A surprisingly dull, predictable opening round of the NCAA tournament gave way to a second round rife with dramatic finishes and stunning upsets. Here’s a look at the best and worst of the past four days of college basketball.
PLAYER WHO SHINED IN THE SPOTLIGHT
In some games, he has been his team’s best player. In other games, he has been nearly invisible. Thankfully for Oregon, Tyler Dorsey has gotten hot at the best possible time. The streak-shooting sophomore has scored at least 21 points in all five of the Ducks’ Pac-12 tournament or NCAA tournament games. He had 27 points on 9-for-10 shooting Sunday against Rhode Island including the biggest shot of the game. With the score tied and just over 40 seconds left, Dorsey pulled up from a few feet beyond the top of the key and buried the game-winning 3-pointer in his team’s thrilling come-from-behind 75-72 victory over the Rams.
PLAYER WHO SHRANK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The hero of last year’s Villanova title run didn’t manage to sink another 3-pointer in the NCAA tournament. Kris Jenkins missed all eight 3-pointers he hoisted in this year’s NCAA tournament, a huge reason the Wildcats’ title defense ended in the second round at the hands of eighth-seeded Wisconsin. Jenkins scored six points on 2-for-9 shooting against the Badgers, the maraschino cherry on top of an ill-timed late-season shooting slump. Without Jenkins’ usual contributions, Villanova shot 41.2 percent as a team and became too reliant on Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson.
CONFERENCE THAT EXCELLED
The Pac-12 received the fewest NCAA tournament bids of any major conference, but the league’s four teams that made it have proven they were worthy. Arizona, Oregon and UCLA each lived up to their seeds and advanced to the Sweet 16. USC nearly emerged from the First Four to join them, but the Trojans lost by four to Baylor on Sunday after previous come-from-behind victories over Providence and SMU. The Pac-12’s 8-1 record is the highest winning percentage of any conference. That doesn’t mean the league deserved more than four bids — neither Utah nor Cal belonged in the NCAA tournament — but it does validate that the three Pac-12 teams still playing are among the nation’s best.
CONFERENCE THAT GOT EXPOSED
Nine ACC teams received NCAA tournament bids. Six were awarded top-five seeds. Somehow, someway, only North Carolina managed to survive the opening weekend. Duke, Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame and Virginia crashed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round. The Tar Heels nearly joined that list of vanquished ACC powers before rallying from a late deficit to defeat Arkansas on Sunday. This year’s March flop doesn’t prove the ACC was overrated, just like last year’s six Sweet 16 bids don’t prove it was among the greatest leagues ever. The only sweeping conclusion that can be made from such a small sample size is that in this year’s NCAA tournament, the ACC was a colossal bust.
MOST SURPRISING SWEET 16 TEAM
In a year in which 15 Sweet 16 teams hail from power conferences and the 16th is powerful Gonzaga, Cinderella has long since packed up her glass slippers and gone home. The only double-digit seed left is a Xavier team making its seventh Sweet 16 appearance since 2004. What makes the Musketeers a surprise is that they entered the NCAA tournament with a 6-7 record since losing star point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending knee injury. To win without Sumner, Xavier has since found it must play solid defense, dominate the glass at both ends and have Trevon Bluiett carry them offensively for stretches.
MOST DISAPPOINTING EARLY EXIT
When Duke won four games in four days in Brooklyn to capture the ACC tournament title, the talent-laden Blue Devils appeared to be finally rounding into form at just the right time. Turns out that was just a mirage. The nation’s preseason No. 1 team didn’t even last beyond the opening week of March Madness, falling 88-81 to a South Carolina team that until Friday had gone 44 years without an NCAA tournament win. In a weird way, losing to the Gamecocks was a fitting end to a mercurial season from Duke. From November to March, the Blue Devils remained an enigma, impossible to discount yet impossible to predict.
Three years after Kentucky ended Wichita State’s bid to go unbeaten in an epic second-round matchup, the Wildcats and Shockers staged another instant classic. Wichita State stormed back from a late seven-point deficit to pull within one, but the Shockers couldn’t get the game-winning basket they needed to secure the revenge they craved. Two huge blocked shots by Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo preserved Kentucky’s 65-62 win. They provided a thrilling finish to an Elite Eight-caliber game that probably shouldn’t have been played until next weekend. Wichita State won 31 games and cracked the top 15 in every major advanced metric, yet the Shockers received a No. 10 seed from the committee since they lacked the marquee wins many teams seeded ahead of them had.
Condolences to the folks in Orlando who endured all 40 minutes of Florida-Virginia. You witnessed the Cavaliers fail to score at even a point-per-minute pace in a painful-to-watch 65-39 second-round loss. Virginia does not have a post presence this season without Austin Nichols, nor does it have guards who are quick enough to create off the dribble against Florida’s big, athletic backcourt. All the Cavaliers could do to try to score was launch jumpers, a strategy that did not pay off. Virginia missed 14 of its 15 3-pointers and 20 of its 28 shots in the first half. At one point Florida scored 21 straight points midway through the game, 14 of which came via forward Justin Leon.
MOST INTRIGUING SWEET 16 MATCHUP
Be grateful the South Region went almost entirely to chalk. That ensures a Sweet 16 rematch pitting second-seeded Kentucky against third-seeded UCLA, the two blue bloods with the most national titles in college basketball history. In the first meeting between the Wildcats and Bruins this season, UCLA announced its return to national prominence with a 97-92 victory at Rupp Arena. Isaac Hamilton scored 19 points, T.J. Leaf had 17 points and 13 rebounds and UCLA shot 53 percent from the field. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox combined for 44 points to lead the Wildcats, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Bruins from snapping Kentucky’s 42-game home win streak.
BEST GAME WINNER
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2017
There was no shortage of squandered chances for buzzer beaters the past four days. From Vanderbilt, to Villanova, to Wichita State, to SMU, poor execution led to a number of teams not getting the looks they wanted in the final seconds of one-possession games. The exception was Wisconsin, which upset Villanova thanks to a Michael Jordan-inspired go-ahead reverse layup from Nigel Hayes with 14 seconds left. The Wildcats were smart to force the ball out of Bronson Koenig’s hands, but Hayes proved he too is capable of late-game magic.
— Chat Sports NCAA (@ChatNCAA) March 17, 2017
One Shining Moment, Semi Ojeleye. Semi Ojeleye, One Shining Moment. The SMU forward secured his place on the NCAA tournament’s annual highlight reel with this soaring one-handed put-back dunk in the second half of the sixth-seeded Mustangs’ first-round loss to 11th-seeded USC. A former top-50 recruit who languished on the bench at Duke for a year and a half, Ojeleye opted to transfer just two months before the Blue Devils won the 2015 national title. The versatile 6-foot-7 junior sat out the next 22 months at SMU, but he was worth the wait for the Mustangs.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 19, 2017
After every Michigan victory in its charmed March run, the Wolverines have doused coach John Beilein with cups of water in the locker room. They were ready to do it again after toppling second-seeded Louisville on Sunday afternoon, but this time Beilein returned fire. The 64-year-old coach brought a super soaker and hosed down his team, a sure sign that things are going well for Michigan these days. The Wolverines have won seven games in a row, ascending ever since their plane skidded off the runway in terrifying fashion on the way to the Big Ten tournament.
Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis picked the worst possible time to lose track of the score. Convinced that his team trailed by one when it really led by one, Fisher-Davis fouled Northwestern’s best free throw shooter Bryant McIntosh with 15 seconds to go in their first-round game. McIntosh knocked down both free throws, Riley LaChance missed a deep 3-pointer and Northwestern had its first-ever NCAA tournament victory. The gaffe overshadowed an otherwise excellent game by Fisher-Davis. He scored 22 points and helped spearhead Vanderbilt’s comeback from a 15-point second-half deficit, yet it will be his ill-timed foul everyone will remember.
WORST CALL, PART I
Northwestern's coach got a tech for this, but he has a point ???? pic.twitter.com/9xFS9n5ves
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 18, 2017
Northwestern had sliced a 19-point second-half deficit to five during a second-round game against Gonzaga when a blown call halted the Wildcats’ momentum. The referees didn’t notice that Gonzaga’s Zach Collins illegally put his right hand through the rim while rejecting a Dererk Pardon dunk attempt. Northwestern coach Chris Collins compounded the damage by losing his cool, running onto the floor and getting whistled for a technical. Had Pardon’s dunk counted, the Wildcats would have been within three with five minutes to go. Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss instead sank two free throws to push the lead to seven and the Wildcats never again got any closer than within five.
WORST CALL, PART II
This was called a flagrant. pic.twitter.com/IcqB89sFfP
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) March 17, 2017
Facing a one-point deficit with the shot clock turned off during its first-round game against Arkansas, Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez shoved an Arkansas player to stop the clock and put the Razorbacks on the free throw line. Referees then went to the monitor and deemed the push a Flagrant 1. Rodriguez could probably have done a better job of making a play on the ball, but the referees could also use some common sense. The shove from Rodriguez was not malicious, nor was it more violent than the intentional fouls committed in the final seconds of dozens of games during the regular season. There was no reason to assess a Flagrant 1 and end Seton Hall’s season without a final chance to save it.
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