Michigan v Florida

Michigan blows out Florida, headed to first Final Four in 20 years

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The outcome of the South Region final between 3-seed Florida and 4-seed Michigan was decided in the game’s first four minutes.

John Beilein’s Wolverines scored the first 13 points of the game and led by as many as 24 points in the first half on their way to a 79-59 victory at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., resulting in the program’s first Final Four since 1993.

This will be Beilein’s first Final Four appearance, as his 2005 West Virginia team fell in the Elite Eight.

The catalyst in the first 20 minutes was freshman guard Nik Stauskas, who made just two of his 12 three-point attempts in Michigan’s first three NCAA tournament games. Against Florida, who in the first half defended the Canadian as if they assumed his cold stretch would continue, Stauskas hit his first seven shots from the field (six from beyond the arc) on the way to scoring a game-high 22 points.

Fellow freshman Mitch McGary continued his good play in the NCAA tournament, scoring 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and outplaying Florida junior Patric Young (eight points, seven rebounds) for much of the contest.

MORE: Mental miscues, questionable coaching decisions doom Gators

Trey Burke, who apparently has been battling a bug of sorts this weekend, didn’t shot well from the field (5-of-16) but he did dish out seven assists with just one turnover. As a team the Wolverines shot 10-of-19 from beyond the arc and 46.2% overall, proving to be too much for the Gator defense.

Next up for the Wolverines is East Region champion Syracuse, which will offer up the enticing matchup of Jim Boeheim’s famed 2-3 zone and John Beilein’s offensive attack that doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters.

MORE: Photos from the Elite Eight

One player the Wolverines will need to get untracked next weekend is junior Tim Hardaway Jr., who shot just 3-of-13 and scored nine points against Florida. But they entered Sunday with a similar concern regarding Stauskas, and we see what happened there.

There’s no doubt that Trey Burke is one of the nation’s best players but his teammates are stepping up at the right time. Two more wins? There’s no doubt that Michigan is capable of winning two in Atlanta.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.