College Basketball Round Up – Sweet 16 Edition

Michael Conochan
Staff Writer

Midwest Region
The Midwest Regional final was held at Quickens Loan Arena this year. The undefeated Kentucky Wildcats came in as heavy favorites to move on to the Final Four in Indianapolis. That didn’t stop Daxter Miles of West Virginia to proclaim that Kentucky will be 36-1 after the two teams meet Thursday night. That certainly did not happen. The Wildcats completely overwhelmed the Mountaineers and doubled them up 78-39. In the early game, Notre Dame topped Wichita State 81-70. This marked the first time the Irish have reached the Elite 8 since 1979.
In the Elite 8 match up Notre Dame gave Kentucky all they could handle. They actually led the game for a good portion of the second half. Kentucky had to hit its last 9 shots from the field and hold their breath as Andrew Harrison hit 2 free throws with 6 seconds left to pull off the win. Kentucky’s quest to become the first team in the last 39 years to go undefeated and become national champs is alive and well after being on life support against Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant missed a 3 at the buzzer to secure the win for Kentucky. Unlike the SEC Championship game, Kentucky actually took time to cut down the nets to celebrate their Final Four berth in Cleveland.

West Region
Top seeded Wisconsin met up with the North Carolina Tarheels Thursday for a right to go to the Elite 8. Wisconsin used a 19-7 run down the stretch to come back and beat the Tarheels. They were led by Sam Dekker who had a career high 23 points to go along with 10 rebounds. The second game in Los Angeles matched Arizona up with Xavier for the right to meet Wisconsin in the Elite 8. Xavier proved to be worthy adversaries as they actually held a late 4 point lead, but they were gassed. They had given Arizona their best shot, but Arizona’s size and talent simply proved to be too much. Arizona also used a 19-7 run to end the game and get the win.
As everyone was expecting, Arizona and Wisconsin met in the Elite 8 for the second straight year. Last year Wisconsin upset Arizona on a game winning overtime 3 pointer to go to the Final 4. This year’s game was a bit more decisive. The first half saw Wisconsin facing a 3 point deficit. In the second half Wisconsin hit fire from the 3 point like. They hit 10 or their 13 3 point attempts and dispatched Arizona for the second straight year 85-78. Sam Dekker had another career high as he had 27 points in this game, including 5 second half 3 pointers. Wisconsin now will rematch with Kentucky in the Final Four, Kentucky won last year’s game on a buzzer beating 3 pointer.

East Region
Louisville and North Carolina State met Friday night for the right to go to the Elite 8. The conference foes have met once this year, with NC State winning. Louisville avenged the loss when it mattered most. Louisville came out in the second half and played with purpose. They turned a 2 point deficit into a 10 point win as the final score was 75-65. They were led by Montrezl Harrell who had a game high 24 points. On the bottom half of the region, we saw Michigan State meet Oklahoma. Michigan State was keyed by Denzel Valentine, who scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and Travis Trice who scored 6 in the final 2 minutes to take down Oklahoma 62-58. They moved on to their 2nd consecutive Elite 8 to face Louisville.

Louisville and Michigan State needed more than regulation to settle the game. After 40 minutes the game was tied at 65 all. A Brandon Dawson put back dunk with under 30 seconds to go in the overtime clinched the victory for Michigan State. For a second consecutive year, a 7 seed will be in the Final Four. Last year, the 7th seeded UConn Huskies won it all. This also marks the 7th Final Four appearance for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Izzo’s only championship was in 2000.

South Region
The top seeded Duke Blue Devils met Utah in the round of 16. Justice Winslow was playing in his hometown of Houston a day after his 19th birthday and he did not disappoint. He had a monster 21 point 10 rebound performance while guiding Duke to a 63-57 victory. On the other side of the bracket we had Gonzaga meeting 11th seeded UCLA. Gonzaga’s size and strong guard play simply overwhelmed as they cruised to a 74-62 victory.

Gonzaga was looking to make its first Final Four appearance in school history, but the Duke Blue Devils had other plans. The game was close throughout, but Duke proved to be too strong down the stretch. The turning point in the game happened with less than 5 minutes remaining. With the score 53-51 Duke, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer got a pass down low and had a wide open lay up, but missed. Following that play, there seemed to be a lid on the basket for Gonzaga as Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game. This will be Duke’s Coach K’s 12th final four appearance. This ties Coach K with John Wooden for most all time.

Final Four Look Ahead

Duke vs. Michigan State
Izzo and Coach K are two of the best coaches in college basketball history. We now will be treated with a Final Four matchup between the 2. Duke features Jahlil Okafor who is a big man with a feathery touch around the basket. Michigan States strength is the length of their guards and ability to interchange positions. As great of a run Michigan State has gone on, this Duke team is one of the most talented teams they will have faced all year. They actually faced off earlier this year at Duke, the Blue Devils took that contest 81-71. We expect to see more of the same this coming weekend. Then again, if you have read some of the earlier predictions, we have been wrong about everything in this tournament.

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
The rematch of last year’s Final Four. Wisconsin’s team is basically the same roster, while Kentucky decided they would add 5 more McDonald’s All Americans to an already loaded squad. Last year Kentucky needed a last second 3 to advance to the championship game. We are picking Kentucky to win this game, but all bets are off if Sam Dekker continues his hot shooting from the field.