The field is now down to the eight with the NCAA Tournament at its halfway point. Every team remaining in the field has won three games in the tournament and needs three more to be crowned as the national champions for 2013. Here’s a look at what to watch for in today’s regional finals.
4:30pm: CBS – #4 Syracuse vs. #3 Marquette –
Most were expecting a regional final in the nation’s capital between the Indiana Hoosiers and Miami Hurricanes, but a pair of Big East schools changed those plans in the Sweet Sixteen, busting more than just few brackets. This could be the final matchup of these conference opponents for the foreseeable future with Marquette set to join the “new” Big East and Syracuse off to ACC next season. Marquette won the regular season matchup 74-71.
The Golden Eagles dominated Miami from the tip off, with the Hurricanes only leads of the night (2-0 and 4-2) coming in the opening two and a half minutes. They shot just under 35% from the field and were even less effective from beyond the arc (8 for 26, 30.8%). They struggled without Reggie Johnson on the court who was out of action after having surgery earlier this week. Shane Larkin was limited to 14 points and was hardly involved in the game offensively (4 for 8 shooting), while the Hurricanes other guards struggled on the floor with the ball in their hands. Durand Scott’s shooting was 3 for 13 and Trey McKinney Jones wasn’t much better with a 3 for 10 mark.
The Golden Eagles played more like a Final Four-caliber team, after barely surviving and advancing against Davidson and Butler last week. Vander Blue carried them during their first two tournament games, but didn’t have to do it on his own against Miami. Marquette shot 54% and got help from Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson, who combined to score 30 points.
Syracuse’s upset over Indiana may have been even more surprising given their opponent’s lackluster play throughout the game. The Hoosiers latest lead of the evening, 3-2, occurred only 1:47 in to regulation. Cody Zeller struggled scoring in the paint all night against the strong defensive play of the Syracuse front line. The Orange didn’t have their best offensive game of the year; but a 24 point, 4 steal, and 5 assist performance from Michael Carter-Williams has his team in back-to-back Elite Eights for the first time of the Jim Boeheim era.
7:05pm: CBS – #9 Wichita State vs. #2 Ohio State –
The Buckeyes have their sights set on a second straight Final Four after a second straight down to the wire finish. Aaron Craft saved their season last Sunday against Iowa State, by hitting a game winning three with less than a second left on the clock and the score tied at 75-75. LaQuinton Ross won it for the Buckeyes against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, with a three pointer of his in the closing seconds of regulation, with the game tied 70-70. Finishes like that are often associated with Cinderellas teams like Wichita State, not a second seed riding an 11-game winning streak, that won the conference tournament in arguably the toughest league in the country.
The Shockers are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1981 and are only the second 9-seed (the first was Boston College in 1994) to play in a regional final game. Another upset win would make them the second lowest seed to advance to the Final Four (three 11-seeds have done so). Some have the perception that Wichita State only made it this far because they faced a thirteenth-seeded La Salle in the Sweet Sixteen, but this is the same team that routed Pittsburgh in the round of 64 and beat number-one Gonzaga only a week ago.
Ohio State is 6.5 point favorite in this matchup, but if this one plays out like their last few games have, Wichita State will have another oppurutnity to shock the world and make history.