It’s regular for defending national champions to not go out easily in the NCAA Tournament, and one would expect that to be doubly true when that defending champion is Duke.
Alas, the Blue Devils went down in similar fashion to every other lower seed in Thursday night’s regional semifinals, staying close for about a half before fading in the final 20 minutes. Duke tried but was unable to keep up with top seed Oregon in an 82-68 loss in a West Region semifinal.
It wasn’t stunning to see the Ducks win-Dana Altman’s team is a 1 seed for a reason and has been red-hot for more than a month now. It was very surprising to see a Duke team get so consistently beat down the court and unable to get back on defense as the Blue Devils were Thursday night.
It’s the end of an at-time frustrating season for the Dukies, and a season that also again showed the downside of constantly building with freshmen, as Duke has joined Kentucky in doing in recent years. It also was a night that showed an axiom frequently parroted by the media is not true: that having more high seeds playing in the Sweet 16 and beyond does not guarantee in any way that the games will be better than if they included upstarts.
Oregon now will face second-seeded Oklahoma in the West final after the Sooners dumped Texas A&M 77-63. While they had a great regular season, there’s been a a feeling by some that Oklahoma is a flawed team that will exit stage left as soon as the three-pointers stop falling. It’s not necessarily true-OU is an ultra-experienced team, and also has a bit deeper bench than it gets credit for. The Sooners now have made it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009. Saturday’s game also will feature a matchup of a pair of ex-Kansas State coaches in Altman and OU’s Lon Kruger.
Also, for all the talk of the ACC entering the Sweet 16, that league is now 0-2 through its first two games while the Big 12 already has two in the Elite Eight. Kansas became the second Big 12 team to advance when the top-seeded Jayhawks pulled away from 5 seed Maryland for a 79-63 win.
With Michigan State out of the tourney early, Kansas is the odds-on favorite to win it all. Meanwhile, a promising season for the Terrapins is suddenly over, and while Maryland did advance further than last year’s second-round showing, there undoubtedly will be a feel that the Terps never quite met lofty expectations placed on them coming in.
Kansas now will meet Villanova in what should be a superb South final. The Wildcats continue to be the hottest team in the tournament after a 92-69 blowout of Miami (Fla.) in which they shot 62.7%. Villanova hit 32 of 51 from the field, 10 of 15 from three-point range and even 18 of 19 foul shots. It was such a masterful performance that the Wildcats won going away despite allowing the Hurricanes to shoot 53.2% themselves.
- New Jersey Tech is in the CIT semifinals for the second straight year. The Highlanders-who entered the tourney at 14-14 overall-rallied past Texas-Arlington to win 63-60 and now will face Columbia in a semifinal game on Easter Sunday.
- Drexel has its new coach, and it is Zach Spiker, the former head man at Army. Spiker succeeds Bruiser Flint and comes after seven years with the Cadets, where he won 102 games and led Army to a 19-14 record this year. Keep track of all Division I coaching changes right here.
- The NCAA Tournament East and Midwest Region semifinals make up the entire schedule. The biggest-name game of the night is in the East were No. 1 North Carolina takes on 5 seed Indiana (9:57 p.m. EDT, TBS). The first semi in Philadelphia will be sixth-seeded Notre Dame versus 7 seed Wisconsin (7:27 p.m., TBS) in a pairing of two teams that beat the buzzer for their second-round wins.
- In the Midwest regional in Chicago, top seed and heavy region favorite Virginia takes on fourth-seeded Iowa State first (7:10 p.m., CBS) in a distinct contrast of styles. That is followed by a pair of double-digit seeds with No. 11 Gonzaga against 10th-seeded Syracuse (9:40 p.m.).