March Madness 2018

Surprises in the Elite Eight

March 25, 2018 By: Josh Robinson

 

The 2018 NCAA March Madness this year has been an event full of upsets and close calls. As we enter the Final Four, teams will fight in order to earn their spot in the National Championship. There are some teams that weren’t supposed to make it this far. Now that everybody’s brackets have been busted, it’s just time for us to enjoy the rest of the tournament. Things are about to get very intense coming up this week.

Loyola Continues to Shock the World

Loyola continues to hold on for their life in this tournament. For a private college, from the windy city of Chicago, this team has built the fire and determination to make a name for themselves. They were trailing behind Nevada by 12, but they were able to bounce back with a 28-24 league at halftime. Loyola drove and attacked the basket every time they had the ball during the second half. Junior guard, Marques

Loyola March Madness 2018

Loyola Basketball (bleacher report.com)

Townes, closed the game with a three-pointer to narrow the game to a one point lead, 69-68.

The Nevada Wolfpack tried to answer back, but there was no time left. Townes also led the Ramblers with five assists and 18 points.
That’s not all to this Cinderella story, Loyola completely shut down Kansas state in the Elite Eight to a 78-62 victory. After one point wins, the Ramblers had a game that they could easily sweep away with.

During the first half, Loyola led a double digit lead, 36-24 at halftime. Kansas State wasn’t used to being down by that much, for they’re the ones who would dominate other teams. The Ramblers shot 57 percent from the field, going 9 for 18 from three-point range. Kansas only shot 35 percent. During the second half, the underdog team just kept their foot on the gas, leading by double digits in order to close the game away. Xavier Sneed may have led the Wildcats to victory, with 22 points against Kentucky on Thursday, but he couldn’t do anything against the Ramblers but only scored 16 points.When the game clock hit zero, Loyola made its way to the Final Four. Now, they will prepare for Michigan and will try to see if they can pull another upset.

Will Villanova Continue to Move on?

Villanova Wildcats

Villanova Basketball
(Usatoday.com)

Villanova, with no doubt has a high chance of winning the whole tournament. They are the number one seed after all. But the question is can they finally end Texas Tech’s streak? Villanova had blown out all of their opponents by double digits in every round. They had completely embarrassed West Virginia in the Sweet 16, 90-78. This powerhouse team has dominated on both sides of the ball throughout this whole tournament, scoring a tournament high of 258 points in three games.They also have an outstanding starting lineup that will make an impact for this game.
But Texas Tech’s defense will put this dominating team to the test. The Raiders’ defense is ranked in the top 15 in the nation. If the Red Raiders are able to stop Villanova’s three-point offense, then they might have a good chance on upsetting the number one team in the nation. They will have to keep up with the Villanova offense in order to keep it close.

Duke vs Kansas

Duke Basketball

Duke Blue Devils
(Busting brackets.com)

This should be a great match between these two teams. It could easily become anybody’s game. Duke is a young, team that’s been struggling a lot this season. They play a zone defense that has been nearly effective this whole tournament. They also performed well on offense and were able to hold on to clinch a win agains Syracuse.

Kansas is the best offense that Duke will face throughout this tournament. If the Blue Devils are able to play with confidence against Kansas’ talented offense, then they should put up a fair fight. They will also have to stop Kansas center, Udoka Azubuike.
Kansas has two talented guards, Devonte Graham and Malik Newman. They are a major key to this team. If these two have a perfect game against Duke’s defense, then they should have a good chance of winning and advancing to the Final Four. Kansas must also play defense in order to stay alive.

Will Michigan End This Cinderella Story?

Well, Michigan relies on their defense, when all else fails. They held a close score against Florida State throughout the whole game. Because of their defense, they were able to defeat them, 58-54; now they have clinched a spot in the Final Four. This is the Wolverines’ first Final Four appearance since 2013. If they continue to play good defense, then they will be able to crush Loyola’s dreams of making it to the championship. They also must be disciplined and must have a strong offense as well.

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NCAA Tournament

Games to watch during the Sweet 16

Most people expected the number one, two and three seeds to make it all the way to the Sweet 16, maybe even into the Final Four. Some teams have punched their ticket in and some have been sent home and made people all over the United States very upset. Not to mention, everybody’s brackets are done for. There are new teams that have replaced the top seeds in the tournament, and they will go up against some really tough opponents this week. Here are some games you should watch during the Sweet 16.

Kansas State vs. Kentucky

NCAA Sweet 16 Kentucky

Kentucky basketball team
(UK athletics. aseaofblue.com)

The Kansas State Wildcats played an outstanding game on Sunday, beating UMBC 50-43. Everyone thought that UMBC would shock the nation by pulling another upset on Kansas State, since they’d beaten the University of Virginia in the first round. Well, not this time. The Wildcats came out on top after a hard fought game.

They had to play without their starting Forward, Dean Wade who was dealing with a foot injury. At first, the Wildcats were off to a bad start; they committed 18 turnovers and were 1-for-12 from the three-point line. They also couldn’t capitalize off of UMBC’s missed shots in the second half. Kansas State’s guard, Barry Brown, had 18 points. Xavier Sneed had the highlight reel of the night with a massive dunk off of a rebound. He finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats are now in the Sweet 16, playing against the number five seed, the University of Kentucky, a team loaded with talent. They have two, young, amazing point guards that are going to be a threat in this tournament.

Loyola-Chicago vs. Nevada

NCAA Sweet 16 Loyola Chicago

Loyola’s Clayton Cluster spinning off Tennessee defender. (the kansas city star)

No-one had expected for this team to make it into the Sweet 16 at all. Loyola survived both rounds, due to a buzzer beater against Miami and a bounce on the rim, into the hoop, against Tennessee. With three seconds left to spare, Clayton Custer made a jumper that was living on a prayer in order to beat the Volunteers, 63-62. The Ramblers are now facing the University of Nevada.

In order to beat the Wolf Pack, Loyola will have to play hard on defense. Nevada has an outstanding offense that makes at least around 40 percent of their three pointers. They rarely handed the ball over in the game against Cincinnati, during the first round of the tournament.

Michigan vs. Texas A&M

Jordan Poole NCAA Sweet 16

Jordan Poole (UM) goes crazy after buzzer beater
(ftw.usatoday.com)

The Michigan Wolverines were able to beat the Houston Cougars on Sunday. They played outstanding defense against the Cougars, having Rob Gray on lock down during the first half. Fouls were a major problem in the second half for both teams. Houston’s forward, Breaon Brady was seated for the rest of the game due to foul trouble. Freshman, Jordan Poole, pulled a clean buzzer beater that shocked everyone in the arena, ending the game, with the score 64-63. Now Michigan will advance to the Sweet 16 as a number three seed, facing Texas A&M.

The Aggies have been dealing with a lot of injuries and suspensions this season. The future didn’t look bright for them during this whole tournament, but they proved everybody wrong. They’d shut down Providence in the first round and embarrassed the defending national champions, North Carolina, by 21 points in the second. If Texas A&M continues to play like this, they will have a one way ticket to the Final Four.

Florida State vs. Gonzaga

NCAA Sweet 16 Florida State Basketball

Florida State (tomahawknation.com. Photo by Rob Cur)

Florida State was another team that wasn’t supposed to make it this far into the tournament. The Seminoles’ future didn’t look promising at all, since they only won four of their last 10 games before the tournament. Now, they ruined everyone’s brackets by defeating Xavier, 75-70. They were behind 32-34 in the first half, but then Florida State started a rally down 12 points, during the last minutes of the second half. Nobody expected for Xavier to be eliminated in the second round of the tournament at all. Florida State will play Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 tournament.

The Bulldogs are now seeking to return to the championship for a second time and are planning to win it all. Due from the loss in the championship last year to North Carolina, this year’s team looks more promising than ever and more disciplined.

Clemson vs. Kansas

For the first time in 20 years, the Tigers had finally clinched a spot in the Sweet 16. With their powerhouse defense, Clemson has been on a roll, dominating New Mexico State, 79-68, in the first round and crushing Auburn, 84-53, in the second. The Tigers will face Kansas University in the tournament. The Jayhawks have also played very well during the first two rounds of the tournament, with the help of star center, Udoka Azubuike and senior guard Devonte Graham.

 

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Michigan Wolverines March Madness

Michigan finding its rhythm at the right time

After Derrick Walton Jr.’s game-winning 3-point attempt clanked off the front rim against Oregon in the Sweet 16, Michigan coach John Beilein could only express this disappointing loss as a missed opportunity.

No one expected Michigan to catch fire and win the Big Ten Tournament after a near fatal plane crash in Washington D.C. Once they shocked a heavily favored Louisville in the Round of 32, many people expected them to get past Oregon to take on Kansas with a shot at a Final Four.

Losing to Oregon stung, especially since Beilein lost the majority of his starting lineup. Walton, along with guard Zak Irvin, were both seniors and forward D.J. Wilson declared for the NBA draft.

Coming into this season, Beilein still had center Moe Wagner to anchor his offense, but he needed other players to step up and take on bigger roles. Duncan Robinson was a solid role player the previous season, but his main value came in his ability to hit open threes. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews entered the picture, but people were unsure how he would fit in with Beilein’s system.

After a rocky and inconsistent start to the season and Big Ten play, Beilein has his team riding a four-game winning streak, including victories over then-No. 8 Ohio State on senior night and a road victory over an underrated Penn State squad.

Let’s examine why Michigan has stepped up its play of late and whether they can make some noise in the postseason.

The Jack of All Trades

Michigan Wolverines March Madness

Moe Wagner dominated Michigan State with a 27-point performance. (Photo by Dale G. Young/Detroit News)

Junior Moe Wagner is the unquestioned best player on this team. What makes Wagner’s playing style unique is his versatility as a big man. Wagner has a devastatingly quick first step, allowing him to take his man, usually the opposing center, off the dribble on the perimeter. However, defenders have to press him since he shoots the 3-ball at a 40.9 percent clip. In the post, Wagner utilizes his quick footwork to knock his defender off balance and get the shot he wants.

This season, Wagner has averaged 14.6 points on 53.4 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and one steal. In Michigan’s biggest win of the season, an 82-72 upset over then-No. 4 Michigan State in East Lansing, Wagner abused Nick Ward all night. He poured in 27 points on 61.5 percent shooting while blocking two shots.

In Michigan’s 72-63 victory at Penn State, Wagner controlled the paint on both ends of the court. He dropped in 18 points while hauling in eight rebounds.

However, Wagner’s aggressive and rambunctious playing style can result in foul trouble. Wagner averages about three personal fouls per game, not a mark that Beilein is thrilled about. Wagner’s undisciplined defense is something that opposing coaches will attempt to capitalize on once the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness begins.

Whatever It Takes

Selfless is probably the word that best describes this Michigan team. Every player is willing to sacrifice his personal stat line to help them win. Aside from Wagner, Michigan lacks a consistent offensive threat. Matthews has averaged 13 points per game this season, but cannot seem to buy a bucket in the past three games, scoring 10, six and zero points respectively.

Matthews, rather than feel sorry for himself, stepped up and worked to find other ways to contribute. In Michigan’s 74-62 senior night win over Ohio State, Matthews only scored six points, but worked the glass and accumulated seven rebounds. He also tried to got his teammates involved and dished out three assists.

Even the freshmen have bought into this selflessness. Jordan Poole has only averaged about 12 minutes and 6.5 points per game this season, but has seen his playing time increase lately. Poole’s newfound offensive aggressiveness has led to him scoring 15 points in 19 minutes against Ohio State and 13 points against Penn State (along with potentially the dunk of the year in college basketball).

Refusal to back dOwn

Most of Beilein’s teams are known for their offensive firepower. However, this team is wired differently. The culture of this Wolverine squad revolves around toughness, audacity and fearlessness.

These traits have translated into a defensive ferocity that Beilein has never seen out of his previous teams. Michigan is ranked 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.

The Wolverines hound their opponents and force them into poor shot selection. Beilein challenged sophomore Zavier Simpson to slow down the red-hot Tony Carr of Penn State, who has five inches of height on Simpson, and he answered with an emphatic performance. Simpson trailed Carr all game, took him out of his element for most of the game and that allowed Michigan to keep Penn State off balance most of the game. Simpson ended the game with three steals in 32 minutes.

In their win over Ohio State, Michigan forced the Buckeyes into 14 total turnovers compared to their seven. It may not show up on the box score, but the Wolverines understand that their hustle and attitude will be the qualities that carry them throughout the postseason.

If Michigan can continue to ride the coattails of their defense and Wagner can remain out of foul trouble, this team has the tools and toughness necessary to shock a lot of people in the next couple of weeks.

 

Featured image by (Eric Gay/AP Photo).

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The March Madness Narrative: About More than the Champion

The NCAA Tournament is known as March Madness for its fast-paced, unforgiving mad rush to the cutting of the nets over an abbreviated three weekend period. There is so much more to the story than just the one team rushing the court and lifting the trophy. Each weekend hits teams like a hurricane. Within moments of their celebrations ending coaches must have players turn on a dime for the next game less than 48 hours away.

At the end of the tournament, we are left with one winner. This year, that is the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, that is nowhere near the full story. The tournament produces things that can supersede even the Final Four or the champion of the season.  This type of environment forges stronger memories that last. It produces magical runs, heart-pounding and tense action as well as singular moments that capture our hearts. What is made in March lasts forever.

Bryce Drew hit one of the more memorable shots in tournament history. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Throughout the years, many things have surpassed the champions in our memories, but certain moments continue to captivate us. Many people could not name the 1998 Final Four of Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah and Stanford but the vast majority of basketball fans know the phrase “Drew, for the win!” and the Ole Miss loss to Valparaiso that accompanies it. This is now a moment etched in stone. It speaks to the fact that the chaos of March Madness can create a generational memory that lasts far beyond winning a game or the championship.

There are countless examples of this. For small schools, moments such as these can define a program.  They can be the thing that coaches point to when attempting to recruit against bigger schools. Need a better example of this? Look no further than the legendary Davidson run to the Elite 8 with now NBA All-Star, Steph Curry. Big moments for small schools are part of what defines March.

Even Blue Blood programs, however, can also see their drama elevate fan folklore to a higher level. Take what is arguably the most iconic moment in NCAA history: Christian Laettner hits his shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 championship game…the championship game for the region that is. Duke and Kentucky each have amazing programs in their own respects but every time these two share the court together, this is brought up by fans and broadcasters alike. Laettner had a less than stellar career in the NBA and was a forgotten part of the 1992 NBA Olympic “Dream Team” but he is forever immortalized for one shot in a game that was only to make the Final Four. Making the Final Four is certainly something to be remembered, but that game is referenced far more than the Blue Devils championship victory over the Michigan Wolverine’s “Fab Five.”

It is not just moments that capture our hearts, but runs as well. The 1983 run by Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack is a true story that moves far beyond the 40 minutes on the game clock. That year’s title run was capped by one of the more inconceivable upsets of the Houston “Phi Slamma Jamma” team that featured future hall of famers Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler. This Memory of March moved beyond 1983 into the life of the late Valvano and seemed to mirror his outlook on the impossible battle for his life.

March Madness is just prone to stories such as this. With the tense nature of the one and out tournament, drama is sure to elevate the intensity. Yet, time and time again teams put together seemingly impossible roads to the Final Four. Shaka Smart and VCU became the first team to go from the NCAA’s First Four play in game to the Final Four. Though they were unable to bring home the title, this is remembered just as fondly. George Mason’s historic run to the Final Four in 2006 made a career path for Jim Larrañaga much easier to achieve.

Chris Chiozza (11) lets a prayer fly. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

This year’s tournament is no exception in either case. Several moments have grabbed our attention. Thus far there are two points in time that stand out the most. The first is The Wisconsin-Florida ending. The game came down to the final second of regulation and eventually led to overtime.  With Wisconsin leading by two points, Florida had one final chance. Enter Chris Chiozza. Going the length of the floor, Chiozza let a leaning, running, impossible shot fly. Buckets. This gives Florida fans that, “Hey, remember when…?” for years to come.

Luke Maye’s shot to beat Kentucky is an example of just how the tournament can become something wholly other than itself. Maye originally was to be a walk on at North Carolina. With some roster shifting, Roy Williams found one for him and he has torn it up in the NCAA tournament. This season he averages 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. In these past four NCAA Tournament games he sits at 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. This includes arguably the most important shot in the tournament thus far.

The Kentucky and North Carolina game was marred by officiating woes but did not lack in end of game drama. The Wildcats surged back from a nearly double digit deficit with two minutes to go. Freshman Malik Monk’s three tied the game with under 8 seconds to go. Roy Williams commented that the team knows to push the ball with this amount of time left.  It worked. Forward Theo Pinson took the ball 80 feet and used his body to create separation for Maye who drained a mid range jumper with Minimal time left.  He showed up to an early class the next morning and received a standing ovation.

In addition to these brief stops in time, there have been more lengthy runs in this tournament that were less than expected. The South Carolina Gamecocks reached the Sweet 16 this year for the first time in school history,  Then they made the Elite Eight. No reason to stop there, so they made the Final Four. This is a team that was off the radar for so many. South Carolina was picked in 0.6% of brackets to reach the last weekend.

Michigan made do with their practice jerseys. (Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com)

There is one more storied run in this tournament that will go down in the history books. The Michigan Wolverines are the epitome of what March Madness is supposed to be. They got hot coming in to the tournament. Considering the fact that they almost did not make their conference tournament, they are a surprise. The Wolverines plane from campus to the Big 10 tournament skidded off the runway and caused some minor injuries. Due to the nature of the investigation, John Beilein’s squad were forced to play in practice jerseys. Their regular equipment remained on the scene of the incident. They did  not just play well, they won the whole thing. They rode that momentum all the way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Their last win was over a Louisville team that many experts believed talented enough to make the Final Four.

Now, the Wolverines went on to lose in fantastic fashion to the eventual champion of the region, the Oregon Ducks. Even though they were just inches away from continuing the magic, there is still plenty to rejoice in here. You see, faced with a less than ideal situation the team found a way to put a string of wins together and make something out of it. This is nothing short of the stories that March creates each and every year. This year it happened to be Michigan.

For some schools, just making the tournament is the ultimate goal. So when a school like Lehigh takes down Duke there is more magic present than the powerhouse making it all the way. March is beautiful because of things within it, not just because of the last team left standing’s victory. College sports entail a high level of passion whether it is a family tradition or an alma mater. That is why reaching a little higher than expectations or completing that wonderful play at the end of the game often gets remembered longer.

On title night, there is a reason that it does not end with the presentation of the trophy. There is still one last piece of business to attend to. When “One Shining Moment” plays it is different every year.  New images are now engraved in our minds of that year’s tournament. March is the time when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Every moment has the potential to become something eternal, and that is what this month is all about.

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