Sweet 16 Reset: The South Region

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On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the South Region.

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WHERE: Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX

WHEN: Friday

WHAT HAPPENED?: No. 1 Kansas advanced, beating No. 8 North Carolina and old coach Roy Williams in the process. No. 4 Michigan advanced as well, rolling over both No. 5 VCU and No. 13 South Dakota State in the process. On the other side of the region, No. 3 Florida knocked off No. 11 Minnesota, ending Tubby Smith’s tenure as the head coach of the Gophers, after Minnesota knocked off No. 6 UCLA, ending Ben Howland’s tenure as head coach of the Bruins.

But none of that actually matters.

Because the South Region is where Dunk City happened. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast beat both No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16.

FAVORITE: Florida Gators

Forgive me if I wan’t blown away by Kansas’ six point win over Western Kentucky or their 21 point first half against North Carolina. As good as the Jayhawks looked in that second half run against the Tar Heels, they looked twice as bad in the first half. And they are stil waiting for Ben McLemore to figure out how to play in the NCAA tournament. So I’ll stick with the Gators, who were my Final Four pick heading into the tournament. They’re the best defensive team in the bracket, and after rolling over FGCU (sorry, Dunk City, the run may be over), I think the Gators defensive pressure will be too much for Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe.

KEY PLAYER: Trey Burke, Michigan

He’s the best player in the country, in this writer’s not-so-humble opinion, and he still hasn’t played his bet basketball of the NCAA tournament. He’s going to need to against Kansas if the Wolverines are going to beat the Jayhawks. The good news? He should have the opportunity, because both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary have stepped up their play in the first two rounds of the tournament, which means that it will be that much more difficult for defenses to key in on him.

WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: Here’s my thinking on FGCU: the way that they beat both Georgetown and San Diego State was by crushing their will. The Eagles hung around for a while, but it was a second half run in both instances — one that involved some vicious, soul-crushing alley-oops — that allowed Andy Enfield’s club to pull away. Florida’s doesn’t exactly have the most mentally-strong back court stars. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario can be streaky. Will they fold if FGCU hits the Gators with a game-changing run like that?

THE TEAMS:

No. 1 KANSAS JAYHAWKS
How they got here: Beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 64-57 and No. 8 North Carolina 70-58.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 4 Michigan, 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 3 FLORIDA GATORS
How they got here: Beat No. 14 New Mexico State 79-47 and No. 11 Minnesota 78-64.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast, 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 4 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
How they got here: Beat No. 13 South Dakota State 71-56 and No. 5 VCU 78-53.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1994
Next up: No. 1 Kansas, 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 15 FLORIDA GULF COAST
How they got here: Beat No. 2 Georgetown 78-68 and No. 7 San Diego State 81-71.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: This is their first
Next up: No. 3 Florida, 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: South Carolina celebrates Final Four trip by dousing Frank Martin in water

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South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.

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VIDEO: Darius Rucker tears up as South Carolina advances to the Final Four

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Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

This isn’t really a secret.

Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:

You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:

Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.

VIDEO: Did South Carolina get away with a blatant travel after risky full-court pass?

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South Carolina is heading to its first Final Four in school history after a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida in the East Region on Sunday.

But the No. 7 seed Gamecocks’ historic win also came with some late controversy.

With South Carolina clinging to a 70-68 lead with 53.7 seconds left, the Gamecocks opted to make an extremely risky full-court pass on an inbounds play. The pass was caught at the other end of the floor by South Carolina’s Duane Notice.

Then Notice took about four or five steps before he was fouled by Florida’s Chris Chiozza to send him to the line.

It looks like Notice had a pretty blatant travel on the play. It’s a ridiculous catch in traffic that has to make South Carolina football fans proud, but Notice is clearly walking after getting the ball. Notice knocked down two free throws after Chiozza’s foul to make it a two-possession game as it became 72-68 with 50 seconds left.

Florida was obviously flat in the second half and didn’t deserve to win on Sunday. But it makes you wonder what might have happened if a travel was called on Notice. The Gators would have had a chance to tie with under a minute left instead of it being a two-possession game.

South Carolina advances to first Final Four in program history with win over Florida

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South Carolina entered this year’s NCAA tournament, their first NCAA tournament since 2004 and their fifth NCAA tournament in the last 43 years, having never won two consecutive tourney games in the history of the program.

On Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to their fourth straight win and their first trip to the Final Four.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 26 points in the final 10 minutes, leading No. 7 seed South Carolina back from a 40-33 halftime deficit for a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida. P.J. Dozier added 17 points and Chris Silva finished with a critical 13 points and nine boards, coming up with some huge offensive rebounds and hustle plays defensively in the second half.

After shooting 7-for-12 from three in the first half, Florida missed their all 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second 20 minutes. South Carolina’s defense, which is second nationally this season, according to KenPom, and which allowed 40 points to the Gators in the first half, buckled down in the final minutes, forcing turnovers and taking the Gators out of what they wanted to do offensively. They shot just 11-for-35, or 31.4 percent, from the floor after halftime and didn’t get a clean look at the rim in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s how South Carolina plays. That’s who they are. It’s physical and it’s ugly and it’s just so effective when they’re able to make shots at the other end of the floor. And that is where this team has changed in March. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games heading into the NCAA tournament, failing to score more than 1.00 points-per-possession in five of those six losses.

But the story of this game isn’t how this South Carolina team has changed.

The story is how the program has changed.

The Gamecocks were a 10-win team that went 2-14 in the SEC the year before they Frank Martin away from Kansas State, a hire that was made thanks to a falling out with his athletic director, and boy, does that look like a coup now. He was responsible for leading Kansas State, which isn’t exactly a program known for basketball success, to their only Elite 8 since 1988. He’s now led South Carolina to their first Final Four in the history of the program.

South Carolina will advance to Phoenix to take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.