The 8-seed in the West Region, Syracuse, took on the 9-seed, Baylor, on Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Bears jumped out to an early 15-4 lead after King McClure drained a triple with 15:48 left in the first half. The Orange responded and gained a 28-25 advantage with 6:53 to go before the break when Tyus Battle converted a four-point play. Baylor took a 38-37 lead into halftime. Battle’s dunk with 13:01 remaining in the game gave Syracuse a 53-50 edge. With the score knotted at 57, Jared Butler gave the Bears the lead for good when he nailed a three-pointer with 9:20 to play. Baylor pulled away and earned a 78-69 win.
The Orange were without the services of senior point guard Frank Howard who ended a rollercoaster career by being suspended for failing a drug test. Syracuse was looking to get Howard going in the NCAA Tournament after he tallied a career-high 28 points, on 11-of-20 shooting, when Duke eliminated the Orange from the ACC Tournament a week earlier.
The Bears shot 53.8-percent from the field, including 16-of-34 from deep, which proved to be too much for Syracuse to handle. The Orange shot just 41.2-percent from the floor, including 12-of-29 from beyond the arc in the losing effort.
Baylor was led by Yale-transfer Makai Mason who scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Mason also recorded four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Jared Butler added 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals, while Mario Kegler dropped in 13 points and grabbed four boards.
Elijah Hughes paced Syracuse with 25 points, on 7-of-15-from the field, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Battle, who declared for the NBA Draft on Friday, poured in 16 points and dished out three assists in his final game in an Orange uniform. Oshae Brissett finished with 14 points, on 6-of-12 from the floor, and eight boards in the loss.
Syracuse finished the season with a record of 20-14 and a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament—a relatively disappointing result for a team that returned all five starters from a team that made a run to the Sweet Sixteen a season ago.
Baylor’s season was ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when they lost to the 1-seed in the West, Gonzaga, 83-71, in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.
Next season, Syracuse will lose Frank Howard to graduation and Tyus Battle to the NBA Draft, but aside from that, it is unclear what everyone else’s plans are. Paschal Chukwu could apply for an extra season due to having his redshirt-sophomore campaign shortened due to an eye injury. Oshae Brissett may enter the NBA Draft, but it is likely he will return for his junior season after not living up to the hype in his sophomore season. Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj, and Bourama Sidibe will return for their junior seasons, while Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, and Robert Braswell will come back for their sophomore seasons. Howard Washington will join the active roster once again for his redshirt-sophomore season after missing this year recovering from a torn ACL and a stroke. The Orange will add a freshman class of Brycen Goodine, Quincy Guerrier, John Bol Ajak, and New York State’s all-time leading high school scorer, Joe Girard III.
Syracuse entered the ACC Tournament feeling pretty good about their NCAA Tournament chances for the first time since 2013.
Despite being without leading scorer Tyus Battle due a lower back injury, the Orange defeated Pittsburgh, 73-59, in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday night. Syracuse trailed the Panthers, 36-30, at halftime, but used an 8-0 run with all 8 points scored by Buddy Boeheim to take a 43-39 lead early in the second stanza. The Orange would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
After shooting 60-percent from three-point range in the first half, Pittsburgh cooled down and shot just 30.8-percent from deep after the break. Conversely, Syracuse heated up from beyond the arc down the stretch, shooting 54.6-percent from three in the second half.
Jared Wilson-Frame led the Panthers with 24 points, on 8-of-16 from three-point land, and seven rebounds. Sidy N’Dir added 10 points in the losing effort.
Boeheim paced Syracuse with 20 points, on 6-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Elijah Hughes and Frank Howard scored 18 points apiece. Hughes also grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, and came away with two steals.
The Orange squared off with Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on Thursday night. Battle missed his second straight game with a lower back injury. After rallying back from as much as a 17 point deficit in the first half, Syracuse tied the game at 46 on a triple by Boeheim with 13:02 to go. The Blue Devils pulled away down the stretch to win 84-72.
In a turnover plagued affair, Duke outshot the Orange as the Blue Devils shot 53.7-percent from the floor, compared to 48.1-percent shooting for Syracuse.
The real difference in the game was that Duke has the best player in the country and the likely #1 pick in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson. Williamson, who returned after missing five consecutive games with a sprained knee, erupted for 29 points on a perfect 13-of-13 from the floor, 14 rebounds, and five steals. Fellow freshman phenomenon RJ Barrett tallied 23 points, on 8-of-16 from the field, and six rebounds. Freshman point guard Tre Jones finished with 15 points and eight assists.
Howard led the Orange with a career-high 28 points, on 11-of-2o shooting, and three assists. Boeheim poured in 15 points, while Oshae Brissett finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, Syracuse entered the NCAA Tournament with a record of 20-13. Howard was named to the ACC Tournament Second Team, while Williamson was named the MVP after Duke won the championship game over Florida State, 73-63, Saturday night.
Battle is expected to return in the NCAA Tournament, but playing without him in the ACC Tournament gave others the opportunity to step up, specifically, Howard and Boeheim.
Player of the Week: Frank Howard
This week’s player of the week for Syracuse was Frank Howard. After a lower leg injury caused him to miss the first four games of the season, Howard did not play to the form he showed he was capable of during his junior campaign. The senior point guard averaged 23 points on 50-percent shooting in Battle’s absence at the ACC Tournament. With Battle back and Howard and Boeheim shooting with confidence, the Orange just might be poised to make another run in the “Big Dance.”
Up Next: The NCAA Tournament vs. #9 Baylor
For the first time since 2013, Syracuse did not have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. This year, the Orange were firmly in and earned the 8-seed in the West Region. Syracuse will take on the 9-seed Baylor in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tip-off is set for Thursday night at 9:57pm. The game will be seen on truTV. The Bears are 19-13 overall and are coming off an 83-66 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. Baylor is led by Tristan Clark who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
If the Orange were to defeat the Bears, they would take on the winner of the game between the 1-seed Gonzaga and the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who defeated Prairie View in the First Four Tuesday night.
Siena traveled to Western New York this weekend to finish out their regular season slate with games at Canisius and Niagara.
The Saints looked to split the season series in a pivotal MAAC matchup with Canisius Friday night. The Golden Griffins defeated Siena, 70-66, in Albany on January 5th. Following a hotly contested first half, the Saints took a 32-28 lead into the break. Siena took a 48-38 advantage on a layup by Manny Camper with 11:11 left. After that point, Canisius took control and outscored Siena 30-14 to pull away for a 68-62 win.
The Golden Griffins shot 46.6-percent from the field and only turned the ball over three times. Siena shot at a 40.6-percent clip and turned it over eight times.
Takal Molson led Canisius with 16 points, on 7-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Evan Fisher paced the Saints with 17 points, on 8-of-16 from the field, seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal in the losing effort. Kevin Degnan and Sloan Seymour tallied 12 points apiece. Degnan also grabbed seven rebounds. Jalen Pickett stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, a block, and a steal.
Siena needed a win over Niagara in their final regular season contest to clinch a first round bye in next weekend’s MAAC Tournament. With the game tied at 14, the Purple Eagles used an 8-0 run, capped off by a jumper by Marvin Prochet, to open up a 22-14 lead with 5:27 remaining in the first stanza. The Saints pulled to within three, 27-24, at intermission. Niagara built an eight point advantage in the second half, when Chris Barton converted a free throw with 12:58 to go. Siena would not go away easily. Kadeem Smithen converted an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Saints a five point lead, 52-47, with 3:21 to play. Pickett converted two free throws, to give Siena a 56-53 advantage with 32 ticks on the clock. Prochet nailed a triple with 16 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 56. Pickett’s step-back jumped at the buzzer fell off the rim and the long-time MAAC foes were headed to overtime.
The Saints controlled the opening tip of the overtime period and Fisher converted a layup just 24 seconds in to give Siena a lead that they would not relinquish. The Saints converted their free throws down the stretch and emerged with a 72-65 victory.
Siena came away victorious despite shooting just 36.1-percent from the field. The Purple Eagles shot at a 41.4-percent clip, but the Saints’ defense forced Niagara into 14 turnovers.
Prochet poured in 21 points, on 8-of-19 from the floor, and added six rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, and three steals to lead the Purple Eagles.
Pickett led the Saints with 27 points, six rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, and three steals. Fisher posted a double-double with 15 points, on 6-of-13 shooting, and 10 rebounds. Degnan finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
With the win, Siena finished the regular season with an overall record of 16-15, 11-7 in the MAAC, and part of a four-way tie for second in the league with Canisius, Quinnipiac, and Rider. The Saints will have the fifth seed in next weekend’s MAAC Tournament and will take on the fourth seeded Rider Broncs.
Player of the Week: Jalen Pickett
This week’s player of the week for Siena was Jalen Pickett. Siena’s resurgence under first-year head coach Jamion Christian was largely due to the play of freshman stud Jalen Pickett. This past week, Pickett averaged 19 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game. The Rochester, New York native will likely win his MAAC-record 11th Rookie of the Week Honor this week and will probably be named the conference’s Rookie of the Year later this week as well. Pickett will need to be sharp if the Saints hope to cut down the nets a week from Monday and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Up Next: The MAAC Tournament vs. #4 Rider
Fifth-seeded Siena will square off against the fourth-seeded Rider Broncs in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament on Saturday night at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. Tip-off is set for 9:30pm. The Saints defeated Rider, 59-57, on February 10th in the lone meeting between the two teams in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. The Broncs are 16-14 overall, 11-7 in the MAAC, and are coming off a 75-64 win over Marist. Rider is led by Stevie Jordan who is averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.
With the college basketball season starting tomorrow, here’s a look at my projected picks for who will make it to Minneapolis for a chance to cut down the nets on Monday, April 8, 2018.
My Final Four: Kentucky, Nevada, Kansas, and Duke.
Why will these four make it to the “Twin Cities?”
If you look back at John Calipari’s best Kentucky teams, they have been the ones that feature a blend of youth and experience. The 2018-19 Wildcats have exactly that. Kentucky made it to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago and will look to make an even deeper run this year. PJ Washington elected to return to Lexington after testing the NBA Draft waters last spring. As always, Calipari landed a loaded recruiting class of EJ Montgomery, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickly, and Ashton Hagans. Perhaps the best newcomer is Stanford graduate transfer, Reid Travis. Travis will be one of the most impactful big men in the country. The All Pac-12 performer will bring invaluable experience to the Wildcats.
Nevada was eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago by the Fighting Sister Jean’s of Loyola-Chicago. Eric Mussleman’s team will no longer flying under the radar this season. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin tested the 2018 NBA Draft process, but are returning to Reno for their senior seasons. In addition to the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, the team’s second leading scorer from last season, also returns. The Wolfpack will add Class of 2018 McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown to the equation as well. Nevada is primed and ready to make the next step in their rise to prominence by making it to the Final Four.
Kansas will look to make it back-to-back trips to the Final Four. The perennial Big 12 regular season champions return Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick to Lawrence. Five star freshman point guard Quentin Grimes and Memphis transfers, twins, Dedric and KJ Lawson will also join the mix. Bill Self will be without the services of Silvio De Sousa who is out indefinitely waiting for the NCAA to rule on his eligibility in the midst of the FBI investigation surrounding college basketball. Regardless, this could be the most talented Kansas team since the squad that cut down the nets in San Antonio in 2008.
Duke Blue Devils
Duke was about as close to the Final Four as anyone could get without making it a season ago. Grayson Allen’s potential game winning runner fell off the rim and Kansas celebrated an Elite Eight win in overtime minutes later. The Blue Devils brought in the top recruiting class in the country including the top three recruits in the class, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, along with the ninth ranked recruit Tre Jones, the brother of former Duke great Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils may be young, but they are definitely talented enough to make it to the “Twin Cities” in April.
Here’s a look at my projected top four seed lines and how Kentucky, Nevada, Kansas, and Duke will make their way to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes:
Based on the regionals being seeded as they are above, I would expect Kentucky to defeat Jim Boeheim and Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone in the Elite eight to advance to the Final Four. Nevada will take down Gonzaga in the battle for the title of “Best Mid-Major West of the Mississippi” on their way to Minneapolis. Kansas will knock out North Carolina to claim the Midwest Regional, while Duke will end Villanova’s quest for a third National Championship in four years to take home the East Regional title. This would set up matchups between Kentucky and Nevada and Kansas and Duke in the “Twin Cities.” I project a hard fought national championship game between Kentucky and Kansas.
My pick to win the 2018 National Championship is the Kentucky Wildcats led by PJ Washington, Reid Travis, and John Calipari.
If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little empty not having any college basketball to look forward to this weekend. Let’s take a step back to remember the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This year’s “Big Dance” featured an upset for the ages, a Cinderella run that made a nun an international sensation, buzzer beaters, the agony of defeat and, most importantly, the best team won it all.
The National Champs: Villanova
Jay Wright did it. Two National Championships in three years. Villanova has become the program to beat in college basketball. The Wildcats dominated in March as they won all of their games in the NCAA Tournament by double-digits. Wright joined an exclusive club by cutting down the nets for the second time in his career as he joined Coach K and Roy Williams as the only active coaches to win multiple championships. National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely forego their senior seasons and enter the NBA Draft, but Coach Wright will bring back three starters, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench and scored 31 points in the title game on Monday. The Wildcats have been the most dominant program over the last five years and with Wright at the helm, there is a culture of winning in Philadelphia. Villanova will be back next year to defend their title and create a dynasty.
The Runners-Up: Michigan
Michigan was the hottest team in the country entering the NCAA Tournament and rode their streak all the way to Championship Monday where they ran into the buzz saw that was Villanova. Mo Wagner’s decision to return to Ann Arbor paid dividends as he led his squad back to the National Championship game for the first time since 2013. John Beilein had the best defensive squad of his career that gave opponents fits throughout the month of March. The run to San Antonio almost didn’t happen as the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater by freshman Jordan Poole to get past Houston in the second round and led to one of the best celebrations of the Tournament. Wagner and seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson will depart, but Michigan will be back with a talented recruiting class next season.
We witnessed history in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. For the first time in history, a 16-seed upset a 1-seed in the first round. Many had hinted at the fact that an Ivy League school, Penn, presented the best chance for a 16-seed to take down a 1-seed in their match-up with Kansas. When that didn’t happen on the first Thursday of the Tournament, many thought we would have to wait at a chance for history until next year. Enter Jairius Lyles and the UMBC Retrievers. In the final set of first round contests, UMBC took the world by storm—both on the court and on Twitter. The Retrievers stayed with Virginia and did not back down when the game was tied at 21 at halftime. UMBC outscored the #1 overall seeed 53-33 in the second half, busting pretty much every bracket filled out this year as the Cavaliers were a favorite to win it all. The three point shooting and defense by the Retrievers sent Kyle Guy and the rest of the Virginia team home crying as the first #1 to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. Tony Bennett was without a key piece, De’Andre Hunter, that Friday night in Charlotte. Maybe this would not have happened with him in the lineup, but Bennett will have to wait another year for a chance at the Final Four.
K-State to the Elite Eight
Kansas State got past Creighton in the first round and instead of having to face Virginia, they were up against Cinderella UMBC in the second round. The Wildcats dispatched the Retrievers and then took down Kentucky in Atlanta to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018. More impressively, Kansas State made their run without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade, who suffered a foot injury in the Big 12 Tournament. Although they were unable to get past Loyola-Chicago and make the Final Four, the Wildcats may have saved Bruce Weber’s job.
Buffalo Beats Zona
Buffalo knocked out Arizona in the first round. The Wildcats were a favorite to make a run to the Final Four, but an impressive shooting performance and stout defense by the Bulls made for an early exit for Sean Miller’s team. With the outcome of the FBI investigation still unknown, the future of Arizona basketball is uncertain as they will lose Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins to the NBA and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic to graduation.
Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago
Loyola-Chicago became the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four and in doing so, their Team Chaplain Sister Jean became an international sensation at 98 years young. Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater to beat Miami was one of the highlights of the first round, but the Ramblers proved they weren’t done yet. They took down the 3-seeed Tennessee on a jumper in the waning seconds by Clayton Custer. Marques Townes’ dagger was enough to beat Nevada and advance to the Elite Eight where they blew out Kansas State. Their run came to an end with a loss to Michigan in the Final Four, but the Missouri Valley Champs took the world by storm in the month of March.
Nevada led for only 1:56 of its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, but managed to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolfpack trailed Texas by 14 points in the second half, but came back to win in overtime to advance to the Round of 32. There, Nevada erased a 22 point Cincinnati lead and came back to eliminate the second seeded Bearcats from the “Big Dance.” The Wolfpack lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen, but they will return most of their core from this year’s team and could be a top ten team next season.
Florida State to the Elite Eight
Many were saying that Florida State was the worst at-large team to receive an NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Seminoles proved the haters wrong and took down Missouri in the first round before they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Tournament, knocking off top-seeded Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Florida State’s run would not end there, as they took down a Gonzaga team without Killian Tillie. The Seminoles ended their season just short of the Final Four as they fell 58-54 to Michigan. If nothing else, they proved they belonged.
Texas A&M Takes Down the Tar Heels
In a season filled with ups and downs, Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament run proved to be just that. The Aggies battled through injuries and suspensions to earn a 7-seed in the “Big Dance,” but drew the 10-seed Providence, who was one of the hottest teams entering the Tournament. Texas A&M ended the Friars’ season and went on to the Round of 32 where they pummeled North Carolina. In a poetic end to their tumultuous season, the Aggies were crushed by Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. With Tyler Davis and Robert Williams both declaring for the NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see what the future looks like in College Station.
Marshall Shocks Wichita State
In a year where there were no 12-5 upsets, the 13-seeds stole the show. Buffalo beat Arizona and Marshall knocked off Wichita State. Jon Elmore’s sharp-shooting led the Thundering Herd past the Shockers and into the second round where they were ousted by in-state rival West Virginia, but an upset win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is definitely something that Marshall, who finished fourth in Conference USA, should be proud of.
The 2-3 Zone Did it Again
Syracuse snuck into the NCAA Tournament as the last team to make the field, but the Orange were not satisfied with only receiving a bid. Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone puzzled opponents as Syracuse defeated Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State, three teams averaging over 80 points a game to less than 60 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Their run was cut short as they fell 69-65 to Duke, but the NCAA Tournament run put a positive ending on a season where the Orange remained on the Bubble to the very end. If leading scorer Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett return, Syracuse could be poised to make another run in next year’s Tournament. Darius Bazley’s decision to decommit from the Orange and enter the G-League was unfortunate and leaves the team’s status for next season more uncertain, but Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and East Carolina-transfer Elijah Hughes will provide more depth at he guard position for next year’s team.
Game of the Tournament: Duke vs. Kansas—Elite Eight
The line in “One Shining Moment”—In the blinking of an eye that moment’s gone, couldn’t be more of a reality for the Duke Blue Devils as Grayson Allen’s potential game-winning rolled off the rim and out at the end of regulation. Kansas’ Malik Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period to punch their ticket to San Antonio where they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Final Four. Both Duke and Kansas will be title favorites heading into next season. Coach K and the Blue Devils have adopted the one-and-done strategy. The 2018-19 roster will look completely different for Duke. All five are their starters from this season’s team will be first round draft picks. Duke has the top recruiting class in the country next season as they welcome four of the top fifteen recruits in the country, including all of the top three recruits, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, to Durham next fall. Tre Jones, the 12th ranked recruit and younger brother of 2015 Final four Most Outstanding Player, Tyus Jones, who also played at Duke, will also join the squad. Kansas is the way-too-early preseason #1 with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick returning. The Jayhawks have a pair of five-star guards coming to Lawrence in the fall: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Bill Self will also add Memphis-transfers K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson and Cal-transfer Charlie Moore, all of which will be eligible to play next season.
The Road Begins Now
The 2017-18 season has come and gone and it was surely a wild one. Congratulations to the Villanova Wildcats who reign superior this year. The Road to the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis begins now.
Four teams have arrived in San Antonio—all with hopes of winning the National Championship. Find out who will advance to Monday night and who will win it all.
#11 Loyola-Chicago vs. #3 Michigan, Saturday, 6:09pm., TBS
Loyola-Chicago of the Missouri Valley Conference has taken the world by storm and is the fourth 11-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to make the Final Four. With wins over Miami, Tennessee, Nevada, and Kansas State, the Ramblers have proven that although they are small in stature, they can play with anybody in the country. Defensively, Loyola-Chicago has trumped their opponents—limiting them to 63.5 points per game in the Tournament. Four players, Clayton Custer, Aundre Jackson, Marques Townes, and Ben Richardson, have each led Loyola-Chicago in scoring over their four games in the “Big Dance.” Sister Jean is in San Antonio and the Ramblers want nothing more than to cut down the nets on Monday night.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, Michigan was one of the hottest teams in the country. The Wolverines have won 13 consecutive games, including wins over Montana, Houston, Texas A&M, and Florida State. The best seed Michigan has faced in the Tournament was 6-seeded Houston, who they needed a buzzer beater to get past. The Wolverines have a top five defensive team and have proven to be stout throughout their run to the Final Four. Michigan has held their opponents to 59 points per contest over the past two weeks. Mo Wagner, Charles Matthews, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will look to lead the Wolverines to their first National Championship game appearance since 2013.
Loyola-Chicago 69, Michigan 66
#1 Kansas vs. #1 Villanova, Saturday, 8:49pm., TBS
Kansas has powered past Penn, Seton Hall, Clemson, and Duke through the use of the three point shot. Mississippi State-transfer, Malik Newman, has stepped up in March, providing a third scoring option in addition to the veteran guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Lagerald Vick can also shoot the three. With a healthy Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks have been unstoppable on offense in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is averaging 81 points per game over their first four contests in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks are a formidable foe that will look to beat Villanova with a taste of their own medicine Saturday night.
Villanova has been one of the favorites to win it all since the field of 68 was announced on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats arrive in San Antonio with wins over Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, and have made it to the Final Four despite a poor shooting performance from behind the arc in their win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight. Villanova has averaged 82.3 points per game in the “Big Dance.” The Wildcats have a balanced attack that can do it all on the offensive end. All five starters are strong shooters from distance and have the ability to drive it to the hoop. Look for AP National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges to lead Villanova to the title game.
Villanova 84, Kansas 82
National Champion: Villanova Wildcats
Jay Wright has created a culture of winning at Villanova. The Wildcats are the most dominant program in the last five years, winning 88.4% of their games over that span. Look for Villanova to be on top of the college basketball world again and win their second National Championship in three years.
Syracuse’s Season Ends with Sweet Sixteen Loss to Duke
Syracuse’s 2017-18 came to an end with a 69-65 defeat at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils in the Midwest Regional semifinal in Omaha, NE Friday night.
Grayson Allen made a jumper with 4:16 left to open up a 62-53 lead for the Blue Devils. The Orange responded with a 7-1 run to trim Duke’s lead to 63-60 with 1:27 to go on a jumper by Oshae Brissett. Syracuse cut the lead to 67-65 on a free throw by Tyus Battle with 7 seconds remaining. Two free throws by Gary Trent Jr. iced the game for the Blue Devils.
The Orange took a 27-24 lead with 5:20 left in the opening stanza on a free throw by Frank Howard, but Duke closed the half on a 10-0 run and took a 34-27 advantage into the break.
Syracuse had their best shooting performance of the NCAA Tournament as they shot 49% from the field. The Orange held the Blue Devils to 39.3% shooting. The greatest disparity was at the free throw line. Duke converted 20-of-28 attempts from the charity stripe compared to just 11-of-17 for Syracuse. The Orange turned the ball over 16 times, which led to Duke’s 18-8 advantage in points off turnovers. Syracuse outrebounded the Blue Devils, 37-33.
Duke was led by Marvin Bagley III’s 22 points and 7 rebounds. Allen scored 15 points, on 4-of-15 shooting, and dished out 8 assists. Trent Jr. scored 14 points, on 5-of-13 from the floor, and grabbed 5 rebounds. Wendell Carter Jr. posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The Orange were led by Battle who poured in 19 points, on 7-of-15 from the field, and distributed 5 assists. Brissett tallied 15 points, on 5-of-15 shooting, and corralled 7 rebounds. Marek Dolezaj added 13 points and 4 rebounds. Paschal Chukwu finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Howard struggled from the field, shooting just 1-for-6, and contributed with 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance and reflected on the season and Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament run in his postgame press conference. “We knew we had our work cut out for us,” Boeheim said. “We started out playing as well offensively as we have in a long time. We had a little dead spot at the end of the first half that we just couldn’t quite come back from. These guys have had an incredible end of the year. I’ve never been any more proud of a team.”
The Orange finished their 2017-18 campaign with a record of 23-14, while Duke moved on to the Elite Eight where they fell to the 1-seed Kansas 85-81 in overtime on Sunday.
Syracuse exceeded expectations this year. If Battle and Brissett come back, the Orange could have a preseason top 10 team with a top recruiting class coming in. So far, the only player that will not return to the roster is Matthew Moyer. Syracuse will have Darius Bazley, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes. The bar will be set much higher in 2018-19.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a wild one—filled with historic upsets and late game heroics. Let’s take a look at the Sweet Sixteen and who will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The Midwest Region—CenturyLink Center Omaha, Omaha, NE, March 23 & 25
The Midwest Region has its top two seeds, Kansas and Duke, still alive. The 5-seed Clemson and the 11-seed Syracuse will join them in Omaha after they knocked off the 4-seed Auburn and the 3-seed Michigan State, respectively. All four teams will be vying to punch their ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio.
#5 Clemson vs. #1 Kansas, Friday, 7:07pm., CBS
Clemson avoided the famed 5-12 upset in their first round win over New Mexico State and followed that up with a drubbing of the 4-seed Auburn, 84-53, in the second round. The Tigers arrive in Omaha for their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1997. Despite having lost their second leading scorer, Donte Grantham, to a knee injury in January, Clemson has continued to be one of the best surprises in college basketball this season. Brad Brwonell was on the hot seat, but following this season it looks like he is safe. The Tigers have been elite defensively, especially in the Tournament. Clemson has held their opponents to 35% shooting inside the arc throughout the first weekend. Big men Elijah Thomas and Aamir Sims blocked three shots apiece in their win over Auburn on Sunday. On the offensive end, the Tigers have struggled to score inside, but have been lifted by their guard play since Grantham went down. Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe, and Shelton Mitchell are all averaging double figures in scoring and shoot better than 35% from behind the arc. This is a good match-up for Clemson to pull off an upset in hopes of making the Elite Eight for only the second time in school history. Kansas, too, relies heavily on their guards to make threes and has a limited interior presence. Expect a high scoring game in this one.
Kansas is in the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row and hopes to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 when they lost to Anthony Davis and Kentucky in the National Championship game. Senior Devonte’ Graham and Svi Myhailiuk will look to use their sharp-shooting to avoid the disappointment of coming up just short again in March. Graham and Myhailiuk both average more than 15 points per contest and shoot better than 40% from three. Kansas will rely on their shooting to get them to the Elite Eight as they are weak on the inside. Starting center Udoka Azubuike suffered a sprained MCL prior to the Big 12 Tournament and played at total of 25 minutes over the course of the opening weekend. Azubuike scored 10 points in the top-seed’s win over Seton Hall in the Round of 32 and expected to start against Clemson. If he can play well, the Jayhawks should be in good shape against the Tigers. Expect the trio of Graham, Mykhailiuk, and Azubuike to be too much for Clemson and for the Jayhawks to advance in a close one.
Kansas 81, Clemson 76
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Duke, Friday, 9:37pm., CBS
Syracuse enters the Sweet Sixteen after barely even making the “Big Dance.” The Orange took down Arizona State in the First Four in Dayton before traveling to Detroit where they disposed of TCU and Michigan State. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone stifled opponents. Syracuse limited three teams that averaged 80+ points a game to 56 points or less. The Orange have lured their opponents into playing a style they need to win games, as the offense has been lackluster all season long. Syracuse has hot just 37.8% from the field throughout their NCAA Tournament run. The Orange rely heavily on their “Big-Three” of Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett, who score 72.8% of the team’s points. If Syracuse has any chance of upsetting Duke, the Orange will need to rebound and Marek Dolezaj will need to make plays in the middle of the Blue Devils’ 2-3 zone. Coach K is familiar with Boeheim’s zone as he runs it himself. With that being said, Syracuse’s run may be coming to an end on Friday.
Duke is the most talented team in the country and the Blue Devils romped through the first weekend of the Tournament without a scare from either Iona or Rhode Island. Since losing to North Carolina in February, Coach K switched to 2-3 zone and his team’s defensive performance improved drastically and now ranks 24th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, Duke’s big men, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., have dominated in the paint, making 62% of their 2-point field goals in the Dance. When the two teams met in late February, the Blue Devils shot just 2-of-28 from three-point range. If Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval get hot from distance it will be lights out for the Orange. Expect Duke to handle Syracuse’s zone and pull away in the second half.
Duke 62, Syracuse 51
Winner of the Midwest Region: Duke
Coach K adapts to his team’s strength and is a proven winner in March. Their NBA-ready talent on the interior combined with their elite guard play will lead them past Syracuse and Kansas in Omaha. The Blue Devils, along with Villanova, are the clear cut favorites to hear “One Shining Moment” played in San Antonio.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a wild one—filled with historic upsets and late game heroics. Let’s take a look at the Sweet Sixteen and who will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The East Region—TD Garden, Boston, MA, March 23 & 25
The East Region is the chalkiest regional left as the top three seeds, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech, all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The 5-seed West Virginia will join them in Boston after they knocked out 13-seed Marshall who upset 4th seeded Wichita State in the first round on Friday. All four teams have a legitimate chance to punch their ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio.
#5 West Virginia vs. #1 Villanova, Friday, 7:27pm., TBS
Aside from their senior leader Jevon Carter, West Virginia struggled mightily shooting the ball during the regular season, but the Mountaineers have dominated the offensive glass so far in the Tournament. Led by Sagaba Konate, West Virginia has pulled down 29 offensive boards over their first two games. The dominance on the glass has allowed the Mountaineers to shoot better than 50% from the floor in the “Big Dance” and put up, on average, 89.5 points per game in the first weekend. Carter versus Jalen Brunson is the best point guard match-up in the Sweet Sixteen. If Carter and West Virginia can speed up Brunson and Villanova and force turnovers and lead to easy transition baskets, the Mountaineers have a chance to pull off an upset and make it to the Elite Eight.
Villanova steamrolled Radford and Alabama in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With Virginia out, the Wildcats have emerged as the team to beat. Villanova’s offense seems unstoppable—the Wildcats are shooting 53% from two and 46% from three in their first two games in the Dance. As good as that is, that’s right on par with their shooting numbers during the regular season, only now, the trio of Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Donte DiVincenzo is shooting a greater volume of threes than they had throughout the first four months of the season. Expect the Wildcats to handle West Virginia’s press and emerge victorious on Friday night.
Villanova 84, West Virginia 78
#3 Texas Tech vs. #2 Purdue, Friday, 9:57pm., TBS
Texas Tech arrives in Boston after taking care of Stephen F. Austin in the first round and surviving a scare from Florida in the second round. The Red Raiders have themselves in the Sweet Sixteen thanks to their defensive performance. Texas Tech held the Lumberjacks and the Gators to 0.93 points per possession in Dallas last weekend, giving them a chance to muster up enough points to win the game. Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith have emerged as stars of the Tournament thus far. There are pros and cons for the Red Raiders who will be facing Purdue, a team that will likely be without their 7-foot-2” center Isaac Haas. Texas Tech doesn’t have a 7-footer of their own to defend Haas in the post, but if the Boilermakers elect to go small and shoot a barrage of threes, things could get ugly for the Red Raiders.
Despite losing Haas in their opening round win over Cal State Fulerton, Purdue overcame Butler’s 60% shooting performance from inside the arc to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Although the engineers on campus in West Lafayette, Indiana have been tasked with trying to design a brace for Haas’ elbow that meets NCAA standards, it is unlikely that the Boilermakers will have their big man this weekend. Purdue will need to rely on Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson to pick up the slack on the offensive end. Matt Maarms (and his perfectly groomed hair) will need to be a factor in limiting Texas Tech’s offensive threats inside the paint. Look for Purdue to get hot from three and advance to the Elite Eight in a close one.
Purdue 71, Texas Tech 70
Winner of the East Region: Villanova
Unlike the South and the West, the East Region has been immune to upsets so far and I expect that to continue at the TD Garden this weekend. Jay Wright will have his team ready to get back to the Final Four in search of the program’s second National Championship in three years.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a wild one—filled with historic upsets and late game heroics. Let’s take a look at the Sweet Sixteen and who will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The West Region—Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA, March 22 & 24
The West Region lost its 1-seed Xavier and 2-seed North Carolina on Sunday, adding to upsets in the Round of 32. This opens up the bracket for Michigan and Gonzaga to get their shot at making the Final Four. Texas A&M and Florida State will have something to say about that, as they too will fight to punch their ticket to San Antonio.
#9 Florida State vs. #4 Gonzaga, Thursday, 10:07pm., TBS
Florida State is one of the surprises in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles took down Michael Porter Jr. and Missouri, 67-54, and then came back from a 12 point deficit late in the second half to bounce top-seeded Xavier from the “Big Dance.” Florida State’s strength is on the interior. Led by Terance Mann and Phil Cofer, the Seminoles were third in the ACC in scoring from inside the arc this season. Florida State has struggled shooting the ball from three-point range, shooting at a 33% clip, but the Seminoles have shot it at 39% from deep in the NCAA Tournament. Look for Gonzaga to force Florida State to shoot the three in their Sweet Sixteen match-up.
The Zags will look to cut down the nets in Los Angeles and make it to their second consecutive Final Four. Only two starters from last year’s squad returned to Spokane this season, Jonathan Williams and Josh Perkins, but Mark Few has the Bulldogs back in a familiar spot and poised to make a run. Freshman Zach Norvell Jr. recorded a double-double in Gonzaga’s win over Ohio State Saturday with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while sophomore Rui Hachimura added 25 points. The combination of experience and stars bursting out right before our eyes, the Zags have something special going. I’ll take the Bulldogs to end the Seminoles’ run in LA on Thursday night.
Gonzaga 84, Florida State 75
#7 Texas A&M vs. #3 Michigan, Thursday, 7:37pm., TBS
Texas A&M and Michigan advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in polar opposite ways. The Aggies trounced 2nd seeded North Carolina, while the Wolverines needed a buzzer beater from freshman Jordan Poole to hold off an upset scare from the 6-seed Houston. Texas A&M has been an enigma all year. The Aggies were in the top ten earlier in the season, but made their way to the bubble following a stretch of five straight losses to open SEC play. Texas A&M has won five of their last six games and have a frontcourt in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams that is one of the best in the country. Led by Davis and Williams, the Aggies outrebounded the Tar Heels, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, 50-36, on Sunday. Texas A&M hasn’t forced many turnovers and they’ve given up 51 three-point attempts in their first two games of the “Big Dance.” If Michigan can take care of the ball and make some shots from deep, it could be a different story for the Aggies on Thursday.
Following an epic run at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten Tournament two weeks earlier, the Wolverines struggled mightily on offense in their first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan found their way to the Sweet Sixteen thanks to the art of the buzzer beater. The Wolverines have their best defensive team in recent memory and allowed just 55 points per game in the opening weekend. Michigan will need to counter Texas A&M’s strength on the interior with successful outside shooting to come away with the win. Look for Mo Wagner and Duncan Robinison to find their stroke and for the Wolverines to escape from the Aggies in a close one.
Michigan 73, Texas A&M 72
Winner of the West Region: Michigan
Michigan will have a new lease on life after escaping from the jaws of defeat in the Round of 32. I expect John Beilein’s team to snap out of their shooting funk from last weekend and return Big Ten Tournament form in the Sweet Sixteen. Better shooting and defense will help the Wolverines get past Texas A&M and Gonzaga on their way to San Antonio and their first Final Four since 2013.