Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket might have looked like. In the State News latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament might have looked like, round by round, region by region.
Here is our projection of the Midwest’s Elite Eight.
#1 Kansas vs. #7 Providence
Preview: The Jayhawks up to this point have had a relatively easy path, that ends now. The Big East has some of the best guards in the country in Myles Powell and Markus Howard. While Kansas’ opponent Providence may not have someone of that caliber, their collection of guards packs an incredible punch. The Friars in their final six games rolled out a four guard, one big starting lineup that could score in a hurry. Those four guards have been led by Luwane Pipkins and Alpha Diallo who averaged 19 and 18 points per game over that six-game winning streak to finish the season.
Pipkins' rise in the final six games can be directly attributed to the Friars’ success over the final six games as he single-handedly carried his team to victory over Villanova by scoring nearly half of Providence’s 58 points in a 27-point outing versus the Wildcats. His phenomenal play over this stretch has made it hard for opponents to key in on any one of their four guards, allowing anyone to beat their opponent on a given night.
For the Friars to get to their first Final Four since 1987, they’ll need their guards to continue their hot play, and continue to get teams in foul trouble as they have all season.
As for Kansas, there are two keys for them in this matchup; stay out of foul trouble and get Devon Dotson hot. Outside of Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack, this is not a team that is deep in its front court. Considering the Friars throw out a four-guard lineup, Azubuike and McCormack will be able to thrive in this matchup, especially considering that Nate Watson, Providence’s starting center, isn't known for his defensive prowess.
If Azubuike can stay on the floor and Dotson is hitting shots, this Kansas team will be hard to take down.
The Game: Providence and Kansas travel to Indianapolis, Indiana for the matchup, where Hoosier fans attend to try and convince Providence head coach Ed Cooley to lead their program. Cooley is unfazed and is focused on taking down his third Hall of Fame-caliber head coach this tournament.
Early in the first half, Diallo drives into the lane right at Azubuike, drawing the foul and sinking a floater over the 7-foot-1 big man. That’s Azubuike’s first foul. Kansas coach Bill Self elects to keep him in as he trusts his senior. Diallo understands the moment, and on the next possession he takes it right back at him, but this time he lobs it up to Watson. As Watson rises, Azubuike jumps, and Watson brings down the force of Rhode Island on his head for the slam.
With only five minutes gone in the first, Self elects to take Azubuike out of the game and replaces him with embattled junior Silvio de Sousa. Fresh off his suspension in his role in a brawl against rival Kansas State, de Sousa must step up here.
Providence senses blood in the water early and puts on a clinic with Azubuike out of the game, going on a 15-3 run, pushing their lead up to 13 with five minutes left in the first half.
Dotson thus far has had nothing going, only scoring three points on one for five shooting, but knows his team needs him more than ever. Dotson takes over, scoring 10 points on his own to cut the lead to just three. With 20 seconds left, Providence is trying to hold for the final shot. Dotson strips the ball away from Pipkins, flies down the court and flings a behind the back pass to de Sousa as he slams it down as time expires to pull Kansas within one at the break.
Azubuike checks back into the game to start the half, and scores six consecutive points with some crafty post moves on Watson under the basket to earn their first lead of the game. Diallo realizes what he must do as he takes a pass at the top of the key from Pipkins and takes it right at Azubuike and draws another foul, his third. Coach Self calls up de Sousa, but Azubuike tells him to sit back down and Self decides to trust him.
After a Dotson turnover, Diallo calls for it again, he dishes it down to Watson who shows the ball, Azubuike reaches and smacks his wrist, that’s his fourth. Self elects to take him out and Azubuike is visibly frustrated.
Despite the loss of Azubuike, the two-man game of de Sousa and Dotson begins to click as Pipkins and Diallo’s threes begin to fall. No team gains a lead bigger than four.
With five minutes left, Azubuike checks back in, only to foul out in the next possession. Diallo seizes the moment and drains back to back threes to put the Friars up two points with thirty seconds remaining. Timeout Kansas.
Coach Self looks to Dotson in the huddle, Dotson pleads for his case to take the shot and Self grants it. Dotson takes it up the floor and with six seconds left, rises up for a three. It’s no good off the front of the rim. A set of arms rises out of the crowd of players, it’s de Sousa. He snags a rebound and goes back up for a floater to tie, it falls, and a late whistle is blown. It’s a shooting foul on Watson as he hit his wrist on the way up. With the lights on him, de Sousa sinks his free throw with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. A Hail Mary pass from under the basket is tipped and that is the ball game.
After battling with his own demons after the Kansas State brawl, de Sousa is a hero. Kansas 86-Providence 85
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