Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Sweet 16 Part Deux. At the risk of sounding blunt or insensitive, there is no shame in calling Thursday night’s Sweet 16 match-ups exactly what they were: dry, boring, dull, a monotonous combination of the three. The most surprising outcomes of the night – Syracuse’s win over Indiana; Marquette’s blowout of Miami – disrupted the Miami-Indiana Elite 8 match-up forecasted on most bracket sheets, but the nature of said disruption was never in doubt. The Golden Eagles and Orange were in control from the start; folks spent much of both games lamenting the reasons behind the top seed carnage and ruing their teams’ demises on Twitter and saying the sorts of irrational things irritant fans are wont to say at times of sudden grief. Wichita State and La Salle was just as one-sided – the Shockers’ battered John Giannini’s team on the glass and corralled its guard-oriented attack into an aimless game of roadrunning hot-potato. The only game of any real entertainment value was Ohio State-Arizona, with LaQuinton Ross providing the buzzer-beating highlight of the night. We entered Friday night’s prospectively titillating slate with hopes of widespread competitiveness and high-strung tension, and with Florida Gulf Coast pitted against Florida in the most unlikely of in-state bragging rights games, Michigan State and Duke meeting in a Hall of Fame coaching legacy grudge match, the forecast showed promise. So, did Friday night redeem the Sweet 16 after Thursday night’s plainly mediocre lineup?
Your watercooler moment. The Best Game Of The Season?
Storming back in the final moments to tie Kansas, then win in overtime, Michigan’s resolve and determination down the stretch was something to behold (Getty Images).
Late in the second half, as Kansas spread its scoring output among all five starters in almost equal measure, it began to look as if the Jayhawks’ veteran lineup was going to hold off Michigan’s young charges for a trip to the Elite 8. That prediction looked safer than ever with just under four minutes remaining and Kansas leading by 11. The rest seemed academic – all Kansas needed to do was play sound and turnover-free basketball over the final minutes, shepherd home a comfortable victory, carry out a quick locker room celebration and rest up for a Final Four entry game Sunday. Nice season Michigan, you had your fun, now go home and enjoy the rest of this Tournament from a nice, comfortable, TV-appointed couch. Hand shakes and bro hugs. All that good stuff. Or so Kansas thought: Trey Burke did not subscribe to that logic, nor did the rest of his teammates, as the Wolverines erased KU’s lead on a 22-8 run powered and concluded by Burke’s overtime-inducing, ice-cold, 30-foot jumper with five seconds remaining. The blown lead was just as much a product of Kansas’ own mistakes as it was Burke’s sheer brilliance, but the unquantifiably crucial momentum advantage had fallen towards the Wolverines, and the overtime period played out much the way you’d expect. A questionable last-possession drive-and-dish from Elijah Johnson sealed Michigan’s win, along with its first appearance in a regional final since the Fab Five heyday. If One Shining Moments can be had in advance of the National Championship game, Burke’s came in the second half and overtime Friday night (he went scoreless in the first half). His game-tying three was the most visible highlight of a 23-point, 10-assist performance that will forever be remembered in Wolverines lore as the most willful single-half effort of Michigan’s 21st century hoops resurgence. Burke is the best player left in this field, and he couldn’t have made a stronger statement to validate that title than what he did Friday night.
Read the rest of this entry »