March Madness: ACCMBB in the Elite Eight

Special to, by Max Skinner and Jacob Dennis

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE: Saturday Recap | Sunday Recap | Duke Game Graphic | Louisville Game Graphic | Notre Dame Game Graphic | #ACCMBB Social Hub | Practice Day Press Conferences


Duke Blue Devils (1 seed, South region)

Coach K has done it again, this time with a group of star freshmen.  Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were remarkable Sunday, and the Devils beat second-seeded Gonzaga 66-52 to clinch a spot in Indianapolis.  Duke wasn’t at its brilliant best for much of the afternoon, allowing the Zags to hang around with a chance to potentially steal a spot in the Final Four.  But Houston-native Justise Winslow drilled a dagger 3-pointer to put the Devils up 60-51 in the closing minutes, and Duke coasted the rest of the way, clinching its 16th national semifinal appearance.

Big Men on Campus: Both Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow provided in the clutch for Duke Sunday in the South Regional Final.  The freshmen were a combined 10-of-10 from the free throw line, while also combining for just one turnover.  Jones was the only Blue Devil with more than one assist; the freshman guard registered six dimes, three rebounds and two steals to go along with 15 points.  Winslow didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (4-of-12), but his late 3-pointer proved to be the deciding blow.  He finished with 16 points and five rebounds.

X-Factor: Sophomore guard Matt Jones provided Duke with an unexpected boost from behind the arc Sunday, draining 4-of-7 3-pointers en route to scoring 16 points, more than double his season scoring average.  Jones had hit four 3’s just once on the season entering Sunday, going 4-of-5 from deep in a 13-point performance in Duke’s 93-54 win over Furman on November 26.  It is often an unexpected role player that pushes a team over the top in big postseason games, and Jones was that player Sunday for Duke.  He was just one point shy of tying his season-high.

Stat of the Game: With Duke’s Sunday afternoon victory, Coach K will appear in his 12th Final Four, tying him with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances in NCAA history.

Preview: Duke will meet one of the hottest teams in the nation in seventh-seeded Michigan State Saturday in Indianapolis.  The Devils and Spartans have met once already this season, an 81-71 Duke win on November 18.  Ironically, that game was also played in Indianapolis.  Michigan State ranks 4th nationally with 17.1 assists per game, while also ranking 35th in field goal percentage (47.1%).  But the major stat to keep an eye on will be the rebounding battle.  The Spartans are a good rebounding team, and Izzo’s crew held a 35-25 advantage on the glass in the teams’ first meeting, but Duke still won the game.  If Jahlil Okafor has a good game on the glass, something he didn’t necessarily do against Gonzaga Sunday, Michigan State will have a difficult time defeating Duke.  But if the Spartans dominate the glass, there’s no reason why a team playing its best basketball of the season can’t take the Devils to the wire.

How They Got There: Def. Robert Morris 85-56, Def. San Diego State 68-49, Def. Utah 63-57, Def. Gonzaga 66-52



Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3 seed, Midwest)

When it’s all said and done, people might look back on this game as the only one Kentucky might have lost. Only time will tell in that regard.

Either way, the Fighting Irish played their hearts out against the undefeated Wildcats. Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison sank two free throws with 6 seconds left, and the top-seed Wildcats remained unbeaten, defeating Notre Dame 68-66.

It took everything Kentucky had to hold off the Fighting Irish, who finished the season 32-6. Although the majority of people thought Kentucky would demolish Notre Dame inside, Zach Auguste held his own.

The big man finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds to combat a terrific performance from Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 25 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished out 4 assists.
It came down to making three-pointers, something the Irish were accustomed to doing all season.

“What a great college game. It was thrilling to be a part of it,” Notre Dame head coach, Mike Brey, said following the loss. “It lived up to the hype.”

Kentucky is now just two wins shy away from becoming the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated.

What’s Next: The Irish lose a lot of heart and firepower with the graduation of seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Both players helped bring this program somewhere it had not been in quite some time: March relevancy.

Replacing two superstars in Grant and Connaughton will be difficult, but Notre Dame has a plethora of returning options. The Irish will return three starters including Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Jackson and Auguste were both offensively consistent throughout the whole season. Vasturia, better known for his defensive presence, really exploded on the offensive scene in the latter half of the year.

Notre Dame will bring in three 4-star recruits for 2016. 6-5 SG Rex Pflueger, 6-8 PF Elijah Burns, and 6-5 SF Matt Ryan will try to fill the void of losing Grant and Connaughton.

Depending on how far Kentucky goes, Notre Dame put up a valiant effort against arguably the best college basketball team ever. Hold your head up high Irish fans, your team had a remarkable season.

Stats of the Year: Notre Dame won its first ever conference tournament title | Notre Dame won 30 games for the first time in 100 seasons.


Louisville Cardinals (4 seed, East Region)

Entering Sunday, Louisville had won 94 straight games when leading by six points or more at halftime.  The Cards led by eight over Michigan State in the East Regional Final, but 6-of-32 shooting in the second half and overtime plagued Montrezl Harrell and company down the stretch.  Louisville sophomore forward Mangok Mathiang split a pair of free throws with just under five seconds to play, missing the second shot that would’ve given the Cards a late lead.  Michigan State proceeded to outscore Louisville 11-5 in overtime, and the seventh-seeded Spartans clinched a spot in the Final Four.

Big Man on Campus: There was a point in the second half when Wayne Blackshear almost single-handedly kept Louisville in contention.  The Cardinals’ senior finished with 28 points on just 13 shots, while also going a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line.  Blackshear capped a near-perfect performance by managing to not turn the ball over once.  The senior averaged nearly 17 points per game in the NCAA tournament, five points higher than his season average.

X-Factor: Montrezl Harrell had an outstanding first half, looking nearly unstoppable when catching the ball deep in the post.  But there was a noticeable difference in where Harrell caught the ball in the second half when compared to the first, and his effectiveness was stymied late in the game.  He missed his final five shots and made just 4-of-9 free throws.  Harrell finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Stat of the Game: Michigan State’s transition game was a major catalyst in the team’s win on Sunday.  The Spartans scored 23 fast break points, more than Louisville had allowed in its first three tournament games combined.

Reflection: Louisville’s first season as a member of the ACC was a memorable one.  The Cards finish the season 27-9, with impressive wins over North Carolina and second-ranked Virginia to the team’s name.  Losing Blackshear and Harrell will hurt, but Louisville has more than enough talent to make another deep NCAA tournament run next season.

How They Got There: Def. UC Irvine 57-55, Def. Northern Iowa 66-53, Def. NC State 75-65, Def. by Michigan State 76-70 (OT).