Equally disappointing was the fall of fellow No. 2 seed, the Duke Blue Devils. Playing close to their home court in Greensboro, N.C., the Blue Devils lost 75-70 to Lehigh. The stunning upset has been called one of the biggest shockers in a tournament known for surprises. The Devils had won 12 straight tournament games in Greensboro, so much for home court advantage.
North Carolina is still around, their star point guard may not be and basketball fans learned a new word, ‘scaphoid.’ That’s the bone Heels point guard Kendall Marshall broke in his wrist Sunday. The dynamic play-maker may not play next weekend and even if he does he will be hampered. If Marshall can’t go the reins of the offence will be handed over to little used backups Justin Watts or Stilman White. Around the corner for the Heels is upstart Ohio.
Rounding out the teams headed to St. Louis are Kansas and N.C. State. The second-ranked Jayhawks were given all they could handle from Purdue, but did what a pair of other No. 2 seeds couldn’t, won a close game.
The Kentucky Wildcats are still the favourite to the win the title. Any question about the inexperience of the tournament’s top seed was put to rest after back-to-back dominating performances. Marquis Teague handled the point with ease for UK in the first two games, included was a 24 point, seven assist outburst against Iowa State. In the way for the ‘Cats stands a rematch with the fourth-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers are one of only two teams to beat Kentucky this year. Baylor and Xavier are set to square off in the other fourth-round game in what UK fans have come to call Catlanta.
Questions about Syracuse lingered heading into the NCAA tournament. Those questions still linger even though the Orange are through to the fourth round. The team is still without Big East defensive player of the year Fab Melo. Next up lurks the pesky Wisconsin Badgers and their over-sized front court. Fans in Boston will also be treated to an in state matchup between Ohio State and Cincinnati.
Michigan State rounded out the one-seeded teams and like their top-ranked brethren, the Spartans continue on. Draymond Green has been the most dominating player in the tournament so far. The senior put up a triple double in the first game and came four assists short of accomplishing the feat in round 3. A matchup of legendary coaches awaits in Phoenix, with Tom Izzo poised to join Louisville head coach Rick Pitino on the sidelines. Marquette and Florida round out the region.
The easiest way to get over disappointment is to just forget about it. Let’s forget then that two of the teams I predicted to go to the Final Four have been eliminated. I am still sticking with the same championship, the Kentucky Wildcats will face the North Carolina Tar Heels in the finals. The Tar Heels though may struggle without its point guard.
As far as upsets, Marquette looks like the strongest team heading to Phoenix. The Golden Eagles will take down Michigan State to earn a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. Syracuse has looked good, but Ohio State has looked better. The Buckeyes will represent its state in New Orleans with strong guard play from Aaron Craft.
For those of you who still have all of your Final Four teams left in your bracket, congratulations. For those who don’t, you can always forget last week even happened.
ALL FIRST-WEEK TEAM
C Kenny Frease: The easy pick here is Kentucky big man Anthony Davis. But Xavier centre Frease surprised on Sunday. The big man overwhelmed a smaller Lehigh team with 25 points and 12 boards.
F Draymond Green: The Spartans heart and soul put his name alongside Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as just the eighth player to record a triple double in the NCAA tournament. As a follow up against Saint Louis the senior scored 16 points and contributed 13 rebounds.
F Robbie Hummel: The all-heart award goes to the Purdue senior. Hummel nearly single-handedly led his Boilermakers past the Kansas Jayhawks in the tournament’s third round. After finishing the last two seasons with torn ACLs, this year ended on Hummel’s terms with a 26 point, nine rebound performance.
G Brady Heslip: The Canadian sharp shooter notched 27 points Saturday night in Baylor’s third-round win over Colorado. All nine of Heslip’s field goals came from beyond the three-point stripe. He added 17 points in the Bear’s first round win over South Dakota St.
G C.J. McCollum: McCollum is the only player on this team no longer dancing. The Lehigh guard made himself the talk of the water cooler Monday morning with his tremendous performance Friday night. The Patriot league MVP scored 30 points, plus added 14 points and eight rebounds in Sunday’s loss against Xavier.
THERE IS CRYING IN BASKETBALL
Baseball may have banned the tradition of tears a long time ago, but in hoops it is still very much accepted. Purdue’s senior big man seemed to be on his way to an Adam Morrison like breakdown, but he pulled it together. After nearly single-handedly taking down the Kansas Jayhawks, Robbie Hummell was seen in the handshake line wiping tears from his eyes. A different pain from the ACL injuries that ended his past two seasons.
The always emotional Frank Martin won on the coach’s side. Martin was unable to speak at the podium following his team’s third-round loss to Syracuse when attempting to talk about the suspension to Jamar Samuels. The awkward moment was an insight into the raw emotion connected to losses in March.
In Nashville it was crying in both locker rooms. The Ohio coach was seen breaking down in the locker room following their win while addressing his players. While South Florida’s coach, whose team lost 62-56, told reporters at a post-game news conference — “This is going to sting. Those guys are crying in the locker room” — all the while holding back tears himself.
UGLIER THE BETTER
It seems ugly uniforms may be a good luck charm. March has been a fashion disaster for some teams. It was hard to turn away from the neon yellow jerseys and shorts the Baylor Bears wore in Round 3. The ugly threads, described as being coloured with a highlighter, didn’t seem to bother their shooters. The team shot 55% from three-point land against Colorado. The jerseys led Charles Barkley to say on truTV, “those are some ugly uniforms. If you’re going to wear those ugly uniforms, you’ve got to play well.”
The Cincinnati Bearcats were trying to hide their ugly unis. The Big East team sported camouflage shorts that could also be disguised as some sort of tiger print. The black tops plus the black sneakers with red shoelaces brought the unit together.
Four teams, four different styles and all from one state. Allegiances will be divided next weekend in the state of Ohio. Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier and Ohio University represent the Buckeye state in the round of 16.
The new hotbed for hoops in America has some serious contenders to bring a title to the state. Ohio State is the favourite of the group, the strongest team left in the east region that boasts fellow state representative Cincinnati.
The Ohio Bobcats are the first 13th seed in the round of 16 since Bradley in 2006. Xavier rebounded from a dismal final stretch, where the Musketeers went 8-7, to reach the tournament’s second weekend for the fourth time in five years.
No state has ever done has well in an opening week of the tournament. Ohio teams went 8-0. No other states have sent four teams this far, although many states have had three. The states of Kentucky and Wisconsin still boast a pair of teams each.