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Best of NCAA tournament, Sunday: Kentucky, Iowa State triumph in two thrillers

Kevin Kaduk
The Dagger
Kentucky forward Julius Randle celebrates with cheerleaders after a Third Round NCAA Tournament game between Wichita State and Kentucky on Sunday, March 23, 2014, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis
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Kentucky forward Julius Randle celebrates with cheerleaders on Sunday. (AP Photo/ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

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1. The city of Wichita will forever curse the selection committee for stacking the Midwest Regional against its top-seeded and previously undefeated Shockers, but darned if it didn't make for must-see TV on Sunday afternoon. Kentucky's 78-76 win over Wichita State in the Round of 32 was an instant classic and arguably served as the first time a one seed ever acquitted itself in the eyes of the general public with a loss to an eight seed.

After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari said the contest felt like an Elite Eight matchup and that the winner should have earned a berth to the Final Four. That's wishful thinking on Cal's part because all the win got him was a Sweet 16 date with hated rival Louisville. Talk about a mega-matchup. Next Friday's contest will feature the schools that won the last two national championship. It'll be the first NCAA tournament meeting between the two programs since UK beat Louisville in the 2012 Final Four. 

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2. If Iowa State's epic 85-83 win over North Carolina isn't considered the equal of Kentucky-Wichita State in the thrills department, it's only because 1) the game wasn't as hyped coming in, and 2) the earlier game was an impossible act to follow. Still, the Cyclones' triumph was superior in at least a few ways including a better game-winning highlight (DeAndre Kane barreling his way down the lane for two points) and a more memorable ending in ClockGate (even if it was really a non-ending). Is there a coach in America that would have accepted his fate as calmly as Roy Willams did?

 

3. First VCU made the Final Four in 2011. Then LaSalle reached the Sweet 16 in 2013. Now it's Tennessee proving that there shouldn't be any stigma attached to the "First Four" squad forced to play the midweek "play-in" game. The Volunteers' 83-63 laugher over Mercer on Sunday positioned Tennessee as one of the tourney's hottest teams and gave the SEC three teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. The Vols have a tough road in Indy with Michigan waiting, but are playing with the size and aggression needed to topple the Wolverines. Josh Richardson finished the day with 26 points while Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and 18 rebounds. 

4. The only seeding position to advance all four of its teams to the Sweet 16? That would be the 4s as UCLA joined Michigan State, Louisville and San Diego State with an easy win over Stephen F. Austin on Sunday. It's the first time the Bruins have been this far since 2008 while it marks the first Sweet 16 trip since 1999 for first-year coach Steve Alford. (The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg writes that it looks like Alford was the right pick for Westwood despite the initial criticism.) UCLA's next opponent will be a familiar one. It lost to Florida in the 2006 national title game, the 2007 Final Four and the round of 32 in 2011. 

5. Five of the eight games on Sunday ended with double-digit deficits, but Kansas' three-point loss to Stanford might have served as the most disappointing to its followers. The Jayhawks entered the season with big dreams, but a late-season injury to Joel Embiid and a poor showing in the final game from Andrew Wiggins sent KU home before the tourney's second weekend. With both players looking toward the NBA draft, one wonders which way coach Bill Self will pivot his program toward the future. 

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Click the image for more photos from the Wichita State-Kentucky thriller

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"I just think it's the best experience of my life. And I hope more kids do what I did."

— Creighton's Doug McDermott, who returned for a senior season in 2013-14. His college career ended with an 85-55 loss to Baylor on Sunday.

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Joe Bruin of UCLA (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports.. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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