As the buzzer sounded two Sundays ago, giving my West Virginia Mountaineers a victory over the Missouri Tigers, I immediately booted up my computer to see where they’d be headed next. When I noticed their Sweet 16 (and, if they could beat Washington, Elite Eight) game would be held in Syracuse, just hours away from Montreal, I knew I was about to partake in the trip of a lifetime.
I was lucky enough to purchase some last-minute tickets to the Thursday night double-header, with the West Virginia game preceding a much more hyped Kentucky-Cornell matchup. As I walked through the streets of Syracuse eagerly anticipating my first ever basketball game, I was unsure of exactly what to expect. The Carrier Dome, a converted football stadium, regularly seats over 30,000 fans for a Syracuse basketball game. But with most Orange fans filling local bars to watch their team play Butler, I wondered who’d fill the void.
The second I stepped inside, my questions were answered; the stadium was filled with Carnelian red. With Cornell’s Ithaca campus just an hour away and the students on spring break, the trek to see a potential Ivy League upset seemed to be an obvious decision for Big Red fans. Kentucky had their famous fans (actress Ashley Judd and rapper Drake), and the Mountaineers faithful arrived in droves from Morgantown, but Washington, whose campus is on the west coast, was poorly represented.
My friends and I actually watched the first game from our assigned seats, way up in the rafters. For the second game we managed to finagle our way into the Kentucky section, where the crazed fans were yelling and swearing at the Cornell faithful while holding humorous signs in hopes of getting on TV. The crowd as a whole was wild, which is quite odd considering the Carrier Dome’s decision to refrain from selling alcohol, keeping a relatively sober crowd stuck indoors for five hours. Most fans actually showed up only for the Kentucky-Cornell game, while the Washington fans that managed to make the trip left disappointed after their loss. Though the earlier game actually did provide some drama, it was clear what people were really there for; the chance to see a team full of future NBAers (Kentucky has three players almost guaranteed to be taken in the top 10 in this year’s draft), lose to a team from the Ivy League.
While Cornell stayed in the game for a long time, using clutch three-pointers to keep it close, the athleticism of the Kentucky Wildcats proved to be too much to handle for the Big Red, with John Wall and others flaunting their skills in hopes of impressing NBA scouts. Kentucky’s win set up a Saturday night battle with West Virginia, the only Elite Eight matchup that pitted their region’s top two seeds against each other.
The game was certainly strange, with the Mountaineers managing to stay in the game without sinking a single two-point shot in the entire first half. Their generally weak three-point shooting was shockingly accurate, while Kentucky made just 12.5 per cent of their shots from behind the arc, leading to their eventual defeat in what should prove to be final college game for Kentucky’s trio of stars; John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Patrick Patterson.
The rest of the Sweet 16 was relatively uneventful, with most teams doing what they were expected to do. Five-seed Butler surprised some by upsetting one-seed Syracuse, while six-seed Tennessee shocked two-seed Ohio State. Once they clinched a spot in the Elite Eight, Butler took care of two-seed Kansas State, busting mine, and many others’ brackets. West Virginia, Michigan State, and Duke also advanced to the Final Four, with the winner of the West Virginia-Duke game likely to be favoured over either Michigan State or Butler.
Like I’ve said in my past two articles, filling out brackets as a whole is basically a crapshoot. Kansas, widely favoured to win the whole tournament, fell in the second round, as did two-seeded Villanova. Very few people still have both finals teams intact, because who could possibly predict a five-seed (either Michigan State or Butler) could actually reach the final four at all? I hope you took my predictions with a grain of salt, because I was likely still bitter at Kansas losing when I made my Sweet 16 picks.
Despite all this, you should still be expecting West Virginia fans around the world (more likely only on the east coast) to be singing some John Denver come April 5.