Friday night, like seemingly so much of the NCAA Tournament, belonged to the ACC. And it sets the stage for a Final Four that will include two teams from the conference. That follows from how the tournament has gone thus far, and the evening also followed another trend, which is the dominance of the No. 1 seeds.
The ACC went a perfect 4-0 on Friday night after the two teams in action the night before bowed out. That means Sunday’s matchups will involve nothing but ACC teams. And the No. 1 seeds are all alive and won their games convincingly.
Let’s dispense with the top seeds, because in each case there was little drama just like Thursday night. Virginia took care of Iowa State 84-71 in the first Midwest Regional semifinal, shooting 56 percent from the field and limiting just about every Cyclone not named Georges Niang, who battled foul trouble while scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out four assists. Later, North Carolina had a big night shooting the ball from long range to pull away from Indiana 101-86.
If North Carolina shoots the ball the way they did on Friday night, the Tar Heels may well be your national champions. In large part because Marcus Paige hasn’t been himself for much of the year, the Tar Heels have struggled from long range. On Friday night, however, they were 11-20 from deep, led by Paige’s 6-9 shooting en route to a game-high 21 points. All five North Carolina starters scored in double figures, with Brice Johnson adding 20 and 10 rebounds, and the Tar Heels also limited Indiana to 41 percent shooting in the win.
Now we get to the drama, of which there was very little in the regional semifinals. Even these games broke for the ACC, which will set a record for units earned in the NCAA Tournament and come away with around $40 million as a result.
First, Notre Dame and Wisconsin played what was a close, slow-paced game throughout, save for one point in the first half when the Badgers led 22-13. After Zach Auguste (13 points, 12 rebounds) tied the game at 53 with two free throws with 47 seconds left, Vitto Brown made a big three-pointer to put the Badgers up 56-53 with 28 seconds left. Notre Dame got a quick basket after that to get within 56-55, and that would start a game-ending 8-0 run as the Badgers sandwiched a miss layup in between two turnovers, the latter something head coach Greg Gard was concerned about at halftime.
The late game is almost a textbook Syracuse game. Gonzaga jumped out early to leads of 13-4 and 21-10 thanks to a hot hand from long range, with Kyle Wiltjer (game-high 23 points) even hitting one from well beyond NBA three-point range. But the Bulldogs came back to earth and Syracuse got going offensively, and by halftime it was just a one-point game. In the second half, the Bulldogs opened up a nine-point lead with over six minutes to go, but never made a field goal the rest of the way, and turnovers caught up with them. Michael Gbinje capped the rally by sticking back his own miss with 22 seconds left. A big block by Tyler Lydon in the final seconds helped seal it.
And the end result is two teams move on that no one is surprised by – North Carolina and Virginia – and two that are surprises, a Notre Dame team that lost key components from last season and a Syracuse team that arguably should not have been selected in the first place. In addition, the Elite Eight includes all four No. 1 seeds, each of who advanced with a double-digit victory in the regional semifinals.
A side note in Notre Dame’s win is that head coach Mike Brey was injured when he jumped on the sideline early in the second half. He suffered a calf injury that required treatment after the game, and as he did a television interview on the court and was mobbed by his teammates, he told them to watch his leg, which they nearly took out. He ducked out of the interview to get treatment and then address the media.
Stanford announced on Friday that they have hired Jerod Haase to succeed Johnny Dawkins. Haase spent the past four seasons as the head coach at UAB, leading them to the NCAA Tournament last season, including a win over Iowa State, and the NIT this season after they won the regular season title in Conference USA.
Late in the afternoon, Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory after five seasons. The former Dayton head coach was 76-86 in five seasons, including a trip to the NIT quarterfinals this season. What stood out the most about his tenure is that the Yellow Jackets lost a lot of close games which, if some went the other way, might have changed the story.
One head coach that is coming in is at Tulane, who will hire former NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy. The 62-year-old has been a head coach for four different NBA franchises but will be a college head coach for the first time. You can stay on top of all the coaching changes right here.
Meanwhile, one head coach is staying put, and that is Cincinnati mentor Mick Cronin. Earlier in the week, Cronin traveled to Las Vegas to evaluate the UNLV opening, and he opted to stay for at least an 11th season at the helm of his alma mater.
We will know two of the Final Four teams after tonight, and we should have a couple of great matchups with top two seeds. Stay tuned for another edition of Talking Hoops with Ted Sarandis this afternoon ahead of the games.
- First, at 6:09 p.m. Eastern, the top two seeds in the West Region battle as Oklahoma takes on Oregon.
- Following that, at 8:49 p.m. Eastern, the top two seeds in the South Region battle as Villanova takes on Kansas.