By Andrew Kahn
It’s hard to get too upset over your busted bracket when the Tournament has been this entertaining. The opening weekend delivered plenty of thrilling games and memorable upsets and this past weekend’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games were no different. Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 that entered the Big Dance unranked, has reached the Final Four as an eight seed. The Wildcats will face Wisconsin, which upset top seed Arizona in a thriller. Joining them in Dallas are Connecticut, a seven seed, and Florida, winner of 30 in a row.
The Cardiac ’Cats
It’s reasonable to assume a team loaded with freshman might take more time to gel and improve more over the course of a season than teams with more upperclassmen. But to turn it on the way Kentucky has in this Tournament while knocking off a No. 1, 4, and 2 seed is beyond impressive. The Wildcats lost three out of four before the SEC Tournament, including a 19-point loss to Florida. They reached the conference championship and lost to Florida by one, leading many to believe they were figuring things out. Sure enough, they played their best game of the season against Wichita State and followed it up with great performances against Louisville and Michigan. Against the Wolverines on Sunday, Aaron Harrison hit a deep, contested three with 2.3 seconds left to give the Cats a 75-72 win.
Florida still the favorite
The Gators, meanwhile, have won all their Tournament games by double digits, beating UCLA by 11 and Dayton by 10 in the regional final on Saturday. Florida never let the deficit against Dayton get lower than eight after the 2:28 mark in the first half, partly due to 21 made free throws and 12 offensive rebounds. Florida was the favorite at the start of this Tournament and nothing has changed, though the only two teams that beat them this season are also in Dallas: Connecticut handed them their last lost on Dec. 2 and Wisconsin beat Florida on Nov. 12.
UConn advances in MSG
Shabazz Napier is looking like Kemba Walker 2.0. He led all scorers with 25 points in Sunday’s 60-54 win over Michigan State and has Connecticut back in the Final Four a year after they were banned from postseason play. Kevin Ollie and his staff had an excellent defensive game plan against the Spartans as well as a home crowd advantage. Said Ollie after the game: “It was just an amazing feeling to [win the regional] in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA Tournament not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift. And we’re going to unwrap it again [and take it] down to Texas.”
Bo Ryan had advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament five times in his previous 12 years at Wisconsin. This past weekend, his Badgers broke through to the Final Four, smacking Baylor and outlasting Arizona 64-63 on Saturday. It was a wild game in a Tournament full of them, and Frank Kaminsky was the difference. The 7-foot junior scored inside and out, pouring in 28 points, 18 more than the second-highest scoring Badger. Wisconsin needed all six of his overtime points, as the game wasn’t decided until a five-minute review of an out-of-bounds call gave the ball to Arizona for one final shot—Nick Johnson’s attempt, which missed, was just after the buzzer.
There’s always next year
The Miller brothers were bounced in the regional final on Saturday: Archie’s Dayton squad ended its Cinderella run and Sean’s Arizona team lost a heartbreaker. Failing to reach the season’s final weekend isn’t a reflection of a bad coach, something especially worth noting in the case of Sean, who has had some great postseason success but hasn’t reached a Final Four. Also coming up short was Michigan State, meaning Tom Izzo’s streak of getting his senior class to at least one Final Four comes to an end. Both Michigan schools lost on Sunday, and Wolverine fans are now wondering who among their talented sophomore quartet will stay in school.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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