The NCAA Tournament of upsets that really aren’t continued Saturday.
Through five days, the 2017 tourney has become marked by its lack of surprises, and Saturday was no different, regardless of what seeds say. The day did leave us with our first two top 16 seeds eliminated, though, including defending champion Villanova plus (region) 3 seed Florida State.
Villanova’s season-long ability to close tough games out vanished on Saturday, and with it went chances to repeat as national champions. The Wildcats led Wisconsin by seven points late, yet couldn’t get stops down the stretch. With it, the Badgers came through for a 65-62 win.
For 20 minutes, Wisconsin looked primed to pull off what was only a light upset, if one knows how good the Badgers’ recent postseason history. Villanova overcame poor shooting in the first half, though, and appeared to be set to move on after taking a 57-50 lead with 5:31 left. Wisconsin did not fold, though, Nigel Hayes scored the go-ahead basket with 12 seconds left, and the Badgers will play in their fourth straight Sweet 16. Which should surprise no one-not with a team including three starters who were part of a national runner-up two years ago, plus another of the Big Ten’s top players in Ethan Happ. The only question is: what took this team so long to play like this?
Later in the day, another veteran of March that was knocked out by Wisconsin a year ago got some revenge, as Xavier dominated Florida State 91-65. The 11th-seeded Musketeers took an early lead and poured it on in the second half, blowing away an ultra-deep, ultra-athletic Seminoles team that had shown chinks in the armor late in the season and did not last long in this tourney. Xavier, meanwhile, is in the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in 10 years, showing once again: this is one of the premier programs in the country.
The message from Saturday should be this: there are no invincible teams this year. Not even close. At the same time, beware of teams with postseason experience and ones who have heated up or found themselves right at the end of the year.
- Other than those two results, the tourney still continues to follow form. West top two seeds Gonzaga and Arizona continue to be on a collision course after the Bulldogs ended Northwestern’s season 79-73 and Arizona’s Wildcats held off stubborn Saint Mary’s 69-60.
- We were in Milwaukee on Saturday, and two games competitive to the final minutes went to schools who continue to show basketball in Indiana is doing just fine. Butler got an early jump on Middle Tennessee State and made it hold up, finishing up its two games at the Bradley Center without having trailed one second after a 74-65 win that ended the Blue Raiders’ outstanding season. Next, Iowa State fell into a big hole before climbing out-again-but Purdue recovered after losing a 19-point lead, with P.J. Thompson hitting a big three-pointer late in the Boilermakers’ 80-76 victory.
- West Virginia is back in the Sweet 16 and continued the ACC’s disappointing tournament, knocking out Notre Dame 83-71. Later, Florida routed Virginia 65-39, dominating the Cavaliers behind Devin Robinson with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds). UVA played without Isaiah Wilkins, its’ leading rebounder who has been limited for several weeks and was completely out of this one with strep throat.
- Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy has generated some much deserved praise this past week with his willingness to start a series with an Illinois State team that was hosed from an NCAA Tournament bid in large part because of the fear some of Ole Miss’s peer institutions have of playing teams like the Redbirds. The Rebels deserve further accolades now for their NIT win on the road at Syracuse on Saturday, an 85-80 victory putting Ole Miss in the NIT quarterfinals.
- The final eight games of the NCAA Tournament second round continue, with action leading in Indianapolis. And there’s two more prime chances at non-upset upsets, with Michigan taking on a vulnerable Louisville team (12:10 p.m., CBS) and the following game matching Wichita State and Kentucky (2:40 p.m., CBS).
- Games in Tulsa include Kansas taking on Michigan State, followed by USC against Baylor. The Trojans are another 11 seed like Xavier with a terrific opportunity to move on, and absolutely no one would be surprised if the Spartans did, either.
- The Pac-12, er, Sacramento sub-regional site will feature Rhode Island against Oregon and Cincinnati meeting UCLA. Both West Coast teams will have significant advantages playing these games so close to home against opponents from far across the country-this is almost a full-fledged full-court advantage for the Ducks and Bruins.
- Another team all but gifted a game in its own gym was South Carolina, which now faces much-hated Duke in Greenville, S.C. The other game includes top seed North Carolina, which should handle Arkansas.
- The NIT stays busy on Sunday with three more games, including two matching 7-vs.-6 seeds. Belmont is at Georgia Tech (Noon, ESPN) and will see how its spread-out offense works against the Yellow Jackets’ size. In the evening, Oakland looks for its second straight on the Atlantic Coast when it plays at Richmond (7:30 p.m., ESPNU). The other game for the day includes TCU at Iowa.
Have a relaxing Sunday.