Watching the game last night, it was evident that the Louisville Cardinals (known for their comebacks this tournament) were once again going to come out on top. Michigan came out on fire, led by their best player Trey Burke from the the start and racing to an early double digit lead. The problem for the Wolverines was that Burke got into foul trouble very early in the game and as a result, was only on the court for six minutes in the first half. Louisville took advantage of the opportunity and rallied back to a 1 point deficit right before halftime. The first half was as great of basketball as there had been the entire tournament, both teams fought hard on defense and made great plays on offense. Especially from behind the arc. So a major shout out to Spike Albrecht (Michigan) and Luke Hancock (Louisville) who both came off their team’s bench and finished the night a combined 9 of 10 from 3-point land. This is all besides the fact that they both have pretty awesome names. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their shooting cooled off in the second half and even though Trey Burke was once again the best player on the court, it wasn’t enough to get the win. Michigan fought hard, never gave up and surprised a lot of people in just getting to title game so the Wolverines should be proud of their accomplishments. It was simply Louisville’s night and their tournament.
Coach Rick Pitino was a having a dream week, being elected to the Hall of Fame among other things and adding a national title was just icing on the cake. If that’s not motivation for the players, it’s that apparently Pitino promised to his players that if they won the tournament he’d get a tattoo. Sounds like a lot of fun on the player’s side of of that deal. Even though there were many backdrops and story lines surrounding the game, there was no doubt that the Cardinals wanted to win this game for one man: Kevin Ware. His devastating and unfortunate injury had many neutral fans rooting for the Cardinals in this game. Ware sat right next to his teammates the entire game and as the clock winding down, Louisville players and fans celebrating, you couldn’t help but feel great for Ware. He was more than enough motivation for his team and coaches. The basket was lowered for Ware (pictured aboive) so he could cut down a part of the net as tradition goes. It was a great gesture and maybe our very own Skilligan was right, Ware was the reason that the Cardinals ended up winning the entire tournament. It’s their turn to celebrate as the newly crowned kings of college basketball.
Now it’s on to Atlanta and for four schools, it’s the opportunity to be part of college basketball history. Louisville was a #1 seed and despite being in the toughest region of the tournament, they looked every bit like a top seed the entire way, finishing their journey towards the Final Four by beating Duke. Everyone around the country unfortunately had to witness (if you were watching live) one of the most gruesome injuries that has ever occurred in sports, ever. Louisville player Kevin Ware suffered a compound fracture to his right tibia on what appeared to a routine leap to block a shot but it was just a freak accident, something that no one ever wants to happen to anyone on the court. Fortunately for Ware, he did undergo successful surgery yesterday so we’re all hoping for a speedy recovery and that he returns to playing basketball ever better than before. Louisville’s opponent will be Wichita State, who took their mascot name to the court and shocked the nation as they took down Ohio St to reach the Final Four for the first time in over 50 years. I actually have a personal alliance to the Shockers of Wichita St, as one my best friends went to grad school there and currently teaches there twice a week. Can the Cinderella story continue? It certainly seems that way, the Shockers are the only team of the four left that have taken down a 1 seed and a 2 seed. Their fast start against Ohio State means that Wichita isn’t afraid to trade punches against the big boys and that’s certainly going to be key when going up against a powerhouse like Louisville. It’s going to be a tough game between Louisville and Wichita, both teams have played excellent defense so far and I think the point guard battle will prove to be critical.
The other side of the Final Four includes two teams that were expected to make some noise but I don’t think anyone expected them to make this much noise. Syracuse is a school with plenty of history in college basketball, winning the title a decade ago and looking like a powerhouse once again. Taking down top seeded Indiana was the most notable victory for the Orange but what’s impressed me the most is how great their defense has been and how much it’s improved as the rounds got deeper. Syracuse is very athletic and long at pretty much every position so the result is teams have struggled to score against them throughout the tournament. Their defense something that Syracuse can keep relying on to win games but it’s going to get be the toughest test yet when it goes up against Michigan on Saturday night. In case you haven’t heard, Trey Burke plays for Michigan and he’s been the best player in the country during the tournament. Burke has certainly been the key player for the Wolverines but that’s been underrated is the cast around him, their ability to feed off Burke’s play-making abilities and fill in their own roles. Michigan can simply outscore the other team and it’s carried them to the Final Four but i’m interested to see how effective their offense can do against such a stout defense like Syracuse’s, especially late in games and during critical possessions. This game is a test of two opposite styles of play so I expect an excellent game with lots of fireworks.
It was a weekend filled with memorable moments during the round of 32, filled with plenty of upsets that included a number 1 seed (Gonzaga) going down and 2 seed (Ohio St) needing some late game heroics to escape their own elimination. The biggest surprise of the weekend? I’d say it’s a toss up between Wichita St taking down Gonzaga and Florida Gulf Coast (taking down Georgetown and San Diego St) to become the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 in the history of the tournament. I’d go with the latter because Gonzaga was seen as a very week 1 seed that struggled in the first round so them losing a strong Wichita St team was more probable than the Eagles of FGCU (pictured above) pretty much ruining everyone’s brackets with their victories. Major props to the underdogs like La Salle (13 seed) and Oregon (12 seed) for making it to the Sweet 16, even if they did ruin my bracket and millions more around the country. I didn’t attend a university that has a power house basketball team so if my bracket is going to get busted, i’ll root for the really high seeds to keep pulling out victories. Quickly on Oregon: it’s clear that they shouldn’t have been a 12 seed. They’re playing really well, winning both of their games by a big margins and looking like the most dominant team in the tournament other than Louisville. And what do you know, that’s who Oregon faces in the Sweet 16. It’s definitely a must watch.
Well Arizona sure put all that Harvard magic to rest pretty quickly, didn’t they? The Wildcats of just came out on fire, pulling to a 30-9 lead that was simply too much for Harvard to come back from but the Crimson can still be proud of their victory in the first round. Add Arizona to the teams that have looked fairly dominant in the first two rounds, taking care of business and now they’re up against a strong Ohio State team that had to squeak one out over Iowa St earlier today. The east side of the bracket ended up being the one with chalk teams in the Sweet 16 but all four of those teams had closer games than expected to get there and it’s been the story a lot of the time for these higher seeds. It’s more likely that a higher seed needed to have a comeback to win a close games than a team completely dominating or simply taking care of business. Michigan St has looked fairly strong but they’re next opponent is Duke. They need no introduction. Kansas has also looked every bit as a 1 seed but next up is Michigan, who has the best back court in college basketball so that will be a nice one to watch later this week.
Normally I don’t get into college basketball that much but as most sports fans do around this time of year, they fill out a bracket for the NCAA Division 1 men’s tournament. Even lots of non-sports fans around the United States go out of their way to get involved in the action. It’s a tradition that rivals the biggest sporting events of the entire year. It’s incredibly hard to fill out a perfect bracket. What are the odds? The odds of you, myself or Moe filling out a perfect bracket at about 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Now, that’s exercising events that won’t happen (16 seed beating a 1 seed) so when you factor in more basketball logic, the odds go down to about 1 in 128 billion. Much easier but nothing to keep your hopes up about. It was a bit slow to begin the day, most of the games went chalk (higher seed winning) but as the day progressed, things got more interesting a there were some pretty interesting upsets. Let’s take a quick look at what went down:
Early on in the day/morning, the higher seeds looked as dominant as ever in their opening round games. The only “upset” was 9 seed Wichita St beating Pitt 73-55. Most brackets actually had Wichita State winning the match but I don’t think anyone anticipated such a strong victory. Can their momentum carry over? Well it’s going to be VERY interesting as the Shockers (awesome mascot name) are going up against the top seeded Gonzaga in the next round. Gonzaga certainly has it’s hands full and for a good while it seemed like we would finally see a 16 seed win a game but in the end, Gonzaga edged out Southern and avoided being on the wrong end of history. All other higher seeds took victories early on but once again, Marquette (four seed) had to use a furious rally and some breaks late in the game to overcome a stingy Davidson team that just didn’t have enough to close out the upset. Oregon continued their momentum from the conference tournament title run and despite being such a low seed, they were able to handle Oklahoma St pretty convincingly. I don’t see their momentum taking them past St Louis, who looked very strong today but crazier things have happened. Cal continued the Pac-12 upset machine as the Bears were able to hold off a UNLV team that looked flat early.
The rest of the afternoon/evening had higher seeds looking very strong (Louisville, Michigan, Arizona, VCU, Colorado St and Syracuse) so nothing of note for those teams, they’re taking care of business when they should. If anything sticks out about those higher seeds winning it’s that VCU looked exceptionally strong, putting up 88 points in their victory over Akron. It was a quiet night until the Harvard basketball team (14 seed) decided to join the “bracket buster” clique and take a pretty crazy victory over a really strong New Mexico team. This is the Crimson’s first ever victory in the tournament so big ups to them, even if they did put a dent in my bracket. Tomorrow could prove to be a crazier day, i’m hoping for buzzer beaters. I can see it being a another “chalk” day but if i’m keeping my eye on Cincinnati-Creighton and Minnesota-UCLA as potential games that could end as upsets.