Well I can safely say that no one expected this! Over nine million people participated in the tournament challenge and none of them have a perfect bracket. Including me! In my best bracket, I’m ranked in the top two million in the country and I have Arizona beating Florida in the national championship and winning the whole thing. From the looks of things, I could be right! Arizona only has to defeat San Diego State and either Baylor or Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. Let’s review on some of the crazy things that has happened in the past week.
Duke just can’t get it done in the tournament. They did fairly well last year, losing to the eventual national champion Louisville in the Elite Eight, but in 2012, Duke lost to Lehigh in the first round as a 2-seed! Ever since they won the national championship in 2010, Duke has fallen short of expectations. For a Tar Heel fan like me, that was awesome when Mercer defeated them in the first round 78-71! Don’t worry Blue Devils, you’re going to have a great team next year with the addition of Jahlil Okafor, the best overall player in high school recruiting. With this dominating center joining Mike Krzyzewski’s team next season, Duke will remain as a deadly force in the national tournament.
Kentucky making headlines. The Wildcats were not expected to go far in the national tournament this year after falling out of the top 25 in the last week of the regular season. However, they were the only team to beat Wichita State this year after the 78-76 victory on Sunday. The Shockers were shocked this time as Julius Randle put up 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists with the Harrison twins combining for 39 points in the win. If Kentucky can beat Louisville on Friday, they will look like a team that’s ready to make a case for another championship.
Goodbye Doug McDermott. After Baylor crushed Creighton 85-55, senior Doug McDermott played his last college game. He finished as the 5th all-time leading scorer in college basketball history and will probably land with a good team in the NBA as a mid to late first round pick in the upcoming draft. The Creighton Bluejays put up a good run, but now they will have to watch from afar as Baylor plays Wisconsin on Thursday.
There were a lot of other story lines involved in this tournament, but now that the Sweet Sixteen has been decided, I’m sure that even more stories will unfold with these teams. Hopefully the rest of the tournament will provide just as much fun and excitement as the last games have produced.
Wisconsin has lost two straight to Indiana and Michigan. Arizona, Syracuse, and Wichita State are now the only undefeated teams left in Division I basketball. Arizona took down in-state rival Arizona State 91-68 last Thursday and will take on a tough Colorado team next Thursday on January 23rd. Syracuse faced Pittsburgh for their first ACC meeting and their 103rd overall last Saturday night and it was the Orangemen that came out on top 59-54. That was Pitt’s first ACC loss of the season and drops them to 16-2 (4-1). Then Wichita State blew out Indiana State 68-48 to go 18-0 for the first time in program history. So why are these three teams still undefeated midway through the season? Well let’s start with Arizona.
Besides Duke, UNLV, and Michigan, they had a fairly easy non-conference schedule to begin the season. They’re balanced both offensively and defensively. They control the inside of the paint because of super-freshman Aaron Gordon and they pass the ball to the open man (they are 29th in the nation in assists per game). Head Coach Sean Miller has done a terrific job at handling these young athletes so that they can play as one solid unit (they only have one senior on the roster and five freshmen). The only teams that should give Arizona trouble for the rest of the season are Colorado, California, and Oregon. If Arizona could hold up against those guys and the rest of their opponents, they could go undefeated for the rest of the year and head back to that national championship that they’ve been waiting for since 1997. Then there’s Syracuse. Jim Boeheim’s zone defense is looking better than ever thanks to experienced players like C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and Rakeem Christmas. The Orange don’t exactly pop out at you on offense, but they say the best defense is the best offense. Speaking of offense, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has been running the Orange’s offense to literally perfection while senior C.J. Fair is having the best year of his illustrious career averaging 17.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. He will be a sure first round pick in this upcoming NBA draft that is just loaded with talent. For NBA teams, it doesn’t matter if you make the playoffs or not, you will still end up drafting a future superstar player no matter what pick you have in the draft. Last, but not least is Wichita State.
They have been blowing by everyone they have played against. Just like Syracuse, they have a great defense that crashes the boards (they are 31st in the nation in rebounding). During their perfect run, they have not allowed an opponent to score more than 72 points against them all year. After Wisconsin’s loss, they should move up to the third or fourth ranking in the nation, something that Coach Gregg Marshall probably didn’t dream of since he took over the program in 2007. Looking at their schedule, they should remain undefeated unless someone else “shocks” them. Their offense runs through their talented sophomore point guard Fred Van Vleet and their senior big man Cleanthony Early. With this one-two punch on the court, Wichita State could be fighting for a number one seed in the national tournament, something that will really “shock” the world! Sorry about the puns. I just can’t help it! It’s too easy!
So you’ve got the dominating Arizona Wildcats, the smart and experienced Syracuse Orangemen, and the suprisingly talented Wichita State Shockers. Keep your eyes open for these three; either one of them could make history this year.
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