensive end too. He finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks.
Dante Cunningham, Villanova: There weren't really any offensive stars in Nova's blowout win over Duke. But the Wildcats simply overpowered Duke when it came to defense and rebounding, and no one was more important in doing that than Cunningham. He's been one of the most underrated players in college basketball all season. On Thursday night, Cunningham controled the entire paint, going for 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Okay, truth be told, J.T. Tiller was the hero of Missouri's win over Memphis. He got into the paint at will, torching a tough Memphis D for 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting. But Denmon, a freshman reserve, had the shot of the night. Missouri was up 10 with the final seconds ticking down in the first half, but weren't really looking for more. Denmon heaved a prayer from 60 feet out and, sure enough, buried it to stretch the halftime lead to 13. As if Mizzou didn't have plenty of momentum already, that shot just about buried Memphis.
Levance Fields, Pittsburgh: This might have been the clutch performance of the Tourney so far. Pitt isn't blowing anyone away right now, so they need their seniors to step up in big shots. Fields did exactly that in Thursday night's win over Xavier. Trailing by two with less than a minute to go, Fields shook a defender, stepped back, and nailed a three to put Pitt up by one. He scooped up a steal on the next possession and took it in for the lay-up to make it a three-point game. Just huge plays by the veteran point guard when his team needed them most.
Duke Blue Devils: Which of the eight teams that played last night didn't belong? Look no further than the Dukies, who humiliated themselves in every way possible in a blowout loss to Villanova. There was Gerald Henderson, shooting 1 for 14. You read that right, 1 for 14. There was Jon Scheyer, chipping in with a 3 for 18 performance. Worse, there was Kyle Singler, whose new trademark move is apparently to talk trash and swear at any player who fouls him, then miss his free throws badly. Listen Kyle, maybe it's time to stop being a headcase and a dirty player. Instead, maybe you should worry about scoring and defending. But no one could top (or is it bottom?) Nolan Smith, who gets his own category...
Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith pulled the ultimate bush league move Thursday night. With a 23-point lead in the final seconds, Villanova point guard Corey Fisher was standing at midcourt to dribble out the clock. No doubt the Wildcats could have added more points, but they didn't want to run up the score. Duke's Elliot Williams backed off and let Fisher dribble. But Smith, who continues to get worse and worse as his college career goes on, had other plans. As Fisher turned to hand the ball to the ref with five seconds left, Smith ran up and stole it (the only positive play he made all night). He streaked down the court and made a runner. Hilariously, it was ruled to have been taken after the buzzer, so no points for Nolan. Is there anything more embarassing than not being able to score when no one else is playing?
Greg Anthony, CBS Sports: If there's a worse analyst in the sports world, I haven't heard 'em. Anthony earned a reputation as a good broadcaster while at ESPN, mostly because he sat next to Stephen A. Smith. A can of spam can look like it knows what it's talking about next to Stephen A. Smith's mindless rambling. Anthony consistently sounds like a guy who doesn't watch basketball. The latest evidence was his call of Missouri guard Marcus Denmon's amazing 60-foot shot just before halftime of their win over Memphis. Anyone who watched the game knew it was an incredible heave. Anthony, apparently reading off a shot sheet, described the shot as "from behind the arc." Behind the arc! He was 60 feet out! Yeah, I think I can see he shot it from behind the arc. It's March, dude. Step up your game.