The regional finals of the NCAA Tournament got off to a good start on Saturday, with one thriller and another good game. Louisville and Ohio State are on their way to the Final Four. TheSportsNotebook looks back at both games…
WEST REGIONAL (Phoenix): Louisville 72 Florida 68
I’m sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings with nine other sports geeks doing my Fantasy League baseball draft, with the game up on most of the big-screen TVs. Florida’s up 11 with around five minutes to go, and I start to tune the game out and re-focus on my spirited defense of Chicago Cubs’ catcher Geovany Soto to a room of skeptical Cubbie fans. There must have been some other patrons who decided Florida had the game in hand and mentioned it was time to leave. I say that, because the only explanation for what happened is that the Wild Wings staff re-enacted their commercials, hit a button and somewhere in Phoenix, something happened so that Florida would melt down and make it a game. Florida did almost everything they needed to do. They shot well from the floor and behind the arc and had a balanced attack. The one thing they didn’t do was take care of the ball and turned it over 13 times compared to Louisville’s six. Russ Smith was a big part of not just this win, but the entire weekend. The guard averaged 15ppg in the wins over Michigan State and Florida that have sent Louisville to the Final Four for the first time since 2005 and a shot at their first national title since 1986—and Rick Pitino’s first since 1996 when he was at archrival Kentucky. Ironically it’s Kentucky that would be the opponent if the Wildcats survive Baylor today.
EAST REGIONAL (Boston): Ohio State 77 Syracuse 70
To say this is the game where the absence of Fab Melo caught up to Syracuse would be an understatement. Without their center, the Orangeman were pounded on the boards, to the tune of a 37-22 Buckeye rebounding advantage. Syracuse’s three starting frontline players—Kris Joseph, Rakeem Christmas and C.J. Fair combined for 24 points. With only two frontcourt starts, Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State got 33 points up front. The same personnel matchup doubled up on rebounds for Ohio State. The only way Syracuse was going to win was by complete domination of the backcourt. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche gave it everything they had, while Ohio State’s William Buford was off from three-point range, hitting just 1 of 5. But that just ensured the game would be competitive. In the end, Ohio State had too much muscle. While there’s no question Thad Matta’s team got a nice break with losing Melo, and having 3-seed Florida State eliminated prior to the regionals, there’s also no doubt that Matta’s kids played some outstanding basketball in Boston. After an up-and-down season that looked to be destined to be one of unfulfilled promise, Ohio State first snuck back into a tie for the Big Ten title and is now heading to the Final Four for the first time since 2007 and aiming for their first national title since 1960. North Carolina or Kansas will be the opponent in New Orleans.