Wild weekend of March Madness
By Peter Santo
Day 1 of the NCAA tournament went down as one of the best tourney days in recent history. Many upset minded, double digit seeds put together great efforts against their heavily favored opponents, with some pulling off incredible upsets. An aggressive and valiant effort from 14 seed Northeastern pushed 3 seed Notre Dame to the brink of elimination. 14 seed Georgia St, led by sharpshooter R.J. Hunter and 2013 tournament feel good story Kevin Ware, upset 3 seed Baylor. With UAB upsetting Iowa State and UCLA taking down SMU, day one was remembered mainly for the upsets. Besides Baylor and Iowa State, the top contenders took care of business on day one.
There were plenty of entertaining games between evenly matched teams as well. LSU and NC State came down to the very end, as an unlikely hero in BeeJay Anya won the game and downed LSU. UNC, a scary team no one wanted to play, only beat Harvard by 2. Purdue was downed by a very aggressive Cincy team by one.
While upsets were the story of the day on thursday, friday was an entirely different story. Gonzaga and Louisville received late scares but the only upset that occurred was Providence falling to Dayton.
The weekend games were all competitive, with multiple top seeds being knocked off. Teams were fighting all throughout both days. Tournament favorite Kentucky battled a Cincinnati team that played with heart and energy until the very end. Despite the eventual 13 point win for UK, they had to fight for every bucket and rebound. Surprise team UCLA beat cinderella hopeful UAB, pushing them to the Sweet 16, the only double-digit seed left standing.
With the one seed in their region having gone down to NC State saturday night, Michigan St. knocked off two seed Virginia on sunday. UVA was never the same since the injury to Justin Anderson and they ran into a very hot Michigan St team for the second straight season.
Looking forward to the remaining rounds, let’s take it region by region:
West Virginia (5)
Notre Dame (3)
Wichita State (7)
This region is dominated by Kentucky. It would be a major upset if the Cats were to fall before the Final Four. Despite this fact, I do believe that WVU is just as if not grittier than Cincy and they have more talent than the Bearcats. Juwan Staten, the point guard for WVU is the quickest player in the college basketball. It will be closer than people think, but UK moves on. In the other game, Notre Dame will face an experienced Wichita State team coming off a huge upset over in-state rival Kansas. However Notre Dame plays bigger than they are and can shoot the lights out from behind the arc, they will be too much for the Shockers. Kentucky would get a tough game from Notre Dame because of their ability to space the court but beside that, Kentucky’s dominance and prowess inside would be too much for Notre Dame.
Final Four pick: Kentucky
The surprise team here is Xavier. They went largely unnoticed before the tournament started but are led by a solid group of seniors looking to making a cinderella type run. However they will play Arizona in the 2nd game in Los Angeles and Arizona is simply too talented. They have a solid PG in TJ McConnell, hyper-athletic wings such as Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and their bigs love to bang and can certainly handle their own. In the other game, UNC vs Wisconsin, it’s a matchup of styles. UNC loves to run but Wisconsin are the best at keeping the tempo of the game how they like and they don’t turn it over, Wisconsin moves on. This sets up a rematch of one of last year’s most entertaining Elite 8 games, with Arizona taking on Wisconsin. However this year the result will be different, with Arizona’s size and athleticism leading them to victory, as Wisconsin simply cannot match their talent.
Final Four pick: Arizona
NC State (8)
Michigan State (7)
With the number one and two seeds both eliminated, this region is a complete toss-up. NC State has been playing excellent recently but Louisville is a very solid team that can defend with the very best. Louisville lacks a wing scorer but freshman guard Quentin Snider has stepped up big. I think Louisville’s defense is too much and Pitino is a great coach, and coaching matters in March. This next game is my favorite one of the sweet 16. Red hot Michigan State up against sleeper pick Oklahoma. Buddy Heild has played excellent throughout the tournament, but again coaching matters, and Tom Izzo will lead his Spartans to victory. Michigan State and Louisville would feature a matchup of two of the best coaches in college basketball, however Michigan State has the more talented team, and will advance to the Final Four.
Final Four pick: Michigan State
Besides Kentucky to the final four, I believe this is the most clear cut section of the bracket. The first game is Utah and Duke. Duke has been playing great ball, and Utah does not have an athlete like Justise Winslow. Utah could be scary with their backcourt however, but despite this I think Duke moves on. Gonzaga did not play well against NDSU but smacked a decent Iowa team. UCLA has been playing good basketball but have not gone up against an offense like the Zags. Kyle Wiltjer has been playing lights out and the depth of Gonzaga is only 2nd to Kentucky. Gonzaga vs. Duke is a very interesting matchup. Gonzaga has the size to guard Duke’s Okafor and Gary Bell is a very good defender however, once again, no athlete compares to Winslow. In the end, Duke’s talented trio of Okafor, Cook and Winslow proves to be too much for the Zags, and Duke moves on.
Final Four pick: Duke
Not many people picked both Villanova and UVA to fall in the tournament’s first weekend, but upsets are what makes the NCAA tournament special.
Tim Rey also contributed to this report