The University of Kentucky’s dream to become the first undefeated NCAA men’s basketball team since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers is drawing closer and closer to reality. The Wildcats are sharpening their claws at the perfect time, too, after trashing 5 seed West Virginia, 78-39, in their Sweet 16 encounter. Do the math on that final score and you’ll realize that Kentucky literally doubled-up on the outmatched Mountaineers, booking it place in the Elite Eight where it now meets 3 seed Notre Dame in the regional championships.
It’s still a little too early to crown Kentucky as the champion, but every time they play, they’ve certainly made me look foolish for not hopping on that bandwagon yet. Even being -13 favorites against West Virginia, the Wildcats just dominated the game from the get-go, racing to a 44-18 first half lead on the back of a dominant defense and a composed three-guard attack led by the Harrison twins and Trey Lyles. Kentucky even pulled off this spanking despite poor performances from their star-studded front line. If that isn’t a sign that beating Kentucky means more than just shutting down Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, then I fear for the rest of the teams that the Wildcats will face moving forward.
In the other Sweet 16 games, 3 seed Notre Dame continued its basketball resurgence by disposing 7 seed Wichita State, 81-70, despite the Shockers closing as -2 favorites. It’s another example of a high seed not getting the proper respect they deserve. The game was actually tight early in the second half, but Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey made the necessary adjustments – that or he simply talked to his kids – because Notre Dame took over from there, finishing off the usually stingy Shockers with 48 second-half points on the back of 75% shooting from the field.
Meanwhile, 1 seed Wisconsin made good on its status by taking out 4 seed North Carolina with yet another comeback win to secure a date with 2 seed Arizona in the Elite Eight. Like its past games in the tourney, the Badger found themselves needing to mount a comeback to advance and once again, Wisconsin stormed back, pushing ahead of a North Carolina team that looked as if it simply ran out of gas in the end. It got a little hairy at the end, too, as Wisconsin somehow managed to cover the -6 spread on free throws, robbing Tar Heel fans and bettors a chance for the double-victory.
Finally, the aforementioned Arizona Wildcats the day’s game of victors, pushing past 6 seed Xavier to set-up a rematch with Wisconsin, the team it lost to in the Elite Eight, 64-63 (OT), in heartbreaking fashion. The Wildcats also had to overcome some first-half jitters but still found a way to pull ahead in the dying stages of the second half to book its place in Elite Eight.
Overall, the four games resulted in three favorites covering their respective spreads and one underdog covering and winning its own game. Totals resulted in an even split between over and under with the Wisconsin-Carolina and Notre Dame-Wichita State games going over their respective totals.
The action now moves to the second day of the Sweet 16 games where 2 seed Gonzaga takes on 11 seed UCLA; 4 seed Louisville battles 8 seed North Carolina State; 5 seed Utah meets 1 seed Duke; and 7 seed Michigan State tussles with 3 seed Oklahoma.