I’ve dubbed the South Region as “the group of hate” for the 2015 Men’s NCAA Tournament. The 4 remaining teams are (1) Duke, (2) Gonzaga, (5) Utah, and (11) UCLA. Somehow UCLA found their way into the tournament and thanks in part to a very questionable goaltending call they’re still here. The Duke hate needs no explanation. Gonzaga was getting hate because some expected them to check out early similar to Villanova and Virginia. And then there’s Utah who no one really hates. The Utes are guilty by association. Similar to a cool guy/girl that hangs with a group of people that everybody else dislikes. The Sweet 16 match ups for this region fall as such: Duke vs Utah and Gonzaga vs UCLA.
Duke cruised into the Sweet 16 with victories over Robert Morris and San Diego State. After crushing Robert Morris in the opening game, the Blue Devils got out to an early lead over SDSU and never looked back. The Aztec’s inability to score the basketball really hampered them in this game. They shot a dismal 33% overall from the field and 15.4% from 3. Duke got another big scoring game from Super Frosh Jahlil Okafor. Okafor put up 26pts on 12-16 shooting from the field while grabbing 6 boards and blocking 3 shots. The only negative for Okafor so far is that he’s only grabbed 9 rebounds in 2 games. Justise Winslow has taken up the slack by grabbing 23 rebounds in 2 games with 12 of those against SDSU. Quinn Cook had another double digit scoring night to balance out the Dukies. Duke is now 17-2 in their last 19 games with both defeats coming to Sweet 16 bound and 2015 ACC Tourney Champ Notre Dame. Utah heads into their Sweet 16 date with Duke after beating Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown. In both matchups the Utes were able to stifle key players; SF Austin only scored 50 points which was well below their team average of 79.5 ppg and the Hoyas shot a rough 9-25 from deep and 24-55 overall. Utah got balanced scoring with 6 players scoring at least 9 points in their win over G’Town. Brandon Taylor led the way with 14 points. To beat Duke, the Utes 11th overall scoring defense will need to step up once again and they’ll need to control the pace of the ballgame. They have a couple of 7-footers that they’ll throw at Okafor.
Gonzaga made their way to the Sweet 16 with wins over North Dakota State and Iowa. The game against NDSU was competitive and high scoring. The Zags had a 13-point halftime cushion but that didn’t stop the Bison from battling. North Dakota State was able to cut the Zags lead to 6 points with 6:07 remaining but Gonzaga responded with an 11-4 run to put the game out of reach. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer led the game in points with 23 and grabbed 8 rebounds. Guard Kevin Pangos paced the Zags with 18 points and 5 assists. Gonzaga shot lights out in their win over Iowa. 61.5% overall and 10-16 from beyond the arc. Kyle Wiltjer had another solid game with 24 points on 10-12 shooting (4-6 from 3). Pangos scored in double figures again with 16 and freshman big man Domantas Sabonis (son of former Portland Trail Blazers and Lithuania star Arvydas Sabonis) dropped 18 and 9 on the Hawkeyes. Iowa had a tough night from long range and got outrebounded by 12. The Bruins of UCLA, to many people’s disgust entered the tourney as an 11-seed and faced SMU in their opening game. After leading at the half, UCLA found themselves down by 9 at the 4:33 mark of the 2nd half and then 7 with 1:26 to play. UCLA got a 3 from Bryce Alford to make the score 59-55 for SMU with 1:06 to play. After a few wasted possessions by both teams, Norman Powell stepped to the line for UCLA and made 2 free throws with 29 seconds left in the game to cut SMU’s lead to 2. The Bruins were able to get a steal with 26 seconds left and called timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Bruins ran a play for Bryce Alford who was 8-10 from 3 at that point. Alford came off of a curl screen and launched a three that appeared to be falling wide and short but was grabbed by SMU’s Yanick Moreira before it could complete it’s flight and was ruled goaltending. After checking to see if the shot was indeed a 3-point attempt, the refs upheld their ruling of a 3-point shot but stated post game that under current rules the goaltending call was not reviewable. SMU failed to score a bucket and time expired giving UCLA the one point victory. Alford finished with 27 points connecting on 9 of his 11 three point shots. Norman Powell had 19 points and 6 rebounds for the Bruins. In their second game of the tournament UCLA faced Alabama-Birmingham. The Blazers were feeling good after upsetting (3) Iowa State. UCLA got a big game from low post player Tony Parker. Parker led the Bruins with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Alford scored 22 points and had 5 assists. All five UCLA starters scored double figures as they defeated UAB by 17.
In the Elite 8 round I have Duke facing Gonzaga. I feel that Mark Few will finally lead Gonzaga over the hump to reach their first Final Four. We should be in for a classic Elite 8 matchup.