NCAA Tournament 2014: Winners and Losers of Day 8
Just like that, the Elite Eight has been set.
Friday saw the Sweet 16 come to an incredibly dramatic end. In the early games, both Tennessee and Iowa State mounted furious comebacks in the last five minutes of their games, only to fall short to Michigan and Connecticut respectively. The late games both came down to the final seconds, with Michigan State and Kentucky finally prevailing over Virginia and Louisville.
The final eight teams standing will square off this weekend for a chance to go to the Final Four. Here are the winners and losers from Day 8 of the NCAA tournament.
Loser: The Officials in the Michigan-Tennessee Game
The ending of Michigan's by-the-nails win over Tennessee was as dramatic as it gets, with Tennessee mounting a comeback from being down double digits to pull it within one in the final minute. According to Deadspin's Timothy Burke, the last minute of the game took 18 minutes, nine seconds in real time due to all of the starts and stops.
But in all the drama, the refs were once again the story. With 28.6 seconds remaining, a missed three-pointer by Tennessee was deflected out of bounds. Replays showed that Volunteer Jeronne Maymon was the last one to touch the ball, but even after reviewing it, the officials said the ball belonged to Tennessee.
Then, with less than 10 seconds left, Tennessee was inbounding under its basket down one point. The officials quickly blew a whistle on Jarnell Stokes, claiming he committed a charge against Jordan Morgan. This gave the ball back to Michigan and effectively ended the game, but many observers disagreed with the call.
Chris Chase of For The Win broke down the drama surrounding the final charge call:
"Tough call, but the right one," Clark Kellogg said on CBS after the game, putting him in disagreement with the majority of viewers not wearing maize and blue. Maybe it was a charge, maybe it was a block. The right call was none at all — not with six seconds left in a one-point Sweet 16 game.
Winner: Jordan Morgan in the Paint
Jordan Morgan is a force of nature, and his dominant inside pressure helped Michigan both offensively and defensively in its win over Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
Morgan scored 15 points—14 in the paint—and had seven rebounds, a block and a steal to lead his team back to the Elite Eight. Perhaps most crucially, he drew the controversial foul against Jarnell Stokes in the final seconds of the game that sealed the deal for Michigan.
Loser: Melvin Ejim
It was a rough end to Melvin Ejim's Iowa State basketball career. His Cyclones fell to Connecticut 81-76, and Ejim, who had averaged 18.1 points per game this season, scored only seven points.
Most of those came in the final minutes when Iowa State made a furious rally. Ejim was in foul trouble for most of the game, getting his fourth foul with about 10 minutes left in the second half.
According to Naila Jean-Meyers of The New York Times, Ejim, who was the Big 12 Player of the Year, didn't notch more points than fouls until he scored his fifth point with only 21.9 seconds left.
Ejim's slow night was particularly notable since Georges Niang was out with an injury. After being a leader of the Cyclones for four years, Ejim just couldn't muster his best performance when his team needed him most.
Winner: Connecticut Stars
What a day it was for the offensive stars of the UConn Huskies. Shabazz Napier, the AAC Player of the Year, was great like he's been all season, scoring 19 points and getting five rebounds, but in this game he had help.
DeAndre Daniels, who only averaged 12.6 points per game this season, had a team-high 27 points and 10 rebounds to give No. 7 UConn the spark it needed. Ryan Boatright added 16 points as well.
When those three players are firing on all cylinders, the Huskies are a danger to any team remaining in the field. Per Paul Myerberg of USA Today, UConn coach Kevin Ollie told reporters that balance is key for the Huskies:
It's not just always DeAndre, it's not just always Shabazz; if we have a balanced attack, we can win a lot of games, and we can continue to play. I was looking for the mismatches that we had, and when DeAndre plays like that, it really gives us that X factor, because I can pick-and-pop him, I can put him on a sweet spot, I can put him on the block.
The start times of the Sweet 16 games are supposed to be staggered so that the endings of the games don't happen simultaneously. Well, that didn't quite work.
The first two games featured nearly simultaneous comeback charges by Iowa State and Tennessee, but the real drama came in the late games, where both down-to-the-wire games were in the last minute at the same time. There was no way to watch both phenomenal endings at once without having two screens.
Overlapping action is a given during the first week of the NCAA tournament, but in the Sweet 16 fans should be able watch the end of every game. Hopefully the broadcasters and tournament can figure out a better way of staggering start times in the future.
Winner: Julius Randle
Kentucky did a great job of backing up its upset over No. 1 Wichita State on Friday night by taking out defending champions Louisville to advance to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats are filled with talent, and Julius Randle led the way in this game.
Randle's 15 points and 12 rebounds put him in rarefied territory—ESPN Stats & Info notes that he is only the third freshman in NCAA tournament history to have a double-double in his first three tournament games, and the first since 1982.
That gave Randle 23 double-doubles for the year, the second-most by a freshman in NCAA history. It really makes you wonder what Randle can do next against Michigan.
Loser: Rick Pitino
Nothing lasts forever, especially not perfection. For the first time in his career, Rick Pitino's team has lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Before this, the famed coach was 11-0 in this round.
It took a heralded effort from a peaking Kentucky team to knock out the Cardinals. The defending champions led for most of the game, but Kentucky's all-star group of freshmen rallied late to take the Kentucky Wildcats to their 35th Elite Eight.
Louisville only had one field goal in the final six minutes of the game, and the Cardinals just didn't have the touch from the free-throw line.
It was a sad end to a great run for the Louisville seniors who have seen so much success, and a tough loss for the competitive Pitino, who also fell to 1-6 against Kentucky's coach John Calipari.
Winner: Lacey Holsworth
March is full of guys we refer to as heroes on the court, but it's important to remember that the real heroes have nothing to do with basketball.
Lacey Holsworth, the eight-year-old friend of Michigan State star Adreian Payne who is battling cancer, has been inspiring Spartan fans and players all season long. Luckily for them, she was able to make the trip to Madison Square Garden to watch her team in the Sweet 16.
She turned out to be the lucky charm, as Payne scored 16 points and Michigan State upset No. 1 Virginia 61-59.
It was less than two weeks ago that Mike Krzyzewski was talking to the press about how strong the ACC was compared to other conferences, but with Virginia's loss in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State, all ACC teams are now out of the tournament before the Elite Eight begins.
Virginia, who was the surprising winner of the ACC regular-season title and tournament championship, kept Michigan State in check for most of the game with stellar defense, but the Cavaliers ran out of gas at the end of the game, thus ending their fabulous season.
In the Elite Eight, there are three teams from the Big Ten, two from the SEC and one each from the Pac-12, AAC and Atlantic 10. Along with the ACC, the Big 12 is out of the tournament.
Winner: Branden Dawson
Michigan State's gritty win over Virginia was a team effort, but Branden Dawson was definitely the game MVP. The 6'6" junior scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds in the game to lead the Spartans.
He was great down the stretch of the game as Michigan State took charge—he combined with Adreian Payne to score 11 of the team's final 14 points.
Dawson only averages 11 points and 8.3 rebounds on the season, but he has been on a roll in the tournament—he had 26 points and nine rebounds in Michigan State's third-round victory over Harvard last week.