NCAA Tournament Day 3 recap

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pitt 70

This wasn’t only the game of the day. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games that I’ve seen in, well, ever. Butler and Pitt spent the first 39 minutes and change slugging this one out. Pitt kept trying to open up a lead, but Butler’s Shelvin Mack was playing one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points, hitting countless big jumpers, to keep the Bulldogs in it. As good as the game was, all anyone is going to talk about is the ending.

Pitt eventually took a 69-68 lead, but Butler had the ball with 7.1 seconds left in the game. They inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who drove and found Andrew Smith for a layup with 2.2 seconds left. Pitt didn’t have any timeouts left, so Ashton Gibbs led Gilbert Brown up the sideline when Mack fouled him with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first and missed the second, but Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard with 0.8 seconds left on the rebound. Howard hit one of two, and Butler took out the first No. 1 seed.

Player of the Day: Kemba Walker, UConn

UConn may very well be the hottest team in the country, having now won seven straight games in March. And Kemba Walker could very well be the hottest player in the country. He scored 130 points as UConn won five straight games in the Big East Tournament before he went for 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards in a first round win over Bucknell.

Kemba was just as hot against Cincinnati on Saturday night. He had 33 points, six boards, and five assists. More impressively, however, is that after struggling through the first 10 minutes of the second half — scoring two points as he battled what appeared to be a wrist injury — Walker scored 16 points to help hold off a scrappy Bearcat team.

Team of the Day: Wisconsin Badgers

I’ve said it numerous times in this space — Jordan Taylor is arguably the best point guard in the country and inarguably the most important player on the Wisconsin team. I’ve also said that Jacob Pullen is the guy that Kansas State needs to go off if they hope to make run in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday night, Pullen scored 38 points and showed off every reason he has cemented himself as a legend in Manhattan, Kan., while Jordan Taylor struggled his way to a 2-16 shooting performance.

But at the end of the game, it was Wisconsin — and Taylor — that made all of the big plays. The Badgers erased a six-point deficit late in the game, and after Taylor nearly blew a three-point lead by fouling Pullen on three point attempt (he missed the second), Taylor blocked a game-tying three point try from Pullen to seal the game. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Wisconsin had a chance to win this game if I told you that Pullen scored 38 points and Taylor went 2-16?

No. 2 San Diego 71, No. 7 Temple 64, 2OT: The Aztecs did everything they could to hand this game to Temple. They turned the ball over in the back court. They failed to win the game at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime. But when the final buzzer sounded, SDSU picked up a win in the exact manner that you would expect. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas combined for 45 points, 31 boards (10 offensive), seven assists, five steals, and five blocks.

No. 4 Kentucky 71, No. 5 West Virginia 63: Just two days after hitting the game-winning shot — his only field goal of the game — Brandon Knight scored 30 points in a win over West Virginia. He sparked an 11-0 run to open the second half and erase an eight point half time deficit and then hit six free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Of note — it was the first time in eight years that John Calipari was able to knock off Bob Huggins.

No. 2 Florida 73, No. 7 UCLA 65: Erving Walker was the hero against UCLA scoring 10 of the last 12 Gator points and hitting two huge shots down the stretch. Walker finished with 21 points on just eight field goals attempts. The other important note from this game is that Kenny Boynton rolled his ankle in the second half. He came back and tried to play, but he was limping badly and was completely immobile.

No. 3 BYU 89, No. 11 Gonzaga 67: After getting 24 points and six assists from Marquise Carter in an impressive win over St. John’s in the first round of the tournament, the Zags were trending upwards. Or some we thought. Carter was a no-show and BYU ran Gonzaga on the floor. Jimmer Fredette finished with 34 points and six assists and Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock combined for 29 points and six threes.

No. 12 Richmond 65, No. 13 Morehead State 48: Morehead State had no answer for Richmond’s Justin Harper, who finished with a game-high 19 points as the Spiders advanced to the Sweet 16. Kevin Anderson added 14 points. Kenneth Faried had 13 boards, seven on the offensive end, but only managed to score 11 points. Demonte Harper had just four points on 2-15 shooting.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.