NCAA Tournament 2014: Winners and Losers of the Elite Eight
The Final Four is set. Wisconsin, Florida, UConn and Kentucky will face off in North Texas next weekend to see who will be crowned the champion of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
The Elite Eight featured the best of March Madness. In four high-quality games there were upsets, overtimes, clutch performances, heartbreaking losses and exhilarating victories. The viewers were spoiled with greatness from beginning to end.
After all of the bracketology chats, seeding squabbles and expert picks, there is a No. 1, No. 2, No. 7 and No. 8 seed headed to college basketball's final weekend.
Following are the winners and losers from a very entertaining Elite Eight:
Loser: Miller Brothers
What a difference 48 hours can make. On Thursday night, the Miller brothers were riding high after Archie's Dayton Flyers and Sean's Arizona Wildcats both made it to the Elite Eight.
But on Saturday night both Millers were dealing with the agony of defeat. Dayton's surprising March run ended at the hands of Florida, and Sean went to 0-3 in the Elite Eight when Arizona fell to Wisconsin in OT.
Still, it was a March to remember for the two, who became the first pair of brothers to coach Elite Eight teams in the same NCAA tournament. Both are young—Archie is 35, Sean is 45—and will likely be contending for Final Fours for years to come.
Winner: Billy Donovan
Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, beat No. 11 Dayton 62-52 in the Elite Eight, and now Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators are headed back to the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Donovan has two national championships, back-to-back in 2006 and 2007, but this season might be his best coaching job yet.
Back in 2006 and 2007, the Gators had three players picked in the top nine in the NBA draft. This year, there are no surefire first-round draft picks on Florida's team.
But still, Florida has won 30 straight games and has won each of its first four tournament games by 10 points or more. Scottie Wilbekin, a formerly troubled student athlete who Donovan has been very loyal to, is now leading the team.
"We don't have the best players in the country," Florida assistant John Pelphrey told Eric Prisbell of USA Today. "They play like they are the best players in the country. That's because of Billy."
The Dayton Flyers were the only Cinderella team left in this year's NCAA tournament—a double-digit seed from a mid-major conference representing a school that hasn't had much NCAA tournament success.
With upset wins over Syracuse and Ohio State and a rising star in 35-year-old coach Archie Miller, THE University of Dayton became the underdog that everyone was rooting for this March.
But like most Cinderellas before them, Dayton ran out of steam when it ran into the top seed of the tournament, in this case the Florida Gators. Still, coach Miller told the Associated Press afterwards that he was able to see the positives from a great tournament run:
It's always hard to lose the last game of the season, but in the back of my mind, I'm not sure a team in the nation captured more people's hearts than these guys did, and they did it the right way.
Winner: Frank Kaminsky
A big-time victory like No. 2 Wisconsin's 64-63 win over No. 1 Arizona needs a big-time performance, and the Badgers got that from Frank Kaminsky on Saturday night.
The seven-foot junior scored 28 points and had 11 rebounds for Wisconsin. Six of his points came in a physical overtime period. Every time the Badgers needed a shot, he was there to make it.
For the season, Kaminsky only averaged 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, but he's been on fire in the NCAA tournament, scoring 19 points in each of the previous two tournament games. If Wisconsin is going to get back to its first national championship game since 1941, the big man will have to continue to dominate.
Saturday was not a great day to be an Arizona Wildcat.
On the court, the No. 1 seed was pushed around by a tough Wisconsin team. After a back-and-forth game, they dramatically lost in OT when Nick Johnson was called for a controversial offensive foul and then missed the game-winning shot in the final seconds.
But what happened afterwards on the University of Arizona campus might have been even worse. The disappointed and angry students took to the streets, and reports of riot police, tear gas and beanbag guns poured out of Tucson.
March Madness can be as devastating as it is thrilling, but there is never any reason for it to spur violence.
Winner: UConn's Free-Throw Shooting
There are a lot of things to like about what the UConn Huskies did on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden to upset Michigan State 60-54.
Shabazz Napier had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists. The UConn defense held the high-powered Spartans to 54 points. Kevin Ollie, in his second year as head coach and first NCAA tournament, had a brilliant game plan and kept his guys playing hard for the full 40 minutes.
But what really clinched UConn's win was its free-throw shooting. Fouls and free throws are so important in the NCAA tournament, and in a physical game, it took advantage of every opportunity it got from the line, going 21-of-22. The Huskies made all of their free throws down the stretch, leaving no room for Michigan State to climb back into the game.
Missed free throws have doomed many teams this March, so it was nice to see a team use the foul line for good.
Loser: Michigan State in the Paint
The Michigan State Spartans were the trendy pick to win the national championship as a No. 4 seed, but instead, they fell to the No. 7 Connecticut Huskies in the Elite Eight.
The Spartans were far too reliant on their three-point shooting, and for most of the game, they seemed to be completely ignoring inside shots. In fact, at halftime, Michigan State only had two points in the paint.
The team's inability to go inside kept it from drawing fouls, and UConn ended the game only 7-for-8 from the foul line. It also scored 21 points off of free throws.
Winner: Marcus Lee
There are a lot of players from Kentucky who could be in this space after the Wildcats took out Michigan 75-72. Aaron Harrison was clutch, with 12 points and the game-winning three-point shot. Julius Randle had 16 points and 11 rebounds. But they were both expected to be a factor—Marcus Lee wasn't.
Coming into this game, the Kentucky freshman Lee averaged two points per game and 1.2 rebounds this season. He had only played one minute and scored zero points in the three other NCAA tournament games combined.
But with Willie Cauley-Stein sitting out the game against Michigan with an ankle injury, Lee got an opportunity for more playing time, and boy did he come ready to play. Lee had 10 points and eight rebounds in a highlight-worthy showing, coming off of the bench to give Kentucky the edge it needed to make the Final Four. It takes a team full of talent to win in March, and it's often bit players like Lee who make the difference.
I'm beginning to sound like a broken record about this, but once again a fabulous weekend of basketball was at times rudely overshadowed by the refs blowing the whistle at the wrong time.
The most notable case of this was in the closing seconds of the Arizona vs. Wisconsin game, when the refs called a suspicious offensive foul on Arizona's Nick Johnson with 3.2 seconds left in the game. But throughout the weekend—and really, the entire tournament—the calls have been inconsistent, the video replay reviews have taken too long and the officials have refused to get out of the way of this great tournament.
Matt Hayes of Sporting News summed it up best in his piece about Wisconsin's big win:
Look, it’s not good calls or bad calls or poorly-timed calls. It’s not charge-block or any other nonsensical call that becomes as much of the story as the game itself.
It’s the complete lack of consistency in what is called and why — and how it dictates pace of the game and ultimately, the outcome.
Winners: Basketball Fans
It wasn't perfect, but this Elite Eight sure did deliver a phenomenal weekend of basketball. Only one game seemed certain in the final minutes, and that was the top-seeded Florida taking out Dayton. Every other game came down to the wire.
Michigan pushed the talented Kentucky squad to the brink, coming up with three-pointers and keeping the game close despite the fact that it had a big disadvantage inside. UConn and Michigan State was a battle of titanic defensive showings, and Wisconsin and Arizona played an absolute classic.
These days, there is a lot of cynicism surrounding the NCAA tournament. There are big controversies over the seedings and the amateur status of the players. There are questionable calls, cringe-worthy game plans and always enough blunders to fill up this "losers" section.
But, once again, this weekend proved why nothing is exciting as college basketball in March. I'm just sad that it's almost over.