2020 NCAA Tournament Collegian simulation: Sweet 16, Day Two

The NCAA Tournament bracket following the Collegian’s simulation of the second day of the Sweet 16. Graphic by Joshua Doering.

DREW SANDIFER | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | dsandife@butler.edu

From the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles, we transition to a day in Indianapolis and Houston. Great NCAA Tournament games await as North Dakota State and Winthrop look to keep their stay in the Big Dance a little bit longer, while blue bloods in Duke, Kansas and Michigan State seem to be in a boat race for Atlanta. Nonstop action and drama right here as we punch four more tickets to the regional finals on Sunday. 

7:09 p.m.: (15) North Dakota State vs (3) Duke, Indianapolis, IN

After seeing two David versus Goliath matchups yesterday, this one may stand above the rest. There may not be a single program that is as prominent in college basketball as Coach K’s Duke while North Dakota State comes from a football school in Fargo, North Dakota. Should the Bison find a way to pull off an upset in this one, it could stand to be one of the most monumental upsets in the history of college basketball. To reach where no 15-seed has ever reached before: the Elite Eight. Jim Nantz stands on call to potentially witness more history in Indy.

While North Dakota State won the tip and hit a 3-pointer on the first possession, their fun for the first half would end there. An Alex O’Connell 17-footer would cap a 23-7 run that would bring the well-traveling Blue Devil fans to their feet in Lucas Oil Stadium. For some historical context, Zion and top-seeded Duke met these North Dakota State Bison in the round of 64 just last season as the Bison gave the Blue Devils all they could handle before bottoming out and losing by 20.

Knowing that going into this game, it was an early nail in the coffin for the Bison as they needed a fast start in this one. After all, that is what they used to get here with wins over Kentucky and Providence. Meanwhile, Duke had squeaked out wins over Belmont and Iowa to get to this point. An early cushion would be welcomed for Coach K’s squad. NDSU would not go away as easily in this one, though, as they cut the deficit to single digits at the break, 34-25.

Unfortunately for the Bison, Duke came out firing on all cylinders in the second half scoring 12 points in a three-minute span before the first media timeout. While Vinnie Shahid and Tyler Ward made shots to make the score respectable, this game was really never in any doubt in the last 15 minutes of the game. The Bison fall after their best run in the NCAA Tournament in program history, while Duke advances to its third consecutive Elite Eight appearance. The Blue Devils will square off with either Wisconsin or Kansas for the right to cut down the nets in Indy. If Cassius Stanley keeps producing the way he has, Duke has to be considered one of the favorites remaining in the tournament.

Duke 76, North Dakota State 64

DUKE: Cassius Stanley 18 pts, 7 rebs

NDSU: Vinnie Shahid 19 pts

7:29 p.m.: (16) Winthrop vs (5) Ohio State, Houston, TX

While Richmond and Indiana are double digits still in the Elite Eight, they are at-large teams and would make a tough case to be considered this tournament’s Cinderella. With Northern Kentucky and North Dakota State falling in the Sweet 16, Winthrop has to be considered the darling of this year’s Big Dance. Not only are they the second 16-seed in tournament history to take down a top seed, they went on to pummel a tough Rutgers squad in the second round, too. While wins over Baylor and that Rutgers teams are impressive, this Ohio State team may be the hottest team they’ve faced yet. With wins over Stephen F. Austin and Louisville, Ohio State capped off a run in the Big Ten regular season with convincing wins in the tourney. 

But early on in this one, Winthrop would prove that they could compete with the Buckeyes. In fact, a 3-pointer from Charles Falden gave the Eagles a 17-11 lead, creating a palpable buzz in the Toyota Center. Fortunately for Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State group, they would respond over the overwhelming fan favorite to the tune of a 28-8 run over the span of 11 minutes. That gave the Buckeyes some breathing room coming down the stretch of the opening frame. OSU would tread water the rest of the half to head into the break up 43-32.

Pat Kelsey and Winthrop would not give up, though. A Josh Ferguson and-one would cut the Buckeye lead to just four points. With just 14 minutes remaining in this game, 16-seed Winthrop has a legitimate shot to make a game out of this and further etch their name in the history books. Unfortunately for Winthrop, Chris Holtmann is just too good of a coach. More adjustments made by the OSU staff sparked an 18-6 run to push the Buckeye lead back up to double digits. Then, CJ Walker put the team on his back. Three straight buckets and a pair of free throws iced away for the 5-seed in the South region. While Winthrop made some shots at the end, the game was not as close as the score indicated. Ohio State cruises to their first Elite Eight in seven years. They’ll either face off against an electric Creighton or Big Ten rival Michigan State.

Ohio State 82, Winthrop 71

OSU: CJ Walker 15 pts

WIN: Hunter Hale 11 pts 

9:39 p.m.: (4) Wisconsin vs (1) Kansas, Indianapolis, IN

In the midst of this chaotic tournament, two college basketball heavyweight programs meet in Indianapolis this Friday night for a chance to advance to the Elite Eight. Kansas took care of Siena and Marquette to get to this point, facing little resistance in their path. Wisconsin, on the other hand, took down North Texas and Auburn all the way out in Sacramento to tune them up for this matchup with the Jayhawks. While Kansas has had much more success over the span of time, they have found trouble getting to the Final Four as of late. In the past eight seasons, they have made just one Final Four. While the Badgers are not the same from the Dekker and Kaminsky, they still have the ability to make this a game. Should be a fun one.

Out of the gate, it was the Jayhawks that jumped out to an early advantage. Spreading the sugar was the strategy for Bill Self’s team as KU had eight different scorers in the first ten minutes to build out to a 22-13 lead at the midpoint of the first half. From then on, though, it was all Badgers. Wisconsin would end the half on a 24-4 run, suffocating Kansas to very tough contested jumpers. Those long rebounds started the break for a Badger team that often likes to slow the pace down. The Badgers stunned the Jayhawk faithful in Indy at the end of the half, heading to the locker room up 37-26.

Off key with the rest of the night, Wisconsin would only grow itself when the teams returned for the second half. A 10-4 run out of the break got the Badger lead to as much as 17 points with over 17 minutes to go. Remember this point in the game. In a flash of four minutes, Kansas went on a 14-1 run to pull right back within a couple of buckets. Like Wisconsin in the first half, it was the Jayhawks’ defense that forced fast breaks, something much more Kansas’ speed. 

After Wisconsin held a five-point lead with six minutes to go, the Jayhawks rattled off yet another run, this one 13-4, to pull ahead on the backs of big buckets from David McCormack and Christian Braun as the Badgers dared anybody other than Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike to beat them. With the help of those secondary players, Kansas completed the comeback and fended off Nate Reuvers and the Big Ten regular season champions. It wasn’t easy for Kansas, but in their first true test of the tournament, they showed they have the resilience to win three more games. Rock Chalk will advance to the regional final on Sunday to face off against Duke in what should be a great matchup with a trip to Atlanta on the line.

Kansas 71, Wisconsin 65

KU: David McCormack 14 pts, 5 rebs

WISC: Nate Reuvers 17 pts 

9:57 p.m: (3) Michigan State vs (2) Creighton, Houston, TX

The NCAA must have known what it was doing when it scheduled these games because they certainly saved the best for last. But first, a quick setup. Michigan State is a March regular. They took down Zion and Duke in the Elite Eight last year and are the only remaining Final Four teams from last year’s tournament remaining in this year’s Big Dance. They toppled Bradley and Cincinnati behind strong defensive performances to get to this point. They’re led by super senior Cassius Winston. We’ll get to him soon.

Creighton, on the other hand, is brand spanking new to this deep-run-in-March kind of thing. They’re playing in their first Sweet 16 since 1974, when it took just one win to get to that point. They’ve beaten Little Rock and a stingy Illinois team to get their shot at their first Elite Eight since 1941 when, you guessed it, there were only eight teams in the primitive NCAA Tournament. They’ll be looking to make history for their school tonight.

The first half could not have been closer. As Winston and Creighton’s guards traded buckets, the half ended with TEN lead changes. The writing was on the wall that this one was going to come down to the bitter end. We mentioned Cassius Winston. He’s a bad man. The Spartan guard led the way for the Spartans with 16 points… at halftime. Tom Izzo would definitely look for him to shoulder the load in the second half for the Spartans to advance as they hold a slim 39-36 lead after one.

Remember we told you about that Winston guy? Did we mention he’s good? He went on a personal 9-0 run with 3-pointers to get the first punch in the second half for Sparty. The green and white went berserk when the third of those shots came after a nasty crossover that sent Christian Bishop turning around looking for number five. Despite Creighton’s lack of a plethora of seniors on this squad, the young guns stuck together and fired back with a quick string of baskets to get back within striking distance. After the Spartans distanced themselves once again in the middle of the half, the Bluejays, led by Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock, clawed their way back once again. 

Fast forward to the good stuff. With 40 seconds to go, Sparty has the ball, up two. Greg McDermott is going to let his Bluejays play this one out. Winston. Dagger? Nope. Damien Jefferson with the rebound. Here comes Alexander with ten seconds. Gets a screen from Jefferson. Pocket pass from Alexander. Jefferson on a floater from just inside the free-throw line… GOOD! Jefferson ties this ball game right back up at 77 as it’s only natural that we need five more minutes to produce a winner in this ball game.

Quick. Back down to the nail-biting. Creighton rides an impressive overtime from Ty-Shon Alexander to open up a four-point advantage over a tiring Winston, 84-80. But you’d be a fool if you thought Michigan State had deflated. Aaron Henry makes the extra pass to Rocket Watts who knocks down the big-time 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to one. Creighton uses all the shot clock they can but comes up empty on their possession. Winston drives with 15 seconds to go. Layup rolls off but Xavier Tillman is there for the putback slam! Michigan State leads by one. Greg McDermott is going to take a timeout and draw up a play for his team. 

Eleven seconds remain in this one. Zegarowski brings up the ball in a sprint. Jefferson again sets the screen but this time, Zegarowski sees a sliver of light. 2… 1… Zegarowski pulls up fading from the elbow…. YES! Bedlam in Houston! Creighton will advance to where they have not been in the NCAA Tournament in nearly 70 years! Move over IU-SDSU. This is the game of the tournament! It took two buzzer-beaters and 35 points from Cassius Winston – who noticeably did not score in overtime – but in the end, it’s Creighton that survives. They’ll square off against Ohio State on Sunday to play for their first Final Four appearance in school history. Phew. See you tomorrow.

Creighton 86, Michigan State 85 F/OT 

CREI: Mitch Ballock 18 pts, 6 asts

MSU: Cassius Winston 35 pts, 7 asts

Is anybody else sweaty after watching that? Just me? Cool. After a hectic first weekend in this simulation, the second weekend has arguably already topped its predecessor. Eight remain, but we still need to crown a champion. We’ll punch two tickets to Atlanta tomorrow from New York and Los Angeles. Will sleepers Richmond and Indiana shock the world again? Will tourney regulars Villanova and Gonzaga restore order in the college basketball world? It’ll surely be one to tune in for. Let’s get elite. 

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