The Winners and Loser from the Elite 8 and Sweet 16
By: Kevin Luthringer
We’ve all calmed down, caught our breath, and gone back to work after a great weekend of hoops. If you are like me, when asked about your bracket you give a canned answer about how you haven’t really checked it. Which, for me is true, I haven’t checked my bracket since the end of the second round. However, it’s only because I had Michigan State losing in the second round, and a Final Four featuring the top seeds in each bracket. Needless to say, I am not doing so hot, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for Winners and Losers, and boy do we have some. From bad commentating, well executed plays, tired chants, and senior success we have it all right here:
(editor note: the Sweet 16 section was written on Saturday morning before the Elite 8 took place)
Winner: Us, the Fans
Saturday and Sunday may have been the best two days of college basketball I have ever witnessed in my life. Ok, I am probably trafficking in hyperbole with that statement, but seriously, the hoops were great. The Purdue/Virginia game on Saturday night was flat out bonkers. Hell, even the announcers couldn't keep up. If you go back and watch that final play, where Virginia's Mamadi Diakite hit an amazing game-tying shot, you'll hear play-by-play man Brian Anderson get a tad confused. When Cavalier guard Kihei Clark grabbed the ball in the backcourt Anderson, who noted the score just seconds ago, could be heard saying "into the hands of Clark; he has a chance to win it here…" That was correct, if Clark had shot a three, and made it, the game would have been over. Instead, he had the presence of mind to realize he had just enough time to advance the ball (with a perfect pass) to Diakite, setting him up for a much more likely 12-footer to tie the game. That's when Anderson misspoke on what will most likely be the most replayed highlight of this year's tournament, check it out:
Now, the NCAA and Turner will probably have to find some different audio moving forward when showing the clip. I guess we should cut J.R. Smith some slack for his gaff in the 2018 Finals.
The dust has settled and once again, for the fourth year in a row, we have a Final Four dominated by teams led by upperclassmen. Texas Tech, who beat Gonzaga on Saturday night to reach the school's first-ever Final Four, features a starting lineup of two sophomores and three seniors. Then, in the Purdue/Virginia instant-classic, there was just one freshman starting for either team. While Kihei Clark did make that amazing pass at the finish, he finished the game with just two points. Virginia's other 78 came from a sophomore, three juniors, and a senior.
Then of course on Sunday, we saw junior Jared Harper and senior Bryce Brown from Auburn bury the freshmen-ladened Kentucky Wildcats, scoring a combined 50 points while shooting 50% from the field including 12-13 from the charity stripe.
And, later that afternoon, the star-studded freshmen class of the Duke Blue Devils, whose starting lineup feature the top three prospects on ESPN's 2018 Top 100 recruiting rankings, and four McDonald's All-Americans in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barret, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones lost to Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans. Those Spartans relied on the experience of star point guard Cassius Winston, a junior, and a game-winning three from 22-year-old, fifth-year senior Kenny Goins (who, by the way, walked on at Michigan State five years ago).
Winner: People Who Hate Duke
Speaking of Duke, I know a lot of you fans out there probably felt dirty watching Zion Williamson and this Duke team. Many people out there have a certain disdain for Coach K's Blue Devils. Maybe it's because they are always good. Maybe it's due to the teams knack for having guys who play "the heel" so well, i.e. Christian Laettner, J.J. Reddick, Grayson Allen, etc.. Maybe it's the man crush Dick Vitale has for Mike Krzyzewski and the fact that half of the analyst you hear talking about college basketball played at Duke. It could possibly be the fans. There is something about the student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium, that, if you're a Duke supporter you probably love, but if you are a fan of any visiting opponent you likely hate with a passion. I mean, just watch this 20-second sequence:
Or, maybe it is all of that tied up into one. Either way, there are a lot of people who get much more enjoyment out of Duke losing a game, then seeing the Blue Devils have the ball bounce their way in tight game after tight game. However, Zion is/was fun to watch. And, I bet there were times where fans found themselves rooting for Duke just because of Zion, and that probably left you feeling like you needed a shower after the game. Now, my friend, you can rest easy. You watched Duke blow it in the Elite Eight, and you enjoyed it.
Now we can start the narrative; is Duke overrated? Is Coach K washed up? Should he retire?
See, doesn't that feel better?
Loser: The Record Books
Carsen Edwards' 42 points against Virginia may not have been enough to carry Purdue into the Final Four, but it did put his name into the NCAA record books.
The Junior finished the tournament run with an impressive 42-point game on 10-of-19 from the behind the three-point line, dramatically edging out the record for 3-pointers made in an NCAA Tournament. Edwards' 28 3s in four games beat out the previous record of 27 by Michigan's Glen Rice in the 1989 tournament. Rice, by the way, achieved that record playing six games. Therefore, the record books are losers in my eyes. Had Purdue advanced it is very likely Edwards would have hit at least five more threes, and maybe as much as 15 if they went to the championship, which would have likely pushed his record near unbreakable.
Carsen Edwards was really fun to watch this year, and I have a feeling that he just made himself a considerable amount of money in the last two weeks as NBA scouts likely took notice of his uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket from deep.
Winner: Coaching Matchups
Here is one for you to ponder on, what came first College Basketball or Coach K and Tom Izzo? Ok, I am joking, clearly, Izzo and K weren't around when James Naismith figured out shooting a ball into a basket nailed up on the wall could be a fun sport (checks google, yeah it checks out). However, for someone my age (25-year-old millennial) I am not aware of an NCAA without K and Izzo, and now, for the 13th time in their careers (Did you Know Tim Izzo WAS 1-11 against Krzyzewski), the two will be opposite each other on the sidelines with a chance at the Final Four on the line.
That's not it, though. In the West Bracket, we have Mr. Mid-Major Mark Few, who has carved out his name as one of the more respected coaches in the biz, and one of the best offensive groups going against the young up-and-coming Chris Beard, whose team just held Michigan to 1-19 from three. In fact, Michigan didn't hit a single shot outside the paint until the 10:01 mark… IN THE SECOND HALF.
Over in the South Bracket. Its two guys who should be more well known. Tony Bennett has been coaching his ass off for a while now, as he's turned Virginia into one of the top programs in the ACC. UVA has either won or shared the ACC regular season Champions in 4 of the past 6 years while going a combined 33-3 (.917 winning percentage) in ACC-play and 63-6 (.913) overall the past two years. I know, I know, they have had some letdowns in the tournament, including being the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed, but Bennett is well overdue for a Final Four appearance.
Then we have Matt Painter at Purdue! Personally, I think Painter is the most underrated coach in all of College Basketball. He, much like Bennett, is probably thought of more as a guy who has had more Tournament letdowns than the alternative. But, more often than not that has more to do with injuries than coaching ability. Painter’s best player to date, former First Team All-Big Ten forward Robbie Hummel tore his ACL more times than I can remember. Then last year, coming off a sweet 16 appearance in 2017 and losing the Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan to the NBA, Purdue bounced right back earning a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Then, their star center, the 7'2" giant Isaac Haas fell awkwardly, breaking his elbow, thus ending his Purdue career. Painter would still get the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16 but would lose to Texas Tech.
Matt Painter has been at Purdue for 14 years now, reaching the Big Dance 11 times, and reaching the second weekend two out of the last three years. Plain and simple, the dude can flat-out coach.
Loser: Perfectly executed plays
Speaking of Purdue, their game against Tennessee in the Sweet 16 may have been the best in the tournament to that point. Whether it was Admiral Schoefield (still the most fitting name for a player) and Grant Williams for the Vols, or Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline for the Boilermakers, both teams traded big shot after big shot.
Real quick on Cline. Holy shit. That man could not miss! You gotta love seeing a senior step up big for his team when they need it in March. Regardless if Purdue is cutting down the nets in April, or they lose to UVA, Cline will be telling his grandkids, “you know that feeling when you are shooting, and it just feels like you just can’t miss? I did that in the NCAA Tournament… in the Sweet 16… with the world watching.” Also, it’s not a “winner,” but for an honorable mention we must mention protected twitter accounts. Unlike last year with Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova, no one was going to dig up some old controversial tweets from when Ryan Cline was 9 years old. It’s sad it’s come to this, but good move on keeping the twitter blocked Ry-guy.
Alright, back to the game, Purdue found themselves down three with less than a minute to play. You would think they would turn to the team’s leading scorer Carsen Edwards (who also just became the first player since Steph Curry in 2008 to score 25+ points in four straight tournament games) to get them a bucket. But, no, lets draw up an iso step-back for my man Ryan Cline. Good call Coach Painter:
However, that’s not what I want to talk about. Check out the play that Rick Barnes draws up for Tennessee to answer:
At first glance, it looks like Grant Williams was just in the right place at the right time. But, I think Barnes drew up it this way. Lamonte Turner looks to be going for a layup to put the Vols up, so, as any big would do on the final shot of the game, 7-foot Matt Haarms went for the block. That's the thing, it looks to me like Barnes specifically wanted Turner to go early, knowing Haarms' tendency to go for the block, throwing it high off the glass so Williams (the guy Haarms should be blocking out) has an easy putback jam. I may be giving way to much credit to Rick Barnes, and this could have been all luck, but considering Turner's layup wasn't even close to the square, I think this was planned.
But, it didn't matter. Lamonte Turner committed one of the top sins for a basketball player at the end of the game. He fouled Edwards. I understand the call was somewhat controversial, but in my humble opinion, the ref shouldn't not call the foul just because it's the end of the game. If it's a foul in the first minute of the game, then it's a foul in the last minute. Purdue would go onto win in OT.
That wasn't the only perfectly drawn up play. In Friday night's Duke-Virginia Tech, the star-studded Blue Devils got all they could handle and then some. The game came down to the wire, much like Duke's last game against UCF, with their opponent possessing the ball last with a chance to win the game.
Then, with just over a second left, Coach Buzz Williams drew up the perfect inbound play to get an alley-oop attempt at the rim that would have sent the game to OT. But, instead, Ahmed Hill volleyball taps it when he had time to catch it and make sure it went in (clearly he and his boys didn’t play tip-ins on 21 when they were younger). It’s a shot he probably makes 19 times out of 20, and luckily for Duke this was attempt 20.
Winner: Michigan’s 2018-19 Final Four appearance
After getting trounced by Texas Tech 63-44 (the game wasn't even that close) you probably wouldn't think John Bielein's Wolverines would be mentioned anywhere near the winner's section, and technically you’re right. This year's team isn't. However, I am going into my bracket for next year and penciling, screw that pencil, I am getting my Pilot G2 pen and putting next year's Wolverines in.
With the way they lost that game I think Beilein may return four of his starting five. It's probably a year early, but Brazdeikis could go pro and would probably be a first-round pick. Point guard Zavier Simpson may be a second-round pick, but do you think the junior wants to go out like that? Doubt it. And, Jordan Poole just seems like a guy who would have left this year for the NBA and gone undrafted if Michigan would have made it to the Final Four. I know it isn't the ending you hoped for Wolverine fans, but I think it will work out just fine.
Loser: People Who Dislike SEC Fans
As John Calipari's teams have been known to do since he has been a part of Big Blue Nation, the Kentucky Wildcats advanced to the Elite 8. In fact, since Calipari got to Kentucky in 2009 they have been one of the last eight teams standing seven out of 10 years. As impressive as that is, to only have one championship to show for that has to feel like a letdown. Anywho, that's another conversation for another day. They beat Houston on Friday night to advance, and right before that the Auburn Tigers handled the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels to advance to the Elite 8. That means it was an all-SEC night in Kansas City, and the Auburn and Kentucky fans made sure to let everyone know, as they did what Southern college sports fans do best. Collectively join together for a loud chant of, "S-E-C… S-E-C… S-E-C…" which could be heard coming through the TVs of millions of Americans.
Well boys and girl here we are, the Final Four is set. We have two schools in who had previously never made it this far. Congrats Auburn and Texas Tech. We have one school who has not been one of the last four standing since 1984 and has never won a title in Virginia, who, oh, by the way, are still trying to exercise the demons of losing to 16-seed UMBC as the top overall seed last year. And, you have the one constant. Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who, like clockwork, reaches the Final Four just about every four years.
Once again, the NCAA Tournament has given many across the nation enjoyment, and a reason to put off work while we read, watch, talk, and think about how these kids are being paid $0.00 to put on the best show in sports. Cheers to you, NCAA and Mark Emmert.