The best and worst from Saturday’s NCAA tournament action

Neither of Saturday’s regional finals will go down as instant classics. But Syracuse and Wichita State punched their tickets to the Final Four, and who would’ve guessed that when the NCAA tournament bracket was revealed three weeks ago? Here’s the best and worst from the first day of the Elite Eight.

Best performanceAt times, it seemed offense was optional on Saturday, so we’ll go with the most impressive defensive showing of the day. Wichita State forward Carl Hall finished with eight points, four rebounds and six blocks to power the Shockers past Ohio State. He also came back from taking a gruesome elbow to the jaw in the first half (H/T SB Nation) …


… to record this game-saving swat on Ohio State’s Evan Ravenel with 18 seconds remaining in regulation (H/T The Big Lead) …


Did we mention Hall has been playing through a heart condition called neurocardiogenic syncope that at one point threatened to end his basketball career? Enough said.

Best defense – It may not have led to a pretty game Saturday, but the story behind Syracuse’s first Final Four appearance in 10 years is the rejuvenation of its 2-3 zone. Coach Jim Boeheim’s patented defense tormented No. 1 seed Indiana in the Sweet 16 and did the same to Marquette Saturday. Opponents have only connected on 14 of their 92 three-pointers (15.2 percent) against Syracuse during the NCAA tournament.

Worst offenseWhere do we start with Marquette’s ugly, brick-filled afternoon at Verizon Center? Its 39 points were the fewest in a regional final since UCLA defeated San Francisco, 54-39 in 1973, 13 years before the shot clock was introduced to college basketball. The shot chart (via @espnstatsinfo) was just hideous.


Worst offense, part II — Ohio State shot just 24.2 percent from the field before halftime, the biggest reason why its frantic second-half comeback fell short.

Best turnaround — Wichita State lost its top five scorers from last season and then watched three starters miss games due to injuries back in December. On Saturday, the Shockers became the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference to earn a Final Four berth since Indiana State in 1979. The Sycamores had a player by the name of Larry Bird back then.

Best turnaround, part II — Syracuse departed Verizon Center 21 days ago after scoring a season-low 39 points in its final regular season game against rival Georgetown, part of a late-season swoon that left the Orange on the outside looking in when discussion turned to Final Four candidates. The Orange left the same arena Saturday with nets around their necks and a Final Four berth few expected three weeks ago.

Best celebrity sighting – President Obama and Robert Griffin III in the same arena? Talking to each other? This is an easy one.

Worst doctor — Midway through the second half of Wichita State’s win over Ohio State, Shockers forward Cleanthony Early landed awkwardly on his left ankle and fell to the floor in pain. Upon watching the replay, CBS analyst Reggie Miller insisted Early must have suffered a major Achilles injury. As Early began walking to the bench, Miller began to back track. When he saw the replay a second time, Miller then decided it was instead an ankle injury.

His second diagnosis was dead on. Early suffered a sprained ankle and later returned to the game. That, though, didn’t stop the Twitterverse from having fun at Miller’s expense.

Best reaction — We too were shocked by how bad Ohio State played, Thad. (gif from SB Nation)


Worst regional — The three games at Verizon Center this week — Miami-Marquette, Syracuse-Indiana and Syracuse-Marquette — were decided by an average of 12.3 points. The closest one came Thursday when the Golden Eagles beat the Hurricanes by 10, but even that was a rout made more respectable in the final minutes. Verizon Center was the only site to not feature a game decided by single digits over the past three days. Talk about not getting your money’s worth.

Mark Giannotto covers high school sports for The Washington Post.
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