April Madness: Who Will Be the Survivor Of This Year's Crazy Tournament?
For the spectacular NCAA tournament that has occurred, a very unspectacular collection of teams is left standing.
No. 1 overall seed Kansas? Gone. Two other No. 1's-Kentucky and Syracuse? Gone. Evan Turner and his red hot Ohio State team? Gone.
The best NBA prospect left in the tournament is probably Butler's Gordon Hayward. Not exactly John Wall.
There are still a few interesting to follow. Butler coming home to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Michigan State making it back to the Final Four, despite losing star player Kalin Lucas early in the tournament. A possible Coach K vs. Tom Izzo final. All of these things are very intriguing.
As intriguing as John Wall vs. Evan Turner? What about a possible Kentucky vs. Kansas final? Probably not, but that's why the tournament is so great; almost nothing follows the "correct" path. The regular season is played for a reason, but so is the postseason. The regular season shows which team is the best on the most consistent basis. The postseason champion represents the best team over the period of time when that tournament occurs.
It takes luck to get through all of the roadblocks in the NCAA tournament and four teams have successfully completed avoiding those roadblocks, with a bit of luck. The Butler Bulldogs, Michigan State Spartans, Duke Blue Devils, and West Virginia Mountaineers are the survivors of each of their respective regions; now which one of them will be able to outlast the other three?
Before breaking down which team will be cutting down the nets, how about recapping what the heck has gone on for the past few weeks first.
Champion: Michigan State
Who would have thought that Michigan State could make it back here, especially after losing Kalin Lucas? Well, they're back and they're not going to go down easily.
MVP: Durrell Summers (Michigan State)
Summers has been extremely consistent and the go to guy for the Spartans with Kalin Lucas sidelined. If Michigan State is going to win it all, it will be because of Summers.
Breakout Star: Ali Farokhmanesh
Farokhmanesh didn't necessarily have the best tournament, not even of Northern Iowa guys, but he was the key player in their big upset of the top seeded Jayhawks. How many people knew his name before that game? And how many know it now? Okay, still not very many, but it's not his fault his name is Farokhmanesh.
Most Surprising Team: Michigan State
Michigan State looked poised to return to the Final Four after bringing their key players from last years Final Four team back, but as the season went on, it appeared their title hopes were very slim. They caught a few breaks along the way (never playing a team seeded higher than No. 4), but they are back, even without their star player. They have showed very much resiliency through this tournament.
Most Disappointing Team: Kansas
So much talent, yet they did nothing with it. Sherron Collins picked a horrible day to have a bad game. Same for Xavier Henry. Cole Aldrich getting injured in the second half of the Northern Iowa game certainly didn't help things either. Not a good note for Collins or Aldrich to go out on.
Biggest Upset: Northern Iowa over Kansas
Kansas was just not clicking and the Panthers were hitting everything. It's remarkable that the game was as close as it was. Northern Iowa dominated the Jayhawks until the end of the game. Then Mr. Farokhmanesh stuck the dagger in the Jayhawks' hearts.
Best Game: Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67
I like to type Farokhmanesh. I bet nobody can tell. Farokhmanesh. Farokhmanesh.
Best Moment: Ali Farokhmanesh's game clinching three-pointer vs. Kansas.
Farokhmanesh. Farokhmanesh. Farokhmanesh. Farokhmanesh. Farokhmanesh.
All-Midwest Team: Durrell Summers (Michigan State), Wayne Chism (Tennessee), Evan Turner (Ohio State), Ali Farokhmanesh (Northern Iowa), Raymar Morgan (Michigan State)
My Predictions (from original bracket ): 7-8
My Predicted Champion: Ohio State
The Horizon league champs can now claim the title of West regional champions. They work extremely well as a team and have had all sorts of players come up with big shots at big times. My tournament sleeper has impressed me to say the least.
MVP: Gordon Hayward (Butler)
Hayward just does everything for the Bulldogs. He scores. He rebounds. He plays solid D. Make no mistake, he is the heart and soul of this team...and he's only a sophomore.
Breakout Star: Brad Stevens (Butler)
He's the first Final Four coach to look younger than his star player since Thad Matta and Greg Oden. He's also done a pretty good job coaching his team.
Underrated Player: Ronald Nored (Butler)
Nored doesn't fill up the basket, but he always seems to step up at the end of games. Nored is the guy that Butler wants at the line with the potential to put the game away for good.
Most Surprising Team: Butler
When a No. 5 seed from a mid-major conference makes the Final Four, that is definitely a surprise. What's more surprising is that Butler has actually played better as the tournament has gone on. Can they continue that trend?
Most Disappointing Team: Syracuse
Many people had Syracuse as the most likely No. 1 seed to go down before the Final Four and there was good reason. They totally blew a game they should have won against a much less talented Butler team. Losing their big man obviously hurt, but how does Wes Johnson not get the ball for such a long period down the stretch? Inexplicable.
Biggest Upset: Butler over Syracuse
Butler caught a few breaks, like Syracuse abandoning their game plan with five minutes left, and rode those breaks to a Final Four birth. Butler might not have to face a better team than Cuse the whole rest of the way.
Best Game: Kansas State 101, Xavier 96
What a game. Great clutch plays. Great announcing. Even a non-basketball fan would have enjoyed this game. It was by far the best game of the tournament.
Best Moment: Jordan Crawford's game tying three-pointer to put the game into double OT and the ensuing Gus Johnson call/non call (or whatever it can be called).
There were so many clutch plays in this game, but this one stood out. Sorry Denis, Jacob, and Terrell.
All-West Team: Gordon Hayward (Butler), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Jordan Crawford (Xavier), Wesley Johnson (Syracuse), Denis Clemente (Kansas State)
My Predictions (from original bracket ): 14-1
My Predicted Champion: Butler
Champion: West Virginia
MVP: Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia)
Butler has been the key player in every game West Virginia has played. He's one of the best players in college basketball and is the best player left in the tournament. He is the most likely player to come away with the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award.
Breakout Star: Joe Mazzulla (West Virginia)
It's unfortunate for West Virginia that Darryl Bryant got hurt (in practice, no less), but Mazzulla has stepped up in a big way. If he plays like he did against Kentucky the rest of the way, look out Duke and Butler/Michigan State.
Most Surprising Team: Cornell
An Ivy League school did not win a single tournament game in the last decade. Cornell won two this time and in fairly convincing fashion. Somewhere Andy Bernard is smiling.
Most Disappointing Team: New Mexico
The Big Dance was a great opportunity for Darington Hobson to showcase his many talents, but as he failed, so did his team. New Mexico was supposed to make some noise, possibly going all the way to the Final Four as a mid-major school. It was not to be.
Biggest Upset: Cornell over Wisconsin
It's arguable that Washington beating New Mexico was a bigger upset, but is a major conference team beating a mid-major conference team a bigger deal than an Ivy League school beating a Big 10 school? I think not.
Best Game: Wake Forest 81, Texas 80
The East regional didn't produce a plethora of memorable games like the other regions did. No games of significant proportions were particularly great. Have to go with the overtime game that ended on a last second shot.
Best Moment: Joe Mazzulla having the game of his life in the regional final.
What a great story. A kid who is still suffering because of preseason shoulder surgery, playing his best game of his college career to beat the favored Wildcats. It's not just a great story, he's a great player.
All-East Team: Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia), John Wall (Kentucky), Louis Dale (Cornell), Ryan Wittman (Cornell), Devin Ebanks (West Virginia)
My Predictions (from original bracket ): 11-4
My Predicted Champion: Kentucky
Duke received heat from just about everyone for getting an "easy" draw. Who knows if that is true, but they certainly handled their draw better than the rest of the No. 1 seeds.
MVP: Nolan Smith (Duke)
Smith has taken his game up a notch since the tournament has started. Guarding Singler, Scheyer, and Smith is quite a task. Pick your poison. Smith has been the most potent poison of the three so far.
Breakout Star: Omar Samhan (St. Mary's)
Samhan has an A-plus game and personality. He made many comments that could be taken as arrogant, even saying St. Mary's would win it all. Still, he won over America and maybe some NBA scouts as well.
Most Surprising Team: St. Mary's
Beating Richmond wasn't necessarily a surprise, but taking down a veteran Nova team was. Omar Samhan led his troops well.
Most Disappointing Team: Villanova
Scottie Reynolds was supposed to take his group far into this year's tournament, especially in a weaker bracket. They lost in the second round to a WCC champ. Does that count as a disappointment?
Biggest Upset: St. Mary's over Villanova
Samhan completely dominated a small Wildcats team. Every time he got the ball there was no doubt he was scoring. Sometimes it only takes one dominant performance to win a game. Samhan did that to Villanova.
Best Game: Purdue 63, Texas A&M 61
It seemed as though Texas A&M had the game wrapped up many times, but it slipped away. Chris Kramer cleaned up the mess.
Best Moment: Chris Kramer's game winner vs. Texas A&M
Robbie Hummel's replacement stepped up big when he had to. A very tricky layup.
All-South Team: Nolan Smith (Duke), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), Omar Samhan (St. Mary's), Ekpe Udoh (Baylor), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue)
My Predictions (from original bracket ): 11-4
My Predicted Champion: Duke
FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS
Butler vs. Michigan State
Butler's X-Factor: Gordon Hayward
Hayward is the best player in this game. Michigan State has a few guys who can stop him, but if Hayward is hot, watch out. Butler is so good playing as a team, and everything starts with Hayward. If he is on (and he usually is) then Butler has a very good shot at making their first appearance in a national title game.
Michigan State's X-Factor: Tom Izzo/experience
Izzo has a clear coaching advantage over Butler's Brad Stevens. Izzo is a seasoned vet who has been here before and is a great winner. Not to say Stevens is a bad coach, because he is the opposite, but Izzo's experience and his team's experience give the Spartans a very good chance.
Prediction: Michigan State 76, Butler 71
MSU's experience and athleticism will prove to be just a little too much for the hometown team. But any non-Michigan State fan better be rooting for Butler. If not, I will fight them.
West Virginia vs. Duke
West Virginia's X-Factor: guard play
West Virginia's team is built around their athletic forwards, but they lack game changing guards. Can Joe Mazzulla have another great performance like he did against Kentucky? If he does then West Virginia might as well punch a ticket to the title game.
Duke's X-Factor: Role players stepping up
Duke has survived this year because of their big three: Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler. Bob Huggins isn't stupid. He is gonna do everything he can to make sure the other players on the Blue Devils have to beat him. Duke doesn't even have a fourth player that averages six points per game. If, and that's a big if, the Mountaineers find a way to stop at least two out of the big three, Duke is in deep trouble.
Prediction: West Virginia 74, Duke 73
The Mountaineers rolled through the Big East tournament and have rolled through the East regional as well. Duke's star power and coaching advantage will not be enough to overcome their momentum.
National Champion: West Virginia Mountaineers
MOP: Da'Sean Butler
-Let's hope we get some good games.
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