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Bob's Corner: Time to get a little elite

BOB'S CORNER: March Madness is in full mad swing and this weekend our US correspondent BOB CRAVEN takes you into the heart of the NCAA developments as the Sweet 16 is pruned down to the Elite Eight and Gonzaga suffers a raw deal. It's the men's Div.1 wrap today.

THE men’s Sweet Sixteen has whittled down to the Elite Eight so here is my wrap of what has gone down so far.

(I’ll do this for the D-1 Women’s bracket tomorrow after that’s complete.) 

On Thursday and Friday nights, the NCAA men’s D-I playoffs experienced several big upsets in those eight Sweet 16 games, one of which was historic and another that was borderline criminal.

In the South Region semis, the Houston Cougars, who made it to the Final Four last season, dumped the #1 seed Arizona Wildcats 72-60, and they led the whole way. 

The ‘Cats like to get out and run, but the Cougars slowed things down successfully with good defence and physical play.  This frustrated Arizona into launching a lot of inaccurate shots—they shot 33.3 per cent from the field for the game, including 7-of-22 from deep.

In the other South Region semi, Villanova defeated Michigan 63-55.  ‘Nova led all the way, although the score was pretty tight the whole game.

Villanova was led by Jermaine Samuels with 22, while big guy (216cm) Hunter Dickinson led Michigan with 15 points and 15 rebounds. ‘Nova will meet Houston in the Regional Final for the right to go the Final Four.

In one West Regional semi, Duke kept the dream alive for coach “K” (Mike Krzyzewski, below) of ending his record-breaking career with another NCAA title by defeating the Texas Tech Red Raiders 78-73. 

Tech was up by four at the half as Duke was not playing its best game, but it came back after the intermission to win a close one, 78-73. 

Duke was led by their sensational first year player from right here in Seattle, 204cm Paolo Banchero with 22 points.

The other Western Region semi pitted #1 seed Gonzaga against Arkansas.  Arkansas wins in an upset, but under extenuating circumstances—they had help. 

Gonzaga played poorly in the first half, but that was mostly because of an excellent game plan by Arkansas.  The Zag “twin towers” of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren were expected to dominate in the key, but Arkansas packed the key and played very physical ball to try and keep Timme under control, and the Zag small guys ran well but shot poorly when Timme kicked it out to them for the open jumpers. 

Still, the Zags were only down three at the half.  Timme upped his game considerably in the 2nd half, to finish with 25 points, but his teammates were not on their game.  

The referees were also definitely not on their game, either, as their officiating was brutal and went against the Zags.  They paid special attention to the 216cm Holmgren, who still managed 11 points and 14 rebounds, but was only allowed 23 minutes of court time before being fouled out, and almost none of those were in the latter stages of the game. 

Arkansas had players drive one-on-one straight at him under the basket trying to draw contact and fouls.  They succeeded and fouls were called.  However, replays of Holmgren’s fouls showed that two of the last three called against him were obvious offensive fouls. 

The third foul probably also was offensive, but it could have been a no-call, too.

In addition to those miscarriages of justice, replays showed one Arkansas player step significantly out of bounds on a baseline drive with a ref in the vicinity:  a no-call. 

Another incident had an Arkansas defender being screened, stick out his leg almost horizontally and trip the driving Zag player, knocking him down and causing the ball to bounce loose:  another no-call. 

National media subsequently crucified the officiating crew, and the NCAA itself was sharply criticised for assigning mediocre officials to the Tourney at any level.

Could the Zags have pulled it out?  Maybe and maybe not, the way they were playing.  But playing eight-on-five made the question moot. 

Now, instead of a huge matchup that everyone was rooting for:  Duke vs Gonzaga, Duke will play Arkansas to try take coach “K” to the Final four—again.

In the Midwest Region, Kansas led all the way, although never by much, and beat Providence 66-61. 

In the other Midwest semi, Iowa State was up three at the half against Miami, but Miami blitzed them in the 2nd half and won going away 70-56.  Miami was led by Kameron Gusty with 27.  Iowa State helped Miami out by shooting just 4-of-22 from behind the arc for the game.

In the East Region, UCLA led North Carolina by three at the halfway point, but UNC slowly pulled them back.  It was a one-point game with less than two minutes left, but UNC found another gear and won going away 73-66. 

UNC drew a big game when they needed it most from Caleb Love, who led them with 30 points.

The other East Region semi provided the biggest excitement on Friday as tiny Cinderella team, St. Peter’s, the 15th seed, made history by defeating #3 seed Purdue and its (really) big guys, 67-64. 

Purdue was much bigger up front with Zack Edey at 223cm and Trevion Williams at 208cm, but St. Peter’s packed it in, played very solid defence, ran good, patient offence, and played pretty much everybody for some significant minutes. 

Their leading scorer had 14, and two others scored in double figures, one a reserve off the bench, but the rest of the scoring was pretty spread out.  In the end, it was enough for the win. 

St. Peter’s becomes the first #15 seed ever to make it to the Elite 8 in NCAA history.  Previously, the highest seeds to reach that point were a #11 and a #12, the latter being Oregon State last year. 

St. Peter’s now will play North Carolina, one of the most storied programs in D-I basketball history, for the right to be in the Final Four.

A COUPLE of quick NBA notes:

With a 60-14 record and eight games left in the season, the Phoenix Suns have locked up the best overall record in the NBA this season and, thus, #1 seed throughout the playoffs. 

They will start as the home team in every playoff series they reach.  Last season, they made it to the Finals, only to lose to the Milwaukee Bucks.  They should be the favorites to take it all this year, although they have stumbled a bit in the last few games.

Also, the state of New York has now removed its restriction on un-vaccinated players being allowed to play in the state. 

For the homestanding Brooklyn Nets, this is great news as it now allows Kyrie Irving to play in all their remaining games, rather than only in away games outside New York state.

Mar 26

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