Championship Week: Day 6’s best game, top player

Leave a comment

Over the next 13 days, the brackets will start to take shape. Teams with no at-large aspirations will make one final push at the post-season. Teams on the bubble will look to assert themselves as worthy members of “The Big Dance”, and contenders will start priming their engines for a national Championship run. While “March Madness” officially begins following Selection Sunday, the real madness starts now.

Until Sunday, March 11,  this will be your home for Championship Week recaps and previews. The players and teams are starting to prepare for March Madness, so you should too.

Game of the Night: Murray State 54, Tennessee State 52
Tennessee State was just a Robert Covington 3-pointer away from handing Murray State their second loss of the season. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the shot caromed off the rim, and the Racers were able to hold on. Jewaun Long hit a tough baseline lay-up with 4.4 seconds left to give Murray State the lead and the Tigers could not answer at the other end. Tennessee State led by as many as seven in the second half, but Covington, the team’s leading scorer, sat for a long period of time due to foul trouble, and Murray State mounted their comeback. The game featured ten ties and eleven lead changes.

– They Were Good Too: George Mason 61, Georgia State 59
A Bryon Allen lay-up with 3.4 seconds remaining broke a 59-5 tie and won the game for the George Mason Patriots in Richmond last night. Georgia State led by as many as 11 points, but the experienced Patriots rallied behind Mike Morrison and Sherrod Wright, who scored all 11 of his points during a four-minute stretch in the second half. The victory of the Panthers sets up a classic rubber-match against VCU.

Player of the Night: Ryan Broekoff, Valparaiso
The Horizon League Player of the Year scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Crusaders 65-46 victory over Butler in the Horizon League semifinals. The last time these two teams met, a week ago Friday, Broekoff scored just six points and shot 22 percent (2-of-9) from the field and was 0-of-4 from the foul line. But on Saturday, he shot 67 percent (6-of-9) from the field and 83 percent (5-of-6) from the foul line. The Butler Bulldogs will not be making a third consecutive trip to the National Championship game, and Broekoff is one of the reasons why.

– He Was Good Too: Michael Glover, Iona
The senior forward scored 29 points, and provided seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals in the Gael’s 87-63 win over Marist in the MAAC semifinals. Glover was 11-of-18 from the field and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe. This was the eleventh game of the season in which he has scored 20 or more points.

Team of the Night: Hartford Hawks
The No.6-seed Hawks provided the upset of the night, defeating the No.3-seed Boston Terriers 53-49 in the America East quarterfinals. The Hawks snapped a two-game losing streak, which included a 64-55 loss in the season finale to the Terriers. Nate Sikma scored 16 points, Andres Torres chipped in with 12 points and Mark Nwakamma provided 13 points and 16 rebounds. Despite being the lower-seed, the Hawks benefited from being the host team, and after the victory, received a court-storming from the fans.

– They Were Good Too: Illinois State Redbirds
The No.4-seed Redbirds trailed for much of the game, and were down by eight at the half, but put together a furious second half comeback in order to knock off No.1-seed Wichita State in the MVC semifinals. Tyler Brown led all scorers with 25 points and Jackie Carmichael chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds. During the final six minutes of play, Illinois State held Wichita State to just four points. The Redbirds will meet the Bluejays of Creighton in the finals of “Arch Madness”.

Saturday Results:

America East Quarterfinals
#6 Hartford 53, #3 Boston 49
#4 Albany 63, #5 New Hampshire 45
#2 Vermont 50, #7 Maine 40
#1 Stony Brook 78, #9 Binghamton 69

Atlantic Sun Finals
#1 Belmont 83, #6 Florida Gulf Coast 69

Big Sky Quarterfinals
#4 Eastern Washington 81, #5 Idaho State 75
#3 Portland State 75, #6 Montana State 53

Big South Finals
#1 UNC-Asheville 80, #7 VMI 64

Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals
#4 Old Dominion 88, #5 Delaware 74
#3 George Mason 61, #6 Georgia State 59
#2 Virginia Commonwealth 75, #7 Northeastern 65
#1 Drexel 59, #9 UNC-Wilmington 47

Horizon League Semifinals
#3 Detroit 63, #2 Cleveland State 58
#1 Valparaiso 65, #5 Butler 46

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
#6 Siena 84, #3 Manhattan 82
#4 Fairfield 65, #5 Rider 63
#2 Loyola (Md.) 86, #7 Niagara 73
#1 Iona 87, #8 Marist 63

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals
#4 Illinois State 65, #1 Wichita State 64
#2 Creighton 99, #3 Evansville 71

Ohio Valley Conference Finals
#1 Murray State 54, #2 Tennessee State 52

Patriot League Semifinals
#2 Lehigh 85, #3 American 66
#1 Bucknell 79, #5 Lafayette 52

Southern Conference Quarterfinals
#3N Western Carolina 82, #2S Wofford 59
#2N Elon 65, #3S Georgia Southern 58
#1N UNC-Greensboro 65, #5N Appalachian State 55
#1S Davidson 73, #5S Furman 54

Summit League Quarterfinals
#2 South Dakota State 77, #7 IUPUI 56
#1 Oral Roberts 71, #8 IPFW 67

Sun Belt Conference First Round
#9 Arkansas State 70, #8 Florida Atlantic 55
#7 Western Kentucky 67, #10 Florida International 63
#6 South Alabama 87, #11 Troy 81

West Coast Conference Semifinals
#1 Saint Mary’s 83, #5 San Francisco 78
#2 Gonzaga 77, #3 BYU 58

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.