Florida wins in OT, both Carolinas and Kentucky advance to Elite Eight

SONG SELECTION:

“Eternal”, by Depeche Mode

Released March 17, 2017 via Columbia Records

South Regional definitely had true Southern cooking

Joel Berry II scored 26 points for the North Carolina Tar Heels in a 92-80 victory over gamed Butler.  There was one moment where Berry nearly turned his left ankle making a hard cut around the three-point line, but somehow he stayed upright and he finished the game.

Facing North Carolina Sunday afternoon at 5:05 p.m. Eastern time on CBS will be the second seed of Kentucky, who displayed a lot of leather in Coach John Calipari’s return to the place where he used to lead Memphis to a (now vacated) 2008 National Runner-up appearance.  Kentucky got revenge after losing their last two meetings to UCLA in a final score of 86-75.

It was a highly entertaining game, with both teams nearly matching shot for shot and point for point.  Even though the coach’s son Bryce Alford did all that he could to keep the Bruins close, in the end it was Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox who were both simply too much for UCLA to overcome.

Fox set an all-time, single-game freshman scoring record for any NCAA Tournament game with 39 points.  13 of those points came from the charity stripe in 15 attempts.

And UCLA will have to go forward without freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, as he has declared for the NBA Draft–this according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN and other credible media members.  Ball finished his last college game with 10 points and 8 assists.

Even bigger news came from Head Coach Steve Alford:

“I am 100 percent, not going to Indiana.”

In postgame remarks to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman inquiring about the Indiana coach opening

T.J. Leaf and Isaac Hamilton each had 17 points, since it was one of the few times all season that UCLA was held under 90 points.  They shot better, but Kentucky made the flashier plays and made the key defensive stops in the second half.  At times, it looked like UK was resembling Press ‘N Seal with its’ extended arms and UCLA basically standing around, waiting for something big to happen.  Whatever tactics the Bruins used to upset Kentucky in Rupp Arena this past December failed to materialize this time around.

And what a donnybrook we are in for on Sunday–two true bluebloods of the sport, as Roy Williams is in his 8th Elite Eight as a coach with North Carolina and John Calipari is in his 7th Elite Eight in nine years as Kentucky coach.

It will be all SEC showdown in the middle of Manhattan

Two semifinals in the Big Apple provided a lot of quality action.  In the end, South Carolina stunned Baylor 70-50 and Wisconsin fell on a last second three at the overtime buzzer to Florida.

Florida had their game in control for most of the second half before the Badgers rallied to tie things up and force the extra period.  In overtime, Wisconsin led 78-73 with 1:40 to play before Canyon Barry made a reverse layup.  Ethan Happ split his two free throw attempts with 1:09 remaining and 20 seconds later, KeVaughn Allen (who finished with a game high 35 points) made a driving layup to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 80-77.

Chris Chiozza made a jump shot to tie the game at 81 with 24 seconds left to play and MSG was going nuts.  Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin was later fouled with 4 seconds showing on the Madison Square Garden clock and nailed his two free throws.

Florida made one short pass and Chiozza did the rest.  Sprinting as fast and as hard as he could, he breezed past two Wisconsin defenders, briefly stopped behind the three-point line and got the shot off with half a second to go.

Swish–nothing but nylon.  Game over.  Florida upends Wisconsin 84-83.  Although Chiozza only finished with 8 points on the night/early Saturday morning, his last two shots add another chapter to the NCAA Tournament legend.

Nigel Hayes led five Badgers in double figures with 22, while Ethan Happ was close behind with 11 and Bronson Koenig chipped in with 13 as the Badgers limp home to Madison as tough luck losers again.

In my initial reaction, this game was not as thoroughly dramatic as a quarter century ago when Duke survived Kentucky in Christian Laettner’s perfect 10 for 10 night for the East Regional Championship inside the old Philadelphia Spectrum, but this 2017 East Regional semifinal game will certainly be remembered for years to come.

And that is what will lead off on Sunday afternoon with a 2:20 p.m. Eastern time tip.  Florida and South Carolina met twice during the regular season, with both the Gators and Gamecocks each winning on their home court on January 18 and February 21, respectively.

For the 4 seed of Florida, this will be their fifth Elite Eight appearance since 2011 and this will be uncharted territory for the 7 seed of South Carolina.  This means simply that new blood has entered in the penultimate showdown before the final weekend of play.  And yes, my online friends–Super Saturday 2017 is just around the corner.

Please try to get some rest, and we will see you after the games on TBS.

The fun begins at 6:09 Eastern time from San Jose, as Gonzaga looks to earn their first ever trip to the Final Four after so many near misses against the only double digit still alive in Xavier.  Then, at 8:49 p.m., it is off to Kansas City and a mostly pro-Kansas crowd hoping that Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. will put most of their off-court shenanigans aside and try to take care of Oregon, looking for their first Final Four appearance since the very first time such an occasion took place inside the old Patten Gymnasium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois way back in 1939.

 

 

 

Xavier Topples Arizona, Kansas Routs Purdue

SONG SELECTION:

Lana Del Rey, “In Love”

New album to arrive sometime in Summer 2017

Gutsy game plan pays off

The Xavier Musketeers stayed in step with Arizona the entire way at the SAP Center in San Jose.  Even after a missed 1-and-1 that could have iced the game with 22 seconds left, Alonzo Trier had all day to shoot.  His three point attempt to win it for the Wildcats went in and out.  As Xavier frantically grabbed the rebound, two Arizona players tried in vain to foul and stop the clock.  They couldn’t and a massive celebration was on.  The final score was 83-81.  Malcolm Bernard had 15 huge points and Trevon Bluiett again led the way with 25.

Their final opponent on Saturday night, 6:09 p.m. Eastern tip time will be the top seed of Gonzaga, who barely got by West Virginia 61-58.  Four of five starters for the Bulldogs finished in double figures.  Jevon Carter led all scorers for West Virginia with 23 in a tough luck defeat.

The Bulldogs led by eight points earlier in the second half before West Virginia’s press became a factor and they managed to make a game of it.  However, West Virginia failed to score a single point in the final 1:46.  Jordan Mathews three with under a minute left proved to be the winning margin.  However, West Virginia had Carter missing two straight-on three attempts in the final 22 seconds and that was the Mountaineers undoing.

The game also had 51 personal fouls, with West Virginia hitting 21-of-29 from the free-throw line while Gonzaga was 21-of-32 from the charity stripe.

Special history could await with Xavier

This was only the second time that an 11 seed beat three teams in the top six in their region.  The first to do it was way back in 1986 when LSU made their surprise run to Dallas and that year’s Final Four, the last season before the three-point shot came into play.  Besides LSU in 1986, only George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four as an 11 seed.

One more whisker and a blowout in Kansas City

The first game of the Midwest Regional semifinal featured Michigan and Oregon.  Early on, Michigan seemed to be in control hitting on three treys in their first four attempts in the first six minutes.  However, Dillon Brooks heated up and by the time the Michigan offense tried to catch up in the second half, it was too late.

Oregon’s Dylan Ennis missed on the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to play.  Walton sprinted downcourt and had a chance to win it for Michigan, but failed badly on a jump shot with a little over two seconds to play.

Brooks finished with 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting.  Tyler Dorsey led the charge with 20 points, including an incredible 5 of 7 from long distance.  The key stats in this game included the fact that there were 20 lead changes, both teams combined to commit only 13 turnovers (Michigan 5 and Oregon with 8).

Michigan guard Derrick Walton had 20 points to go along with 8 assists and five rebounds.  Zak Irvin also had a nice game with 19 points and a team high 8 rebounds.

The blowout happened in the second half as Kansas pitched a nearly perfect effort in mostly shutting down Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan as Kansas clubbed Purdue to the tune of a whopping 98-66 final score.  This total included 15 treys.

The Boilermakers shot over 55 percent in the first half to keep the game close, trailing only 53-51.  However, Kansas proceeded to score 19 of the next 24 points to put the game away.

With former Kansas coach Larry Brown in attendance, he and the fans watched in wonder as Frank Mason III led a balanced Jayhawks attack with 26 points, nailing 9 of his 11 shots from the floor.  This included an amazing 4 of 5 from long distance.  Mason pitched in with seven rebounds and seven assists.  Fellow guard Devonte’ Graham also chipped in with 26 of his own, as this was the first time any two Kansas players had at least a pair of 25 point scorers in an NCAA Tournament since 1971.  They have scored 90 points in their first three tournament games, matching a feat not seen since the early days of the Internet–when UConn did it in under Jim Calhoun’s long tenure in 1995.

Kansas shot 18 of 27 during the second half, while Purdue limped to the finish missing 20 of their 29 final shots from the floor.

Caleb Swanigan led the Boilers in a losing cause with 18 points, but only snagged seven rebounds–well below his season average.  P.J. Thompson had 12, while Isaac Haas had 11 points.  Dakota Mathias, one of the key cogs down the stretch for the Big Ten regular season champions was held to only one three-point basket.

See you all on Friday as the Big Ten is down to only one hope remaining with Wisconsin.  For the Pac-12 besides Oregon, all that is left is the all-time kings of the sport in UCLA.

UPSET ALERT: South Carolina beats Duke

Huge second half surge catapults Gamecocks into Sweet 16

Most of Sunday’s action featured some close shave finishes, but only one big upset.  That took place in Greenville, South Carolina as Sindarius Thornwell torched the Duke Blue Devils for 24 points and six rebounds.  As a team, South Carolina scored a 1990 Loyola Marymount total of 61 points in the second half to end Duke’s rather up-and-down roller coaster type of a season by a final score of 87-81.

South Carolina did not start out well, hitting only 7-of-35 attempts from the floor during the first 20 minutes. The Gamecocks missed 20 of their last 22 attempts to trail 30-23 at the break.

Another telling stat from this game was the defensive pressure applied by South Carolina.  18 turnovers proved to be Duke’s ultimate undoing.

Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out in the second half.  The Blue Devils made five of eight attempts from three in the first half, yet they only made 5 of 19 after the break.

Somehow, Chris Silva was not going to be denied.  He scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and his ten rebounds were huge in holding Amile Jefferson to only 14 points.  Grayson Allen led the way in a losing cause for Duke with 20 points.

Next up for South Carolina this coming Friday night in New York is Baylor, who outlasted a gutsy effort by USC 82-78 in Tulsa.

Other action from second round

In Indianapolis, the magic season of Michigan continues as they upended the second seed from the Midwest in Louisville 73-69.  A similar pattern happened in the second game as Kentucky had just enough weapons to get past Wichita State and in the process halt their 15 game winning streak.  That final was 65-62 in favor of Kentucky.

In the Tulsa pod, Josh Jackson lit up the Spartans for 23 as Kansas toppled Michigan State 90-70 ending a major streak for Tom Izzo reaching at least the Sweet 16 round.

In Greenville, Arkansas led by three late in the second half but was held scoreless over the final three minutes as North Carolina barely escaped with a 72-65 close shave win.  Next up for the top seeded Tar Heels is Butler in Memphis on Friday.

Finally in Sacramento, Oregon got a three pointer from Tyler Dorsey with 38 seconds left to overpower the tough Rhode Island Rams 75-72.

The final game had Lonzo Ball become a one-man wrecking crew for UCLA as he deposited 18 points to go along with seven rebounds in a nice second half comeback win over Cincinnati 79-67 in Sacramento.  The Bruins outscored the Bearcats 49-34 in the second half.

Here is your TV assignments for the Sweet 16 round.  All games will air also on Westwood One and each game is streamed individually on the TuneIn app:

First up is the Regional Semifinal schedule for Thursday:

CBS Midwest Regional–Sprint Center Kansas City, Missouri

7:09 p.m. Eastern–Oregon vs. Michigan (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

9:39 p.m.–Purdue vs. Kansas

TBS West Regional–Cow Palace San Jose, Calfornia

7:39 p.m.–West Virginia vs. Gonzaga (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

10:09 p.m.–Xavier (the last double digit seed remaining) vs. Arizona

Friday:

CBS South Regional–The Pyramid Memphis, Tennessee

7:09 p.m.–Butler vs. North Carolina (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

9:39 p.m.–UCLA vs. Kentucky

TBS East Regional–Madison Square Garden, New York

7:29 p.m.–South Carolina vs. Baylor (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

9:59 p.m.–Wisconsin vs. Florida

As for my picks, I went 13-3 in the second round.  Only one of my Final Four picks has completely crumbled in Duke.  Overall, I am 37-11 with only two Sweet 16 spots as no good–the other being Louisville.

Please have a good night and a great week ahead.

Florida and Xavier win in routs, ACC goes 0-3 on the day

SPECIAL NOTE:  This blog is dedicated to the man who famously brought rock and roll to that holly, jolly time of year with “Run, Run Rudolph”.  Chuck Berry died on Saturday afternoon in Missouri at the very respectable age of 90.  Everywhere he went, he was idolized and he had a lot of fun performing his hits.  Along with the famous way whenever he swung his hips, he perfected the craft during a time when Americans were just getting into that true rock and roll spirit.  He will be missed.

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Very little to report after the controversy in Salt Lake City involving the goaltending call that wasn’t in the cards for Northwestern.

Arizona held off St. Mary’s 69-60 and will take on the 11 seed of Xavier who whipped Florida State 91-66 in Orlando.  Trevon Bluiett led the Musketeers with 29 points.  Xavier will make their eighth Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.

Gonzaga on Thursday in San Jose will play West Virginia, who got by Notre Dame 83-71.  The Irish only shot 40 percent for the game, but their effort was still there–even with Bonzie Colson leading everyone with 29 points and 8 rebounds on Saturday afternoon at the Buffalo pod.  Florida routed Virginia 69-35 as the Gators held the Cavaliers to only 17 points in the first half.

In Milwaukee, Butler carved Middle Tennessee State like a surgeon in an operating room.  The Bulldogs cut, sliced, and diced the Blue Raiders to the tune of a 74-65 victory.  They will head to Memphis on Friday night and await the winner of North Carolina vs. Arkansas from Greenville.

The nightcap had Purdue surviving a furious rally by Iowa State to advance to Kansas City in the Midwest bracket by a count of 80-76.  Vincent Edwards came up huge for the Boilermakers scoring 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists.  For the Boilers, this will be their ninth trip overall to the Sweet 16 and first since 2010.

All the blue bloods will play on Sunday–Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, and UCLA.  Three double digit seeds are still alive, the 10 in Wichita State to play at 2:40 p.m. on CBS from Indianapolis against UK, while the pair of 11 seeds of Rhode Island and USC have some heady competition of their own.

The Rams will face off against the third seed of Oregon at the Sacramento pod.  That game will start shortly after CBS goes back to regular prime-time programming, 7:10 p.m. Eastern time on TBS.  About a half hour later, TruTV will do their final tournament game for another year as USC plays against Baylor in Tulsa.

Bottom line, none of the eight games are slouches.  There should be some top-notch competition from the early afternoon into the later part of the evening.

In my case, I will be spending the first three games mostly listening to Westwood One since my eyes still need a little break after all of the major watching from 11:15 a.m. Central time until shortly after 11:30 p.m. both on Thursday and Friday nights.  By the time the early evening rolls around, I will look forward to flipping around on the three Turner cable channels to see what is shaking at that particular time.

Illinois hires Brad Underwood

The man who helped briefly resurrect Oklahoma State is planning to work magical wonders for the Fighting Illini.  According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, the deal is worth over $3 million per year for six years to coach in Champaign/Urbana.  Every stop Coach Underwood has made in recent years, his teams have gone to the NCAA Tournament.  We will see what happens in the recruiting trail as he tries to assemble some assistant coaches in helping try to lure the best high school stars from the Chicago Public Schools, of which many key players in recent years have gone out of state to play their college ball.

Please have a good night, everyone.  Hope to see you all later on Sunday night once the Cincinnati/UCLA game ends in Sacramento.

Northwestern Can Hold Their Heads Up High, They Really Tried

SONG SELECTION:

“These Are Days”, by The 10,000 Maniacs

The day began with bountiful sunshine and over 70 degrees of mountain goodness in Salt Lake City.  At the SLC Center, there was a rally to get the alumni and fans fired up.

None bigger than the football coach who was the star linebacker of the 1995 Big Ten championship team which played in the Rose Bowl, Pat Fitzgerald which got the fans fired up by teaching them the true definition of his football team’s Wildcat Way:

“Go as hard as you can for as long as you can…It’s our job to stand up!”

What a season for Northwestern, falling valiantly to top seed Gonzaga 79-73 in the West Regional Second Round in Salt Lake City, Utah.  In the process, Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few won his 500th career game at the school.

Seven three pointers by the Wildcats, led again once more by Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey brought them back from a 22 point deficit.  Twice in the final minutes, Northwestern got the lead down to five but it was not enough.

The turning point came with 4:57 left, with Zach Collins putting his hand out through the rim to get a block against Dererk Pardon.  Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins motioned his displeasure rather wildly on the floor towards the referees, and therefore was immediately issued a technical foul.  At that point, the Wildcats could have trimmed the lead to three points.  Instead, the lead went back up to ten and the game was mostly out of reach–even though a few late buckets trimmed the lead to five inside the final minute of play.

“In my heart do I think if Dererk gets that call and we cut it to three (points), we have a great chance to win?  Yes…Referees are human beings.  They made the calls.  We have to live with them.”

Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins on taking the high road after the simply magical season in culminating with the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament ended in disappointment.

The fight Chris Collins and his boys did not only during this game but during the entire season, they showed the nation and practically the world how fun it is to play this game.  In the end, Gonzaga made the key plays and if this was their toughest effort en route to the school’s first Final Four appearance, I am sure they can look back and collectively say, “Boy, that was definitely a scare.”

In the end, I was also very thrilled to see that sophomore Charlie Hall, the walk-on and son of Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame got the chance to play in the final seconds.  His name appeared on the scorebook for only the seventh time in Northwestern’s magical 2016-2017 season.

They will only lose two seniors to graduation:  fifth year senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin who showed a lot of mental toughness (finished his final game with four points, four rebounds, and three steals) and Nate Taphorn who contributed six points on two treys off the bench in Saturday’s loss.

In terms of Chicago sports shortcomings, Northwestern will be mentioned in the same breath as their 1995 Big Ten football team, as well as the 1984 Chicago Cubs and 1983 Chicago White Sox–two baseball teams which had really magical regular seasons but it all came crashing down in the playoffs.

No question about it–Northwestern players, fans, and alumni can all hold their heads up high.  They held themselves in very high regard and played the game the way it is supposed to be played.

Maybe in the future, the Wildcats will get their shot at a Sweet 16 berth.  It just was not meant to be in 2017.

With Welsh-Ryan Arena being dominated by construction crews, it is Rosemont bound next November, I say.

UPSET ALERT: Wisconsin KO’s Villanova, There Will Be No Repeat Champion

SONG SELECTION:

Tokyo Police Club, “Feel The Effect”

Found on the Forcefield album, Released March 24, 2014 via Mom + Pop Records

Similar to last year when Duke was knocked off by Oregon in the West Regional Sweet 16 round, Villanova will not be back in the Final Four or repeat as national champion.

Wisconsin led most of the first 25 1/2 minutes of action, but Villanova rallied back to take a short lived 57-50 lead with 5:28 to play.  Thanks in large part to a balanced attack led by Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, both players combined to shoot 15 for 26 from the floor.  But it was center Ethan Happ’s three with two minutes left which proved to be the difference.

Hayes finished with 19, Koenig had 17, and center Ethan Happ had a nice game with 12 as the Badgers upset Villanova 65-62 in the East Regional Second Round game in Buffalo, New York.

Nigel Hayes scooped in a layup in traffic with 11.4 seconds left to put Wisconsin ahead 64-62.  As senior guard Josh Hart tried to tie the game, Happ stripped Hart of the ball and fouled Vitto Brown.  Brown split a pair of free throws with four seconds on the clock, but Villanova’s final heave from over half court fell short at the buzzer.

Josh Hart finished his college career leading the Wildcats with 19 points and sharing scoring honors with Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin.  Jalen Brunson chipped in with 11 points, but last year’s championship game hero Kris Jenkins managed to score only six points.

Wisconsin will head to Madison Square Garden next Friday night for a Sweet 16 encounter against either Virginia or Florida.

Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, Gonzaga had a 22 point lead in the first half before Northwestern made a game of it shredding the lead to only five points before Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins left the bench and got a technical foul.

The score is Gonzaga 69, Northwestern 59 with 2:50 to play.

More updates later.