My bracket’s busted. Forget it. I have no shot in this thing after Kentucky, Arizona, and Louisville all lost. The only team that I’ve got left in my March Madness bracket is, well, nobody.
March Madness 2017 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight Recap
Yeah. That’s bad. But, I’m still a huge college basketball fan. Check out my awards on the 2017 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight recap.
West Region – 2 Arizona
The Arizona Wildcats looked like a team that could win the Final Four after beating both UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament. In Round 1, Arizona took care of business by beating North Dakota 100 to 82.
Visually, the Cats were impressive. A deep dive into the stats in the Round 1 win provided information of what was to come later in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona shot 58% from the field versus North Dakota. The Cats only shot 36.4% from three. The more important stat from the Round 1 win is that Arizona allowed North Dakota to shoot over 46% from three.
In Arizona’s 69 to 60 win over St. Mary’s in Round 2, the Cats’ three-point defense was much better. The Gaels shot a terrible 23.8% from three. What was concerning, though, is that Arizona allowed St. Mary’s to shoot over 46% from the field.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when Arizona lost 71 to 73 to Xavier. Arizona was a good defensive team this season. Sometimes, the Wildcats were a great defensive team this season. Still, at other times, the Cats played slow on defense. That’s how Xavier could hit two 3-point shots and tie the game late after Arizona had taken an 8-point lead.
Arizona coach Sean Miller still doesn’t have a Final Four berth on his resume.
East Region – 7 South Carolina
Going into the NCAA Tournament, the South Carolina Gamecocks had a reputation for being a strong defensive team. Early in the season, the Gamecocks had beaten Michigan 61 to 46. They had beaten Syracuse 64 to 50. They had taken down SEC rival Florida, the 4-seed in the East Region, 57 to 53 in January.
South Carolina had a great defense, but how could they possibly handle high-scoring teams like Marquette, Duke, and Baylor? There was no way the Gamecocks could keep up with those teams, right?
Guard play is one of the key elements a team needs to win the Final Four. Talented bigs, like Caleb Swanigan at Purdue, can only do so much. Guards control the action on the court. They set the tempo. South Carolina became one of the top scoring teams in March Madness because guard Sindarius Thornwell has played better than any other single player in the tournament.
Thornwell’s been unbelievable in the tournament. South Carolina scored 93 points against Marquette in Round 1. The Gameocks throttled the Golden Eagles by 20 points. Thornwell scored 29, grabbed 11 boards, and dished 2 assists. He also had 3 steals and blocked 2 shots.
In Round 2 versus Duke, Thornwell scored 24, had 5 assists, and had 6 boards. South Carolina beat favored Duke 88 to 81. The Gamecocks demolished 3-seed Baylor 70 to 50 in the Sweet 16. Thornwell again scored 24 points. He blocked 2 shots to go along with 6 boards and 2 assists.
Thornwell was so good in the Elite Eight that Florida, a team that had beaten South Carolina 81 to 66 on Feb. 21, had no answer for him. Thornwell scored 26 with 7 rebounds.
Don’t get me wrong, South Carolina isn’t just Sindarius Thornwell. But, the magic occurred for South Carolina on offense because everyone started playing as fast as Thornwell does on offense.
The Gamecocks put up 68 shots from the field versus Marquette. They put up 63 shots from the field against Duke. South Carolina’s offense caught up with its excellent defense in this tournament. That was a major surprise.
The “What the Heck Happened” Award
Midwest Region 1 – Kansas
Man, Kansas looked good in their first three NCAA Tournament games. The Jayhawks pummeled UC-Davis 100 to 62. They pulverized Michigan State 90 to 70. They beat Purdue, the best team from the Big Ten, 98 to 66. Three wins both straight up and against the spread. Three wins without breaking a sweat.
Then, Kansas ran into the Oregon Ducks. What the heck happened? I’ll tell you what the heck happened! Kansas bounced. Those of us who have grown up betting on horse races know what the term bounce means. The Kansas Jayhawks were running at such a high-level, they had been so awesome in all three games in the NCAA Tournament, that they were bound to fall on their faces.
American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown, bounced in his race right after winning the Triple Crown. The dreaded bounce happens to all teams, all players, in every sport. Even Tom Brady bounced in the first half of Super Bowl LI. But, since he’s Terrific Tom Brady, it didn’t matter.
For the Jayhawks, you can’t bounce against a team like Oregon and expect to win. The Ducks beat Kansas 74 to 60 in the Sweet 16. Kansas shot 35% from the field and 20% from three.
The Overrated Award
South Region – 3 UCLA
Unlike Kansas, I don’t believe UCLA bounced. I just don’t think that UCLA was as good as advertised. The Bruins’ defense was downright awful against Kentucky in the Sweet 16. John Calipari’s team took Steve Alford’s team to school with an 86 to 75 win.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the loss on one UCLA player, but that’s what I’m going to do. When you say crazy things like your son is better than some of the best players in the NBA, your kid had better step it up. Lonzo Ball, LaVarr Ball’s kid, didn’t against Kentucky.
Ball’s stat line ended up being 10 points, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and 4 turnovers. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky’s point-guard, scored 39, grabbed 3 boards, and dished 4 assists. Kentucky shot 63 times from the field. UCLA shot 55 times from the field.
After the loss, Lonzo Ball said that he’s moving on to the NBA. LaVarr Ball stated that he’s happy Steve Alford is staying at UCLA. Good for you, Alford. You, and Bruin fans, get many more years of listening to LaVarr Ball’s nonsense.
The “Okay, I Understand What All the Fuss Was About” Award
West Region – 1 Gonzaga
The Zags finally played a game reminiscent of the team that dominated the regular season. Gonzaga beat South Dakota State 66 to 46 in Round 1. The Zags didn’t cover the spread because they were -23 favorites. Gonzaga took an 18-point lead into halftime versus Northwestern in Round 2. The Zags held on for dear life to beat Northwestern 79 to 73.
Gonzaga pushed against the spread when beating West Virginia 61 to 58 on March 23. But in the Elite Eight, the Zags were money. Maybe, Xavier suffered a bounce when losing 59 to 83 to Gonzaga.
Still, the fact that the Zags shot a ridiculous 50% from three when going 12 of 24 speaks to their domination. Gonzaga held Xavier to 35.5% from the field. Xavier hit only 2 of 16 three-point shots for 12.5%.
It was the game that Gonzaga fans had been waiting for.
It’s finally here. The 2017 Final Four. Make sure to check out my Final Four Preview on Dead Hit Sports!