Two more games played today. Two more upsets on Day one of the Elite 8. This tournament continues to amaze me and I admit that I was wrong in both of my predictions for the games on the first day of the Elite 8. But I was happy to see the underdogs pull through. I mean Butler, out of the Horizon League, is heading home to Indianapolis to play in the Final Four! Can you really think of a better scenario for this tournament? And then there seems to be justice in the world in that at least one team out of America’s “best” conference is heading to the Final Four.
The first game of the day between Butler and Kansas State had possibly the worst played first half that I have witnessed in an Elite 8 contest in my lifetime. Absolutely atrocious play that was lacking in every way. Then in the 2nd half, the tempo and level of play really picked up though and made up for a lackluster first half. Butler deserved the win in the end though and continues on their magical run. Indianapolis will be going crazy for the Bulldogs over the next week in anticipation for their team coming home to play in the Final Four.
The second game of the evening I will admit really surprised me. Who really saw UK going down? They were by far the most talented team in the country all year. And with Kansas, the other juggernaut being out of the tournament, it appeared inevitable that the Big Blue would be celebrating come April 5th. This game was a very odd game, but entertaining nonetheless. I mean West Virginia did not hit a 2 point field goal the entire first half, yet they were winning at the half?! How many times does that happen. And lets not forget, West Virginia is not known for their 3 point shooting. Well it saved them tonight. This is a Bob Huggins team for god sakes. They make a living in the paint and off put backs.
Kentucky’s one flaw all year, if you could find a flaw in this outstanding team was their struggles at times to hit from the perimeter and make free throws. Well both of these problems played a huge role in the team’s exit for the tournament on this day. They ended up going 4 of 32 from 3 point range and shot just 55 percent from the free throw line. I mean if the Wildcats hit their shots on this night, they have a very good chance to win this game. It’s really that simple.
An interesting fact from this battle. West Virginia stayed in a 1-3-1 zone nearly the entire game. Can you ever remember a Bob Huggin’s team playing the majority of the game in zone? Huggins has always coached teams that play hard-nosed man to man the majority of the game. Well Huggs showed why he is a great coach on this night and went with the zone. He realized that his guys could not match up with the amazing talent of UK in man and took his chances on forcing UK to shoot from the perimeter. This turned out to be a great decision.
Also, how about Joe Mazzulla? It is safe to say that the Mountaineer back up point guard had the game of his life. This was his first time scoring double digits in a game since 2008. He played his heart out as his typical for a Bob Huggins coached player. Not to mention he made John Wall look like he was standing still defensively at times. Though John played great in the offensive transition game, Mazzulla blew by King Wall in a similar fashion to that of Devan Downey in late January. Wall has a very bright future ahead of him, but his inability to keep his man in front of him defensively is lacking at times.
And one final note on the game. Hugs moves to 8 and 1 coaching vs John Calipari. Calipari may have had a much more talented team, but Bob found a way to beat him again. Calipari can have his lottery picks and 5 star recruits. Huggins will take his hard nosed workers and find a way to beat the slick haired Calipari. Calipari is a fantastic recruiter. But he really should have won a title with this team just like he should have with the Memphis team in 2008. Not many coaches have hands down the most talented team in the country in multiple years. You have to take advantage of these opportunities and Cal has shown an inability to win the big one. I still think Calipari is a great recruiter that will continue to put together strong UK teams. But his in-game coaching at times could use some work. I mean why didn’t he have his guys pressing all night tonight? Why did he let his team attempt 32 three pointers when they were dominating the Mountaineers inside? Little things such as these cost him a trip to the Final Four.
Best of luck to both Butler and West Virginia in the Final Four. They are both very deserving teams. Wall, Cousins, Patterson, and maybe Bledsoe are all about to sign huge pay days. They will get over the loss in time.
The tournament continues to be an enigma to all.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.