(Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

NCAA Tournament Friday Recap: USC, Rhode Island score upsets in early games, chalk holds late

Leave a comment

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament’s first round went down on Friday afternoon when No. 11 seed USC, a First Four team, knocked off No. 6 seed SMU as the Trojans only led for 50 seconds of that game. Elijah Stewart knocked in the game-winning three-pointer as the Trojans once again came back from a double-digit deficit to win.

Following in USC’s footsteps was No. 11 seed Rhode Island out of the Midwest Region as they defeated No. 6 seed Creighton. A popular first-round upset pick, the Rams proved those people right by getting five players to finish in double-figures as Jeff Dowtin led the way with 23 points.

The third trendy “upset” pick of the day was No. 10 Wichita State picking off No. 7 seed Dayton, and the Shockers made that happen. That sets up a fascinating battle between the Shockers and, as long as they don’t choke, No. 2 seed Kentucky. All the story lines.

Friday’s action got off to a positive start once again as No. 7 seed Michigan took down No. 10 seed Oklahoma State in the Midwest Region as the matchup of point guards Derrick Walton Jr. vs. Jawun Evans didn’t disappoint. Both elite floor leaders flirted with triple-doubles as Michigan and Walton continue to look like a dangerous team in this tournament. I have more on Walton’s ridiculous recent stretch here.

There is a reason that Tom Izzo is known as Mr. March. Despite trailing by as many as a dozen points in the first half, the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans knocked off No. 8 Miami by 20 points. Freshmen Nick Ward and Miles Bridges were just too much for the Hurricanes to handle.

Late turnovers and a controversial Flagrant 1 call helped lead No. 8 seed Arkansas over No. 9 seed Seton Hall in the South Region. The Razorbacks took advantage of two untimely Pirate turnovers and a Flagrant 1 call on Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez with 18 seconds left to get by with a win.

No. 2 seed Kentucky advanced despite getting an off night from Malik Monk, and No. 3 seed UCLA advanced despite playing defense like a CYO team.

FRIDAY’S BEST

Sindarious Thornwell and P.J. Dozier, South Carolina — Thornwell and Dozier combined for 50 points as the Gamecocks knocked off No. 10 seed Marquette, coming from behind to beat the Golden Eagles in Greenville, S.C. This was the first NCAA tournament win for the South Carolina basketball program since 1973. That’s 44 years ago.

Elijah Stewart, USC — The junior guard is your hero for the Trojans as he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer with 36 seconds left. After going scoreless in 31 minutes during USC’s win over Providence in the First Four, Stewart responded with a team-high 22 points as he was a huge factor going 6-for-13 from three-point range.

Derrick Walton Jr. vs. Jawun Evans — This one got the day going as Michigan and Oklahoma State had a one-point game that went into the 90s. Walton and the Wolverines won as the senior finished with 26 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Evans did plenty of damage of his own as he ended up with 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds while also becoming a hero for some with his buzzer-beating three.

Troy Caupain, Cincinnati — Caupain had a disappointing senior season, but he saved his best game for the biggest moment, going for a season-high 23 points in a win over No. 11 Kansas State. With the win, the Bearcats because the only No. 6 seed to advance.

WHO GOT UPSET?

THE REST OF FRIDAY’S ACTION

  • It didn’t take long before No. 1 seed North Carolina ran away from No. 16 seed Texas Southern for a double-digit win. Justin Jackson knocked down five three-pointers to finish with 21 points.
  • No. 1 seed Kansas made light work of No. 16 seed UC Davis.
  • No. 2 seed Louisville had an off-day from Donovan Mitchell but had a balanced effort in a double-digit win over No. 15 Jacksonville State in the Midwest Region. Mangok Mathiang led the Cardinals with 18 points.
  • It took a little bit more effort than No. 2 Duke would have liked, but the Blue Devils eventually pulled away from No. 15 Troy to advance to the second round.
  • For a little while it looked like No. 3 seed Baylor might have difficulty with another double-digit seed but they pulled away from No. 14 seed New Mexico State in the East Region. Al Freeman paced the Bears with 21 points while Johnathan Motley had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Easy win for No. 3 seed Oregon in the Midwest Region as they scored 55 points in the first half to run past No. 14 seed Iona. Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey had 24 points for the Ducks while Jordan Bell had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

VIDEO: Providence coach Ed Cooley always needs a mic

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

On Friday night at DePaul, Providence head coach Ed Cooley allowed himself to be mic’d up for a TV broadcast, and things got interesting.

Around the 36 second mark, Cooley starts talking about … vampires and bats and dracula?

Then robbing banks and saying thank you?

I don’t know. Just watch.

VIDEO: Kansas celebrates in locker room after West Virginia win

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After coming from 16 points down to knock off No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, Kansas had themselves some fun in the visitor’s locker room.

I’m not exactly sure what is happening here, but I do know Devonte’ Graham is having a hell of a time.

COLUMN: Kansas is back on top in the Big 12

My only question … where is Billy Preston’s shirt? He didn’t even play:

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.