This entry is cross-posted on TNR's web site, Posting Up:
From the first day a child picks up a basketball, he or she is taught how to shoot a layup. It's the simplest shot in the game, just flip the ball up on the box, and let it fall into the hoop.
For Southern Illinois, and then a few minutes later (and several hundred miles away) for Texas A&M, missed layups meant the difference (in all likelihood) between going to the Elite Eight and going home. For SIU, Brian Mullins made a terrific steal with 2:20 left, went down the floor, but short-armed a tough layup, and teammate Jamaal Tatum was unable to follow-up the miss. For the Aggies, it was star Acie Law IV who, on a homerun pass against a full-court press with 40 seconds left, also missed a layup on the short side.
While it is impossible to have a 40-minute, very competitive game hinge on a single play (and therefore, impossible to "blame" any single player for the loss), in both cases, the fatigue, pressure, and defense (both were contested layups) proved to be too much.
The Salukis definitely impressed in the first game. Facing a squad filled with McDonald's All-Americans and future lottery picks, SIU proved the value of tough, gritty, resourceful college players--rather than a collection of pro prospects. Although Kansas moved on in the draw--and surely impressed more NBA scouts--I am sure that Kansas Coach Bill Self will not be anxious to face such a formidable mid-major squad again anytime soon.