Final Four Action All Set For Saturday
By Sam Lynam
In the month of March, many basketball fans rejoice in watching the NCAA Tournament, one of the best sporting events filled with buzzer beaters, amazing highlights, close calls, and emotions. With so much action in such an extended time period, it makes all sports fans keep their eyes glued to the screens. And now after many unforgettable moments and close calls, we have the Final Four set in stone, including Loyola-Chicago against Michigan and Villanova taking on the Kansas Jayhawks.
Conferences like the ACC and the SEC have proven to remain dominant, with the ACC having the most teams in the tournament with 9 and the SEC right behind with 8. But teams like USC and Saint Mary’s were left out of the tournament to the dismay of many fans of west coast basketball. Also, with conferences like the Big 10 seeing the lowest number of entries ever with only 4 and the Big East having 6 entries, it has been an unusual tourney this year.
The 4 Naismith finalists were all in the tournament. The first is Marvin Bagley III, star forward from Duke who led the ACC in scoring and rebounding. The second finalist is Jalen Brunson, junior guard for the Villanova Wildcats scoring almost 20 a game while being the first option for the ‘Cats. The third finalist is Senior guard Devonte Graham for the Kansas Jayhawks. The only senior on this list, he is undoubtedly the leader and X-factor for these Jayhawks averaging almost 18 points per game.
The last finalist and probable Pac-12 player of the year is Deandre Ayton. This year, he has gone off averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. Also, he’s only a freshmen who is projected on many mock drafts to be the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft. However, Arizona was bounced early, falling to Buffalo in the first round.
Duke senior guard Grayson Allen was hoping his plan to stay for a 4th year paid off, but the Blue Devils fell to Kansas 85-81 in the Elite Eight, on a marvelous game by Malik Newman who scored a game and career high 32 points and 7 rebounds. Allen averaged 15 points a game but did much more in terms of providing leadership for his young team, including 4 freshmen in the starting line up to accompany him. One of those freshman who has taken the league over is Marvin Bagley III, another NBA prospect. With both of these players, Duke reached the sweet sixteen easily, beating both their opponents by over 20.
With teams like Syracuse, it seemed like a mismatch every game with 7 players standing 6’6’ tall including Paschal Chukwu at a towering 7’2”. They also have both Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett who are both averaging 15 points, with Brissett also pulling down 9 rebounds per game. This size helped lead Syracuse over Michigan State, and on to the sweet 16. The Orange unfortunately lost to the freakishly athletic Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet Sixteen.
After being unranked throughout the season and only achieving the 5th seed, Kentucky made their way through the tournament by beating both Davidson and Buffalo without much doubt. They are being led by Kevin Knox, but some might argue that point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over the team and has been the top performer in the tournament. It seems easy for coach John Calipari, due to recent recruiting season picking up 5 freshman in the ESPN top 25 players of the class of 2017. Even with all these players they couldn’t topple the defensive powerhouse of Kansas State who moved on to the Elite Eight, before falling to Loyola-Chicago.
With the 4 dominant number one seeds: Kansas, Xavier, Villanova, and Virginia, it looked as if they would take over the tournament when the bracket was released. However, that was not the case. Both Virginia and Xavier were defeated, with Virginia making history, in a bad way as they became the only 1 seed ever to lose to a 16 seed, falling to UMBC, 74-54. 16 seeds had previously been 0-135 in the tourney.
Kansas has a stacked roster, with senior guards Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk and great big man, Udoka Azubuike protecting the paint. Graham is one of the four Naismith award finalists, and the only senior of the four as well. Also, one of the stand out players for the Jayhawks is Sophomore Malik Newman who has averaged 14 points a game 5 rebounds and a little over a steal a game in a little under 30 minutes a game. With hands down his best game, Malik Newman was the piece Kansas needed to push past the Blue Devils to reach the Final Four.
You can watch the Final Four, Loyola against Michigan and Villanova against Kansas live tomorrow, and can follow that by watching the championship live on April 2nd. Who will sit on top of the throne and be named the best college basketball has to offer? We will have to wait and see.