By Andrew Kahn
The record-setting start to the Tournament—as far as one-point games—gave way to exciting, compelling matchups this past weekend. Now it’s on to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Duke and Michigan State will tip off on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET and Kentucky and Wisconsin will be 30 minutes after that, both on TBS. The championship is set for Monday at 9:10 p.m. ET on CBS.
1. Cats enter Final Four with eight lives
Facing its first close call in weeks, Kentucky did what it’s done in every game this season: win. It was an absolute thriller in Cleveland on Saturday, not decided until Notre Dame missed a three-pointer as time expired, giving Kentucky a 68-66 win. With only one defender on him most of the night, Karl-Anthony Towns was dominant, going 10 of 13 from the field and finishing with 25 points. But Notre Dame has withstood performances like that from opposing centers this season and still won. Zach Auguste was terrific inside for the Irish, but Andrew Harrison’s drive to the hoop with six seconds left sent him to the free throw line, where he made both to give Kentucky the lead. Jerian Grant’s double-clutch three from the corner sailed over the rim at the buzzer.
2. On Wisconsin
Wisconsin is the next team with the chance to upset the undefeated Wildcats. The Badgers are going to Indianapolis thanks Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and red-hot three-point shooting. In an 85-78 win over Arizona on Saturday, Dekker’s moon balls repeatedly found the bottom the net. He finished 5 of 6 from deep and scored 27; Wisconsin was 12 of 18 from three as a team. Just as they did in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Badgers beat Oregon in the second round and Arizona in the regional final before facing Kentucky in the Final Four. On Saturday, they will try to avenge last season’s one-point defeat.
3. Justise for Duke
Justise Winslow, playing in his hometown of Houston, scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half, including a contested three with 2:51 left to give Duke a nine-point lead. The Blue Devils beat Gonzaga 66-52 by protecting the ball better (just three turnovers to Gonzaga’s 13) and giving up only two made three-pointers. Matt Jones stepped up for Duke with 16 points, his most since March 4.
4. Sparty crashers
While Kentucky-Wisconsin is a replay from last year’s Final Four, Duke is set for a rematch from earlier this season. Michigan State’s incredible Tournament run continued with an overtime win over Louisville yesterday. The 7 seed Spartans held Louisville to 5 of 25 shooting in the second half and hit some big threes. It is Tom Izzo’s seventh Final Four appearance and his most improbable given how his team looked earlier in the season. Michigan State lost to Duke 81-71 in the Champions Classic on Nov. 18, which was played at the Pacers’ home in Indianapolis (the Final Four will be at the Colts’ stadium).
5. Disappointment for Zona, Zags
Since reaching the regional final as a 10 seed in 1999, Gonzaga has been to the NCAA Tournament every year (17 straight). But yesterday’s loss to Duke means there still won’t be a Final Four banner in Spokane. Many thought this was Mark Few’s most talented team and, unlike the past five years, Gonzaga did survive the first weekend. A 35-3 season and competitive loss to a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight is nothing to be ashamed of. Same goes for Arizona, which has not gone to the Final Four under Sean Miller. “I’m not going to apologize for being 34-4, and I’m not going to apologize for not making the Final Four, and neither should these guys,” Miller said about his team following Saturday’s loss.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.