*This article was composed prior to Grayson Allen's indefinite suspension.Read More
The Duke Blue Devils for the 2nd time this season knocked off the Wisconsin Badgers, 68-63, also winning their 5th title in school history, Coach K being apart of all of them. I picked the Badgers in this game only because I don't like Duke, but with my hatred aside, I expected Duke to win the title back in November, mainly because of their stellar freshmen. Jahlil Okafor didn't have monster game, 10 points, 3 board, and 4 fouls, but Tyus Jones did, walking away with the Most Outstanding Players award for scoring 19 of Duke's 37 second half points.
First and Foremost, I want to say this was a very good basketball game with some very good basketball players. The battle inside between Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor was an entertaining chess match. Both players are skilled post players and has some moves that you don't see too often in this guard influence era of basketball. Frank being a senior looked to be the more skilled big man in the matchup, forcing Jahlil to sit early in the 1st half with two fouls.
Okafor had issues with guarding Kaminsky because of his ability to play outside of the paint, also a mean dropped step. Numerous times, Kaminsky took Jahlil off the dribble from the top of the key which led to him being in early foul trouble. Kaminsky scored 21 points and grabbed 12 boards against the Blue Devils, but Jahlil came up with a couple big plays late in the game, with two buckets and a big offensive rebound.
With 13:39 remaining in the game, Wisconsin was leading 48-39, on a 17-8 run to begin the half. Kamisky dominating the paint was really opening things for Wisconsin, not only because the Okafor wasn't on the court but also it forced the Blue Devils to double which opened things up for the guards on the perimeter. Nigel Hayes went 3-3 before missing his first 3-pointer, finishing with 13 points.
Bronson Koenig also contributed 10 points but I thought late in the game he made some bad decisions, not working the ball around the horn or getting it to the big fella.
Duke's defense was the big reason for their victory. Speaking with my partner, Jeris Brooks - biggest Duke Fan I know, it sad - we both agreed that the Dukies had to stop Sam Dekker from going bonkers, and they did. Even though Kaminsky went for numbers, we both expected that, but Dekker only finished with 12 points, half of which came from tip-ins.
I was expecting Sam to score 25 just because I thought it was his opportunity for him to make his claim as a high draft pick, instead he went 0-6 from the trey ball line.
The best player on the court was Tyus Jones. Jones finished with 23 points, shooting 7-13 from the field. When Jahlil got into foul trouble, Tyus closed out the game, along with some help from Grayson Allen, who also scored 16. This isn't new for Tyus though, he's been closing out games all year, did it against North Carolina, did it against Virginia, and now he did it in the National Championship. I'm not sure what more a FRESHMAN would have to do to prove that he is ready. My rule for 1-n-done is, one must win the National Championship or win the Wooden Award, so he is all good in my book. He doesn't have the prototypical size for a guard but the boy can hoop.
This is another ring for coach K and a first for 4-year senior Quin Cook, who was the leader of this team. Like I said before I HATE Duke, I will always root against them, but I actually like the players on this team because of their skills and how they play basketball. Jones, Okafor, Winslow, Allen, all made a fan out of me. Congrats to Duke and Coach K for their championship run.
I can't think of one year where I was disappointed with March Madness, and this year was no different. Like always, the first two rounds are very cinematic, but now we are down to the FINAL FOUR teams. It will be an eventful final three games of the 2014-15 College Basketball season.
#1 Kentucky Wildcats
Road to the Final Four:
- 2nd round - #16 Hampton 79-56
- 3rd round - #8 Cincinnati 64-51
- Sweet 16 - #5 West Virginia 78-39
- Elite 8 - #3 Notre Dame 68-66
The Wildcats are only two games away from completing their pursuit on perfection. For the first time this season, I actually believe that they will do it. The way they ended the Notre Dame game wasn't spectacular, game winning free throws by Andrew Harrison, but the block by Willie Cauley-Stien on the previous possession might have been the biggest play of the tournament.
All season long people told me that they will finish undefeated and I said I'll believe when it happens, well I think I will have to become a believer. It's not that I don't want them to see complete the pursuit, I just think it is very difficult. The most important thing you need for to go undefeated is defense and the Wildcats are easily the best defensive team in the Final Four round. They got their first dose of a premier offense in Notre Dame, holding them to only 46% shooting.
Kentucky's experience will also be important. This is Calipari's 4th trip to the Final Four in the last 5 years. The Harrison Twins, Cauley-Stien, and Dakari Johnson will play in their second straight Final Four, obviously looking to get that sour taste UConn left in their mouth. If they can complete this quest for 40-0, I will have to strongly consider if they are indeed the best team ever but as of now, I say no.
#1 Wisconsin Badgers
Road to the Final Four:
- 2nd round - #16 Coastal Carolina 86-72
- 3rd round - #8 Wisconsin 72-65
- Sweet Sixteen - #4 North Carolina 79-82
- Elite 8 - #2 Arizona 85-78
While Kentucky is the best defensive team in the Final Four, Wisconsin is the best offensive team, averaging 80 points in the tournament. Just like the Wildcats, this is the Badgers second straight trip to the Final Four, with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traeveon Jackson, and Josh Gasser all returning from that Final Four team.
Last year, I think the Badgers were underdogs in the Final Four round, and even though they are going up against the overall favorite, I don't think we can consider them underdogs. They have the experience, the possible Player of the Year in Kaminsky, and to me, one of the best players in the country, Sam Dekker.
Last year the Badgers lost to UK thanks to Aaron Harrison game winning trey ball, which I'm sure they have not forgot about. Zach Aguste of Notre Dame scored 20 points against the Wildcats' BIGS which should give Kaminsky great confidence going into this game. Kaminsky best attribute for this game is that he can always bring one of those trees outside of the paint because he can shoot the ball. Stretching the floor is a must against UK, along with shooting the rock effectively.
Against Arizona in the Elite 8, the Badgers were 12-18 from the three point line. I'm not sure if they will be able to match that again vs. Kentucky, but it's not impossible.
#1 Duke Blue Devils
Road to the Final Four:
- 2nd round - #16 Robert Morris 85-56
- 3rd round - #8 San Diego State 68-49
- Sweet 16 - #5 Utah 63-57
- Elite 8 - #2 Gonzaga 66-52
The Blue Devils are probably the quietest team in the Final Four and what I mean by quiet is that not much have been said about them, mainly because they did everything they were supposed to do. No one really gave the Blue Devils a scare, except for maybe Utah, but I never got the feeling they were going to lose the game.
I actually think the Blue Devils could beat the Wildcats becuase they have the big man in the middle Jahlil Okafor. Jahalil dropped 21 and 26 in the first two games of the tournament but has only scored a combined 15 points in the last two games. Along with Kaminsky, I think Okafor can handle the four trees UK has in the paint because he has a post game. For some reason people want to say Karl Anthony Towns is the better player, but I don't see it and I like Towns. When it comes to footwork and fundamentals, Okafor is by far the better player. Towns has him beat on the defensive end, but I don't see him stopping Okafor when it matters. It will be fun to watch though, if it happens.
Coach K will have his hands full preparing his team for Michigan State but it shouldn't be too hard. I thought this was one of the better Gonzaga teams they had in recent memory and Duke held them to 52 points and 44% shooting, both tournament lows for the Zags. If its a team that could match the Wildcats on talent, Duke is the one. Tyus Jones and Quin Cook are one of the best backcourts in the country and probably second to only the Harrison Twins. One thing they can't do is sleep on Michigan State.
#7 Michigan State Spartans
Road to the Final Four:
- 2nd round - #10 Georgia 70-63
- 3rd round - #2 Virginia 60-54
- Sweet 16 - #3 Oklahoma 72-66
- Elite 8 - #4 Louisville 76-70 OT
The Spartans remind me of how UConn went through the tournament last year. Came into the tournament with low expectations from the outside world, defeated 3 higher seeds in the three straight games, and was the 7th seed. The more they won, the more people started to realize that it's not impossible for them to be in the Final Four, similar to UConn last year. Obviously they are the underdogs but they're not your typical underdog, mainly because of Tom Izzo
This will be Tom Izzo's 7th trip to the Final Four since he became head coach at Michigan State back in 1995. I don't care what seed his team is, no matter what, Izzo will make sure his team is built and ready for the tournament. I don't like how people try to hop his wagon now that his team is in the Final Four because if you been paying attention, you would know this is nothing new. I said in our bracketology article, that the Spartans are sleepers but with Izzo coaching, don't count them out. Why? Because we go through this every year.
Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson has become a very effective Big 3 this tournament, averaging a combined 44 points a game. Guard play is what wins in the tournament and these three guards together make it tough for any team. The one thing that I admire about this Spartan team is that they have made every team play their style of basketball, which is very physical. None of their games have been pretty nor an up and down battle. It will be interesting to see how they manage, being the smallest team in the Final Four, but it hasn't been an issue for them yet.
After a great first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, we are now heading into the nitty gritty of the Big Dance. Before I get into my preview of what should be an entertaining Sweet 16, I want to recap some of my predictions from the earlier rounds. I did miss on a couple, like predicting the Hoyas to exit in the 1st round, but I was right about a few too. I said the BIG 12 was overrated, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor all losing in the first two rounds. I said the ACC was the best conference, 5 teams in the Sweet 16, most out of any conference. And I said that Nova had a tough matchup with NC-State, who is the only 8th seed in the Sweet 16.
Midwest: #1 Kentucky v. #5 West Virginia, #3 Notre Dame v. #7 Wichita State
Kentucky is only 4 games away from the record books but from here on out it's not going to be easy. Cincinnati gave them a tough challenge but they manage to still win by 15 even though they were out rebounded 43-35. Cincy couldn't hit their shots reason why they lost by 15 but they did irritate the Wildcats. I think the Mountaineers can do the same thing but they also might struggle to score against this great defensive team. The full court press of the mountaineers will keep them in the game but the size disadvantage in the paint will be the deciding factor for the Wildcats. Towns and Cauley-Stein could have a monster game against the undersized front court of the Mountaineers. If WVU can keep this game in the backcourt, along with knocking down 45% of their shots, they'll have a chance of shocking the world.
Notre Dame defeated Northeastern and Butler by a combined 7 points, so their road has yet to be easy. Luckily for the Irish they are Tournament ready. They have their closer in Jerrian Grant and a great supporting cast. In both games, someone other than Jerrian Grant led the team in scoring. Zach Auguste scored 22 points against Northeastern and Steve Vasturia scored 20 points scored Butler. Wichita State will be another tough challenge for the Irish, mainly because of their experience. Not shocked at all that the Shockers beat Kansas because like I been saying all season, they were overrated. This is a tough game to pick because both sqauds are very even. I will give the edge to the Irish just because they have a POY candidate in Jerrian Grant, but I think it will be a instant classic.
West: #1 Wisconsin v. #4 UNC, #6 Xavier v. #2 Arizona
The Badgers had somewhat of a scare against Oregon, which I wasn't surprised by. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker combined for 33 points while Joseph Young of Oregon dropped 30. The Badgers look like they are ready for another run to the Final Four and I'm sure they still remember how Kentucky ended their championship hopes. North Carolina could be a tough matchup depending on which Carolina team show up. Carolina is a very talented team but sometimes doesn't play up to their potential. If Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson can get into an early groove, I think they will be able to beat the Badgers. J.P. Tokoto will be the x-factor in this game, and to me, for the entire tournament.
The funny thing about this region is that it could possibly be an Elite 8 rematch between Arizona and Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Zona in the West region Elite 8. TJ McConnell, Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jeffereson all return from that 2013-14 Zona squad so I'm sure they are hoping for another crack at the Badgers. First they will have to go through Xavier who hasn't seen a caliber team like Arizona yet. I don't think the Musketeers has what it take to knock off the hungry Wildcats.
East: #8 NC-State v. #4 Louisville, #3 Oklahoma v. #7 Michigan State
I don't think anyone got this part of the bracket right. The only region without a #1 or #2 seed in the Sweet 16. I said along with the Midwest, this is the toughest region. The Wolfpack continue their Cinderella run, defeating LSU with a buzzer beater after being down 14 at halftime, then defeated the #1 seeded Villanova WIldcats by three. Next they have Lousiville who they already beat earlier this season, 74-65, while the Cards still had Chris Jones. I'm not really sure if they can knock off the cards again but it's not impossible. Louisville has had moments through out the season where, like Carolina, they don't play to their potential. It hasn't happened in the tournament so far but if it does, the Wolfpack could possible take another win from them. I do think the Cards will actually play well, especially Montrezl Harrell who only scored 7 points in that first matchup.
Surprised that Oklahoma actually made it this far. I thought the committee was a little too generous with their #3 seed but they are making the committee look right about that decision. Now they have to deal with a totally different beast than #14 Albany and #11 Dayton with the Michigan State Spartans. Three things are for certain in this world, Death, Taxes, and Tom Izzo in the tournament. You can never count out a Michigan State team whenever Tom Izzo is on the sideline. I like the Spartans in this match-up just because I think the Big 12 is overrated and Tom Izzo is on the sideline.
South: #1 Duke v. #5 Utah, #11 UCLA vs #2 Gonzaga
I said this region would have the most upsets and I was wrong on that prediction, only 1 major upset UAB over Iowa State. I do still think it is the weakest especially when you look at who the two top teams have to play to advance to the elite 8. Duke has Utah, who isn't a bad team, and could possibly give Duke a good run but I don't think they have enough to keep up with the Dukies. Delon Wright is a big guard who score some points but so far in the tournament he is 4-14. The Utes also have a freshman 7'0 center in Jakob Poeltl from Australia, so they could match the size in the paint but I don't if they can match the production, and who is going to stop Tyus Jones.
I said that this may be the best Gonzaga team in awhile and they're proving me right, scoring 173 points in the first two games, most out of all remaining teams. UCLA is proving to everyone that they do in fact belong in the tournament but that will end when they step on the court against Gonzaga.
The South region is probably one of the weakest on the bracket. Not to many intriguing matchups and it looks like it could be an easy road for the top seeds. Only thing is I think there will be some 1st round shockers to come out of this region.
Duke is the only #1 seed out of the four regions to not win their conference title, in fact, they didn't even make it to the Finals. Duke still is one of the best teams in the county, just couldn't get over the Irish hump. All 4 of their losses came against conference foes, twice to Notre Dame. The Blue Devils also have two diaper dandies in Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Young. Of course Okafor is the best player on the team but I think Tyus is the key to them making it to the title game. Despite being a Freshman, Tyus has had some of his best games this season in the biggest games, @Wisconsin, @UVA, and against Carolina in overtime.
His last game was a bad one though, along with Quinn Cook, combined shooting 6-25 from the field in the ACC Semifinal against Notre Dame. Coach K can't afford to have both of his stellar guards to have bad shooting nights.
After being snubbed last season, SMU made it to the tournament, thanks to their AAC tournament run, defeating UConn in the finals. SMU didn't do well in their 8 tournament games, finishing 3-5, 2 of those losses coming against Cincinnati.
A lot of people are jumping on the Iowa State bandwagon and rightfully so. They are the BIG 12 champs and has won 8 out of their last ten. A lot of their hype is coming from them being in the overrated BIG 12 because they do have two non-conference losses to Maryland and South Carolina, while going 12-6 in the Big 12. I actually do like Iowa State because they play good team basketball and can put up points. They can score with the best of them but they do show signs of inconsistency.
I think this may be one of Gonzaga's best teams ever. With Kyle Wiltjer, the former Kentucky Wildcat who was apart of that 2012 championship team, they have a player who has been through the fire already. For the NCAA Tournament, you need that player that can just take over games, usually it's a guard, but I think Wiltjer is that kind of player. Plus they have depth and in both front court and back court, with some size. This could be the year the Zags finally get over the hump.
The one thing I find intriguing about this region is, it has some legitimate potential upsets.
- Eastern Washington over Georgetown wouldn't be a bad pick. EWU has the nation's leading scorer in Tyler Harvey, and is 2-1 vs tournament teams, one of which coming on the road at Indiana.
- Then you have Stephen F. Austin, who defeated VCU last year in the first round and they are returning 6 players from that game, 3 of which being starters.
- North Dakota State, also was victorious last season in the first round as the 12th seed, defeating Oklahoma. Only three players return from that team one which being Lawrence Alexander who averages 19 points a game. I think they will need to play the perfect game in order to beat the Zags though..
Players to Watch
- #1 Duke v. #9 St. Johns, Third Round - I think the Johnnie's could give the Blue Devils a good run but their inconsistency leaves a big question mark. Duke beat St. Johns earlier this season 77-68.
- #3 Iowa State v. #2 Gonzaga, Sweet 16 - The matchup between Niang and Wiltjer should be very fun to watch.
- #1 Duke v. #2 Gonzaga, Elite 8 - If this does in fact happen, I think this will be the best game of the tournament.
Welcome to the 2nd week of the Fan-i 12, where we rank the 12 best college basketball teams in the country. We decided to rank 12 teams because, one, it's a lot more convenient and quicker than 25, and two, this is an indication of who we think will be the top seeds come tourney time. So lets get the ranking.
Here is the AP rankings so you can compare the two.
Kentucky (22-0) LW 1 - The Wildcats went through the week 2-0, defeating Georgia and Florida. The Gators gave the Wildcats problems, fighting to the finish, but the Wildcats pulled it out 68-61.
Virginia (21-1) LW 2 - The Cavaliers went 2-0 last week, defeating Louisville and North Carolina. UVA might have the best defense in the country, similar to last season. Against Louisville, they held the Cardinals scoreless for the final 10 minutes of the first half, Cards only scoring a total 13 points in the half.
Gonzaga (24-1) LW 3 - Not much competition for the Zags last week, defeating Santa Clara and San Francisco, both of whom are under .500 ball.
Duke (21-3) LW 4 - Duke finished the week 3-0 defeating Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Florida State Monday night. Their 30-point victory over Notre Dame was most impressive, redeeming their loss to the Irish January 28th. Justice Winslow and Jahlil Okafor combined for 49 points and 21 rebounds.
Wisconsin (21-2) LW 5 - The Badgers continues to be one of the more consistent teams in the country. They defeated Indiana and Northwestern by large margins.
Villanova (21-2) LW 6 - Nova finished last week 2-0, defeating Marquette and Georgetown, both at home. Their victory over Georgetown revenged a 20-point loss to Georgetown January 19th.
Louisville (19-4) LW 8 - The Cards went 1-1 last week, defeating Miami and losing to UVA, both games on the road. Prior to their loss to UVA, Cardinals were on a 4 game win streak.
Arizona (20-3) LW 7 - In their only game this past week, the Wildcats loss to rival Arizona State on the road for the 2nd straight year.
Kansas (19-4) LW 10 - The Jayhawks moved ahead of Notre Dame, despite going 1-1 last week, defeating Iowa State and up-setted by Oklahoma State on the road.
Notre Dame (21-4) LW 9 - The Irish went 1-1 last week, defeating Boston College and losing to Duke. The 30-point to Duke loss is one of the worst in school history.
Northern Iowa (22-2) LW 12 - The Panthers go 2-0 last week, moving up in the rankings due to West Virginia going 0-2.
Oklahoma (17-7) - The Sooners enters the 12 as one of the hottest teams right now, going 3-0 this past week, defeating two teams in the top 15, Iowa State and West Virginia.
With West Virginia on a two game losing streak, it opened up a spot for another Big 12 team. Big 12 has 5 teams ranked in the top ten, not including Kansas, creating a log jam for 2nd place in the conference.
Despite the Big Ten running away with the Big Ten/ACC challenge, capturing the magic number which was 8 wins, #2 Wisconsin vs #4 Duke was the most anticipated matchup between the two conferences. The last two years both conferences have tied and the last time these two teams matched up the Badgers stormed the court as they upset Duke who was ranked #6 73-69.
The Blue Devils faced tremendous pressure considering they had to face a well coached Bo Ryan Badgers team in a hostile environment. The pressure also was high considering 3 of Dukes starting five were true freshman, a first for Duke since 1982-83 season that included college basketball analyst Jay Bilas. However, after watching the game tonight determining whether or not they are freshman is in question. Freshman's PG Tyus Jones, SF Justice Winslow, and #1 ranked player in the country C Jahlil Okafor played with great poise keeping the foot on the gas all night. Okafor broke the game in as he bodied up against Pre-season All-American, center Frank Kaminsky, but Okafor faced foul trouble early in the first half. Okafor in the second half had some pivotal points down the stretch, finishing with 13 points shooting 6-8. Winslow had a low scoring game with just 5 points but he hit a tough three that stopped the Badgers from turning the corner. Game ball without question goes to Tyus Jones who played like a super freshman scoring a team high 22 points missing just four shots against a tough senior point guard Traevon Jackson.
Wisconsin coming into this game undefeated, and under coach Bo Ryan, have an impressive 34-12 record against Top 25 teams. Looking at the Badgers this season I have to say this is their best team I have seen in years. Wisconsin's senior star, Frank Kaminsky, came in averaging 16 points and 8 boards which he spreads the floor with his ability to shoot behind the arc. Kaminsky started the game off challenging Okafors ability to defend on the perimeter, knocking down back-to-back treys. Frank was sidelined after taking a unintended blow to the groin but returned in the second half. Badgers point guard, Traevon Jackson, got off to a slow start in the first half but turned up in the second half shooting deadly from deep as he tried to will his team to turn the corner scoring a game high 25 points knocking down a bevy of treys.
The Blue Devils dribble drive penetration was a huge advantage implemented from guards Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. The backcourt combined for 35 points shooting well over 60%. The bench play of guard Rasheed Sulaimon was great help as he scored 14 points going 5-8. The Blue Devils were lights out all night shooting 65% answering all over the floor whether it be from the trey, tough mid-ranges, or inside work. Even though the Blue Devils were the smaller team their ability to defend the bigger Badgers team was impressive as they held them to 40% from the field to win 80-70.
Wisconsin despite losing I think will still be a Final Four team after watching them play against a Top 5 Duke team. Kaminsky and Jackson answered all night combining for 42 of their 70 points shooting 50%. The Badgers shooting threat from point to center wasn't effective as usual shooting a season low 40%. Sophomore Nigel Hayes hurt the Badgers with his season low 4 points battling foul trouble the whole night.
The Badgers fall to 7-1 as the Blue Devils move to 8-0 and Coach K receives win #991. Congrats to the Blue Devils and their tough road win, I think with Okafors paint presence and great shooting ability Duke is a championship contender. I wouldn't be surprised if these two teams meet again come March.
A quick review of the Champions Classic.Read More