Into March Madness: A round-by-round recap

Into March Madness: A round-by-round recap

Exodus-March Madness champ

Text updated April 7, 2013 at 3:48 p.m. EDT
Bracket updated April 9, 2013 at 12:30 a.m. EDT

The NCAA basketball championship is set. Re-visit the March Madness experience by looking through Exodus Magazine’s round-by-round recap.

Final Four: What it’s all about

The national semis provided two stellar basketball games, as they should have. Saturday featured Louisville coming from 12 behind to defeat the Cinderella Shockers of Wichita State and Syracuse never giving up in a five-point loss to Michigan.

With Kevin Ware looking on from the sideline, Louisville struggled to control Wichita State. The Cardinals, trailing by a point at halftime, quickly saw their deficit jump out to double digits.

The Cardinals’ bench play eventually propelled them to victory. The hero of the day for Louisville was Luke Hancock, who came seemingly out of nowhere to score 20 points in the 72-68 win.

Speaking of bench play, Michigan’s Mitch McGary has continued his remarkable postseason. Now starting for the Wolverines, McGary recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds and 10 points as Michigan reached its first championship since 1993.

Michigan had the right game plan to overcome legendary coach Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange. However, the Orange never gave up hope. The Wolverines led by 11 points at halftime and several points in the second half, but Syracuse eventually cut the lead down to three.

The difference between Big East schools Syracuse and Louisville was that one team made enough plays to complete the comeback and the other just fell short.

Compelling championship story lines

It will be interesting to watch the championship game Monday night. With the parity college basketball has had in 2013, there is no clear favorite between Louisville and Michigan.

The history within this matchup is perhaps the most compelling part of the national championship. It has been 27 years since Louisville’s last national championship, and 20 years since Chris Webber’s infamous timeout cost Michigan the championship in the Wolverines’ last visit.

This is a meeting between two of NCAA’s historically great basketball programs. The Wolverines are in their sixth championship appearance; the Cardinals, meanwhile are in their third championship game with a 2-0 overall record in the title contest.

Louisville’s Rick Pitino is one of the most legendary coaches in college basketball. The newly-elected hall of famer is looking to become the first head coach to win a national championship with two different teams.

With so much talent (Pitino is coaching stars like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, while Michigan is led by the emergent McGary and national player of the year Trey Burke), the championship game will be too close to call.  Without a doubt, this could be the most entertaining championship game of the decade.

Elite Eight: Three romps and a shock

None of the regional finals went as expected. Yes, three of the four winners were predictable, but the manner in which Louisville, Michigan and Syracuse won was surprising. All three had their games well out of their opponents’ hands long before games’ ends.

In the West, the story was different. The underdog took the lead early, and though Ohio State fought back, it was too late. Wichita State became the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference in the Final Four since Larry Bird’s 1979 Indiana State squad.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown:

Syracuse 55, Marquette 39

A coaching great finally had the right game plan to solve the Marquette puzzle. Jim Boeheim’s solution: slow down the Golden Eagles. Not only did Syracuse succeed, but they held Marquette to the lowest score ever recorded by a team in the Elite Eight.

The only thing Syracuse should fear is a Big East championship rematch with Louisville; the Orange seem to have the rest of Division I figured out.

Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66

The Shockers started things off in the first half, only looking back after building up a 56-36 lead with 11 minutes to play. Carl Hall was the hero of this game; although he eventually couldn’t play because of concussion-like systems, he showed toughness trying to get back into the game.

Wichita State is becoming one of the great NCAA tournament Cinderella stories of the past decade. With all the hype from Harvard and Florida Gulf Coast, it is only just now that people are really starting to notice the Shockers. Louisville will have a surprisingly hard time against Wichita State in the Final Four.

Michigan 79, Florida 59

Even when Michigan couldn’t make its shots fall, the Wolverines were in control of their Elite Eight game against Florida. Michigan’s impressive season will continue because of Trey Burke’s floor leadership and Nik Stauskas’ 7-8 field goal shooting performance.

For the Gators, it’s a third straight regional final loss. Florida will probably need a bit of a program re-evaluation before next season begins.

Louisville 85, Duke 63

The top two seeded teams remaining were playing an incredibly close, fun and competitive game before Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury. The Cardinals rode an emotional wave in the second half, eventually pulling forward to the 22-point victory.

Another huge part of Louisville’s win was the Cardinals’ shutdown of Seth Curry. Curry, whose three-point shot is among the best in the nation, only took four shots from behind the arc in the entire game, making just two. If the Cardinals go on to win it all, this will be their defining win of the tournament.

Coming up peachy

The epicenter of the Southeastern United States is about to welcome four deserving teams and their fan bases into town. The home favorite will be Louisville; not only is it the top overall team in the tournament, but geographically Louisville is the only place relatively close to Atlanta.

In the dark horse category, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wichita State gets a lot of upset-hoping fans into the Georgia Dome. Michigan and Syracuse will likely be equally represented by each school’s strong fan base. Next weekend will be electrifying in Atlanta.

Look for Louisville and Michigan to advance to the national championship, although both Final Four games should be close and extremely entertaining to watch. Both semifinals could go either way, so stay tuned Saturday to find out who will be competing for the championship Monday night.

Sweet 16: Still dancing

The Elite Eight is set. The top overall seed in the tournament, two two-seeds, two threes, two fours and a nine are still in the running. We’ll give you a game-by-game breakdown.

Marquette 71, Miami 61

The first regional final ticket punched was the first surprise of the semifinal round. Marquette, who really did not deserve to get past Davidson, upset the ACC champion Hurricanes Thursday. The game wasn’t as even as close as the scoreboard indicated. The Golden Eagles got off to a great start and did not let Miami catch up. It was Marquette’s first impressive win of the tournament.

Ohio State 73, Arizona 70

In what was virtually a game to determine who will represent the West region in the Final Four, The Buckeyes proved once again that they can win the close games down the stretch. In fact, Ohio State overcame an early 11-point Wildcat lead to emerge victorious. The Buckeyes continue to show that they should be a favorite for the rest of the tournament.

Syracuse 61, Indiana 50

Syracuse is continuing its dominant tournament run. The Orange led early and never let the Hoosiers get close. This is the second straight Sweet 16 loss for Tom Crean’s Indiana squad; the last team to defeat the Hoosiers in the NCAA tournament went on to win the national championship.

Wichita State 72, La Salle 58

In by far the most unpredicted pairing in the Sweet 16, the higher seeded Shockers became the only mid-major representative in the Elite Eight. The game was lopsided from the start. La Salle looked like a 13th-seeded team, and Wichita State played like their third-round upset of Gonzaga was not a fluke. Unfortunately for Wichita, Ohio State – possibly the second-best team remaining in the tournament – awaits in the regional final.

Louisville 77, Oregon 69

The best team in the tournament got off to a hot start and rode Russ Smith’s 31 points to the Midwest regional final. As the last remaining team from the under-appreciated Pac-12 league, Oregon put up a fight worthy of a Sweet 16 matchup once the second half kicked into gear. The Ducks’ effort should be commended, and Louisville should still be looked at as a championship favorite.

Michigan 87, Kansas 85 (OT)

Kansas head coach Bill Self said after the game that “this will certainly go down as one of the toughest games that obviously we’ve been a part of and I’ve been a part of.” Self hit it on the head; with time expiring in the overtime period, the Jayhawks’ Elijah Johnson gave up an uncontested layup opportunity when he dished the ball to Naadir Tharpe for a risky, contested three-pointer. At that moment, the Jayhawks should have played for a second overtime instead of for the win.

The Wolverines, continuing the Sweet 16 comeback trend, trailed by 14 late in the game. Like Big Ten rival Ohio State, Michigan is also making a strong case for being the tournament favorite from here on out.

Duke 71, Michigan State 61

After being knocked out by a 15-seed in the first round of 2012, Duke is one of the last eight standing in 2013. The Blue Devils broke Michigan State’s will midway through the first half; the Spartans only regained the lead momentarily after Duke led 28-20 with five minutes to go in the period. Duke is a dangerous team and could also be considered a favorite for the final three rounds.

Florida 62, Florida Gulf Coast 50

The opening two possessions of the second half determined the winner of this game. The key for Florida Gulf Coast’s improbable Sweet 16 run was bursting out of the halftime locker room with confidence, energy and points. In the Eagles’ first possession of the second half they looked stone-cold, throwing sloppy passes and not rebounding an ugly jump-shot attempt.

The Gators started the half with authority, driving for a layup and a free throw. The remaining 19 and a half minutes of the game were just a delay of the inevitable.

Florida Gulf Coast provided an exciting opening weekend story line that will never be forgotten. Florida, meanwhile, has quietly and efficiently worked its way into the South regional final. The Gators would be a good dark-horse pick going into the rest of the tournament.

Setting up the Final Four

Four games stand between now and Atlanta. Each regional final will be compelling, and deciding which team will win each is a challenge.

The Midwest region presents the only 1-2 Elite Eight pairing in this year’s tournament. Louisville has dominated as the top overall seed, but Duke has seen better competition. The Blue Devils will advance to the Final Four behind the laser-beam accuracy of Seth Curry’s three-point shot.

In the South, Michigan is arguably the hottest team in the tournament and Florida has played with ice water running through the Gator veins. Quality wins against VCU and Kansas have prepared Michigan to secure the Final Four slot.

The East regional final will probably be the most fun to watch. It will be the second time this year that Syracuse and Marquette have played. It will also potentially be the last game played between two teams in the Big East conference before it splits in half. Syracuse will avenge its 74-71 regular season loss to the Golden Eagles and reach the Final Four.

Ohio State will win the most lopsided regional final of the year in the West. Aaron Craft is the most valuable player in college basketball at this time; he will lead the Buckeyes to a bruising victory over the Wichita State Shockers, who are currently the closest thing to a Cinderella team left in the tournament.

Round Two: Farewell, Gonzaga

On Saturday, we said goodbye to the first top seed to be eliminated in 2013. While Gonzaga certainly never really looked like a one-seed in edging past Southern and being upset by Wichita State, the Bulldogs’ accomplishments should outweigh their disappointment.

For the first time since the BCS separated Division I schools into major and mid-major status, a mid-major team reached the top spot on the Associated Press basketball poll. For other mid-majors throughout the NCAA, Gonzaga’s rise to the top can be seen as nothing short of inspirational.

For the first time, smaller schools like VCU, Creighton and Belmont have hope that they can rise above Kentucky, Duke, Indiana and other major schools for the top ranking in college basketball.

So while their NCAA tournament run wasn’t impressive, the Gonzaga Bulldogs certainly shouldn’t be completely devastated by their 2012-13 season.

Florida Gulf Coast facts

They’ve done it. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles became the first 15-seed in seven tries to reach the Sweet 16 when they knocked off San Diego State, 81-71 Sunday night. The Cinderella of a lifetime accomplished the unthinkable in the most enjoyable way possible. Here’s a look into what makes Florida Gulf Coast so incredible.

Florida Gulf Coast University opened in 1997. In other words, every member of the school’s basketball team has been around longer than the school itself. As a reference point, Puff Daddy was topping the Billboard Hot 100 with “I’ll Be Missing You” at the time FGCU opened.

This is only the second year the Eagles have been eligible for postseason play. FGCU became a member of NCAA Division I prior to the 2011-12 season, and nearly qualified for the tournament last year by reaching the Atlantic Sun conference championship. The Eagles lost their conference championship in 2012, but have come back flying high.

The Eagles don’t just compete, they play. If you haven’t been watching, Florida Gulf Coast has about as much fun playing basketball as a sixth grade AAU team. For the Eagles, it’s about staying loose and enjoying the moment just as much as it’s about winning. It’s a brand of basketball that even the critical Philadelphia fan base could get behind.

FGCU is loaded with talent. Located right on the beach in Fort Myers, it’s not difficult for Florida Gulf Coast to woo recruits. The team has recruited good players, as well. From the unstoppable Sherwood Brown to Brett Comer, who played AAU ball with Duke standout Austin Rivers, this is a team that doesn’t lack talent at all.

Now that the Eagles will have five days to get off the high of their first ever Sweet 16 berth, a true David-and-Goliath matchup between FGCU and state powerhouse Florida will take place Friday night.

The state of Michigan impresses

After the first two games of the Round of 32, many viewers were probably wondering if there was going to be any competitive basketball played Saturday. Michigan ousted a very good VCU team with authority before Michigan State took care of Memphis without issue.

This is the first time Michigan and Michigan State have reached the Sweet 16 in the same year. For both teams to win so impressively, a Michigan-Michigan State championship should at least remotely be on the radar.

Who will reach the regional finals?

In the Midwest, Louisville has been having their way with opponents. Although the Pac-12 champion Oregon is much better than its 12-seed suggests, the Ducks will have their hands full against Louisville.

In the second Midwest semi, Michigan State has had an impressive run. This can continue in an upset victory over second-seeded Duke.

Moving on to the West, the Wichita State-La Salle matchup is by far the most surprising Sweet 16 game of 2013. The last time a First Four team advanced past the first round, VCU made it all the way to the Final Four. By that logic, it makes sense to jump on the La Salle bandwagon. The Explorers will reach the Elite Eight.

Arizona and Ohio State is a much more believable semifinal. Arizona has cruised to wins over Belmont and Harvard. If it gets at all close with Ohio State, the Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16 with a buzzer-beater against Iowa State. Expect the Buckeyes to pull through.

Michigan and Kansas will be a great game. As long as the Wolverines keep up the way they’ve been playing, they should knock off the South’s number one seed.

In the most intriguing game of the Sweet 16, conventional wisdom would tell you to go with Florida. However, you can’t help but hoping the underdog pulls off another monumental upset. In the most whimsical and likely to fail pick of this column, the Eagles will find a way to soar over the Gators.

Syracuse has been playing exceptional basketball, starting back in the Big East tournament. Their test: the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers. The Orange should pass the Indiana test and advance to the East regional final.

In the final game, a Marquette team that did not even deserve to win their opening round game will face the dangerous ACC champion Miami Hurricanes. Marquette’s luck will run out against the talented Hurricanes.

Round One: Why Florida-Gulf Coast shouldn’t have surprised anyone

For the third time in the past two seasons, there was a 15 seed that upset a two-seed. The Florida-Gulf Coast Eagles sent Georgetown home early with a 78-68 win Friday. This happened just a year after two number 15’s – Lehigh and Norfolk State – turned the tables on their first-round opponents in 2012.

The Eagles, who surprised many by pulling off the upset in only their second year of eligibility, remained confident and collected throughout their game with the Hoyas. In fact, FGCU leader Sherwood Brown has the look (and name) of a ready-made superstar.

Florida-Gulf Coast is a team that beat Miami, another two-seed in the tournament, during the regular season. They knew they belonged, and proved it to the nation Friday night.

From the Georgetown perspective, the Hoyas are on a pretty rough streak in the NCAA tournament. Georgetown has now gone six years without a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and in five of those six seasons (the Hoyas missed the tournament in 2009) they have lost to a double-digit seed.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Eagles were able to pull off a historical upset.

The ones no one saw coming

Two more shocking developments came in the West region, where number three New Mexico and number four Kansas State were upset by Harvard and La Salle, respectively. For Harvard, Thursday’s 68-62 win over predicted championship contender New Mexico was the first time in three appearances the team had won an NCAA tournament game.

The Explorers rode an 18-point halftime lead to a Friday win over Kansas State, another team thought to have a shot at winning the West region. Just two days previous, La Salle knocked off Boise State in one of the “First Four” play-in games. The Explorers are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 2011 VCU Rams, who made it to the Final Four after playing in that year’s First Four.

Speaking of VCU…

No team was more impressive in the Round of 64 than the Rams, who crushed Akron with an 88-42 final. VCU was unstoppable in all facets of their game Thursday night.

Nearly as impressive were the Syracuse Orange, who cruised to an 81-34 victory against Montana. However, the Syracuse victory was not quite as big a statement as VCU’s, merely because Montana had a horrific shooting night. It seemed like the Rams shut down Akron, while the Grizzlies shut themselves down.

Let’s talk conferences

The Atlantic 10, with five member schools receiving bids to this year’s tournament, is undoubtedly the story of the first two days. The conference has posted a 6-0 record to this point with the La Salle and VCU wins, as well as victories from Butler, Temple and conference champion Saint Louis.

On the flip side, the Mountain West Conference has looked weak, highlighted by the early-round exit of its top two teams. In addition to New Mexico falling to Harvard, UNLV fell victim to one of the three 12-5 upsets of 2013, losing 64-61 to California Thursday.

Upsets averted

Two number one seeds nearly became the first to fall prey to an upset at the hands of a 16-seed this year. Gonzaga managed to squeak past Southern Thursday, and Kansas had its hands full with Western Kentucky Friday.

What can we take away from this? Firstly, this is a sign that while it didn’t happen this year, the colossal 16-1 upset is inevitable as NCAA basketball continues growing in parity between the large and small schools. Secondly, Gonzaga and Kansas have their work cut out for them if either one has hopes of hoisting the championship trophy come April 8.


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