Alright, it’s past midnight – the greatest two days of college basketball are upon us. Before I go to bed on this night – actually I probably won’t sleep much as I think about Butler’s game with Texas later today.
Unless there is some breaking news in the next few hours my bracket is locked for this season.
Did you see the Boise State-Dayton game tonight? Homecourt was huge there in the end to give the Flyers the momentum to catch the Broncos and eventually win. Did the NCAA do all it could to make it not feel like a home game for Dayton? Yes. Did the officials call it properly? Yes. Could you tell the Flyers were still playing at UD Arena? MOST DEFINITELY!
If you didn’t believe me Sunday night when I wrote the years the Final Four is in Indianapolis the “First Four” games should be played here then you saw tonight in that second game exactly why they should.
OK, rant over let’s get to my bracket. I’ll break it down by region.
Midwest – Round of 64: Kentucky has practice over Hampton; Purdue finds a way to play more consistent and beat Cincinnati; Buffalo surprises West Virginia and is one of two 12 over five games I have in the tournament; Valparaiso beats Maryland as Bryce Drew begins his resume building for the Indiana job; Butler and Texas have a knock ‘em out drag ‘em out game for the ages. It comes down to an Alex Barlow steal and a Rosy Jones floater at the buzzer; Notre Dame over Northeastern; The Hoosiers get hot early, but lack of defense and going cold from 3 spells doom and Wichita State prevails. Kansas beats New Mexico State. Round of 32: Kentucky is too much for Purdue. The Boilers hang until about the under 4:00 media timeout of the first half before the Wildcats take it to another level; Valparaiso goes to the Sweet 16 with a win over Buffalo – Bryce Drew gets more material to show the IU fan base; Butler continues its dominance of Notre Dame; in its dream game Wichita State beats Kansas to advance to the Sweet 16. Sweet 16: Drew has a great game plan in place. The Crusaders hang with the Wildcats much longer than anyone expects. To the point, Cal gets frustrated and comes the closest he has all season to guide his player on the court while there is action on the floor. The Cats pull away after the under 8:00 media timeout to advance. Butler and Wichita State give us one of the best games of the tournament. Butler’s front line finally proves too much, but it’s a 3 from Kellen Dunham that proves to be the dagger to the Shockers. Elite 8: Butler comes into the Elite 8 game looking to be the lone Indiana team, which can keep Kentucky from coming to Indianapolis still unbeaten. It’s too much for the Bulldogs. The energy used against Wichita State to win Thursday night and the lack of the use of the bench end the season. The Dawgs stay with Kentucky until the under 12:00 media timeout in the second half. Though the highlight – Kam Woods’ block of a Willie Cauley-Stein dunk.
West – Round of 64: Wisconsin over Coastal Carolina – even though my favorite counselor from my days of attending Taylor University’s basketball camp, Dave Mooney, who played for the Chants. Oklahoma State and Coach Travis Ford find a way late to defeat Oregon and Dana Altman. Wofford flirts with being a 12 over a 5 but Arkansas wins. Harvard gives North Carolina fits for most of the game, but the Tar Heels win with a run after the under 12:00 media timeout. I’m being conference loyal here and picking Xavier over Ole’Miss – defense wins in March and the Musketeers play it and the Rebels don’t. Ron Hunter does his best coaching with a torn Achilles, but it’s not enough against Baylor. VCU’s “Havoc” flusters Ohio State at the beginning of the game, but Thad wants to make amends for last year’s crash against Dayton. D’Angelo Russell finds a way to lead the Buckeyes to the win. Arizona over former IU Coach Mike Davis and Texas Southern, but it’s closer than a lot of people think it should be when the smoke settles from the near upset. Round of 32: Wisconsin is just too much for Oklahoma State and cruises. North Carolina again looks like the top-five team it was supposed to be at the beginning of the season. The Tar Heels jump out to a lead and hold off a late Razorbacks rally to advance to a date with Wisconsin. Xavier and Baylor have a classic round of 32 game – almost as good as Butler-Notre Dame. In the end, the Bears’ zone is too much for the Musketeers. Speaking of X – Ohio State and Arizona is the battle of the last two former Musketeer coaches. Coming off its scare against Texas Southern, Arizona takes command early in this one and advances. Sweet 16: North Carolina gets out to a lead and Wisconsin has to come from behind. Unlike the Sweet 16 against Butler in 2011, this time the Badgers complete the comeback and advance. Baylor and Arizona go back and forth but midway through the second half the Wildcats find a way to break through the zone defense and take command to set up the Elite 8 rematch. Elite 8: Revenge is on the Wildcats mind from last year’s loss to Wisconsin. It’s the second game Sunday afternoon meaning it’s the last ticket punched for Indianapolis. It again goes overtime and this time it’s Arizona which prevails and returns to the site of its first national championship.
East – Round of 64: Villanova over Lafayette. NC State and LSU battle for 40 minutes. It’s the first game of the tournament to go overtime and the Wolfpack win. Wyoming has momentum, but not enough to overcome a Northern Iowa team which is set out to prove it was totally underseeded for this tournament. Louisville beats UC Irvine but not before it has to contend with Mamdou Ndiaye, who does his best to contain the front line of the Cardinals. Even though, it’s basically another home game for Dayton playing in Columbus, the fatigue from playing in the Atlantic Tournament and Tuesday’s play-in game catches up with the Flyers. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton prove too much as the Friars advance. Oklahoma has a scare from Albany, but the length of the Sooners and scoring of Buddy Hield take control. I’m not picking against Tom Izzo in a first round game. That’s a mistake. The Spartans beat Georgia. Virginia gets even more of a scare from Belmont than Arizona did against Texas Southern. The Cavaliers struggle for most of the game and finally pull away in the final minute of the game. Belmont may even have a chance in the end. Round of 32: Villanova and its effective team offense proves too much for the Wolfpack to overcome. Northern Iowa again with a chip on its shoulder beats Louisville with Seth Tuttle showing the nation how good he really is in leading the Panthers to win. Providence and Oklahoma – what do both have in common? Both beat Butler. Ed Cooley lets Kris Dunn do his thing and like they did against Dayton, the Friars beat the Sooners and advance. Michigan State and Virginia again have a classic game as they did in the Sweet 16 last season. The Cavaliers again have to pull the game out in the final minutes to advance to the second weekend. Sweet 16: Villanova and Northern Iowa play a classic in the round of 16 in Syracuse. The Wildcats in their former Big East backyard have both the inside and outside game. Jay Wright’s 1-2-2 zone also frustrates Northern Iowa and the Wildcats advance with a solid win. The battle of Pete Gillen’s last two coaching jobs takes place between Virginia and Providence. The Cavaliers defense ends up being too much for both Dunn and Henton. Elite 8: It’s the first game on Sunday. The Wildcats will have played the second game against Northern Iowa on Friday night. The quick turn around benefits the Cavaliers and the team which appeared to be the second best team through the first three months of the season goes to Indianapolis.
South – Round of 32: Robert Morris experience of playing against the “Blue Bloods” of basketball allows them to give Duke a Georgetown-Princeton like scare. The Blue Devils pull it together and win. The loss of Chris Obekpa is too much for St. John’s to overcome as San Diego State pulls away in a game which will resemble more of a 6-11 game should be than 8-9. My second 12 over five game takes place as Stephen F. Austin – with experience from last year’s tournament – upend Utah to advance. Eastern Washington tries to run Georgetown out of the gym but the Hoyas find a way to slow the pace down and get its front line to command the game led by the playmaking of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. UCLA proves it belongs in the tournament after all with a win over SMU. Iowa State beats UAB. Davidson controls the tempo and hits 3s and slows Iowa down to get the “upset” win. North Dakota State gives Gonzaga a solid game until about the under 8:00 media timeout and then it’s all Zags. Round of 32: Not enough offense for the Aztecs as Duke sets out to make a statement after its battle with Robert Morris almost shocked the basketball world. My 12 to the Sweet 16 – Stephen F. Austin. The experience of the Lumberjacks proves vital against the young Hoyas to advance to its first second weekend of the tournament. UCLA exerts itself too much against SMU and Iowa State, which had an easier game against UAB pulls away late in the first half. The Cyclones put on a clinic in the second half to advance to the Sweet 16 again. Davidson pushes Gonzaga to its limit but eventually Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos play as expected to give the Zags the win. Sweet 16: Duke proves too much for SFA. It’s a game of high-powered offense on both sides but finally Duke clamps down defensively. Iowa State gives Gonzaga its biggest challenge since the Zags lost to BYU. Having been in close games and many come from behind scenarios throughout the season compared to Gonzaga, the Cyclones use that experience to their advantage for the win. Elite 8: Duke and Iowa State play the late game Saturday night after Kentucky pounces on Butler. It’s another game where the offenses go up another gear. Iowa State’s bench proves to be its strength but not enough to contain to future NBA First Round draft pick Jahil Okafor as the freshmen takes over the game and wills his team to the win.
So my Final Four – Kentucky vs. Arizona and Virginia vs. Duke
The NCAA has a hard time deciding which game will be first at Lucas Oil Stadium April 4. They decide to give the two Atlantic Coast Conference teams the first game and the battle of the Wildcats the primetime slot.
National Semifinal No. 1 Duke vs. Virginia: This time the Cavaliers don’t blow the lead late. They focus on Okafor and cause him to have one of his most frustrating offensive games of the season. The balance Virginia also proves to be too much and the Cavaliers get revenge for their first loss of the season.
National Semifinal No. 2 Kentucky vs. Arizona: It will be Kentucky’s first true test of the tournament. The “scare” against Valparaiso woke the UK ‘Cats up but get thrown the best game Sean Miller can coach in trying to knock off Kentucky from the ranks of the unbeaten. It gets to the under 4:00 media timeout. The ‘Zona Wildcats have played a perfect game plan so far against UK. As he did though against Michigan Aaron Harrison again drains a 3 with time running out to preserve the unbeaten season and give UK its date with destiny on Monday night.
National Championship: Much like the Saturday night game against Arizona, Kentucky’s coronation as national champion won’t be easy. Virginia’s defense suffocates the Wildcats and forces them deep into the shot clock and having to settle for mid-range jumpers and 3s for most of the game. Harrison again hits a big shot for the lead. Cauley-Stein though is the hero with a block of Justin Anderson as time expires.
FINAL SCORE – Kentucky 62, Virginia 60.
Note before bed: I have missed that feeling of anxiously waiting for your team to play in the NCAA Tournament. I just hope Butler comes out and plays as it did in the game against North Carolina and Villanova and not like it did in the second game this season against Xavier. I also hope I don’t see the hashtag #texasblockparty during the game later today.