College basketball notebook: conference tournaments set stage for March Madness
No. 1 Florida def. Kentucky
The Southeastern Conference tournament championship came down to the last seconds as Kentucky could not make a basket at the end of the game to win. Florida continued its winning streak to 26 games with the 61-60 win.
Kentucky was down by 15 points and came crawling back to get it within 2 points, but it could not earn the lead. It has been said that experience will always beat talent. Florida has a roster full of seniors who have experience, while Kentucky is full with McDonald’s All-Americans who have the potential to be first-round NBA picks.
The Gators received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and are expected to make a run at a national championship. These two teams have a chance to meet again if they can make it to the final four. With March Madness, there is always a chance.
No. 6 Virginia def. No. 7 Duke
It has been 38 years since Virginia won an Atlantic Coastal Conference tournament title, but on championship weekend, the Cavaliers won 72-63 against Duke. Virginia won the regular ACC title outright with a 16-2 conference record.
With the ACC being one of the top basketball programs, the Cavaliers got a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after sweeping both titles. Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon led the Cavaliers in scoring with 23 points. Freshman sensation Jabari Parker led Duke with 23 points and 8 rebounds, but it was not enough. The Cavaliers are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Don’t be surprised if Virginia makes a trip to Arlington for the Final Four.
No. 22 Michigan def. No. 8 Michigan
The Big Ten championship came down to the state of Michigan. The Spartans and Wolverines always have a good matchup, which makes the rivalry more important as one side gets bragging rights. After a grind-it-out game, the Spartans prevailed 69-55 over Michigan. Senior forward Adreian Payne led the Spartans with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has always had great teams in his tenure, but this team could have what it takes to do something special.
“You don’t get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry,” Izzo said. “I’ve said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.”
No. 5 Louisville def No. 21 Connecticut
The new American Athletic Conference has been known for its great guard play this season. Perhaps the two best, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith, faced off in the conference tournament title game. The Cardinals pulled away early in the second half to earn a 71-61 victory at the FedExForum in Memphis. Smith had 19 points and 5 steals, but his sophomore big man Montrezl Harrell led the team in scoring with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“But I’m very impressed with our guys,” said head coach Rick Pitino. “What they’ve done to win a regular-season conference tournament the way we have done it, in the fashion we have done it, fits the eye test. I can’t talk about the strength of the league. If you want to blame anybody, blame football. Don’t blame us.”
The Cardinals received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.