March Madness: Elite Eight Recap
It was just days ago, on March 25th, that the Sweet filtered out the Elite, but in March Madness, a day can turn the NCAA world on its head, leaving the rest of us dizzy from the spin. But it’s a ride we keep lining up for.
The Elite Eight barely skipped a beat when, over the two days immediately following, they gave us four edge-of-your-seat games that delivered four winners. At each turn, the adrenaline on the court was palpable. A raft of experienced coaches (not least Coach K), each having multiple Final Four appearances to his name, wielded a commanding presence, and their mentees – players all-too-aware that the day’s performance would likely impact on the rest of their careers – put in their all as dreams of being declared NCAA Champions became ever-so vivid.
We saluted the Razorbacks as they performed admirably all the way to the eight, and congratulated the Jayhawks for holding up under pressure. We nodded at the Tar Heels and commiserated with their adversaries as the Peacocks bowed out gracefully.
Here’s how it happened on the court.
Duke Blue Devils vs. Arkansas Razorbacks 78-69
Duke’s boys in blue won their hard-fought game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at 78-69 thanks to a well-rounded offense, and top performances from the likes of ACC Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero (scoring 16 points) and AJ Griffin (18 points).
The Devils shot over fifty per cent from the floor in the first half, and were already ahead 10-9 when the timer struck six minutes, finishing the first half out at 45-33.
Not a single player from Duke’s starting lineup had fewer than six points in the first half, but Mark Williams stood out from the rest with ten points and eight rebounds. They entered the second half strong, and just a few minutes in, were already leading at 16.
The Razorbacks were on a winning ticket for a while there, edging out both Vermont and the Aggies in the first and second rounds. Their Sweet Sixteen victory was even sweeter; after doing the tournament’s dirty work by pulling the rug out from under Gonzaga, toppling their top-dog status along with their 2022 aspirations, they have fallen to Duke.
NBA prospect JD Notae and 2020 Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year Jaylin Williams were out in front, scoring 15 first half points combined. Notae had the crowd’s throats in their mouths as he fouled out late in the game, with Williams left to pick up the slack.
As the power flip-flopped repeatedly in the second half, Williams’ efforts wouldn’t be enough; Duke’s offense was heating up and Arkansas couldn’t keep up with the defensive zone that Duke was laying out, sealing the day’s fate for all and sundry.
Duke have extra skin in the game in the next stage of the tournament: Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, Duke’s veteran coach who led his team to five national championships, is signing off – permanently – alongside his Devils in 2022… however far they travel. The Blue Devils are on a run to finish out his Hall of Fame career on the high point he might rightly be due, having won more games than any other men’s basketball coach, including reaching the Final Four a record total of 13 times.
Villanova Wildcats vs. Houston Cougars 50-44
The Villanova Wildcats prevailed against Houston, taking a 27-20 lead just before halftime, despite not faring too well on offense.
Jermaine Samuels stood out by scoring 16, and Caleb Daniels scored 12, making them the only two Wildcats players to hit the double digits. Straight-shooting guard and college basketball stalwart, Colin Gillespie, now more than a year after tearing an MCL which almost left his NBA prospects just as torn, has clearly bounced back since his return to the court. But despite a return to form, against Houston, he fell short of his own a solid 15.9 point game average.
Villanova will proceed to the Final Four without Guard Justin Moore and his final-minute torn, no doubt triggering pain on multiple levels.
The Wildcats’ Elite Eight challengers, The Houston Cougars, put an end to their tournament season in what was, overall, a low-scoring game mainly played from the three-point line. In a good news story, Taze Moore’s return to the court after a 2017 major leg injury is making up for lost time, with an average of 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, including 10 rebounds against Villanova.
In the first half, the Cougars hit only one of their 20 attempts from beyond the arc. The second half started to show some hope as they trudged back with Villanova’s 27-20 lead, but ultimately they couldn’t match Villanova’s superior form.
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Miami Hurricanes 76-50
Kansas, the only no.1 seed to remain in the tournament, triumphed against the Miami Hurricanes with a 76-50 finish. Now that they’re in the Final Four, their 16th such appearance, the Jayhawks will be looking to end their 14-year hiatus since their last championship.
Their Elite Eight performance was looking dreary with a 6-point deficit before halftime, but with help from players Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, and Christian Braun, they managed to upend their opponents.
Agbaji scored 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 12 of which were in the second half where he led the team to rally. McCormack dominated the inside with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and junior guard Christian Braun contributed 12 points and six boards.
The second half was already looking strong, but the Kansas Jayhawks clinched the win against Miami by getting more rebounds 25-11 in the final 20 minutes.
The 10th-seeded ‘Canes were leading by six in the first half, and things were looking up with senior guard Kam McGusty sitting on 18 points all to himself. The momentum took a downtick in the second half, and what was typically an organized and steady team suddenly couldn’t keep up with Kansas.
Early second-half mistakes became apparent when the team began missing open shots and and taking three-pointers where they should’ve been omitted. Guard Charlie Moore also got thrown off his game, which was further complicated by the fact that he played for Kansas in his sophomore year, giving the Jayhawks either a practical or psychological advantage.
The Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga characterised the match as “a tale of two halves”. This was the Hurricanes’ first Elite Eight in school history, and although they didn’t win the match, their performance in the first half proved they deserved their place.
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Saint Peter’s Peacocks 69-49
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks were living out their season of dreams before the North Carolina Tar Heels shook them awake with a 69-49 defeat. Now the Tar Heels, 2017 Championship will face long-time rivals Duke in the Final Four, marking the first time the two long-standing rivals will face off in the NCAA tournament.
Armando Bacot led the Tar Heels with 20 points and 22 rebounds, and Brady Manek hit four 3-pointers and scored 19 points. Bacot dunked on a possession following an attempted windmill by Peacock’s Daryl Banks III, pushing North Carolina ahead to 36-15.
America’s favorite underdog lost after experiencing a 10-game winning streak. It’s a big one for the Peacocks, since before that they were making fans proud by soaring through No. 2 Kentucky, No. 7 Murray State, and No. 3 Purdue, landing as the first No. 15 seed in NCAA tournament history to make it to the Elite Eight.
They started the game off strong in the first 10 minutes with expert handling of the ball, but their first huge halftime deficit proved to be too much to recover from. We witnessed a litany of shots kissing the iron but never going in, and after missing their first six, and trailing 21-7, it was looking like the end for the Peacocks.
It wasn’t all bad news, though, as Fousseyni Drame racked up the team’s highest individual score of 12 points, followed by KC Ndefo who closed out with 10, and the Peacocks did manage to score six straight points after a 3-pointer by Brady Manek of North Carolina.
… And then there were four. Our contenders for the 2022 NCAA Championship are:
- Kansas (Midwest Region champion) Has the advantage of being the 2018 NCAA champions
- Villanova (South Region champion) Has Gillespie
- Duke (West Region champion)
- UNC (East Region champion)
It’s anyone’s championship with this Final Four lineup. We give Bodog sportsbook punters a full preview of those matchups that will determine which two teams will go head-to-head in 2022 to claim the NCAA Championship title all for themselves. Place your March Madness bets here.