The Golden Tickets of college basketball are being handed out this weekend. Unlike the great Gene Wilder movie Wily Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, there’s only four tickets as opposed to five, but the first two were claimed by one program making a long-anticipated return and another coach making a long-awaited first-time visit. Florida and Wisconsin are ticketed for Dallas next weekend.
Florida 62 Dayton 52: When this tournament began for the Gators, TheSportsNotebook opined that an underrated part of their success would be a player like sophomore power forward Dorian Finney-Smith hitting the boards. That came to fruition on Saturday in Memphis. Florida won this game because they abused Dayton on the boards, and it was Finney-Smith who led the way with nine.
Florida had command much of the game, although Dayton closed the gap to six with about three minutes left. It was at that point, the rebounding advantage was most dramatic. The Flyers kept making stops, but the Gators repeatedly got offensive rebounds. Even if the possessions didn’t end with points, Florida kept bleeding valuable clock.
In the end, the Gators just had too much talent for Dayton. Scottie Wilbekin finished with 23 points and was the regional’s outstanding player. Michael Frazier, along with Finney-Smith deserve shout-outs for their supporting roles.
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Billy Donovan is going back to the Final Four for the first time since he won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007. Donovan also made the NCAA final in 2000 before losing to Michigan State, a team he might end up facing next Saturday (Florida draws today’s UConn-Michigan State winner). This return trip to the Final Four comes after three consecutive years of falling one game short.
Wisconsin 64 Arizona 63 (OT): Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan has long been one of the game’s respected sideline bosses, but there was one line on the resume that was missing, and that was a trip to the sport’s showcase event. That line is now filled in, as Wisconsin won a basketball game that was nothing short of fantastic.
This was a great game to watch, although as a Wisconsin fan, the tension was killing me. But it’s an easy game to analyze—the Badgers are going to Dallas because Frank Kaminsky put the team on his back and dragged them there. Kaminsky finished with 28 points/11 rebounds. The offense ran through him, as entry passes to the post often resulted in quick passes and ball movement for open looks. Kaminsky was either scoring or being used to create shots for others.
I hope I’m not overreacting in the moment and as a happy fan, but combined with Kaminsky’s domination of Baylor on Thursday night, there was just an epic display of one player carrying a team. For our historic comparison, restrict it exclusively to what happened within the Sweet 16 and regional finals, and I’m curious as to how many other shows we’ve seen like the one Kaminsky put on. For at least a week, he gets to trump Aaron Rodgers as the hottest sports commodity in the state.
There was a worthy opponent in this game, and another worthy coach who came up short. Sean Miller is looking for his first Final Four and was classy in defeat. Nick Johnson was late in getting off the game’s final shot (and it missed anyway), but the brilliant guard knocked down 16 points. Aaron Gordon hauled in 18 rebounds and made sure the ‘Cats didn’t get completely abused by Kaminsky.
The Badgers now await the winner of Michigan-Kentucky.
NCAA Tournament coverage here at TheSportsNotebook comes back tomorrow, with reviews of the UConn-Michigan State and Michigan-Kentucky regional finals. The Big Ten is going for three teams in the Final Four, a feat only achieved by the Big East back in 1985. And as long as Michigan State wins, it ensures the Final Four will either by a Big Ten feast, or a Big Ten-SEC showdown.