LL Cool J is back again as I wrap up the first weekend NCAA Tournament recaps. The LL video will come up again later. The West Regional Finals will be played in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. Let’s all pour out a little liquor for the Lakers fans. The Sweet 16 matchups are stacked with storylines. On one side the methodical Wisconsin Badgers will be going up against the fast pace North Carolina Tar Heels and on the other side Sean Miller leads his Arizona Wildcats in to face his old ballclub Xavier. There’s also the fact that Sean Miller is still chasing his first appearance in the Final Four and could meet up with the school (Wisconsin) that put him out of last year’s tournament during the Elite 8. There’s also a bit of history between UNC and Wisconsin. Ten years ago the Tar Heels knocked off the Badgers in the Elite 8 leading them to the Final Four and eventually winning the National Championship. I’ll warn you; this post will get Arizona heavy towards the end. (I’m a fan of the Arizona Wildcats)
Bringing things back to the 2015 Tournament where the (1) Badgers will face (4) UNC in the first Sweet 16 matchup of the West Region. Wisconsin made their way to Staples Center by beating Coastal Carolina and Oregon. Against Coastal Carolina, the Badgers got a solid 27 and 12 from big man Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky did damage beyond the arc (3-5) and in the post. He also chipped in 4 assists. It is those numbers that have many slating Kaminsky as the College Player of the Year and a potential NBA Lottery pick. Forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes also helped. Dekker would score 20 points with 12 coming via the long ball (4-8) and Hayes was a beast on the offensive glass grabbing 7 of his 8 total rebounds on that end. He also scored 15 points. The game against Oregon provided a preview of what we may see against UNC. Like the Tar Heels, Oregon wanted to speed up the tempo and score in bunches. The Badgers were able to withstand a 30 point outburst from the Duck’s Joseph Young. Young was voted the Player of the Year in the Pac-12 by the league coaches. The Badgers got double digit scoring from 4 starters and contained the other Oregon threats. Wisconsin also shot 29 (21-29) free throws to the Ducks 7 (5-7). At the 6:06 mark, Wisconsin only led by 1 point. The Badgers outscored Oregon 22 – 16 to end the game. North Carolina beat Harvard and Arkansas to reach the Sweet 16. This is UNC’s 31st appearance in the Sweet 16 and 7th under the watch of head coach Roy Williams. The first game of the tournament was a test for the Tar Heels. Harvard battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to tie the game late. But with the game knotted at 65 and 31 seconds left on the clock, Carolina got a defensive stop and layup from Justin Jackson to take a 2 point lead. They then held Harvard scoreless twice. The final stop came via an excellent challenge by J.P. Tokoto. On Harvard’s final possession Tokoto forced the game’s high scorer Wesley Saunders (23 points and 5 assists) to take a tough 3 from the top of the key that banged high off of the backboard and rim. It wasn’t pretty but UNC got double digits from 3 starters along with 9 points off of the bench from forward Isaiah Hicks. In the Round of 32, UNC stepped away from Arkansas. Arkansas shot horribly from the field and turned the ball over 21 times. Many of them unforced and capitalized on by the Tar Heels. Brice Johnson led UNC with 13 rebounds before fouling out. Freshman Justin Jackson had a big game with 16 points and “Mr. Second Half” Marcus Paige scored 22 points while grabbing 6 rebounds and 5 steals. J.P. Tokoto had another solid all around game with 13 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. The Tar Heels will need their big men to play foul free against Wisconsin. Both Hicks and Johnson fouled out while Kennedy Meeks never really got going because of his four fouls and the pace of the game.
Stepping out of the lower half of the bracket is (6) Xavier and (2) Arizona. Xavier reached the Sweet 16 by beating Ole Miss and Georgia State. Ole Miss scored the game’s first three points and never saw the lead again. The Musketeers went to center Matt Stainbrook who responded with 20 points – 9 rebounds – 5 assists. The big man was 8-10 from the field and a perfect 4-4 from the foul line. He was also helped by guard Dee Davis who scored 17 points and forward James Farr who grabbed 13 rebounds. It was a disappointing end to a stellar career from Jackson, MS native and Provine High alum Jarvis Summers. Summers went 0-8 from the field and was held scoreless while dishing out 7 assists. Xavier’s next opponent was the Georgia St. Panthers. The Panthers reached the 3rd Round by knocking off (3) Baylor. GSU got a game winning three pointer from R.J. Hunter in that contest. Hunter would score 20 points against Xavier but it wasn’t enough. The Musketeers got a big contribution off of the bench from forward Jalen Reynolds. He scored 21 points on 8-9 shooting while Dee Davis stepped up again with 15 points and 5 assists. Xavier shot a whopping 22-25 from the line with Davis leading the way by going 8 for 9. In the Sweet 16, Xavier will see a familiar face in former coach Sean Miller. Miller leads Arizona into Los Angeles following wins over Texas Southern and Ohio State. As expected the Wildcats breezed by TxSU behind a stellar 23 points and 10 rebounds from shimmying sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Outstanding freshman forward Stanley Johnson also threw in 22 and 5. All five starters reached double digits. Ohio St. provided a much tougher task for Zona. After leading by only one point at the half Arizona went to work. Guard T.J. McConnell started a trend by knocking down an early 3. Gabe York followed by knocking down 4 treys in the half. Both McConnell and York finished with 19 points. Hollis-Jefferson put in 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists to round out the Wildcats performance. Arizona pounded the Buckeyes on the glass to the tune of a 43 – 26 advantage. They also hounded standout freshman guard D’Angelo Russell into a 3-19 shooting night. Ohio State shot just 38.5% as a team.
So I reach the point where I have to acknowledge the only blemish on Sean Miller’s resume. Yep it is that he lacks a trip to the Final Four. Standing in his way are 3 big tasks. The first is facing Xavier. In order to reach Indianapolis; Miller has to knock off his old team. It has been 6 seasons since he last coached the Cincinnati school but I know it’ll be a bittersweet moment if he beats them. His second challenge should they win will either be Wisconsin – the team that snatched away a trip to the Final Four in 2014 and that also happens to be the place where he started his coaching career in 1992-1993 as a Graduate Assistant – or the storied program of North Carolina. I already mentioned UNC’s numerous trips to the Sweet 16 but they also can boast about the 18 trips they’ve made to the Final Four, the last of which was in their 2009 National Championship season. Lastly there are Arizona’s post season struggles in the state of California under Miller. The list includes two Pac-12 Final losses in Staples Center (2011 and 2012), 2011 Elite 8 defeat in Anaheim (UCONN eventual Champs), 2013 Sweet 16 defeat in Los Angeles (Ohio State), and 2014 Elite 8 defeat in Anaheim (Wisconsin). After all is said and done I think Arizona will make their long awaited return (2001) to the Final Four and first in Coach Sean Miller’s career. Like another “Sean” we know, Miller will finally be famous in this…