ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER
The Elite 8 has not been kind to #1 seeds thus far. Yesterday, the Marquette Golden Eagles continued their improbable and impressive run by soundly defeating tournament favorite Kentucky and booking their trip to New Orleans for the Final Four. Make no mistake, this was the biggest upset of the tournament, but what was more surprising was the manner in which they did it. The Golden Eagles never even let Kentucky get a whiff of a comeback in the second half, leading by as many as 22 points and winning by 14 in snapping Kentucky's 26-game win streak. Dwayne Wade turned in the best individual performance of the tourney, recording a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in addition to 4 blocks, 1 steal, and a bunch of monster dunks. Usually, when a team gets such an oustanding contribution from its star, the star tends to overshadow the team a bit, but this was unquestionably the best team effort in any game of this tournament. Marquette has made a believer out of me. I now think they can win it all.
And in the West Region, the news wasn't much better for #1 seed Arizona. In a game of streaks and spurts, the Kansas Jayhawks atoned for an embarrassing collapse against Arizona during the regular season and achieved their revenge by eliminating the Wildcats in the Elite 8 and cutting down the nets as the winner of the tough West bracket. Kirk Hinrich showed up and had a great game, scoring 28 points, playing inspired defense, and lending his team confidence and senior leadership. It was a fantastic game that I really didn't want to see end. I wanted Jason Gardner to knock down the clutch three as time was running out to send the game into OT, so we could see some more brilliant basketball. So, Roy Williams and Kansas go back to the Final Four for the second straight year and Williams gets yet another shot at his first national championship. But, now they have to deal with the mighty Golden Eagles...
To continue the trend, #3 seed Syracuse is up by ten over #1 seed Oklahoma at the half. The Orangemen are essentially playing in front of a home crowd and have stymied the Sooners so far with their tenacious zone D. Oklahoma is tough though. They went to the Final Four last year, they played in the most difficult conference in America, and they have a star who wants the ball at the end in Hollis Price. This one is going to get a lot closer, but I think 'Cuse will hold on for the upset.
But, the run of knocking out the #1 seed will end in the South, where the Texas Longhorns will beat the Michigan State Spartans in front of a whole bunch of Texans in San Antonio. Michigan State's lack of a true point guard led to a disastrous collapse against Maryland and almost cost them the game. But they survived another day to face Texas, which boasts the best point guard in America in T.J. Ford. And guard play will be the difference in this game as the Spartans attempt to lure the Longhorns into an ugly physical battle, with big guys banging inside and clogging the middle and guys crashing to the floor to scramble for loose balls. Look for T.J. to have a big game and the 'Horns to head for N'awlins.