The road to the 2012 NCAA Final Four proved pretty maddening for two more #1 seeds that bit the dust in March Madness competition–#1 North Carolina was upset by #2 Kansas, 80-67, and #1 Syracuse was upset by #2 Ohio State, 77-70.
Only #1 Kentucky made it to the Final Four, eliminating #3 Baylor, 82-70, and #4 Louisville came from 11 back to beat #7 Florida, 72-68. Louisville had earlier knocked off #1 Michigan State.
Ohio State had to really work to get into the Final Four. Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes 6-foot-9, 265-pound sophomore forward, had 2 fouls 6 minutes into the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the 1st half as the teams went into the locker room tied at 29.
Sullinger would return in the 2nd half to score 19 points and grab 7 rebounds to help Ohio State pull off the upset. With 59 seconds left, the Buckeyes led by 8 points and were able to hold off Syracuse, which was called for 29 fouls in the game, the most for the Orange in more than 3 years.
The Buckeyes benefited from the Syracuse defensive attack, making 13 of 14 free throws in the final 68 seconds, and nailing 31 of 42 (74%) from the line in the game.
Louisville had an even tougher time of it. The Cardinals were down by 8 at the half and slipped to 11 behind before going on a 23-8 run to end the game and win by 4, 72-68.
Chane Behanan gave Louisville the go-ahead basket with 1:04 left, and the Cardinals did it without their star guard Peyton Siva, who fouled out with a big 3:58 left to play.
Florida went 8-for-11 from 3-point range in the 1st half, and was dead cold in the 2nd half, missing 9 straight shots from beyond the arc. Worse yet, the Gators missed 7 shots down the stretch and committed a turnover in the last 2:30 of the game.
The Louisville-Florida match-up was real personal because Gator coach Billy Donovan is now 0-7 against Cardinal coach Rick Pitino, who coached Donovan at Providence, hired him as an assistant coach at Kentucky, and felt proud as a papa after Donovan won the national title twice with Florida (back-to-back in 2006 and 2007).
Kentucky cruised past Baylor, leading by 20 at the half, 42-22, and then sending the Bears packing for home.
Kansas went crazy on North Carolina down the stretch. Tyshawn Taylor led 5 Jayhawks in double figures (he scored 22). Player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson added 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Elijah Johnson kept up his blistering pace in the tournament with 10 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:07 to play that sparked Kansas’ 12-0 run to end the game.
Center Jeff Withey made two monster blocks to deny the Tar Heels during the final run—including one that set up a big 3-point play by Taylor. North Carolina, which played without injured star point guard Kendall Marshall, could not overcome a 5:46 field goal drought to end the game.
So the Final Four field is set with #1 Kentucky, #2 Ohio State, #2 Kansas and #4 Louisville. The National Championship Game will be played on Monday, April 2,
Here are the national semifinal match-ups for the 2012 NCAA Final Four:
Games on Saturday, March 31, in New Orleans:
#1 Kentucky and #4 Louisville
#2 Ohio State and #2 Kansas
Here are the 2012 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Regional Results:
Saturday, March 24, and Sunday, March 25:
#4 Louisville eliminated #7 Florida 72-68
#1 Kentucky eliminated #3 Baylor 82-70
#2 Ohio State upsets #1 Syracuse 77-70
#2 Kansas upsets #1 North Carolina 80-67
The Sweet 16 competition went as expected in the South, East and Midwest Regions as all of the favored teams won, sending three #1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina), two #2 seeds (Ohio State and Kansas) and one #3 seed (Baylor) on to the Elite 8.
Only Syracuse and North Carolina almost went home early. The Wisconsin Badgers nailed 14 of 27 three-pointers against Syracuse’s zone defense, but came up a shot short at the end to lose their upset bid, 64-63.
#13 Ohio felt destined to upset North Carolina and darn near did. The Bobcats, who were trying to become the first team seeded 13th or worse to make the regional finals since the tournament expanded in 1985, had a chance to convert a three-point play that would have given the them the lead with 25 seconds left in regulation.
Walter Offutt missed from the line, however, the game ended at 63-all, and Ohio went 0 for 6 from the field in the first overtime as North Carolina eventually won by 8, 73-65. Offutt had 26 points in the loss.
The West Region was a walking disaster area for the two favorites—top-seed Michigan State looked less than stellar, losing to #4 Louisville, 57-44, and #3 Marquette was upended by #7 Florida, 68-58.
Michigan State was all Draymond Green (13 points and 16 rebounds), but the Spartan guard play was simply lacking. Green did not have much support. Michigan State does not have a second really good player, and it showed in the end.
Florida Freshman Bradley Beal was dominating for the Gators. Beal scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting (80% from the floor), grabbed 6 rebounds, blocked 2 shots and created 4 assists. Marquette? Well, Marquette really didn’t have a chance, or a prayer.
Top individual performances in the Sweet 16 included Tyler Zeller of North Carolina (20 points and 23 rebounds), Quincy Acy of Baylor (20 points and 15 rebounds), Thomas Robinson of Kansas ( 18 points and 15 rebounds), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky (24 points and 10 rebounds), and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State (23 points and 11 rebounds).
Another hands down performance was turned in by Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng, the Cardinals 6-foot-11, razor-thin sophomore center from Senegal (that’s a coastal country in West Africa). Dieng blocked 7 shots and was absolutely dominate inside the paint while altering several other shots. (I think his last name is pronounced Jang, but I will stand corrected by anybody from West Africa.)
Here are the 2012 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Regional Results:
Thursday, March 22, and Friday, March 23:
#4 Louisville upset #1 Michigan State 57-44
#7 Florida upset #3 Marquette 68-58
#1 Kentucky eliminated #4 Indiana 102-90
#3 Baylor eliminated #10 Xavier 75-70
#1 Syracuse eliminated #4 Wisconsin 64-63
#2 Ohio State eliminated #6 Cincinnati 81-66
#1 North Carolina eliminated #13 Ohio 73-65 in Overtime
#2 Kansas eliminated #11 North Carolina State 60-57