I know, I know, it’s not even March anymore. How can it still be March Madness? Truth be told, aside from the very first day of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it hasn’t been very mad at all. There have been relatively few major upsets and this is reflected in today’s two games between the last four teams remaining. Of the four teams remaining, three are 1 seeds, which means the committee that selected teams for the tournament and ranked them before the tournament began accurately predicted three of the four best teams. The only surprise, 7 seed Michigan State, is only kind of a surprise. Although they weren’t predicted to do this well this year, their coach and program has an incredibly strong recent history of success. For some reason beyond my comprehension, these games — as exciting and high profile as they are
NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Michigan State Spartans vs. #1 Duke Blue Devils, 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS.
This game is definitely the undercard or less anticipated game of the two. This is mostly because it doesn’t feature Kentucky, the team that virtually every narrative in this tournament is focused on. Putting narratives aside for a minute though, this is a very attractive basketball game. Duke has the most polished offensive big man in the game this year, a player named Jahlil Okafor who is likely to be the first overall draft pick in the NBA this coming year. Watch for him — he’s the enormous dude who wears number 15 – when he gets the ball near the basket. He’s surprisingly graceful for someone who is 6’10” and 270 lbs at age 19. One of the most effective motivations for a sports team to over-achieve seems to be the sense that the world did or does not believe they can succeed. Michigan State has gleefully taken up that mantle and, because they were given a relatively poor 7 seed for this tournament, it fits to a degree. Michigan’s coach, Tom Izzo, is well-known for being able to whip together some tactics that will work to counter-act whatever the opposing team does best. If Michigan State has a chance in this game, it’s because coach Izzo will be able to outsmart Duke’s coach. The problem with that is that Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is the most well-respected coach in college basketball. Duke has the clear edge in this game but not by enough to make it worth skipping.
NCAA Men’s Basketball – #1 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #1 Kentucky Wildcats, 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS.
All roads lead to Kentucky in this tournament. They are two wins (this game and the finals on Monday) away from completing the first undefeated season for a men’s college basketball team since 1976. (The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has had four undefeated seasons since then including a streak of 90 straight games which included two complete undefeated seasons and championships in 2008/9 and 2009/10.) The primary fascination for this tournament revolves around whether or not Kentucky will be able to complete the undefeated season and win the championship. To do that, they’ll need to beat a Wisconsin team that’s had it out for them since Kentucky eliminated them from March Madness last year. That’s right — these two teams played last year in the Final Four as well. In that game, Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 on a last second three-point shot. By most accounts, these two teams are both better this year than they were last year, so this should be a heck of a game. I’m looking forward to it!