NCAA Tournament Coverage: Three Thrilling Friday Finishes

It was quite a night of college basketball in the Sweet 16 on Friday. Three of the four games went literally to the final possession, including both games at the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis where the crowd was out in full force. Here’s a look back on the four games that completed the field for the regional finals…


Michigan State 61 Virginia 59: It was the clash of the region’s betting favorite against its top seed, and Las Vegas came out on top, although by the narrowest of margins. Each team was basically carried by two players—Branden Dawson and Adrien Payne combined for 40 points for Michigan State, while Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon combined for 34 for Virginia.

The stars played like it last night, but Sparty’s did so with a little more efficiency—45 percent from the floor to 35 percent for the Cavs. The specific difference here was Dawson shooting 9-for-16, while Brogdon going 4-for-14, and getting his points at the foul line.

UConn 81 Iowa State 76: There were some great individual performances in this game, but the one that stands out is the star that struggled. It was just a tough night for Melvin Ejim, who shot 3-for-13. And while Cyclone teammate DeAndre Kane got 18 points, it took 6-for-18 shooting. Dustin Hogue became one of those proverbial “step-up” players for Iowa State and poured in 34, but it wasn’t enough.

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It wasn’t enough because the Huskies were balanced inside and out. Shabazz Napier scored 19, as he continues to build his case for best player in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Running mate Ryan Boatright kicked in 16. But no one dominated like DeAndre Daniels up front, with his 27 points/10 rebounds and UConn made sure the fans who commuted in to New York City to watch this game will have reason to return on Sunday.

Sunday’s UConn-Michigan State final will tip at 2:20 PM ET and be on CBS. This will be a rematch of a recent Final Four game, back in 2009. The Spartans won as an underdog playing on a home-neutral environment in that one, in Detroit’s Ford Field. Now it’s the Huskies turn to be on an underdog on the home-neutral court.


Kentucky 74 Louisville 69: A lack of size and a lack of free throw shooting doomed Louisville’s bid for a second straight national title and third straight Final Four. The Cardinals were only 13-for-23 at the foul line, including Wayne Blackshear going 1-for-2 when he came to the line at the end trailing 70-68.

Blackshear should never have been on the foul line to begin with, as this looked to be a shot that was blocked clean. But it was the one break Louisville got on a night where it seemed that Kentucky was allowed to throw bodies throughout the paint without consequence while Louisville was whistled for what were, by comparison, more touchy fouls.

All the officiating did was accentuate an edge the Wildcats already had and that was down low. They controlled the glass, 37-29, with Julius Randle’s 15 points/12 rebounds leading the way and Dakari Johnson getting 15 more. It seemed that any time Kentucky wanted a bucket, they could just lob it in down low.

Michigan 73 Tennessee 71: The Wolverines led by double digits in the second half before the Vols came storming back and actually got the ball down by a point with ten seconds left. More officiating controversy reigned here. Jarnell Stokes got the ball, pivoted into the post and was called for a charge as he went into Jordan Morgan, effectively ending the game.

I had mixed feelings on this call. From an angle below the basket, it appeared Stokes did lower his shoulder dramatically, and that needs to be called, regardless of the game situation. It’s too big an advantage if the offensive player is allowed to mimic Adrian Peterson going into the hole within six feet of the hoop. The flip side is that the camera angle from the backcourt didn’t appear quite as clear-cut. So the end result is that while I understand why the team that didn’t get the call is frustrated, I can see this one either way.

The overarching story is that Michigan remains locked in from three-point range, going 11-for-20. They remain balanced, with four starters ending up between 10-15 points. Tennessee, by contrast, was not able to work its edges inside. Jeronne Maymon only scored two points, and Stokes ended up just 11. The guard play, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson combining for 43 points, kept the Vols in it, but if we’d have known up front that this game would be decided on the perimeter, we’d have known Michigan would win.

Kentucky-Michigan in the regional final at 5 PM ET on Sunday (CBS) is another rematch of a Final Four game. This time it was back in 1993, and it was an epic battle in New Orleans. The Fab Five in their sophomore year went against Kentucky’s Jamal Mashburn, and the Wolverines survived an overtime battle. The roles are reversed now—it’s the ‘Cats with all the up-and-coming kids, and the Wolverines the more veteran team.

NCAA Tournament coverage returns tomorrow, as we look back on Saturday’s regional final action. The first two tickets to Dallas get punched today. A TBS doubleheader of Dayton-Florida and Wisconsin-Arizona begins at 6:09 PM ET.