March Madness is heating up.
After the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, 16 programs emerged still vying for a chance to win a national championship. Now, the field has been further diminished to 8 and we are seeing more competitive and close games as the road to Phoenix draws closer. We have seen teams triumph, moving one step closer to the Final Four while also seeing teams suffer defeat and agony as they head home empty handed.
Red Lettering = Upset
#1 Kansas – 98 vs #4 Purdue – 66
#3 Oregon – 69 vs #7 Michigan – 68
#1 Gonzaga – 61 vs #4 West Virginia – 58
#2 Arizona – 71 vs #11 Xavier – 73
#4 Florida – 84 vs #8 Wisconsin – 83
#3 Baylor – 50 vs #7 South Carolina – 70
#1 North Carolina – 92 vs #4 Butler – 80
#2 Kentucky – 86 vs #3 UCLA – 75
Heroes of the Sweet 16:
Jordan Bell – F, Oregon
Stats: 16 points/ 13 rebounds/ 2 blocks/ 4 Offensive Rebounds
In a game that came down to every last possession, nobody wanted the ball late in the game more than Jordan Bell. He was able to pull down two big offensive rebounds and put-backs late into the second half. While it was teammate Tyler Dorsey’s scoring the go-ahead bucket to give them the lead for good, it was Bell who would keep possessions alive for the Ducks in order to advance.
Bell has put together a solid tournament campaign. In the first round match-up against Iona, Bell scored 17 points while bringing down 12 rebounds. The following round against Rhode Island, Bell contributed only 6 points but was able to bring down 12 rebounds, 6 of which came on the offensive glass. Bell and the Ducks will face the powerhouse in the Midwest, Kansas in the Elite 8. Oregon will need Bell to stay consistent in terms of rebounding and bring in a few timely offensive rebounds that give Oregon added possessions.
De’Aaron Fox -G, Kentucky
Stats: 39 points/ 4 assists/ 2 steals/ 13-20 FG
When the brackets came out on Selection Sunday people saw a possible Sweet 16 matchup between Kentucky and UCLA as a game that could have been the best of the tournament and it certainly started out that way. However, the play of freshman phenom De’Aaron Fox helped Kentucky pull away and secure a rather easy victory. While fellow freshman Malik Monk also of Kentucky and Lonzo Ball from UCLA had their moments, it was Fox who owned this game from start to finish. Fox finished with 39 points (the highest point total for any player in the tournament so far), but he also threw in 4 assists and had 2 big steals looking like anything but a freshman on this night, getting to the rim almost at will and creating havoc for a seemingly overmatched UCLA defense.
In this corner of the bracket, there is no rest for the weary, however, as Kentucky now moves on to the Elite 8 to face top-seeded North Carolina, who cruised to an easy win over Butler in their Sweet 16 matchup. Malik Monk was the one who had the big game against UNC in the regular season, but with North Carolina no doubt focused on stopping Monk, it may well be up to Fox to have another big game to lead Kentucky to the Final Four.
Trevon Bluiett – G, Xavier
Stats: 25 Points/ 2 Rebounds/ 2 Assists/ 9-17 FG
Cinderella keeps on dancing and it is thanks again to Trevon Bluiett, who led all scorers and moved 11-seeded Xavier on to the Elite 8. Bluiett had his third straight 20 point game of the tournament finishing with 25 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists (including what would prove to be the game-winning assist with less than a minute remaining) against a strong Arizona defense helping Xavier squeak by the 2-seeded Wildcats 73-71. Bluiett has been the catalyst for the upstart Musketeers the entire tournament and while this game wasn’t as easy as their Round of 32 blowout victory, Bluiett still made smart plays and kept his team in a good position to pull off another stunner.
As with any team that advances to the Elite 8 (especially a double-digit seed), things do not get any easier for Bluiett and the Musketeers as they now face off against the South Regions top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. However, regardless of the opponent or the defensive scheme, Bluiett has shown an uncanny ability to impose his will on a game. If Xavier has any hopes of pulling off yet another upset and advancing to the Final Four Bluiett will again have to be the engine that drives them there.