College Basketball: Star Players Shine in Elite Eight of Our NCAA Tournament
We are down to the Elite Eight of our imaginary NCAA tournament, and that's when the teams' standout players either become national stars or fall flat on their faces.
Nine of the 15 first-, second- and third-team Associated Press All-Amercians are still playing in our make-believe tournament, which provides a look of how the event might have played out if it had not been canceled beause of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have already gone through the first eight days of the event, providing possible results on the days the games were scheduled to be played. Our NCAA tournament began more than a week ago with the preliminary-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then we presented scenarios of for the first-round games on the first Thursday of the tournament, before providing results for opening-round games scheduled for that Friday. Last Saturday we projected how the first eight games of the second round might have played out, then on Sunday we offered results for the remaining second-round games.
Two days ago, on Thursday, March 26, we submitted results of the first four Sweet 16 games. On Friday, March 27, we offered results of Sweet 16 games that would have been played that day.
So now we're on to the Elite Eight on Saturday, March 28, with the two winners advancing to next week's Final Four in Atlanta.
Day 9, Game 1
No. 1 Kansas (31-3) vs. No. 3 Duke (28-6) at Indianapolis
***Duke freshman Vernon Carey Jr. battles Kansas' Udoka Azubuike
Earlier tournament results: Kansas defeated Robert Morris 79-57, Arizona State 68-59 and East Tennessee State 71-64; Duke eliminated Little Rock 90-64, Cincinnati 81-72 and Creighton 81-78.
The game: Kansas and Duke met earlier this season in the very first game of the season. Duke won that game 68-66 on November 5 at Madison Square Garden, and the big takeaway was that the Jayhawks committed 28 turnovers, the most by a Kansas team since February 1992.
The game: The big-man matchup between Kansas' second-team All-American and Big 12 player of the year Udoka Azubuike and Duke second-team All-American Vernon Carey Jr. is a ferocious one. Azubuike was limited to eight points in the teams' first matchup and he is determined to do better.
He collects 12 points in the first half while limiting Carey to six as the Jayhawks take a 44-41 lead at the break.
The second half turns into a backcourt battle between Duke's third-team All-American and ACC player of the year Tre Jones and Kansas' second-team All-American Devon Dotson.
Jones leads a 10-2 Duke run that puts the Blue Devils ahead by five at the 10-minute mark of the second half, but Dotson scores eight points in a six-minute stretch that ties the game with a minute left.
A dunk by Azubuike is countered by a driving layup by Jones, and Kansas waits for the last shot with Dotson looking for an opening. With six second remaining, he drives to his left and pulls up for a 15-foot shot at the elbow. The shot falls through at the buzzer as the Jayhawks mob Dotson and Duke players fall to the ground.
Final score: Kansas 74, Duke 72
Day 9, Game 2
No. 1 Gonzaga (34-2) vs. No. 7 Iowa (23-11) at Los Angeles
***Gonzaga is pleased to be going to Atlanta -- in our virtual reality
Earlier tournament results: Gonzaga ousted Prairie View A&M 88-65, Houston 85-74 and Stephen F. Austin 80-74; Iowa beat Xavier 74-64, San Diego State 63-58 and BYU 77-73.
The game: Nobody has been able to stop Iowa center Luka Garza, a first-team All-American and the Sporting News national player of the year. He is fifth in the nation in scoring and has scored 20 points or more in 19 straight games, including all three postseason victories.
Gonzaga has a strong frontcourt, led by third-team All-American Filip Petruzev, but Garza controls the first 20 minutes anyway, collecting 18 points in the first half, which ends with the score tied at 39-39.
Garza scores his team's first six points of the second half, but he is tiring and getting little help from his teammates. Garza has 24 points, but Joe Wieskamp, who is the Hawkeyes' second-leading scorer for the game, has just five.
Gonzaga has six players who average in double figures in scoring, and although Petrusev is bottled up, Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie are having big games. Those two combine for all of Gonzaga's points during a 12-4 run that puts the Bulldogs ahead by eight with two minutes to go.
Garza gets his 32nd and final point with 1:12 left, but he fouls out with 42.3 seconds remaining, forcing him to watch the rest of the game from the bench, his face buried in a towel.
Kispert sinks the two free throws resulting from Garza's foul and finishes with 23 points. He dribbles out the final seconds as the Bulldogs jump up and down in glee even before the final buzzer sounds.
Final score: Gonzaga 76, Iowa 69.
So two No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four. Will there be any upsets Sunday, when we present the final two Elite Eight games?
Villanova was an early-round victim in our make-believe NCAA tournament, but in this video interview with SI, Villanova coach Jay Wright (not pictured) claims his team was in position to do well in the tournament.