While the Magic were losing on the West Coast, the NCAA Tournament took over Amway Center for an exciting and energetic weekend at the Amway Center.
Florida and Louisville advanced from their pods in Orlando to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The two favorites to reach the Final Four (and coincidentally, my national championship game) did not play their best basketball at the Amway Center, but they survived and advanced.
It was a great atmosphere at the Amway Center on Saturday afternoon. Probably one of the loudest basketball games played at Amway Center as Florida fans packed the arena to see the local team play. It might as well have been a home game for the Gators and it was.
Amway Center saw a sell out for the NCAA Tournament Third Round games between Florida and Pittsburgh and Louisville and Saint Louis.
Basketball passion is indeed alive and well in teh City Beautiful despite the Magic's recent rebuilding project. More than 18,500 fans attended Saturday's session and they were loud and energetic even deep into Louisville's win over Saint Louis.
— CFL Sports (@CFLSports) March 22, 2014
The NCAA Tournament almost certainly will return in less than the 10 years it took for the games to return to Central Florida.
Saturday's games were two grind-it-out defensive games for sure, but the better teams won in both cases. Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators offense and defense to a dominant and impressive win over a tough Panthers team. Louisville also relied heavily on their defense before Luke Hancock put on the after burners late to give the Cardinals a win.
What both Florida and Louisville have that makes them clear cut championship contenders as the tournament enters the Sweet Sixteen is senior leadership. When you look at the teams that are succeeding in the Tournament to this point, they all have veteran players who have been through the battles before. Hitch your wagon to those teams.
Here is my all-Orlando NCAA Tournament team:
Orlando MVP: G Scottie Wilbekin, Florida – Wilbekin is not the most talented player in the world. But he busts his butt all over the floor and steps up when his team needs him to. Is he the greatest shooter? No. But he found a way to make some killer shots both in Thursday's game against Albany and Saturday's game against Pittsburgh. He scored 31 points in the two games. His intangible leadership qualities though were immeasurable.
G Jordair Jett, Saint Louis – Free throw shooting aside, Jett was a killer on the floor for the Billikens and almost singlehandedly forced overtime against NC State. I say almost because the Wolfpack's missed free throws helped a ton with that. Jett is not an NBA prospect, but he was hard to miss on the floor even at 5-foot-9. He had a fine finish to his career at Saint Louis.
F Luke Hancock, Louisville – In both the games against Manhattan and Saint Louis, Hancock was the one that came up with the big shots. Hancock scored 37 points in the two games and made 6 of 17 3-pointers. Neither of Louisville's games were that efficient, but he made the shots he had to when he had to. All you can ask for from a senior on a title team in a single elimination tournament.
F T.J. Warren, NC State – Warren had the best individual performance of the six games in Orlando scoring 28 points on 50 percent shooting in the Wolfpack's overtime loss to the Billikens. Warren reportedly will declare for the Draft and looked every bit capable of competing in the NBA. He likely would like to have this game back though. He had an and-1 opportunity to tie the game late against the Billikens and missed the free throw. He shot 6 for 14 from the line in N.C. State's overtime loss.
C Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh – Zanna looked like the best low post player of the eight teams that made the trip to Orlando. He was solid and held his own against Patric Young, scoring 10 points and six rebounds as Pittsburgh almost completely abandoned the inside game pretty quickly against Florida. Zanna had 18 points in the blowout over Colorado.
Coach: Steve Masiello, Manhattan – The Jaspers nearly ruined a lot of brackets with a legitimate scare into the defending national champions. Masiello had Manhattan completely ready to play and never backed down from his former mentor and boss in Rick Pitino. He seemed to know exactly what Pitino was going to run and his players were more than prepared for it. They just ran out of gas at the end after a very strong effort.
2nd Team: G – Russ Smith, Louisville; G – Ashton Pankey, Manhattan; F – Rob Loe, Saint Louis; F – Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh; C – Patric Young, Florida; Coach – Will Brown, Albany
So, now I will put a bow on the NCAA Tournament games in Orlando and my coverage of it. I will have a few things leaking out over at Bloguin's college basketball blog, Run The Floor. Be sure to check out Run The Floor for the rest of the Tournament.
I will be back with some more thoughts on the NCAA Tournament later this week, particularly with a look at the NBA Draft prospects that have bowed out and the ones that remain.