Final Four Features Three No. 1 Seeds, One Darkhorse

This weekend the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament goes into its final stages with the Final Four semifinals tipping off Saturday at Indianapolis.

There have not been many surprises leading up to this big weekend as three of the four No.1 seeds came out unscathed from the first four rounds of competition and are ready to put their name on the championship trophy after Monday night’s title contest.

Kentucky, the overall top seed of the tourney, leads the way to the Final Four with its dazzling 38-0 record after narrowly escaping the Fighting Irish from Notre Dame Saturday with a 68-66 victory.

The Wildcats’ opponent Saturday will be Wisconsin (35-2), the West Regional champion and No. 1 seed, which was eliminated last year from the tournament by Kentucky and is looking to avenge that 74-73 setback.

And my two favorite teams in this year’s event—the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils (33-4) and No. 7 seeded Michigan State (27-11)—just happen to be playing each other in Saturday’s semifinal round.

The Spartans have become a favorite team to many of the college basketball fans who believe the Tournament Committee botched their seeding badly. These fans honestly believe Michigan State should have been either a No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed instead of a mid-bracket No. 7.

Duke and Michigan State play the first game in the semifinal round at 5:09 p.m. Saturday with the Blue Devils an early five-point favorite.

This will mark the 16th time the Blue Devils have made it to the Final Four, including 12 under Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Michigan State will be playing in its ninth Final Four with Head Coach Tom Izzo leading them to seven Final Fours, including the 2000 national championship.

“I’d like to tell you that I thought five different times this year that we were good enough to get to a Final Four, but I’d be lying to you,” Izzo told the Associated Press after his team’s stunning 76-70 overtime victory over Louisville Sunday in the East Regional championship game Sunday at Syracuse.

“But I think the burning desire to be in this Final Four was their battle cry all year long,” Izzo added.

However, the Spartans need to thank their lucky stars that Louisville forward Mangok Mathiang missed his second free throw with the score tied at 66-66 and only 4.9 seconds left in regulation, which sent the game into overtime, where Michigan State dominated the action and captured the six-point victory.

Duke broke open a close game with Gonzaga in the South Regional championship game played at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday. The Blue Devils trailed briefly 38-34 early after the intermission which marked the first time in four NCAA Tournament games that Duke trailed in the second half.

“The way we responded when we had adversity, when we had our backs against the wall, we all just came together and got the job done,” commented Justise Winslow, who grew up in Houston and was one of three freshman starting for Coach K. Sunday.

Krzyzewski used an eight-man rotation in what he called “one of the most unique years I’ve had” in his 35 years at Duke. “This was a magical moment for us, but we played a magical team in Gonzaga,” Coach K. commented.

The harassing Blue Devil defense held Gonzaga to nearly 30 points under their 80 points per game average, looking nothing like the nation’s top shooting team and committing 13 turnovers to only three for Duke.

I would really like to see Duke win it all Monday night and don’t see them losing to Michigan State in Saturday’s semifinals. But how can they get past undefeated Kentucky in the 7:49 p.m. nightcap?

The answer is simple—Wisconsin ignores the fact they also are a five-point underdog and pulls off the upset of the decade!!!

The Blue Devils only have to worry about stopping Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s seven-foot center who moves around the court and makes three-pointers like a foot-shorter guard.

This scenario probably won’t come to pass, but I certainly wouldn’t be upset if it did happen that way and Duke won the national championship Monday night.

KWICKIES…Jimmy Walker became this year’s first two-time winner on the PGA Tour, winning the Texas Open by four strokes over fellow Texan Jordan Spieth Sunday. Walker, who lives only 35 minutes from the TPC course in San Antonio, also won the Sony Open in Hawaii by nine strokes in January, and has a tour-best five victories in the past two seasons. The former Baylor golfer posted rounds of 71-67-69-70—277 to pocket the $1,116,000 winner’s check.

The Lamar Cardinals baseball team had their five-game winning streak snapped by Abilene Christian Sunday, losing a close 5-4 contest at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont. The loss leaves the Redbirds at 13-14 for the season and hosted the nationally-ranked Rice Owls Tuesday night. The Big Red concludes their eight-game home stand with a three-game Southland Conference series against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beginning tomorrow (Thursday) night.

Matt Dominguez, who was the Houston Astros’ starting third baseman last season, was among the eight cuts the team made last weekend. He’ll start the season at Triple AAA after playing in more games than any other Astro besides American League batting champion Jose Altuve last season. Also sent to Class AA Corpus Christi was 20-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa, who is considered the Astros top prospect and the future of the organization. The Astros still have to make a few more cuts before getting down to the 25-man roster that will start the 2015 major league season Monday against the Cleveland Indians.

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban dismissed defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor from the team following his second domestic violence arrest of his college career. Taylor signed with the Crimson Tide about six months after his dismissal from Georgia following his arrest for assaulting his girlfriend. Tuscaloosa police charged Taylor with domestic violence third-degree assault and domestic violence third-degree criminal mischief.

JUST BETWEEN US…As we speculated before the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament began three weeks ago, the University of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes was “canned” after refusing to save his job by firing certain assistant coaches on his staff. Barnes, 60, had four years remaining on his contract, after heading the Longhorns’ basketball program for the past 17 years and becoming the winningest basketball coach in the school’s history. Kinda sounds familiar. doesn’t it? Think back to when the winningest head football coach in Texas A&M history—Orange native R.C. Slocum—was unceremoniously let go because a bunch of idiots on the internet convinced the “money people” that A&M needed a change. And as the many years slipped by, there hasn’t been a head football coach at College Station that could be a pimple on Slocum’s backside.