It’s Almost Over

68 teams entered and now we’re down to 4. The Final Four is set for the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Tournament. On one side Gonzaga will take on South Carolina and on the other Oregon will take on North Carolina. The West Coast has a good chance of finally bringing back a National Title (Arizona was the last West Coast Men’s team to win the title in 1997). Another possible scenario this year is that one of the Carolinas (North or South) could bring home the title. Interesting stuff huh?

The Women’s Tournament is also down to the Final Four as Mississippi State prepares to face 100! and Counting my bad Connecticut while the other game is a matchup between South Carolina and Stanford. The Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs are making their first appearance in the Women’s Final Four. On the Men’s side, Gonzaga and South Carolina are making their first splash in the Final Four. Oregon made it a long time ago – 1939 to be exact – and won it.

North Carolina will be/are the favorites on the Men’s side. A last second win over Kentucky got them to the Final Four. My daughter slept through the final 3 minutes of the game despite the yelling after each shot.  In 14 seasons at UNC, Roy Williams has been to the Elite Eight – 8 times; Final Four – 5 times; and is 2-1 in National Championship games as the Tar Heels Head Coach (got that info courtesy of Bomani Jones on The Right Time). I give Coach Williams a lot flack but I think it’s time for me to retire.

 

Gonzaga’s Head Coach Mark Few got the monkey that wasn’t on his back the hell up outta here after his Zags bounced this year’s Cinderella – Xavier – by 24 points. Gonzaga is now playing with house money. They’ve done the  hard part and gotten to the Final weekend. They just have to win it now.

Oregon had the most impressive win in the Elite Eight. They knocked off the Kansas Jayhawks in what was a road game (thanks for the neutral site NCAA). The game was played in Kansas City, Missouri which is only 40 minutes away from – Lawrence, Kansas – the location of Kansas University. That didn’t stop Jordan Bell from owning the post on both ends of the court while Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks roamed the perimeter.

The most unlikely team out of the four Men’s teams is South Carolina. South Carolina limped into the Tournament as a 7-seed and now they’ve made history. Frank Martin’s teams are known for their defense but on March 19th in the 2nd half against Duke they dropped 65 points!  *See them all below.

After doing everybody a favor and ridding us of Duke, they beat Baylor by 20 in the Sweet 16 before pulling off a tough win over Conference foe Florida. South Carolina outscored Florida 14 to 7 in the final 3:32 of that game.

The only team remaining in my bracket is North Carolina and they’re still my pick to win it. The Tar Heels have enough length and height to bother the guards on Oregon’s team. UNC also has enough big men to get the post and bother Jordan Bell. The team to meet North Carolina in the final will be Gonzaga. The Zags will be able to play whatever style South Carolina throws at them. Unlike Florida, I don’t see Gonzaga getting bogged down late in the game on the offensive end. South Carolina will put up a good fight but it won’t be enough.

On the Women’s side…UCONN! This is supposed to be a down year! Mississippi State has a lot of depth but I’m not sure if that’ll be enough. South Carolina has a great post player in A’ja Wilson. Tara VanDerveer has her Stanford team – a mixture of youth and experience – approaching the levels of success she’s accustomed to. Stanford’s win over Notre Dame was a surprise to some and they must be ready to go again on Friday night against South Carolina.

Remember folks…THE CEILING IS THE ROOF!

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It’s Almost Over

How To Lose A Bracket in 2 Days

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Yes, I used a cheesy romcom to create the title of this post.

 

Now that we’ve gotten that out the way let’s move on to these brackets. In previous years I’ve given some sleepers which did just that and I’ve given some in-depth thoughts which led to much of nothing. So this time I’m telling you what NOT to do. Some of y’all have already filled out 16 brackets – mistake #1 – and after reading this; you will change some of those picks (mistake #2 but carry on). We don’t know if this tournament will be wide open or if it’ll follow suit as we watch the powerhouse teams march to the Final Four.

Alright I’ve already told you 2 things NOT to do but I’m sure you’ll do them anyway so here are a few more pointers. Do NOT take this bracket stuff serious. Even if you really want to beat the annoying coworker in your office don’t let him/her throw you off. You know why, cause some person that hasn’t watched a minute of College Basketball will win that office pool. Why??? Cause they’re smart enough to let someone that watches pick for them or they do something simple like pick the teams with nice mascots. *Those of you that have money riding on this thing will get more info later. Another common mistake is asking others “what they think?” Don’t do it! Reconsider! Read some literature on the subject (I don’t advise reading anything about this tournament but if) you’re sure then…yeah. Next and most importantly not least. Do not listen to or watch any sports shows!!! This will definitely have you with a broke, busted, and disgusted bracket. Only reason to listen or watch is if they’re speaking about an injured player. They’ll tell you about some team from some Conference that you’ve never heard of and then you’ll be staring at those 16 brackets again. At that point you’re lost in the sauce. See Gucci Mane if you need an explanation for what that means.

Ok money-makers, now it’s time for me to get through to you all. You won’t have a perfect bracket. I repeat…You Won’t Have A Perfect Bracket. But you will have a chance to cash in if you’re smart. Do NOT pick with your heart. Just don’t do it! I know you hate/love Duke or UNC. I know you think Coach Cal is overrated. I know you hate the Big Ten but be smart when making these picks. Another smart move is to NOT dwell on a pick. If you think long then you think wrong. This isn’t a school test so don’t sit there like it is a quantum physics mid term exam. I don’t encourage “double checking” but if you insist on doing this then don’t go changing all of your picks. Again this is not a test. My other tip for you money people is to not make more than 2 or 3 brackets. For instance, if you create a bracket on ESPN and then do one on Yahoo! then use the same picks. Don’t mix and match. That will leave you sad and upset when you realize you could’ve picked “Team A” on both sites instead of switching up.

Finally we are at the fun part. I’ve told you all what not to do but I haven’t given my Final Four picks. In the East, I have Villanova. The defending champs will be in Phoenix ready to defend their title. Do you know what State Phoenix is in? Yep, Arizona and that’s who will come out of the West Region. Sean Miller finally reaches the Final Four. From the Midwest I have Kansas. Bill Self will have these dudes ready to go on a run after that disappointing Big 12 Tournament appearance. And out of the South, I have North Carolina. Tar Heel fans I apologize in advance because your team is my pick to win it all. When things get shaky and it doesn’t look like UNC will win just remember “The ceiling is the roof”…the GOAT told us that. Enjoy March Madness folks because it may quickly turn into March Sadness.

 

How To Lose A Bracket in 2 Days

Jesus Shuttlesworth

It’s been a few weeks but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t say a few words about Ray Allen. On November 1, 2016 Walter Ray Allen Jr. officially hung up his sneakers for good. This has been a whale of a year for NBA retirements. Allen joined Kobe, KG, and Tim Duncan on the list of players waiting to book a trip to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Before the Splash Brothers there was Ray Allen. Ray’s jumper was so silky smooth and effortless that most forgot about his all around ability on offense. Ray could run off a string of picks to get open for a shot or take his man off the dribble and finish at the rim.

Allen who is often referred to as Jesus Shuttlesworth – for his role in the movie “He Got Game” – grabbed my attention during his days at the University of Connecticut. Allen’s jumper versus Georgetown in the 1996 Big East Final is an all time favorite of mine.

While at UConn; Ray was Big East Player of the Year, First Team All-Big East (twice), Consensus First Team All-American, UPI Player of the Year, and USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1995). In the NBA, he was a 2 time NBA Champion, 10 time NBA All-Star, 2 time All-NBA performer, 3-point Shootout Champion, and currently the all time leader with 7,429 3-point shots attempted and made at 2,973.

The things I admired most about Ray Allen were his work ethic and demeanor. If you watched any basketball the last 10 years then you’ve seen Ray’s pregame routine where he would make 150 jump shots from various spots on the court. You also saw how during games he never got rattled and even if he was, he wouldn’t let it show. It is those characteristics that made Allen one of the best shooters to ever play in the NBA and it’s no surprise that with the game on the line he was able to hit big shots. Thanks Jesus… it was a joy watching you play.

All stats and info courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/a/allenra02.html

 

Jesus Shuttlesworth

March Madness to March Sadness

At this point you’ve filled out a countless number of brackets. You’ve been invited to 18 different bracket challenges. This is “the year” your bracket won’t be done by the end of Sunday night. Well I’m here to tell you that if you’re reading this it’s too late. Despite what we all like to think, our March Madness will once again be March Sadness. Hopefully it won’t be too bad for you North Carolina Tar Heel fans. So without further ado let me get to the field of 68 (by the time this is posted we’ll be down to 64).

 

The Contenders

Before getting started I’ll point out that my teams to watch (surprise picks) from last season were terrible. I think only one of the teams won a first round game and none of them made it to the Sweet 16.

North Carolina Tar Heels – Number 1-seed in the East

Pros – experienced team with some star talent. They won the ACC regular season and conference tournament. Led by Brice Johnson who comes in averaging a double-double (16.6 ppg 10.6 rpg). UNC is a deep team at every position. Joel Berry II leads the team in 3 point shooting, Justin Jackson would be considered a “five tool” player if such a thing existed in basketball, then there’s the big man Kennedy Meeks and the rising star Isaiah Hicks. And if that’s not enough there’s – the ACC Preseason Player of the Year – Marcus Paige. Who despite his struggles is starting to look better as of late and is still too dangerous to be counted out.

Cons – Roy Williams, if you know me then you know I’m tough on Roy. Roy’s been outcoached at times this season and he can’t afford to have that now. 3 point shooting – 31.4% as a team – is not UNC’s strength. Joel Berry II has been the team’s most consistent outside threat. Which Tar Heel team will show up? The one that was locked and loaded after a disappointing home defeat to Duke and is currently on a roll with 5 wins in a row. Or the one that comes out flat with no energy and struggles to impose their will on opponents.

Kansas Jayhawks – Number 1-seed in the South

Pros – Kansas is the overall number 1-seed in the tournament. They enter the Big Dance on a 14 GAME WINNING STREAK! 9 of those 14 wins came against teams in the NCAA tournament. Those teams are Kentucky, West Virginia (twice), Oklahoma, Baylor (twice), Texas Tech, Texas, and Iowa State. And like North Carolina they won their regular season and conference tournament titles. The veteran Perry Ellis leads the Jayhawks along with the tough nosed Frank Mason III. Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonte’ Graham have teamed with Mason III to make up a stiff guard trio. Head Coach Bill Self has done what he seems to always do by leading them to their 12th straight Big 12 Regular Season Championship.

Cons – Depth is a problem for the Jayhawks. The four players mentioned above all play over 29 minutes per game with Landen Lucas the next closest with 17.3 min. per game. The scary thing is that talented freshmen Carlton Bragg Jr. and Cheick Diallo have been relegated to the bench for most of the season. Also rebounding will be a key for KU as they enter with a team average of 37.7 rebounds per game (91st in the Nation).

Michigan State Spartans – Number 2-seed in the Midwest

Pros – Denzel Valentine and Tom Izzo. Valentine is expected to win most if not all major National Player of the Year awards. The senior has racked up a stellar season for Sparty. He’s averaging 19.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.6 apg all while shooting 46.4% from the field, 44.7% from 3 point range, and 85% from the free throw line. I think those numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the National attention that he is receiving. Tom Izzo has been one of the best coaches in the NCAA for the last 20 years. The Spartans finished 2nd in the Big Ten during the regular season but won the conference championship. They enter the NCAA Tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games. MSU has a balanced squad and they get help from senior guard Bryn Forbes and senior forward Matt Costello.

Cons – What happens if Valentine has an off night? He does everything on the court but if he has a rough night, who will respond? Junior guard Eron Harris and freshmen forward Deyonta Davis will be expected to raise their levels of play when the tournament tips off.

 

The Rest

This NCAA Tournament is still expected to be full of surprises as it is every March. The West Region is led by the Oregon Ducks but Oklahoma and Texas A&M are lurking on the opposite side of the region. This portion of the bracket is full of tough teams with Duke, Baylor, Texas, Oregon State, and VCU to name a few.

Virginia is the 1-seed in the Midwest. I expect UVA to reach the Elite 8 with their tough defense and senior leader Malcolm Brogdon who was voted ACC Player of the Year and is receiving First-Team All-American selections. Other tough teams in the Midwest include Purdue, Iowa State, and Utah.

The East Region could give us some of the best matchups of the tournament. An Indiana-Kentucky matchup is possible in the 2nd Round with the winner possibly meeting North Carolina in the Sweet 16. A 2nd Round duel between Marcus Paige of UNC and Kris Dunn of Providence could be possible too. West Virginia and Xavier will be slugfest if both teams are able to reach the Sweet 16.

The South Region could either lead to some big time upsets or some big matchups. Most experts have Maryland and California on upset alert. Wichita State won their First Four game versus Vanderbilt and will be a tough challenge for Arizona. The 2-seed Villanova – a perennial tournament slacker – could meet Big 5 rival Temple if both teams take care of their first opponent.

My Final Four is Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan State. I have Michigan State beating Kansas in the championship game. The Jayhawks and Spartans met at the beginning of the season with MSU winning by 6. I’m not putting much stock into that result because both teams were nowhere near the level they’re at right now. Not sure if any of these teams will reach the Final Four but I am sure that we will get plenty of great games and a bunch of “sadness” that all fans of this time of year don’t mind.

 

Stats and info courtesy of:

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/statistics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_Jayhawks_men’s_basketball

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Izzo

 

March Madness to March Sadness

How I Became A Fan of…

With the new month here, I’m going to try and up the number of posts I’ve been doing. The month of August saw me provide a grand total of ONE. With football season gearing up I decided to announce the teams I root for and how/why I started rooting for them. Seeing how I got this idea from The Short Fuse (SB Nation site for all things Arsenal), I think it’s only right that I start with them. http://theshortfuse.sbnation.com/?_ga=1.25431546.67990664.1436485909

How long have I been an Arsenal fan: 2013
How did I become an Arsenal fan: I love sports and after watching the 1994 World Cup I had a love for soccer. As a youngster in the 90s I had no clue of European Soccer Clubs. Then in 2008-2009, I found out about the UEFA Champions League and I was hooked. I got into watching the major European Leagues and my love for the sport grew even more. I couldn’t decide which team to root for but I always had a love of Arsenal. After years of mulling I chose the Gunners and haven’t looked back. I often joke that Arsenal’s coach Arsene Wenger looks like an older version of Michael Cera. Juno is one of my favorite movies but that’s not the point of this post. It often gets frustrating watching Arsenal play but I know they’ll turn the corner in the EPL and do more than just finish in the “Top 4”.

Wenger1

How long have I been a Jackson State fan: Forever
How did I become a Jackson State fan: I was born into this fandom. I generally root for the Tigers in most events. There are other posts that document this very well so I won’t go too in depth. I’ll just say watching JSU shock Louisiana-Lafayette in a 2014 NCAA Regional Baseball game was great. Still keeping hope alive that one of the basketball teams can do the same in March Madness.

How long have I been a New Orleans Pelicans fan: 2012
How did I become a New Orleans Pelicans fan: I was never a fan of a team, just a fan of players. So I’d often default to rooting for the teams they were on. In 2005, I attended my first NBA game and got to see my then favorite player LeBron James. The game just happened to be in New Orleans.   After I moved to New Orleans in 2007, I had the chance to attend a lot of games but I never took the Hornets as my team. After LeBron won his first title with the Miami Heat, I started feeling a little different. The times with LBJ had been fun but I felt a little different about the New Orleans Hornets. Especially after they drafted Anthony Davis – which was the first season I was a half season ticket holder – first overall in the 2012 draft. Going to multiple games made me feel like more of a fan, so I latched on to them. I was able to be a half season ticket holder again the next season. That along with the mascot being changed to the Pelicans really sold me. It was great seeing the run they made last season and I hope it continues to move forward. I think AD will have a big say in that.

How long have I been an Arizona Wildcats Basketball fan: 1995
How did I become an Arizona Wildcats Basketball fan: I used to watch a lot of PAC-10 basketball games late at night. The conference was loaded with talent. The O’Bannon brothers, Jason Kidd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Lamond Murray, Brent Barry, Damon Stoudamire, Tracy Murray, Brevin Knight, Harold Miner and so on. And out of all those guys the thing that attracted me to Arizona was Jason Terry’s long white socks with “CATS” going down the side. I was also a fan of Lute Olson. During Lute’s tenure, Arizona won a National Championship and reached 4 Final Fours but they were also known for getting bounced early in the tournament. The Wildcats haven’t reached the Final Four since losing to Duke in the 2001 NCAA Championship Game.

The other teams I “root” for I can’t even say I seriously “root” for them. I claim the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL but I’m not moved much by them losing game. In MLB, I chose to “root” for the Philadelphia Phillies because I have friends that root for the Atlanta Braves but now that both teams sucks, there’s no point in that. I don’t have a “Big Time” college football team that I root for. I just love watching college football. There’s already enough stress dealing with JSU on Saturdays during the Fall.  I just miss Keith Jackson yelling out “Woah, Nellie!”

How I Became A Fan of…

Goin’ Back To Cali…

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…

Goin’ Back To Cali…

WildCats…Basketball

The Kentucky Invitational or should I say the Midwest Region had a very tidy 2nd Round. Despite there being a few close endings, all of the higher seeds won. It was the 3rd Round that gave us two wins by lower seeds. The two lower seeds to prevail were (5) West Virginia and (7) Wichita State. (1) Kentucky and (3) Notre Dame round out the Sweet 16 in this region.

There were a couple of matchups that pitted teams from close vicinities against each other. Notre Dame knocked off instate rival Butler and the Shockers from Wichita, Kansas handled “big brother” Kansas University to advance to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame made their way to Cleveland, Ohio with two close wins (69-65 over Northeastern and 67-64 over the Bulldogs). In the opening matchup, NE crushed the perimeter oriented Irish on the boards – 33 to 17 – but turned the ball over 16 times.   The Fighting Irish only had 7 turnovers and they attempted 8 more free throws. Zach Auguste led the Irish with 25 points and steady senior guard Jerian Grant provided 17 points and 5 assists. Up by 2 with 3 seconds remaining, Grant came up with a steal. Auguste was fouled after the steal and went to the free throw line and made two free throws to ice the game. The 2nd game for the Irish was close from start to finish. Butler and ND played a thrilling OT game that saw the ACC tourney champs win by 3. The game was forced into OT after Notre Dame kept Butler from scoring in the waning seconds of regulation. In overtime, Grant scored or assisted on 7 of Notre Dame’s 12 points and finished the night with a 16 point -5 assists -5 rebound stat line. Grant and Butler’s Kameron Woods both played all 45 minutes of the contest. Steve Vasturia led the Irish with 20 points and guard Demetrius Jackson chipped in with 13 points. Despite shooting 6 for 20 from 3 the Irish battled to the win. They’ll need senior guard Pat Connaughton to improve his shooting in their next matchup. Connaughton shot 2-9 from 3-point range in the opening weekend games. Wichita St. advanced to the Round of 16 by beating two storied Men’s College Basketball teams. First they knocked off the Indiana Hoosiers 81-76 behind a career high tying 27-point performance from Fred VanVleet. Ron Baker chipped in with 15 points. Despite his poor shooting from the field, Baker was able to knock down 9 out of 10 at the charity stripe. In their hyped 3rd Round matchup, the Shockers faced Kansas. Senior guard Tekele Cotton led the way with 19 points and Fred VanVleet turned in another solid game with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. All five Wichita St. starters posted double figures while defensively they held KU to 35% shooting from the field. Wichita State started the 2nd half with a 3-point lead and broke the game open with a 12-4 run in the first 4 minutes.

In the top half of the Midwest Region Kentucky and West Virginia advanced. After not having his phone call answered by Jesus, Hampton’s head coach Edward Joyner, Jr. watched as the number 1 Wildcats of Kentucky had their way. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with a double double (21 and 11). In their second game, UK played Cincinnati. It was a very ugly first 12:30 for both teams. At the official under 8 timeout the score was 17-16 in favor of UK. By the end of the first half Kentucky had a 7-point lead and it wasn’t much looking back from there. The Wildcats used their superior team depth and length to wear down the Bearcats. Cincy was also hampered by an injury to forward Octavius Ellis. Both teams shot under 40% from the field and Cincinnati held a 7-rebound advantage at the conclusion of the game. The difference was Kentucky doubled up on the number of free throw shots made and attempted by Cincy. Trey Lyles posted 11 points and 11 rebounds while Andrew Harrison scored 13 points. The Wildcats will face the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet 16. WVU got there by beating Buffalo in their opening game and then knocking off Maryland. The Mountaineers were able to hold off the stingy Buffalo Bulls with clutch shooting from Tarik Phillip. After building an 11-point lead in the 2nd half, WVU saw it get erased by the 2:44 mark. With the game tied at 62, Devin Williams stepped to the line with 2:10 left to play and gave WVU the lead for good. After two Buffalo timeouts, Williams grabbed two crucial rebounds for the Mountaineers. One was on the defensive end following a missed layup by Justin Moss and the other came on the offensive end after Gary Browne missed a three pointer. Bob Huggins took a timeout after the rebound and set up a play. Senior guard Juwan Staten found Phillip in the corner for a 3 to ice the game with 29 seconds remaining. Staten had 15 points and 7 assists and Devin Williams put up 17 and 9 rebounds. West Virginia followed up their opening win with a victory over Maryland. Devin Williams backed up his first tournament game with a 16 points and 10 rebounds performance. The Mountaineers had 3 other starters post double-digit points. But the story of the game was 23 turnovers by Maryland. WVU is the Nation’s team leaders in steals per game and snatched 15 on Sunday. A factor leading to those 23 turnovers was the head injury to Maryland’s outstanding freshman guard Melo Trimble. Trimble was knocked out of the game briefly after a hard screen by WVU. He returned and but was again forced out for good after being kneed in the head on a play by teammate Damonte Dodd. WVU is making their first trip to the Sweet 16 since reaching the Final Four in 2010. They have the unenviable task of facing Kentucky but freshman guard Daxter Miles, Jr. is very confident after stating that Kentucky will “be 36-1” after Thursday’s game.

WVU brings a tough defense to the table versus UK but will they have enough depth and scoring to overcome the Wildcats? I don’t think they will and I’m sure UK will be motivated after the comments from Miles. The matchup between Notre Dame and Wichita St. should be entertaining. Two teams that can get in the open court and put up points when needed. Guard play between the two teams will be important and I’m looking forward to the matchup of VanVleet-Grant but the deciding factor will be post play. In the end I see UK coming out of this region.

A little fun with one of my favorite movies…Wildcats. You got Goldie Hawn, a young Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, and the legendary Nipsey Russell. The movie is full of great quotes, a cameo and song from LL Cool J. It’s a football movie but I’m sure we can sub in “basketball” for the chorus in this song.

WildCats…Basketball