Wichita State And Kentucky Played Another Absolute Classic
These two teams are so much fun together.
Three years ago, an undefeated Wichita State team and a slow-starting-but-heating-up Kentucky team played an absolutely incredible game of basketball in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament. I remember watching it on my couch at home in Pittsburgh, surrounded by relatives who were excited to see me over spring break, and paying literally no attention to anything except the television. (Well, and the buffalo chicken dip.) In the end, Kentucky won out by two points.
This year, 10-seed Wichita State had a chance for vengeance against 2-seed Kentucky, and they dang if they nearly did it.
Yesterday, as the two teams prepared for the "rematch," Wichita State forward Darral Willis, Jr., sparked the quasi-rivalry with some pretty solid bulletin-board material, telling reporters he and the Shockers weren't scared of big, bad Kentucky.
Wichita State forward Darral Willis Jr. said Kentucky is "nothing special" and the Shockers aren't afraid of anyone "on this planet." pic.twitter.com/oYkE9eqEXU
Which meant you KNEW both teams were going to bring it on Sunday.
And it didn't disappoint.
Kentucky held a two-point lead at halftime, the two teams traded leads early in the second half, and neither team ever led by more than seven points the entire way.
And against a team full of first-round NBA draft picks, it was Wichita State's freshman guard Landry Shemet who had the biggest afternoon of all. Shamet hit seven of his 14 shots, scoring 20 points to lead the Shockers within mere points of knocking off one of the 10 best teams in the country this year.
Down the stretch, things got very dramatic, especially in the final two minutes.
After Shamet made three straight free throws, and the teams traded three-pointers on consecutive possessions, Kentucky led by just two points with under 120 seconds to play. Their offense, that three-pointer aside, had been sort of sleepy and it needed something to wake it up.
But Wichita wasn't done! Because, like I said, Sunday was all about Shamet, who broke out his super-duper-clutch pants just in time, answering Fox's dunk with this cold-blooded three to make it a one-point game:
But after a Malik Monk block, and then two free throws from the Kentucky freshman, Wichita only had one more chance to tie things up and send it to overtime to get that sweet revenge, and they came thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close... but couldn't make it happen.
Still, such a tremendous game from two very good teams. Wichita State probably (read: definitely) deserved higher than a 10-seed, but Kentucky was just better on Sunday. Also, these two teams should play each other every day for the rest of time.
It's finally here, someone's favorite time of the year: March Madness. For sports enthusiasts, this is the pinnacle of their entire sports-loving existence; for others, it's an excuse to yell about athletics and drink in copious amounts.
If you're like me, you probably fall into the latter, but since you're just so hip and cool you want the world to believe you can sport with the best of them. So I am here to give you some pointers (a sports pun, how fitting) on how to actually look like you care about the Madness that is March.
1. Make a Bracket: I know this seems like a terrifying concept, especially when you can't name more than two teams that are playing at any given time, but hear me out. Making a bracket will force you to learn the teams and watch the games so you can, at least, pretend to know something when shouting along with everyone else. As an added bonus, you can also see how elite your guessing skills really are.
3. Frequent Sports Bars: This is where the action is. Imagine a magical land with lots of high-strung men with too much testosterone, probably abandoning a lonely significant other somewhere, drinking together and yelling at a television in unison. Ah, America. If you can mingle amongst them and throw around a sporty phrase or two (try to stick to basketball) you'll fool everyone into thinking you not only know what you're talking about, but that you actually give a shit!
So this, my friends, is my fool-proof method on how to not just survive, but actually thrive in the glory and confusion that is March Madness. Now go forth, my sons/daughters, and sports talk like your life and future as a cool person depends on it.
1. The Best Name: Rex Pflueger, Notre Dame Let's start off with a lighthearted highlight from the weekend.
Notre Dame's Rex Pflueger scored two winning points with 1.4 seconds left on Sunday afternoon to vault the No. 6 seed Irish into the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin.
It was the first field goal of the afternoon for Pflueger, who waited for just the right time to play spoiler against one of the country's favorite Cinderella stories.
And, really, the highlight wasn't the put-back itself, but that we as sports fans were treated to a name that is essentially what you'd get if wrestler Lex Luger donned a bowler hat and a fake mustache and went to party in Las Vegas for a weekend.
Unfortunately, Rex doesn't look much like Lex, but the effect is still the same. Here's to you, Mr. Pflueger.
2. The Best Upset: Middle Tennessee over Michigan State Tom Izzo's team, led by plenty of veteran leadership and NBA Draft-worthy talent, was a popular pick to win it all in a wide-open tournament. Expectations were high; and they should have been.
Then, the unknown Middle Tennessee State Lightning struck hard.
They outplayed the Spartans in the first half with laser-like shooting from deep, and remained afloat in the second half by repeatedly throwing the ball into the post and getting good looks from in close, something even the most seasoned teams stray away from as games go on and legs grow weary.
And then, of course, the Lightning polished the win off with that incredible block of Michigan State's Bryn Forbes to seal the deal.
The Vine below truly encapsulates No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee's incredible upset of the No. 2 seed Spartans on the second day of the tournament.
3. The Best Dunk: Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame It might be recency bias, because this dunk occurred Sunday, but this is the one that sticks out the most in my mind after watching all four days of basketball.
It's especially impressive when you consider the circumstances: Late in the second half, his team leading by three and barely fending off a fiery Stephen F. Austin team, Jackson broke through the lane and extended for this incredibly athletic dunk. Naturally, the Notre Dame bench loved every second.
Plays like this one kept the Irish in range until our man Pflueger was able to cap it all off with his heroic tip-in.
4. The Best Shot: No. 11 Northern Iowa's Buzzer Beater It was the shot heard 'round Midnight Basketball Twitter. We scurried to create GIFs and record Vines of Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson winding up from mid-court, releasing, and burying a game-winning heave to lift the No. 11 seed Panthers over No. 6 seed Texas.
It was another incredible game on the best day of this year's tournament. Both teams kept the other within reach, back and forth for 40 minutes, until Texas tied the game with just a few seconds to go. Overtime seemed inevitable.
5. The Best Game: No. 8 St. Joe's vs. No. 9 Cincinnati We had plenty of contenders on Friday, but this one had it all: a transcendent performance from a guy with an equally transcendent afro; a flurry of action in the final minute; a clutch-time three-pointer; and a dramatic, last-second dunk waved off.
You would imagine that matches between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in each region would be the tightest. The spots are almost toss-ups, and the teams could easily be reversed in their seedings. They should, in theory, be nearly interchangeable in quality.
On Friday, that was true. St. Joe's and Cincinnati were evenly matched, and each team impressed.
Both teams shot at least 48 percent from the field. The Hawks knocked down nine threes, while the Bearcats buried 10. Both teams hit 76 percent of their respective free throws. They were deadlocked in assists at 13 apiece; and Cincinnati grabbed just one more rebound than St. Joe's.
To put it plainly, this was an incredibly even game, played at an impossibly high level. And the Bearcats' game-tying dunk being waived off at the buzzer was the adorning orange twist on a delicious Friday evening nightcap.
St Joe's hangs on to beat Cincinnati in a crazy finish after Ellis' dunk was ruled to have been too late pic.twitter.com/j1yDiXH0yQ
Yesterday's bracket reveal has many of us scratching our heads. Plenty of teams appeared to get a strange benefit of the doubt, while many proven teams were left out or not given that same benefit.
However, we must digress, as the only thing that matters now is picking those crucial games which will make or break (read: definitely break) your bracket. This year is one of the most level field in a long time, so get yourself ready to win your friends' money!
Here's some of the better games to study up on and watch for in the first round!
Miami vs. Michigan State While both teams in this matchup have seemed off their recent marks this year, watch this game for no reason other than a matchup of coaching GENIUSES. Izzo is an obvious legend, and Miami coach Jim Larranaga knows what it takes to bring a team with the odds against them late into March-- just ask that 2006 George Mason team.
It is no secret that the ACC is incredibly dangerous, and has beaten up on each other nonstop this season, but the committee didn't feel the same for the Big Ten, and neither do I. I'm leaning Miami in this one.
MTSU vs. Minnesota The 12-5 matchup just might be my favorite matchup in all of sports. The 12 seed tends to be the top of the lesser-known mid major schools, and unless you're from that school or conference, you probably have absolutely no idea what they are like. Middle Tennessee State comes into the tournament at 30-4, a record that shows one thing-- they win. Minnesota, on the other hand, is also in the somewhat shaky Big Ten.
While I have certainly not watched MTSU, I have seen Minnesota. They are solid at times, but worry me. Coach Richard Pitino (Rick Pitino's son) will have to use some savvy methods to win this one. No pick here... just don't sleep on MTSU.
Dayton vs. Wichita State Wichita State has absolutely no business being a number 10 seed. Just about every analyst agrees that this is an absolute robbery by the tournament committee. They are 30-4. For comparison, just two years ago they came into the tournament at 30-5, and were a seven seed, advancing to the Sweet 16.
Dayton is the A10's highest ranked team at seven, which tells you a decent amount about the A10 this year. It'll need some more studying, but I gotta say Wichita State has an edge here. The added motivation of proving people wrong should push the Shockers through.
Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt This game will be great for no reason other than it will be Northwestern's first EVER NCAA Tournament game. Every year, they always approach the bubble, and late in the season can't get that final crucial win to put them on the inside. Their last second win over Michigan this year did just that, and for that reason alone I am blindly picking them to win their first ever game in mid-March.
I'll probably be wrong, because that's how every pick I make tends to go, but I'm riding this one for the emotional value it has to Northwestern.
5 NCAA Tournament Underdogs You Should Root Super Hard For
Everyone loves an underdog.
It's the most magical time of the year! The NCAA men's basketball tournament starts tomorrow, which means you need to familiarize yourself the 68-team bracket of absolute insanity.
Now, there are probably plenty of lists out there telling who you should put all your money on. In reality, it's a complete crap shoot. Sure, you can bet on high seeds and probably do pretty well. But where's the fun in that?
Instead, you should be rooting for absolute chaos. Big-time programs falling left and right! Schools with enrollments of, like, 54 knocking off the giants! How much more fun does that sound? Ah, that's right: SO MUCH MORE.
So I've compiled a list of the five underdogs you should no doubt be rooting for when the madness starts Thursday afternoon.
1. No. 13 seed Winthrop (vs. Butler in Round 1) If you're an NCAA tournament junkie, Winthrop will probably be a name that brings back memories. The school used to be a regular participant in the tournament in the early 2000s, but they've only ever won a single tournament game. Interestingly enough, that win came exactly 10 years ago against Notre Dame, which is just a two hour drive up US-31 from Winthrop's opponent this year, Butler!
Also, if Winthrop and Wichita State happen to go on incredible, tournament-shaking winning streaks, it'll set up a good nostalgia-inducing matchup. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State's head coach, used to coach at Winthrop. It's a seriously long shot, but hey, that's what this tournament is all about!
Like... are you kidding? That is such a good logo. You should totally root for Winthrop.
2. No. 15 seed Troy (vs. Duke in Round 1) Forget about Tory for a second, and focus on their opponent, Duke. It's so easy to root against Duke. Everyone does it. It's basically a national pastime. Duke has been so freaking good for so freaking long, and Coach K has been so successful (sometimes smugly so), that it just comes naturally.
This year's Duke team is no different thanks to the presence of Grayson Allen, the kid who can't stop tripping people on the court, and who also looks like Ted Cruz, just with the ability to finish around the rim.
Plus, maybe it's just me, but ever since I watched High School Musical back in the day, I've always rooted for any Troy in basketball. So go Troy!
3. No. 11 seed Rhode Island (vs. Creighton in Round 1) Rhode Island's got a couple real good things going for them.
First of all, it's Rhode Island's first NCAA tournament appearance since the turn of the century. The last time Rhode Island was in the tournament, a whole bunch of people were worried their computers would explode when the date turned to January 1, 2000. We're so much smarter now! (No we're not.)
Plus, the color combo on their logo is tremendous.
Everyone likes powder blue. It's got that delightful vintage look I always associate with college basketball. And then a good splash of navy blue for good measure? I love it a lot. I almost wish I went to Rhode Island. (No I don't.)
And, most importantly, Rhody's mascot is the Ram. It's a very good mascot, and one time it tried to get into a fight with the Hawk from St. Joseph's, which I think is extra funny because Rhode Island was kicking the crap out of St. Joe's in this game.
That's hilarious. Go Rhody.
4. No. 15 Jacksonville State (vs. Louisville in Round 1) The season 2016-17 was, far and away, the best in the history of Jacksonville State's men's basketball program. They won 20 games in a single season for the first time since joining Division I in the mid-1990s, and this is their first NCAA tournament appearance EVER. As I'll tell you again in a little bit, you can't help but root for a first-timer!
But wait, there's so much more. The Gamecocks' coach, Ray Harper, is in his first season with Jacksonville State, which is pretty neat. You know what's even more neat? Ray's first name is actually Lilburn.
His name is Lilburn.
That sounds like a rapper. Or maybe what you'd call just a tiny insult. Not a huge burn. Just a lilburn. I'm all the way on board with Lilburn Ray Harper.
Also, the school's motto is "The friendliest campus in the South," which I can neither confirm nor deny but, honestly, who cares? That's an admirable goal. I appreciate a college doing its best to be nice to me. Normally colleges just want my money and also, in a more roundabout way, my soul. This time Jacksonville State wants to be my friend. I say, let's all be Jacksonville State's friend!
Plus, if you're not really sold yet, it's kind of impossible to root against a No. 15 seed. Florida Gulf Coast was a No. 15 seed, and they gave us Dunk City. Let's hope Jacksonville State does some equally dope stuff.
5. No. 8 Northwestern (vs. Vanderbilt in Round 1) Alright, so technically this isn't an underdog. Northwestern is an 8-seed, meaning they're favored in their first round matchup against Vanderbilt. But stay with me here: Northwestern hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament... ever.
This is a big ol' deal. If you follow a lot of sports writers on Twitter, you probably saw them all losing their collective minds when Northwestern made the field. It's hard not to feel really excited for the fanbase: waiting literal decades for something to finally come true makes for a pretty great feeling when that one thing actually arrives. How do you not root for a first-timer?
Also, if you need more convincing, the color purple is most definitely under-represented among powerhouse programs. Purple is such a good color! It's Northwestern's main color. Get Purple Fever. Listen to Prince all week. Do it big.
Oh, and they have a guy whose first name is Dererk, which is absolutely going to drive newspaper editors INSANE if he, say, hits a game-winning shot in the first round because dagnabbit that is not a name.
March Madness Started Off With Two Absolutely Bonkers Games
I almost passed out.
My goodness, March Madness, pace yourself! We're only just getting started!
In what can only be described as the perfect beginning to the NCAA tournament, two 5-seed-versus-12-seed matchups, the ultimate upset machine the past five years, went alllllll the way down to the line Thursday afternoon. It was... kind of awesome.
Let's start with the first game of the entire tournament, which pitted 5-seed Notre Dame against 12-seed Princeton. Princeton went undefeated -- 14-0! -- against the rest of the Ivy League this season, so this was no pushover team of smarty pants basketball players. It was tight all the way.
The only double-digit lead of the game came on a Notre Dame dunk, which put the Fighting Irish up, 45-34, with 13:37 to go.
So Princeton promptly made a three and a layup to make it a six-point game again. March!
From there, it was back and forth until 8:54 left in the second half, when Notre Dame went completely cold, missing 10 straight shots. With 2:06 left, when Notre Dame finally scored again, it was a 57-54 game, the Irish still leading. They made a shot and hit two free throws to take a 59-54 lead, but Princeton drained a three on the next possession.
Then, with 19 seconds left, this mad scramble happened to make it a one-point game in the first game of the entire tournament, because March is insane:
So, to set the table: one-point game, not much time left. Notre Dame's heading to the free throw line. Matt Farrell, an 80 percent free throw shooter this season, gets an and-one chance to put his team up three and... he misses his first free throw! So Princeton, with a dozen seconds left, sprints down the court and gets this not-that-bad look to take a two-point lead with seven seconds left:
I mean, it wasn't perfect, but it's hard to get picky when there are seven seconds left in a potential upset NCAA tournament game. When he let it go, I thought the shot was all the way in. It lined up, he had a clean look... and he just barely shot too long.
Meanwhile, 12-seed UNC-Wilmington was scaring the hell out of 5-seed Virginia!
The underdog Seahawks jumped out to a 26-11 lead early in the first half, knocking down threes like crazy people against the best defensive team in the country. Virginia worked back into the game by tightening up on both ends of the court, but it was a one-point game at halftime. Basically a toss-up.
And though Virginia started to try and pull away in the second half, UNC-Wilmington wasn't going anywhere. They stuck to their guns, launching 26 threes (THAT IS SO MANY) and knocking down 10 of them, while grabbing eight more rebounds than Virginia.
Oh, and ridiculous effort like this didn't hurt (except, it probably did):