Once again my brackets are busted up – from Boise to San Diego, and all points east. Every year the NCAA Tournament is touted as the maddest March to date, but who could’ve predicted the pain and suffering it would inflict upon the top-seeded team in the country?
UMBC’s historic hurt on Virginia in the first round, not only knocked out one of my final four, but my pick to win the whole enchilada. The 16th seeded’s 15 minutes of Cinderella fame flamed out against Kansas State, who will face Kentucky after Coach Calipari’s boys dashed Buffalo’s dream of well, not having to shuffle back so soon to Buffalo. This catfight will be won by Kentucky, winners of 9 of their last 10, with a starting five of freshmen, starring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the great.
Divine intervention may have put Loyola in the Sweet 16 saddle with the help of 98-year old team chaplain, Sister Jean. Back to back dramatic 3-point game-winning baskets wiped out Miami and Tennessee for a date with Nevada, who clawed their way back from a 22-point deficit to defeat the favored Cincinnati Bearcats, two days after they stunned Texas in OT. It’ll be tough picking the Wolf Pack with the Rambler’s guardian angel watching over them in the wings.
Villanova squashed Radford and Alabama’s hopes of a fairy tale ending with consecutive blowouts fit for a No. 1 seed. The team that Barack Obama picked to nail the Naismith Trophy faces West Virginia, who mauled Marshall via tons of turnovers. The Mountaineers pressing defense may challenge the Wildcats, but with starter Jalen Brunson and 6th man Donte DiVincenzo off the bench, they’re going down against their former Big East rivals.
Two days after Houston’s Rob Gray stunned San Diego with a last second acrobatic layup, Michigan’s Jordan Poole ruined the Cougars short lived high with a scissor leg launch to beat the buzzer moments after forward Devon Davis missed two free throws with four ticks left on the clock. This one will sting for quite a while, so, my two cents for the inconsolable senior? Watch Chris Webber’s phantom time out, which cost Michigan the 1993 Championship game.
Florida State got sweet revenge over Xavier after being bounced by the Musketeers in last season’s round of 32. The Seminoles launched a fast and furious comeback overcoming a 12-point deficit with 10:42 remaining, getting a lot of bang for their buck from their bench. Next stop, the City of Angels, where they’ll face a Gonzaga team who survived a couple of scares against UNC-Green and Ohio State with late game heroics from freshman Zach Novell, Jr. My brackets say Gonzaga’s moving on, but my instinct is a Florida State upset in LA.
Tyler Davis and Robert Williams’ double doubles were a happy meal for Texas A&M in their first round defeat over Providence. While Friars Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock combined for 43 points, their lack of long-range baskets, 6-20, including a 0-for-4 in the final five minutes proved to be their fate. The Aggies were so dominant on the boards – how dominant? Davis and Williams, 15 and 14 respectively, out rebounded Providence’s entire team. And if you have any doubt that the A&M boys are the real deal, they crushed North Carolina, upsetting the reigning champs 86-65 and come Thursday, they’ll give Michigan a run for their Elite Eight money.
Penn was a walk in the park for Kansas who then escaped a close call against a crew of pesky Pirates. Khadeen Carrington tried desperately to keep Seton Hall alive with a flurry of threes in the final minutes, but the Jayhawks were unflappable at the foul line. Kansas’ 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike’s return from a lingering ligament injury was a little rusty, but drew enough distraction to allow teammate Malik Newman net 28 points. But the Jayhawk’s Final Four future could be in jeopardy when they face-off against the Clemson, who clobbered Auburn, one of the nation’s top scoring teams, 84-53. The Tigers are ferocious, but we’ll still be talking about Clemson’s football team on Friday.
After handily defeating Arkansas, Butler ran into Matt Haarms way, falling to the Isaac Haas depleted Purdue 76-73. With the injured center sidelined with a broken elbow, the 7’3” Netherlands native filled in capably in his freshman season debut. The Boilermakers turned a 10-point lead into a nail biter late in the second half when the Bulldogs pulled within two. But with 14.2 seconds remaining Dakota Mathias sealed their Sweet 16 deal with a mammoth shot from behind the arc setting up a date with Texas Tech in Beantown. With Haas hurt, there looks to be a pity party for Purdue.
Duke, with possibly the easiest road to the brass ring, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 26th time by way of back-to-back blowouts against Iona and Rhode Island. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s embarrassment of one-and-done riches is having a field day in the 2-3 defensive zone, adding another threat to their prolific 3-point shooting and proficiency in the paint. The Blue Devils Sweet 16 date with Syracuse, who advanced compliments of a Michigan St. meltdown, will be a battle between two of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. Orange coach Jim Boeheim is eyeing another upset, but this one is going to Coach K’s kids.