By Josh Cook
This year's more-thrilling-than-usual men's NCAA Tournament
is down to the Final Four, and it's quite the unlikely quartet. But before we head to Indianapolis let's look back at the "good calls" and "bad calls" of the Elite Eight.
The late substitutions by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in the Spartans' win over Tennessee in the Midwest Regional final. He got gassed point guard Korie Lucious some valuable rest on the bench against the Volunteers, who were putting the pressure on Kalin Lucas' replacement. The move turned out to be genius as former walk-on Mike Kebler forced a key late Tennessee turnover.
The foul call on Tennessee's J.P. Prince against Michigan State's Raymar Morgan with 1.8 seconds to play in the Midwest Regional final. We hate to see a referee's call decide a game, especially one this big, but it did. Morgan hit one free throw to give the Spartans their sixth trip to the Final Four in the last 12 years.
The decision by boyish-looking Butler coach Brad Stevens to torment Kansas State's tired backcourt tandem of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who were coming off a double-OT regional semifinal, in Saturday's West Regional final. Pullen and Clemente were fatigued from their team's thrilling victory over Xavier on Thursday night especially in the second half against Butler.
Whoever's decision it was to put the Kansas State-Butler game as the first on Saturday. Obviously television ratings were the biggest factor in putting the game between East No. 1 seed Kentucky and second-seeded West Virginia in prime time, but smarter heads should've prevailed and put the Kansas State game second given the fact that the Wildcats played an exhausting double-overtime contest.
The decision by Nolan Smith to atttend Duke. The junior point guard decided to spurn the University of Louisville, where his late father (Derek) had been a standout, to go to school in Durham, N.C. Sunday Smith scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Blue Devils to a 78-71 win over Baylor in the South Regional final and help Duke return to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been looking toward the 2010-11 season since last week.
By the Baylor players not to hit the backboards harder. The Bears were outrebounded by the the Blue Devils 41-35, including 22-16 on the offensive end. The latter was especially key in a late stretch. With Baylor leading 57-54 with 5:44 to play offensive rebounds led to back-to-back-to-back three-pointers (one by Jon Scheyer and two by Smith) to give Duke the lead for good.
Bob Huggins' decision to put pint-sized guard Joe Mazzulla on Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins in the Mountaineers' 1-3-1 zone. Mazzulla's low center of frustrated Cousins, who could be seen complaining to the officials during the game as well as UK coach John Calipari.
Calipari's decision not to come out and challenge West Virginia's suspect ball-handlers, especially after Mazzulla went to the bench with foul trouble, sooner. The Mountaineers' backcourt was already hurting with the lose of Truck Bryant to a broken foot and then Mazzulla got into foul trouble, but the Wildcats wouldn't come out and challenge West Virginia's guards despite the fact that they trailed by six and eight points. Instead UK's season, and likely the college careers of Cousins, John Wall and Patrick Patterson, came to an end.
Now it's on to Indy for the Final Four teams - Duke, West Virginia, Butler and Michigan State.
And watch out for the UK women's team, which beat top seed Nebraska 76-67 Sunday night in the Kansas City Regional semifinals. The fourth-seeded Wildcats will take on No. 3 seed Oklahoma on Tuesday night in the regional final and the right to go to the women's Final Four.
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