The second weekend of the big dance offers both the ridiculous and the sublime.
No time to waste – let’s break down the four regions in what usually turns into the best weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
What did we do to deserve this?
We hit on our pick for the Cyclones to upset a discombobulated LSU team in the first round. Unfortunately, that meant ISU could continue playing, setting up its knockout of Wisconsin in the second round. One lackluster team losing to an even more uninspiring one.
After winning just two games in 2020, the Cyclones made an impressive turnaround this season under new head coach T.J. Otzelberger. Doing so required playing a truly hideous style of basketball that isn’t fun to anyone outside of Ames, Iowa. And we’re talking about a team that went 7-11 in conference play. We can only hope this run ends soon.
Indeed, that was us picking the Aztecs to make the Final Four. They got bounced in their first game, instead, after blowing a nine-point lead in the second half to Creighton. In perhaps its most impressive feat, SDSU failed to score a single point in the final 3:51 of regulation.
We feel confident we will ignore the lesson here about backing a team that ranks 271st in the country in free throw percentage.
Part of our confidence in San Diego State making a run stemmed from Kansas’ history of tightening up in the tournament under Bill Self. KU’s 79-72 win over the Bluejays seemed to teeter on disaster at times, but by surviving, the Jayhawks have put themselves in position for a trip to New Orleans.
Elite 8: Kansas over Iowa State
Yes, we really are this close to Iowa State making the Final Four. Miami coach Jim Larranaga thoroughly de-pantsed Snitchin’ Bruce Pearl in the Hurricanes’ win over Auburn in the second round, but the Clones pose a terrible matchup for The U in the Sweet 16. They will face KU after the Jayhawks dispatch a gritty Providence team in round three.
Self will wave to his legion of haters when he’s cutting down the nets in Chicago on Sunday.
It’s time for the Kelvin-ator
Former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson was dancing with his shirt off in the locker room after Houston thumped Illinois on Sunday afternoon, which raises a question that has been bugging us for a while now. What happened to the chambray?
Wardrobe aside, Sampson has burnished his coaching credentials in the latter stages of his career by working with his teams on putting the ball in the basket, not just rebounding it. In the last four seasons, the Cougars have finished no lower than 22nd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. While his teams at OU had a habit of fizzling out on offense in March, UH hasn’t had that problem under his watch. The Cougs still play his trademark lockdown defense.
Raising Arizona’s game
Few people envisioned TCU pushing Arizona to the brink in the round of 32. The Wildcats were lucky to live to play another day after the Horned Frogs punished them on the boards for 45 minutes. Unfortunately for UA, its next opponent does everything TCU does just as well – if not much better.
The Wildcats need to level up before Thursday because that Arizona-UH game looks like a toss-up from this vantage point.
Also gross: Michigan
To be fair, the Wolverines play a more aesthetically pleasing style of ball than Iowa State. No one can really feel good, though, about this team reaching this point. Michigan came into the tournament with 17-14 overall record and wheezed to the finish line by losing five of its final nine contests.
And even as an 11 seed, Michigan is no Cinderella. Sadly, the four-point spread in its game with Villanova on Thursday suggests the underdog Wolverines do have a solid shot to advance.
Elite Eight: Arizona over Villanova
Villanova quietly put together one of the better first weeks of the tournament. Delaware never challenged the Wildcats as they coasted to a 20-point victory on Friday. In the second round, Nova finished off Ohio State with a cold-blooded 11-3 run in the final five minutes that snuffed the life out of the Buckeyes.
Jay Wright’s team ultimately lacks the athleticism, especially on the interior, to beat either Arizona or UH. Very little separates the former two squads, but Zona star Bennedict Mathurin should command enough attention from the Cougs on defense to open up some scoring opportunities for teammates like Christian Koloko.
Koloko should also play a key role in helping Arizona push past Nova when the teams square off on Saturday in San Antonio.
Last weekend’s matchup in the round of 32 between Duke and Michigan wasn’t a bad game by any stretch. In fact, the Blue Devils and Spartans played some downright entertaining hoops.
Nevertheless, it felt as though we were being sold a knock-off version of the two programs built during the tenures of coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. Much of the responsibility for that falls on Izzo and Sparty, who no longer carry that March mystique with them.
Frankly, though, Coach K just looks like someone playing a part in these final games as head coach. The Blue Devils have their usual crop of young studs, but they don’t seem to have any direction. That’s trouble against well-coached teams like Texas Tech and (probably) Gonzaga.
Trending down: Gonzaga
You could make a strong case that the selection committee gave the Zags a rough draw. They found themselves matched up last week with two under-seeded teams in Georgia State and Memphis.
That being said, the Bulldogs still showed they’re a step below last year’s national runner-up squad. The good news for Mark Few is that his team doesn’t have to be as good to win it all this year. But the Zags look very beatable at the moment.
Elite Eight: Gonzaga over Texas Tech
If the Zags are going to lose in this tournament, it won’t be this week.
In the Sweet 16, Gonzaga will see an Arkansas team that is running out of steam. While the Razorbacks had the look of a potential Final Four participant a month ago, the Hogs could get blown out on Thursday.
The other Sweet 16 game in this region pits two diametrically opposed teams against each other. Duke possesses the overall talent to beat Texas Tech, but the young Blue Devils don’t look equipped to hand the Red Raiders’ brute strength and defensive tenacity. This smells like a case where Tech grinds its opponent down to a nub over 40 minutes.
Unfortunately for Tech, Gonzaga has a much better sense of what it wants to do on defense than Duke. The Red Raiders should make a point to try to draw Gonzaga stars Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren into foul trouble. But even if Timme or Holmgren gets stuck to the bench for long stretches, the Red Raiders still don’t have the shot-making to cash in.
Since his Peacocks have been the story of the tournament so far, Saint Peter’s guard Doug Edert is striking while the NIL iron is hot. The mustachioed marksman inked an endorsement deal this week with fast-casual restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings.
Saint Peter’s guard Doug Edert has signed an NIL deal with Buffalo Wild Wings pic.twitter.com/l207Tm2P4T
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) March 23, 2022
That has the makings of an ill-advised pregame meal. Saint Peter’s should keep Edert away from the wings on Friday – can’t afford for him to be indisposed against Purdue. The Peacocks will need all the firepower they can muster to keep pace with one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
What in Tar-nation?
It was shocking to watch North Carolina run out to a 25-point lead over Baylor in round two. It was more shocking to see the Tar Heels fall apart over the final 10 minutes of the game.
They still managed to escape with a victory, and it’s worth noting that the Bears essentially flopped their way into the heads of the UNC players. Forward Brady Manek’s ejection in the second half for an elbow to antagonist Jeremy Sochan was just one example. Caleb Love fouling out with more than seven minutes to play didn’t help matters, as the Heels struggled to break Baylor’s press in his absence.
If there was cause for concern in Chapel Hill, first-year coach Hubert Davis did appear overmatched down the stretch. Overall, though, don’t expect UNC to crumble in against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
Elite Eight: UCLA over Purdue
We have a saying around here: “Juzang for show; Jaquez for dough.” While Johnny Juzang and his silky midrange game get the lion’s share of notoriety on UCLA’s team, swingman Jaime Jaquez has proven to be the Bruins’ true catalyst. As such, Jaquez’s health will have a significant impact on how the East Region plays out. Assuming he’s firing on all cylinders on Friday, the boys from Westwood will advance against UNC.
Saint Peter’s has provided a nice story in this year’s big dance, and the Peacocks can probably hang with Purdue into the second half. The 12-point line on this game accurately reflects the disparity between the two teams, however, and the Boilermakers will likely separate themselves late in the contest.
With the school’s first Final Four in Purdue’s grasp, the pressure will mount for the Boilermakers versus the Bruins. UCLA, on the other hand, went last year for something like the 72nd time in program history. The better and looser team? Put the Bruins through to New Orleans.