NCAA Elite Eight: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

NCAA Elite Eight: 4 Winners, 4 Losers, Monica Fuentes

When you write the many, many thousands of words that I do here all year long, you stumble upon concepts that become part of your writing "brand," and I suppose that "4 Winners, 4 Losers" is one of those things for me.

I originally started using it as an easily consumable way for Texans fans to process exactly what they saw, both with the Texans and around the league, on Sunday. Bulletized lists are easy brain food on a hungover Monday. Slowly, I've started using it for other sporting events and the occasional pop culture phenomenon.

So, of all the "4 Winners, 4 Losers" posts I've done, in theory the one about the Elite Eight should be the most straightforward one, right? I mean, by definition, that's exactly what the Elite Eight yields -- four winners and four losers. But it's never that simple. There are layers, there is nuance, and that's what I'm here to decipher.

Or try to, at least. Let's give it a go....


4. Mike Brey Common thought going into Saturday's game was that Notre Dame would have to play a perfect game to beat Kentucky. They weren't perfect, not by a long shot, but they had the perfect game plan. Limit Kentucky's spurts on offense, use the clock against their defense, keep the Wildcats off the offensive glass. The Irish did all these things. However, they missed some wide open threes that could've really put some severe game pressure on Kentucky, and Karl-Anthony Towns had his way inside at the offensive end (although, it was really a "pick your poison" deal for Notre Dame, and they chose the two point poison as opposed to the three point poison). Give Kentucky credit, there were points in this game where Notre Dame could've delivered knockout blows, and Kentucky held...held long enough to make plays at the end. It's not a reach to say these might have been the two teams best equipped to win in the tournament. Notre Dame had several Rocky IV moments where it looked like Drago was going down. In the end, it was the Rocky I finish, though. The Irish got respect in defeat, which gets you nothing (but respect in defeat). If Jerian Grant's shot goes in at the buzzer, that game had a case for "greatest game ever," and guess what....

3. TBS ....the television ratings support that argument. Saturday's epic between the Irish and the Wildcats drew the biggest basketball audience in the history of cable television on TBS, which makes you wonder what kind of number they would've popped on network TV on CBS. (By the way, why are the Saturday Elite Eight games on TBS, anyway?) Here are the details:

Saturday's Kentucky/Notre Dame NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game drew an 8.4 final rating and 14.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen fast-nationals -- up 45% in ratings and 49% in viewership from Wisconsin/Arizona last year (5.8, 9.9M) and up 24% and 30%, respectively, from Wichita State/Ohio State on CBS in 2013 (6.8, 11.3M). The game peaked with an 11.1 and 19.7 million from 10:45-11 PM ET.

The Wildcats' close win ranks as the highest rated and most-watched basketball game ever on a single cable network, topping the previous record of 7.7 and 13.3 million for Game 7 of the Celtics/Heat NBA Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. Including simulcasts, it ranks second behind last year's Kentucky/Wisconsin Final Four game on TBS, TNT and TruTV (9.2, 16.3M).

It also ranks as the highest rated and most-watched telecast of any kind in the history of TBS. While last year's Kentucky/Wisconsin game remains the top program in the history of Turner Sports, TBS earned a relatively modest 5.7 and 10.4 million for its coverage.

Not bad for a "football school," Notre Dame. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek. Mike Brey did a tremendous job this season.)

2. Precocious Duke freshmen I'll admit it, I was "that guy" on Sunday. (No, I don't mean the guy who streams Wrestlemania while his girlfriend sits there bored playing Candy Crush...I mean I was THAT guy, too, but I digress...) I was the guy who had Duke winning in his bracket but put a sawbuck down Sunday morning on Gonzaga. I just kind of flipped my opinion in watching the tournament, and thought that the Zags depth and experience would keep it close with Duke. The problem is that Duke's freshman are not normal freshman. Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow....they play like seniors. The lesson? Trust your gut. The gut doesn't lie.

1. Sparty Last year, Connecticut was able to make a run all the way to the championship from a seven seed, but that team actually felt like a seven seed. They had Shabazz Napier as a one man wrecking crew, with Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels playing the trusty sidekicks, and that was it. And it was enough. There's nothing, aside from crappy free throw shooting, about this Michigan State team that feels like a seven seed. Their guards are hard nosed with three point range, Denzel Valentine is a delightfully skilled player, and their bigs (Dawson, Angelo) are capable enough. And Tom Izzo is about the antithesis of a seven seed coach. If there's one thing you could have as part of your brand as a college basketball program, Izzo has it -- a virtual guarantee you'll play in a Final Four if you come to East Lansing and stay four years. He's now been to seven of them as a head coach (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). Hell, he's been to the Sweet Sixteen 13 out of the last 18 seasons. Amazing.

Continue reading for our losers picks...  


4. Gonzaga's guards Conventional wisdom was that, in order for Gonzaga to knock off the Blue Devils, they'd need a stellar game from their bigs (Karnowski, Sabonis) to counter Duke's Jahlil Okafor, and other than some foul trouble, they did a decent job defensively, holding Okafor to only 9 points on 4-10 shooting. However, Gonzaga got next to nothing from its backcourt of Kavin Pangos and Gary Bell, who combined for five turnovers, two assists and 1-7 shooting from three point range. An average game from those two would've been enough to get the win. They got a D- game from the two of them.

3. Sean Miller It's hard to call Miller a "loser," but unfortunately I have no "purgatory" category for this type of column yet. Miller is, if nothing else, consistent, getting Arizona to the Elite Eight three of the last five years. However, despite a crazy talented team and an upperclassman at point guard, he just couldn't break through on Saturday. In some ways, Miller's early years at Arizona mirror his predecessor Lute Olson, who was constantly dogged by what people perceived to be underperformance by his uber-talented teams of the late 80's and early 90's. It wasn't until a Miles Simon-led five seed won the whole thing in 1997, kind of out of nowhere, that Olson got the monkey off his back.

2. Camera angles Hey, I know they're my employer, so there's probably some online suggestion box where I can drop this thought, but just in case there isn't, can someone let CBS know that there isn't a single basketball alive that derives anything other than motion sickness from that stupid "court level" rolling camera? For some reason, television producers think that we need to see the game from the vantage point of an ant crawling on the court (which, in stupidity levels, is superseded only by the "bird's eye view" camera being used for anything other than "Was it in the cylinder?" calls). They think we want this! Hint: It sucks. Just keep the main center court angle and zoom in during stoppages. That's it. Keep it simple, please.

1. Dennis Dodd Backdrop for the series of tweets you're about to read. Apparently, Aaron Rodgers was on the court after Wisconsin's win. He was at the game in support of the Badgers, his adopted home state team. Dennis Dodd is a college basketball writer for (CBS, again!). He wanted to get thoughts from Rodgers on the win, but Rodgers was there as a fan, not as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. Dodd did not like this. That's where we pick up the story....


Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at

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