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Still Dancing

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland
Kent, OHIO -- Of the guards left in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, would you believe that Xavier’s Jordan Crawford is pacing them all in points scored? The sophomore from Detroit has tallied 16 more points than Duke’s Kyle Singler, 15 more than Michigan State’s Durrell Summers, and even 22 more than Ohio State’s point-forward Evan Turner. In fact, only center Omar Samhan of St. Mary’s has more points after two tournament games.

The infamous dunk “over” (more accurate preposition would be “next to”) LeBron James in a basketball camp last summer was Crawford’s coming out event. The video went viral and made the Indiana University transfer/collegiate free agent a B-List celebrity. But after a spectacular A-10 season, this tournament has been the cherry on top of his full-fledged party.

Two days after dispatching of (11) seed Minnesota, Crawford dropped another 28 points on Pittsburgh, as “X” hung on to a 71-68 Second-Round win. The highlight of the victory for Crawford was a single-handed 9-2 run midway through the second half. In the span of one minute and 27 seconds, he corralled two rebounds and knocked down three straight buckets.

The first shot would have been a deep NBA three. The other three-pointer -- in his personal spurt -- carried an even higher degree of difficulty. Crawford passed on the opportunity for an uncontested jump shot in the corner, directly off an inbounds pass. It must not have been difficult enough. That, or he really wanted to send a statement to Pitt’s Jermaine Dixon that he was unguardable. Crawford dribbled out of the corner to the top of the key for a step-back version with a hand in his face. It has been that kind of tournament for Xavier.

The solo effort pushed the Musketeers lead to 13 points, forcing Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon to burn a timeout. The stoppage gave his tired team a rest, but it did very little to extinguish Xavier’s momentum. The takeover of the game by Crawford had taken a hold of the crowd. The thousands in Milwaukee -- many whom were Ohio State fans awaiting the next game in the building -- had become members of the “X” faithful.

Much was made of this (6) vs. (3) game being a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The results were flipped due to the difference in roster from year-to-year. Xavier had 3 starters and over 50% of its last year’s offense gone. Pitt had even more tournament newcomers -- missing 4 starters from 2009 and 66% of their offense. The one player that was absent from last season’s clash may have made all the difference. Jordan Crawford was forced to sit out last season after transferring to Xavier.

Xavier fans can thank Indiana University for their good fortune. With all the turmoil surrounding the Indiana basketball program, Crawford backed out after one season and wound up on the Cincinnati campus.

The most intriguing thing about Crawford may be his number. The 6’-4” guard wears number 55, usually reserved for men with nicknames like “Big Baby,” “Big Country,” “Big…Something.” Crawford may not play down in the post amidst all the trees like a typical number 55; it is the timing of his shots that are being labeled “huge.”

This is the third-straight Sweet Sixteen for the “X,” a feat that can only be matched by Michigan State. Having a first-year coach in Chris Mack makes this all the more impressive. Xavier now has another rematch waiting; this time from the current season. Kansas State handled the Musketeers by 15 points in December in Manhattan, Kansas. Thursday, Xavier will have an opportunity to avenge this embarrassing loss and advance to the Elite Eight.

They will need more than just Jordan Crawford. K-State is a dominant force in the paint. Their physicality cannot be matched, and their ability to play lock-down defense is what has earned the Wildcats the (2) seed in the West region.

An upset will require both of Xavier’s guards to make some big shots. Crawford and backcourt-mate, Dante Jackson, must duplicate their 7-for-13 performance from beyond the arc. Jason Love will also need the game of his life to keep Kansas State off the glass, at both ends of the court.

The second game in Milwaukee’s Bradley Center was another Ohio showcase. Ohio State’s Evan Turner had two motivations for a great performance against (10) seed Georgia Tech. Turner was a spectator for most of the first half of the previous game; he saw Jordan Crawford set the bar and own the crowd. The other incentive was internal. Turner had a season-low 4 points in the First Round game two days prior.

UC-Santa Barbara unexpectedly stymied Turner’s attack. It was bound to catch up with the National Player of the Year candidate eventually. He was as advertised all the way through the Big Ten Tournament. Every player is granted one bad game during the month of March. If you are Coach Thad Matta you have to be encouraged that he got his one poor showing out of the way in the First Round.

Now Turner is in a scary place for his opponents. He is poised to carry the Buckeyes on his rehabilitated back. He had redemption on his mind and delivered; 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in the Buckeyes 75-66 win over the Yellow Jackets.

Although Turner’s stats appear striking, it was an ugly game, top to bottom. The flow was choppy. Second only to the Robert Morris vs. Villanova game, the officiating was the worst in this tournament. However, a W is a W. A trip to the second weekend of play does not require style points.

Even with their two (potential lottery-pick) big men in foul trouble, the ACC Tournament runner-up pushed the Buckeyes for a full 40 minutes. Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal were the equalizers to every Buckeye run. Unfortunately, for the Yellow Jackets, Coach Paul Hewitt could not keep them on the court for more than five minutes at a time.

The unsung game-changer, for the second straight OSU game, was guard Jon Diebler. His deep threat (currently shooting 50% from the three-point line this tournament) prevented the defense from sagging in the paint. This allowed Turner to drive and distribute.

The only blemish on the Buckeye’s night was the occasional pass to wide-open Georgia Tech players. There were an astounding 39 total turnovers in the game, 18 from Ohio State. In all honesty I blame the uniforms. I watched the whole game thinking there is something very familiar about what I was seeing. After the under 16:00 TV timeout it hit me: wrong sport, right color scheme. It was the same problem that made the 2002 Ohio State vs. Purdue football game hard to watch. That was the infamous Craig Krenzel 4th and 1 touchdown pass in West Lafayette.

It seems every time Ohio State plays a meaningful sporting event and the outcome is an ugly win, the opponent is wearing a very light gold and the Buckeyes are in white. The color contrast should be outlawed. As the higher seed, Georgia Tech is required to wear their road uniforms. The NCAA needs to step in because their gold is nowhere near dark enough.

Thanks to Northern Iowa, the Buckeyes can continue to wear those home whites as long as they are in St. Louis. The door is kicked in for Ohio State to make it to Indianapolis. Although not exactly Michigan State playing in Detroit last year, the Buckeye nation would produce a strong showing in Lucas Oil Stadium. The next step towards that destination is a Friday game against Tennessee.

Jordan Crawford and Evan Turner are out to represent the state of Ohio with two of the final eight teams in the field. If the Elite Eight is not incentive enough, the two superstars seem to acknowledge each other’s talent and use it as fuel to do better themselves. If Crawford puts up another 28 points on Thursday, watch out because Turner will try to one-up him. It is going to be fun to watch.

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