We have our Final Four set after a long four-day period of games. We’ve seen far too many blowouts for my liking, but Michigan versus Kansas was a game that I’m sure I’ll be watching ten years from now. I’m surprised how many blowouts have occurred, but it’s clear who the contenders are and who the pretenders are.

The Elite Eight was a pretty big disappointment with only one game really competitive and that was only for a late stretch between Ohio State and Wichita State. Despite the lack of exciting games, I was enjoying most of the weekend from a personal view. I’ll quickly recap how my bracket was doing, before the ultimate letdown happened.

After Indiana’s loss, I thought that my bracket was done. That changed after going undefeated on Friday and Wichita’s State upset hurting most people’s brackets. Michigan’s dominant win over Florida pushed me to seventh place out of 408th place. That is pretty impressive, almost as good as being second in 2010 after West Virginia upset Kentucky.

My hopes were high going into the late game with my upset pick of Duke. That was quickly shredded in the second half and I just sat there in disgust. From a personal view, Duke is up there with UConn as my most hated team. This loss just added more fuel to the ammunition.

Before I get into the article, I want to send my prayers to Kevin Ware. His injury was one of the most brutal injuries I’ve ever seen. Ware was a key bench player and will be missed. Hopefully, we see him back on a basketball court someday because that is the worst way to end your career.

 

The Worst Of The NCAA Tournament Part 2

Zeller and Indiana were no match for Syracuse's athleticism. 

Top Seeds Collapse In East Region

Many people including myself predicted a matchup between Indiana and Miami in the Elite Eight. They were among the top five teams in the country when it came to consistently playing at a high level during the season. Both teams had their respective star players but they failed to produce against Big East opponents.

This was a tough matchup for Indiana considering how athletic Syracuse was and how they can give Indiana’s guards a tough time. What surprised me the most was how Victor Oladipo only took six shots. They took him out of the game for the majority of the game. Indiana shot 33 percent and had 18 turnovers, which were the main reasons for their early exit from the tournament.

I’m still shocked by how poorly Miami played considering Marquette isn’t as good as their third seed ranking. They weren’t a great shooting team, but they managed to go 54 percent from the field. Miami simply couldn’t keep up missing wide-open three pointers and Durand Scott making terrible decisions through out the game.

Both teams shot very poorly from three-point range, which massively hurts considering both teams tend to shoot many three-pointers. If anyone else was more exposed from the Sweet 16 than Cody Zeller, please find me that player. Zeller looked hesitant to bang inside and once again made poor decisions going against double teams and contested shots rather than passing to the open man.

Kansas Chokes Again

If you are looking back at recent memory besides last year, it’s pretty evident that Kansas has consistently disappointed in the NCAA tournament. In 2010, they lost to Northern Iowa after being ranked as the number one team throughout the year. In 2011, they lost to VCU in the elite eight as a number one seed. With a very difficult region, it looked like they were going to fail to make the Final Four again as a number one seed.

They were proving me wrong throughout the game and dominated the paint. It was a team effort rather than Jeff Whitney controlling the game. Ben McLemore regained his confidence and played like a top five pick. Everything seemed to go smooth for Kansas, until they got sloppy with two minutes to go.

Elijah Johnson and Nadir Thorpe were starting to make poor decisions and they weren’t playing physical enough on Trey Burke. Why they didn’t foul him when Michigan clearly needed a three pointer to send the game to overtime is beyond me. Burke was starting to get hot, after a rough start and was making Kansas pay for giving him space.

As the game went to overtime, I kept wondering where McLemore was on the court. Similar to close games I’ve watched of Kansas during the year, he faded away in crunch time. Just like in close victories against Oklahoma State and Iowa State during the season, McLemore was an afterthought and Kansas lost this time.

Aaron Craft’s Failures

Ohio State could have played much better against Wichita State, but they clearly needed Aaron Craft to play better. They could have shot better from three-point range, but Craft is the leader and catalyst for their offense. He simply couldn’t deliver against an athletic Wichita State backcourt

Craft looked slow and overmatched going up against the likes of Malcolm Armstead and Fred Van Vleet. He couldn’t find many openings and Ohio State became too reliant on jump shots, which led to them being down by 20 at one point. Despite the near comeback win, Craft didn’t do much too contribute.

He shot 2 for 12 from the field, including seven of those shots being from three-point range. Craft has never been a good shooter to the point, where he can’t hit a 12-foot jump shot consistently. This is worse than Rajon Rondo when you compare the two. At least Rondo is very explosive, while Craft is more of a sound player that relies on craftiness.

It didn’t help that he shot only 3 of 9 from the field against Arizona, including missing a key free throw and layup late in the game to make it much closer than it should have. Craft is going to be a senior next year, which shocks me because it seems like he’s been in college basketball for four years already. He needs to work on his jump shot because every point guard should be able to hit a 12 to 15 foot jump shot on a consistent basis.

Duke’s Second Half Debacle

The vibe coming from the Duke versus Louisville matchup was a championship feeling. Both teams were very consistent this year and were among the top eight teams in the country during the regular season. For the first 20 minutes, the game looked very even and it was shaping out to be an instant classic. Then the second half happened and everything went downhill.

Duke did have some issues with Louisville’s heavy press, but they were still within one possession going into halftime. It came down to execution and Duke simply didn’t shoot well. Seth Curry was mostly held in check, while Ryan Kelly became an afterthought in the second half. They were 4 for 16 from three-point range, which played into Louisville’s defensive game plan.

I’m not going to deny that I completely underestimated Gorgui Dieng’s presence in the middle. His 11 rebounds and four blocks were huge for Louisville, as Duke never really had any success driving into the paint. Other than Jeff Whitney, it’s safe to say that there isn’t a more dominant presence in the paint defensively than Dieng.

It still surprised me how much Duke faltered. They have three star players in Curry, Kelly, and Mason Plumlee who can take over any game. The fact that neither of the three got going was pretty scary. They couldn’t recover in the second half and Duke’s non-seniors didn’t step up when they were called upon.

Gators Were Stomped

I’m not sure why I thought Florida were slightly better than Michigan last week. Florida seemed to be more balanced, but their lack of star power couldn’t have been more evident compared to Michigan. On Michigan, you have three caliber NBA players. I’m struggling to see anyone from Florida that can be successful in the NBA.

Erik Murphy has always impressed with his ability to score inside and outside. His versatile scoring caught my attention so much that I forgot to realize how slow he is. He’s not very physical either but he becomes predictable when he tries to drive. Michigan’s athletic defense gave him so many problems, which led to him being shut out.

Florida’s star guard duo of Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario seemed overmatched. Rosario is very crafty and can score in so many different angles, but his lack of speed had him struggling against Michigan. Boynton has always been very streaky and once again failed to take over when Florida needed a lift.

Similar to Duke, they are losing all three senior players that I’ve mentioned. This has always been a successful program, but they need to start establishing more stars. Florida seemed to benefit from a weak SEC conference despite being very talented. They looked completely overmatched yesterday, especially when it came to handling Michigan’s transition game.

 

The Best Of The NCAA Tournament Part 2

The shot that nobody will ever forget and made Trey Burke into an even bigger deal.

Syracuse’s Defensive Dominance

I’ve never had full confidence in Syracuse this season due to their inconsistency. Despite James Southerland missing a month due to academic issues, they still never seemed to put it all together. Despite having so much talent offensively, they were held to below 50 points in both of their regular season encounters with Georgetown.

While they may be still underachieving offensively, the 2-3-zone defense has led to them to the final four. The zone has given teams fits, which has led to many turnovers and contested three point attempts. Indiana hasn’t been that dominated all season long, yet Syracuse had their way with them.

The improvement of Michael Carter-Williams has really given Syracuse an extra boost that they needed. Carter-Williams has all the talent in the world, but he went through rough phases during the season with turnovers and poor shooting. In the last two games, he’s only turned the ball over twice while averaging 18 points.

The defensive performance against Marquette will go down as one of the most dominant defensive displays in history of the Elite Eight. They held Marquette to 22 percent shooting from the field and 3 for 24 from three-point range. Vander Blue has been on fire for most of the tournament was held in check, while Syracuse pulled away in the second half on their way to the Final Four.

The Shockers Are Proudly Representing Mid-Majors

In 2010 and 2011, we witnessed Butler put together back-to-back outstanding tournament runs. They made it to the national title game, even though they fell short both times. Who can forget VCU’s magical run in 2011 to the final four as an eleventh seed. Now we get to see Wichita State as the next great underdog story.

It didn’t surprise how much they dominated an undersized La Salle team. They out-rebounded La Salle by 21 rebounds to easily get to the Elite Eight. If you read my column last week, I said that Wichita State is the only team in that region that can give Ohio State massive problems.

They did just that despite shooting only 37 percent from the field. For the majority of the game, Wichita State showed how athletic and aggressive they were by manhandling Ohio State. They have enough big men that rebound consistently, guards that can get to the rim and hit a high amount of three pointers. There were some miscommunications at times, but they were never rattled by the late rally by Ohio State.

Anthony Armstead may have shot only 6 for 21, but he did an excellent job at creating openings for his teammates and never slowed down. Carl Hall had six blocks, including one to seal the upset win. The Missouri Valley Conference was always respected, but now it’s getting national recognition with the emergence of Wichita State.

The Trey Burke Show

I’ve always been a believer in Trey Burke. In college basketball, it’s always apparent that you need a talented point guard to win then national title. They have the point guard in Burke, who is the best point guard in the country. Some people would choose Shane Larkin, but to me Burke is more of a playmaker.

He tends to be streaky with his shot, but he’s proven to be a true point guard. His chemistry with Mitch McGary has been special throughout the tournament, with their pick-and-roll and how Burke gets into the lane. He’s had seven or more assists in all four games of the tournament.

The performance against Kansas alone deserves his own section of this column. For 37 minutes of the game, Kansas looked like the superior team. Burke was struggling with his shot but he was cool under pressure. He was hitting three pointers at ridiculous angles, which nobody saw coming since Kansas was frustrating him.

Burke didn’t play great against Florida, but he once again contributed in different areas. He had seven assists to go along with eight rebounds. The fact that a six-foot point guard had eight rebounds in such a big game is outstanding.  Burke may not be a great shooter compared to other talented guards, but his overall ability has made him the most dangerous player in college basketball.

The Rest Of The Michigan Team

Some people tend to put too much stock in seeds. Once Michigan was ranked as a fourth seed, this looked like the perfect team to make a run. They are so balanced offensively, but a few late game failures led to their stock falling.

Michigan lacked a scoring big man throughout the season, but the rise of McGary has been huge in their run towards the final four. He hasn’t scored more than 14 points this season, yet broke out to score 21 points against VCU. Then he kept Michigan in the game with his 25 points against Kansas going at Jeff Whitney on numerous occasions. He’s starting to boost his NBA stock and he’s only a freshman.

The rise of McGary’s performances has led to more openings for his teammates. Glenn Robinson III has been more efficient, while Nik Stauskas had his breakout game against Florida. Michigan doesn’t get much production from the bench, but their five starters do more than enough.

The only other player that hasn’t shined yet is Tim Hardaway Jr. Other than his 21-point performance against South Dakota State, he’s struggled with his shot. It’s only a matter of time before he has a big game though. Other than their lack of size, Michigan has pretty much every quality of being a championship caliber team. There isn’t any team left that has a massive amount of size, which will be huge for their three-guard system.

Louisville Is Close To Being Unstoppable

I’ve been skeptical of Louisville based on their regular season play, despite only losing five games. They have done pretty much everything possible to make every critic into a believer. No team has dominated their opponents like Louisville so far in the tournament, especially manhandling a team like Duke.

The Louisville full court press has caused massive problems. It has led to easy buckets and has shown how athletic Louisville is. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are literally flying to the ball on just about every possession. They remind me of Missouri from 2010 with their “forty minutes of hell” style by pressing their opponents and relying on transition scoring.

I’m not sure who’s the best player in the tournament, but you’ll be hard pressed to pick someone other than Trey Burke or Russ Smith. Smith has been more efficient by shooting 50 percent or more through most of Louisville’s games. Smith has become a game changer and is the front-runner for MVP of the tournament.

I’ve mentioned the emergence of Gorgui Dieng defensively, but he’s also improved offensively. He’s scored in double-digits every game and has given them a low-post scorer. Siva isn’t a great shooter, but he’s been more efficient by making more plays than turning it over. Louisville was the favorite going into the tournament and has proven every bit of that to be true.

 

Final Four Picks

Other than Michigan, I got all my final four picks wrong. The sad thing is that in late February, I had Michigan as my second team to win it all. I’ve always done two brackets, so my first bracket had Indiana winning it all. After Michigan’s late season struggles, Duke turned into my second pick based on how much talent they had.

Despite their fluke loss to Maryland, they looked ready to make a huge tournament push. They had a good tournament, but lost to the hottest team in the country. If Michigan manages to win the tournament, I’ll be shaking my head for turning my back on them.

As for the Final Four, I have Lousiville rolling over Wichita State. It has been a great run for Wichita State, but they struggled against Ohio State’s press. It could get ugly against Louisville, which makes me believe this game has double-digit loss written all over it.

Michigan versus Syracuse is a toss-up with both teams playing so well. How Trey Burke deals with the 2-3-zone should be very intriguing. I’m going with Michigan due to the presence of McGary. Syracuse hasn’t faced a physical specimen like him, who is willing to bang down low compared to Cory Zeller. It will be close, but Syracuse’s inconsistent shooting will catch up to them.

The national title game should finally push Louisville to a single digit game. Michigan is a team that can handle the press though by dominating VCU, who has given teams’ fits all year with their press. It will go down to the wire, but Michigan’s three-point shooting will be the difference maker. Michigan will beat Louisville and I’ll be slamming my head against a wall for changing my pick to Duke.

 

I’ll be back next Tuesday to recap everything from Final Four weekend to the national title game. I’d consider doing a national title game preview, but I don’t think it’s that necessary. Plus, I’ll be trying to recover from a lackluster Wrestlemania that I’m paying so much money to go that I’m not even revealing the price. My friends are such marks. Anyway, thanks for reading and good luck to you if your bracket is still somehow alive to win money.

You can follow me at @Allen_Strk on twitter or e-mail me at AStrk19@gmail.com for questions or you can comment below.