Photo by: Markus Spiske
Sunday March 26th saw the conclusion of the Elite Eight, the quarterfinals of March Madness – the NCAA national basketball championship and the pinnacle of crushed gambling dreams.
With zero remaining perfect brackets and number one seeds, this year’s tournament has been chaotic as always, and the Elite Eight was no different.
After the Sweet 16 wrapped up on Friday, the Elite Eight began with two games and two upsets, with both UConn (4) and Florida Atlantic (9) upsetting Gonzaga (3) and Kansas State (3), respectively.
Florida and Kansas was a close game throughout, with neither team gaining a sizeable advantage at many points.
Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell, fresh off a record-setting and downright heroic 20 assist effort in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State, balled out again, with 30 points and 12 assists.
Unfortunately, Nowell’s play wouldn’t be enough. Kansas State was able to hit big shots down the stretch to keep the game close, but they’d be forced to foul to keep possession, and with Florida keeping the ball out of Nowell’s hands, Kansas State would not be able to get a final shot and would fall, 79-76.
Saturday’s other game, on the other side of the bracket, was considerably less competitive.
While UConn dominated eighth-seeded Arkansas 88-65 in the Sweet Sixteen, Gonzaga closed out a nail-biter against UCLA, winning on a last-second half-court shot after Drew Timme’s back-to-back missed free throws allowed UCLA to go up by one.
The first half was close for the majority, but a buzzer-beating three put UConn up seven to end the half. From there, it was all UConn. Thanks to dominating in the offensive paint and lighting up from three, UConn dismantled the Zags on offence and stifled them on defence, winning by a decisive 82-54.
Their opponents in the Final Four were determined on Sunday, with matches between the Creighton Blue Jays and the San Diego State Aztecs, and between the Miami Hurricanes and Texas Longhorns.
The Aztecs pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen, knocking off one-seed Alabama 71-64, shooting well from three and fending off a late Crimson Tide surge.
Creighton had a much easier opponent — 15 seed Princeton — and took care of the 86-75 as guard Baylor Scheierman and centre Ryan Kalkbrenner put on clinics, both scoring over 20 points.
Regardless, despite the disparity in Sweet 16 opponents, the Creighton-San Diego State matchup was closely contested from tip-off to the final buzzer.
Creighton led 33-28 at the half, but the Aztecs pulled even down the stretch, and eventually took the lead. Creighton tied the game at 56 with a little over 30 seconds remaining off an easy layup off an in-bound. The Aztecs took a timeout with six seconds remaining. San Diego guard Darrion Trammell cut to the paint and opted for a floater, where he was fouled on a controversial call on Canadian Ryan Nembhard. Trammell hit one of two shots at the line in what would stand as the game winning basket, sending San Diego State to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Like San Diego State, Miami pulled off an upset of Houston, who were favoured by many to win the whole tournament. Miami held a small lead going into the half, and stretched it out over the second, winning 89-75.
The Longhorns dominated their first half against third-seed Xavier, leading 42-25 at the half, and, despite being outscored in the second, their first half margin was enough to float them to the Elite Eight.
Like in the game against Xavier, Texas outscored Miami by a fair margin in the first half. And though the Longhorns maintained a double-digit lead throughout the early stages of the second half, the Hurricanes stormed back, finding their groove late in the game and outscoring Texas 51-36 in the second half. Off the strength of guard Jordan Miller’s perfect night, shooting 13 of 13 from the free throw stripe and seven of seven from the field for 27 points, Miami also advanced to their first Final Four.
The Elite Eight of March Madness has come to a close, and this year’s tournament has lived up to its reputation of being chaotic and unpredictable, with two upsets and two teams advancing to their first Final Fours in program history. Both Final Four games will take place on Saturday, April 1st, with Florida Atlantic playing San Diego at 6:09 and Miami playing UConn at 8:49.