16 teams now remain in the NCAA Tournament, and chances are, there is at least one or two among them that you did not expect. And likewise, there is probably a team or two that you expected to be alive that is not.
It was that kind of weekend. The first round might not have had much in the way of drama or upsets, but the second round made up for that, including on Sunday where two No. 2 seeds went down. One of them was a team many felt had a case for a No. 1 seed. Ted Sarandis and I talk about all of this and much more on College Basketball Tonight.
Down the stretch, Duke played like the team we thought they would be before the season. There was a good reason many felt Duke was a favorite for the national championship back in October: they had very good talent returning and added an elite group of newcomers. A lot of things conspired against them besides their opponents: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden had early injuries, Grayson Allen was also hurt but played through it at times, then Allen got himself into trouble and suspended for resorting to an old trick. A few other minor injuries, plus Mike Krzyzewski having to miss several weeks following back surgery that he tried hard to put off further, all added up to an uneven season for the Blue Devils.
But by the end of the season, Duke was playing about as well as anyone. They ran off four wins in four days at the ACC Tournament, including wins over Louisville, arch-rival North Carolina and Notre Dame. There were arguments for a No. 1 seed. Ultimately, they ended up as a No. 2, and were in the same region as the overall No. 1 seed, which was another matter. But after Sunday, the top two seeds in the East Region are both out, as Duke followed Villanova in bowing out, losing 88-81 to South Carolina.
For South Carolina, it’s the continuation of a special season, and just more great work by Frank Martin and his staff. South Carolina had not been in the NCAA Tournament in 13 years and had not even won a game in over 40 years. Now, they are in the Sweet 16 after scoring 65 points on 71 percent shooting in the second half against Duke on Sunday night. Even with those astounding numbers, it was their defense that wore Duke down, and that was something this team mastered all along. Martin felt before the season that his team had a great grasp of defensive principles, and it has carried them to New York.
Meanwhile, Martin’s coaching resume just keeps growing. This is a man who has had nothing handed to him in his life, and that includes coaching. His first head coaching job was following a legendary coach in a tough place to win, and he took Kansas State to the NCAA Tournament in four of his five seasons at the helm, winning at least one game each time. Now he comes to South Carolina and brings them to heights not seen in a couple of generations.
The other No. 2 seed to go down was another ACC team in Louisville, who became the latest victim of Michigan’s amazing story. The Wolverines shot 49 percent from the field and turned the ball over just six times to beat Louisville 73-69, continuing their amazing run ever since they had a near-death experience on their plane that was headed to the Big Ten Tournament.
We nearly saw another No. 2 go down, but Kentucky had just enough, including a last-second block by Bam Adebayo, to hold off Wichita State 65-62 in just the second time in NCAA Tournament history that two teams with 30 or more wins played each other in the first weekend.
Rhode Island nearly added another double-digit seed to the Sweet 16 party, but the Rams let one get away, blowing a double-digit lead in a heart-breaking 75-72 loss to Oregon in Sacramento. Tyler Dorsey capped off a 27-point day with two big three-pointers, including the game-winner, to vault Oregon into the Sweet 16. Like Duke, Oregon has had plenty of adversity in a season that began with many expecting a lot of them, but the Ducks still have a chance to meet some of those expectations.
Also in the Pac-12, UCLA had to come from behind, but they did in knocking off Cincinnati 79-67, putting forth a great offensive effort against a very good defensive team. That sets up a regional semifinal against Kentucky, one that will be the most anticipated game of that round after UCLA went into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats earlier this season.
North Carolina had to hold off Arkansas, as the Razorbacks made a run in the second half before running out of gas as the Tar Heels closed out a 72-65 win. USC gave Baylor all they could handle, but Baylor held them off 82-78 to advance to New York and take on South Carolina. The one game on the day that did not have much drama was Kansas beating Michigan State going away, a 90-70 decision that was surprising only in the margin of victory.
So if you had North Carolina and Kansas moving on, you are happy this morning. If you had Duke and Louisville joining them as No. 2 seeds, not so much. The NCAA Tournament is a great event, and unpredictable results like this are a big part of why that is.
So you really thought Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is retiring after the end of next season? If so, you were in the minority, as many figured Boeheim wouldn’t be going anywhere even though he has not really talked about it. Well, on Sunday he signed an extension for an undisclosed period going beyond the 2017-18 season. It happened just hours after Washington hired their new head coach, and for good reason.
Washington hired long-time Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins to be their next head coach, replacing Lorenzo Romar. What does this have to do with Boeheim and whether or not he retires? It’s well-known that Hopkins was the coach-in-waiting at Syracuse, even having it in his contract that he will replace Boeheim when he retires. But ever since athletic director John Wildhack took over, there has been speculation that Boeheim will stick around a bit longer; now it is official. Meanwhile, there’s a lot to like about Hopkins as he takes over in Seattle and builds something of his own in an area with a very fertile talent base to draw from. You can follow all of the coaching changes right here on Hoopville.
Staying on the coaching front, Clemson will keep Brad Brownell on the bench for at least another season. The Tigers were the epitome of a tough-luck team this season, losing a number of close games en route to going 17-16. Their season ended with a home loss to Oakland in the NIT, their second trip to that tournament in his tenure.
We wait until Thursday for more NCAA Tournament action, but the other tournaments go on.
- Half of the NIT’s second round is on tap, with UCF visiting Illinois State (7 p.m.), Akron visiting UT Arlington (8 p.m.), Illinois hosting Boise State (9 p.m.) and Colorado State hosting CSU Bakersfield (11:15 p.m.)
- Quarterfinal action is on tap in the CBI, starting with Loyola (Md.) at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m.), then Utah Valley visits Rice and George Washington visits UIC at 8 p.m. The last game of the night there is Wyoming hosting UMKC at 9 p.m.
- The CIT has three second round games on tap: Samford at Liberty and UT-Martin at Campbell (7 p.m.), closing out the night with Weber State at Texas A&M-CC (8 p.m.)