March 28 games will decide half the Final Four, and the big boys have pushed the Cinderellas off the dance floor.
Arizona and Wisconsin are back in Southern California fighting for a Final Four berth again. In Cleveland, Notre Dame takes on the biggest heavyweight college basketball has seen in decades, and Kentucky is favored to keep its undefeated season going and deny the Fighting Irish their first Final Four trip since 1978.
The first game features Pac-12 champs (regular season and tournament) against the Big Ten champs (regular season and tournament) in a rematch of last year’s West Regional final.
In that game, second-seeded Wisconsin beat top-seeded Arizona 64-63 in overtime. This year the seedings are reversed, and plenty of players are back from both teams.
“They made one more play in overtime than we did,” Arizona’s Gabe York said. “That was a crazy, crazy scenario. There were only 2 seconds left and it took them about 15 minutes for those 2 seconds to end.”
The Badgers (34-3) advanced with a win over North Carolina, while Arizona (34-3) beat Xavier in the Sweet 16.
“Obviously, it’s icing on the cake that we get to play Wisconsin in the Elite Eight and have a chance to go to the Final Four,” York said. “We’re extra amped.”
The late game features the tournament champs of the ACC — the best conference in this tournament — against the undefeated SEC champion.
The talk of the tournament has been dominated by Kentucky’s run at a perfect season. The Wildcats (37-0) dismantled West Virginia in the Midwest Regional semifinal. Notre Dame (32-5) was pretty impressive itself in a Sweet 16 win over Wichita State.
The Fighting Irish are double-digit underdogs, but they may have some extra fans as they try to end Kentucky’s bid at the first perfect season since Indiana in 1976.
“We are America’s team tomorrow,” coach Mike Brey said March 27. “And we love it, we certainly will take all that support. We’ve got a monumental challenge on our hands.”
Notre Dame may be America’s team, but Kentucky fans will fill up the arena as the Big Blue Nation usually does.
Kentucky has faced different tactics from each opponent in this tournament and the Irish will keep that going.
“We have a lot of confidence,” guard Jerian Grant said. “We feel they haven’t played an offensive team like us. Just go out there and play our game I think we’ll be able to get a win.”
(JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer)