And things should be even better on Sunday, when we get eight more second round games.
Here they are, in order of just how awesome they are going to be:
2:40 p.m., CBS: No. 2 Kentucky (-4.5) vs. No. 10 Wichita State: The Gregg Marshall revenge tour rolls on. The Wichita State head coach has a point to prove to everyone, particularly the Selection Committee, that the Shockers are better than the people in change are willing to admit. They’re ranked No. 6 on KenPom, they’re 31-4 on the season and they’re playing a No. 2 seed in the second round of the tournament. That’s just dumb, but it’s not the only reason will be out for blood. When Marshall had a shot at going 40-0, he wound up in a region with Kentucky, the year that Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 team in the country and yucked their way to 10 losses and a No. 8 seed. Those Wildcats ended Wichita State’s perfect season. Don’t think he’s forgotten that.
PREDICTION: Wichita State (+4.5)
8:40 p.m., TNT: No. 2 Duke (-7.5) vs. No. 7 South Carolina: How many of you out there are Duke haters? Everyone that’s not wearing a Duke jersey? Figures. If you’re a Duke hater, then this should be the game for you to tune into, as the Blue Devils will be playing a de-facto road game against the Gamecocks in Greenville, S.C. This is going to be a raucous environment, and with the way South Carolina can defend and the ability to score that they showed against Marquette, the Blue Devils are probably going to be in for a fight.
PREDICTION: South Carolina (+7.5)
5:15 p.m., CBS, No. 1 Kansas (-8) vs. No. 9 Michigan State: This would make more sense as a Final Four game, I know, but here we are. What makes this intriguing is that Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the country in March largely because he’s so good in the second game of a weekend; he’s 21-4 in the second round, the Elite 8 or the national title game and has the most wins of any coach against a higher-seeded opponent. Bill Self? He’s 14-12 in the second game of a weekend. Izzo is a Hall of Famer. Self is about to be. Izzo has Miles Bridges and almost had Josh Jackson. Self has Josh Jackson. Those two squaring off is must-see TV.
PREDICTION: Michigan State (+8)
12:10 p.m., CBS, No. 2 Louisville (-3) vs. No. 7 Michigan: No one in college basketball has been hotter than Derrick Walton in the last six weeks of the season, and in turn, he’s sparked Michigan into an incredible finish to the year. Louisville as the horses to slow him down, but will they be able to score? That’s always the question with the Cardinals. A rematch of the 2013 national title game.
PREDICTION: Louisville (-3)
7:10 p.m., TBS, No. 3 Oregon (-5.5) vs. No. 11 Rhode Island: I think Rhode Island has the horses to run with Oregon. The key for Rhody is going to be finding a way to slow down Dillon Brooks. Will Kuran Iverson be that guy? Perhaps the best part of this matchup will be Hassan Martin vs. Jordan Bell, maybe the two best athletes in college hoops squaring off.
PREDICTION: Oregon (-5.5)
7:45 p.m., truTV: No. 3 Baylor (-7) vs. No. 11 USC: The Trojans have the feel of a team of destiny, as they won their first two games, including the play-in game, despite trailing big in both of them. The question against Baylor is whether or not they are going to be able to handle the front court of the Bears. Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are going to have to play big.
PREDICTION: USC (+7)
9:40 p.m., TBS: No. 3 UCLA (-4) vs. No. 6 Cincinnati: The Bruins have one of the most high-powered offenses we’ve seen in college in years. But Cincinnati is tough and athletic with big, physical wings that are going to wear on the Bruin guards. It’s also worth wondering if UCLA is going to get the stops they need to get to hold onto the win.
PREDICITION: UCLA (-4)
6:10 p.m., TNT, No. 1 North Carolina (-10.5) vs. No. 8 Arkansas: I fully expect the Tar Heels to run Arkansas off the floor, which I know means that UNC is going to end up losing, but whatever.
PREDICTION: UNC (-10.5)
No. 4 Florida embarrasses No. 5 Virginia in blowout win
Virginia’s Achilles’ heel reared its ugly head at the worst possible time.
The Cavaliers were up 13-11 at the under 12 timeout. By the time Tony Bennett called a timeout with 17:42 left in the second half, the Gators had gone on a 29-4 run and taken a 40-17 lead. The Cavaliers didn’t crack the 30-point mark until there were less than eight minutes left in the game, they trailed by as many as 29 points and eventually lost to No. 4 seed Florida, 65-39, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
That’s been the issue that Virginia has faced all season long. With Malcolm Brogdon in the NBA and playing without Austin Nichols, Virginia, a team that has never been an offensive juggernaut under head coach Tony Bennett, just doesn’t have the kind of weapons that they need to be able to win a game like this. UVA scored fewer than 1.00 points-per-possession in seven of their last 11 games, and went 1-6 in those seven games. None of those seven teams were nearly as good defensively as Florida is.
And frankly, that’s what Saturday’s takeaway should be.
Virginia is a young team whose most talented players are freshmen and who lacks a proven, go-to scorer. The fact that Tony Bennett turned this team into a No. 5 seed says all you need to know about his coaching prowess.
But the real story here is that Florida, even without John Egbunu, is pretty damn good, and they just had the bracket open up for them to get to a Final Four. No. 1 seed Villanova lost to Wisconsin earlier on Saturday, and the Gators, who are loaded with versatile, athletic defenders, should be able to matchup well with whoever makes it out of the other half of the bracket.
Put another way, the jokes about Virginia are easy to make now, but there is a very real chance that we’ll realize just how good Florida is by the time this tournament comes to an end.
With another early tournament exit, Villanova’s legacy is complicated
Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes was the hero, capping off a game-winning, 15-5 run over the final five minutes with a layup with 11.4 seconds left, sending the No. 8 seed Badgers to the Sweet 16 with a 65-62 win over Villanova, who entered the tournament as the nation’s No. 1 overall seed.
Villanova is — was? — the reigning national champion.
And that’s where this conversation gets complicated, because this is the third time in four years that the Wildcats lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a top two seed. That national title? It covers up some real questions about just what the legacy of this team will be.
Let’s start with Saturday.
On paper, Villanova has a very real and very obvious hole in their roster, and it’s right there in the middle. Daniel Ochefu graduated off of last year’s team and incoming freshman Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible, meaning that the Wildcats spent the season relying on 6-foot-9 Darryl Reynolds and 6-foot-7 Eric Paschall to man the paint. This is not an ideal situation against anyone, let alone against a team like Wisconsin, who lives on the ability of Ethan Happ and Hayes to score in the post and get to the offensive glass.
That’s before you consider the fact that Wisconsin as a No. 8 seed was one of the dumber decisions that the Selection Committee made. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten and reached the Big Ten title game, but there were four teams from the conference that were seeded above them? That doesn’t make much sense.
Put another way, this was never a good matchup for Villanova. There’s a reason a lot of smart people thought Wisconsin would give the Wildcats a fight. In a vacuum, this loss was more about matchups and miss-seeds than it was an indictment on the Villanova program.
But this loss didn’t come in a vacuum.
In 2014, No. 2 seed Villanova lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 7 seed UConn. In 2015, the Wildcats lost to No. 8 seed N.C. State in the second round as a No. 1 seed. The current Villanova stars, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, played on all three of those teams. More to the point, of the 29 programs that have played at least six games as a No. 1 seed, Villanova ranks tied-for-last in winning percentage in those games, going 5-3 as a No. 1 seed.
It makes me wonder: What is the legacy of this Villanova team going to be?
Because they’ve run roughshod over their conference during the four-year reign of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. After a 32-4 season that saw Villanova win a dual-Big East titles, the Wildcats with Hart and Jenkins have now won four Big East regular season titles, two Big East tournament titles, a national title and 129 games. In their worst season, they went 29-5. They’ve never lost more than three games to Big East foes in a single season and never more than five games, total.
But the Big East that they play is in not the same Big East that they were in before conference realignment. There are good teams in the league, but the closest thing we saw to a contender to them during that time frame ended this season when Mo Watson and Edmond Sumner tore their ACLs two weeks apart from each other.
Then there’s that national title that the Wildcats won, one that saw Villanova run through Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina — two No. 1 seeds and a team that was ranked No. 1 in February — in their final three games. That’s incredible. It’s a moment that Villanova fans will never forget, and the shot that won the title will go down in history and one of the greatest moments in the history of sports.
Not just this sport.
But that title came in a year where the level of elite talent in college basketball was at a four-year low. The best player that they faced during that title run was Buddy Hield, an incredible story that provided the NBA world with some much-needed comedic relief when he was the centerpiece of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. There were three elite freshmen that entered the sport in 2015-16, and Ben Simmons missed the tournament, Skal Labissiere couldn’t get off the bench and Brandon Ingram was out in the Sweet 16.
Put another way, Villanova’s 2016 national title was like being named the Best Dresser on Press Row, and it came as the filling in an otherwise disastrous string of NCAA tournament appearances.
Those details are really easy to pick through now.
That won’t be the case in five years, in 10 years.
My son is 18 months old. When he gets to eight years old, nine years old, 10 years old, when he finally starts realizing that sports are more than something that keeps him from being able to watch Elmo on TV, he’s not going to wonder about the context of Villanova’s title. He’s not going to think about whether or not Villanova was fortuitous in putting together a title-contending team in a year where the other contenders weren’t all that good.
He’s going to ask about The Shot. He’s going to ask about what I remember from that moment. He’s going to ask to see the video of The Shot I took on my phone. He’s going to ask whether or not I think he’ll ever get a chance to see a shot like that live.
That’s what Villanova’s legacy is, and thanks to Kris Jenkins’ clutch gene, no one is ever going to ask otherwise.
One Shining Moment, when it shines bright enough, will live on forever, and there will never be a moment that shines brighter than Jenkins’ game-winner. People don’t remember what it took to get there or what happened after. They remember the moment.
They remember the title.
It’s amazing what The Shot can do to change a narrative.
NCAA Tournament Saturday Recap: Villanova upset, Florida State beat down, Northwestern burned by no-call
The reigning champs went down. Villanova, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament field, lost a thriller to No. 8 seed Wisconsin on Saturday thanks to a pair of massive threes from Bronson Koening and a Jordan-esque move from Nigel Hayes that led to a winning bucket with 11.4 seconds left on the block. The question with Villanova now is what the legacy of this team will be?
The other No. 1 seed in action on Friday night was Gonzaga, and Mark Few’s club survived an upset-bid from No. 8 seed Northwestern on the strength of some questionable-at-best officiating late in the game. Even though this is the third straight year that Gonzaga has been in the Sweet 16, this is a program with the reputation of getting knocked out of the tournament early; somehow, the narrative has become that Gonzaga getting a No. 1 seed and losing in the second round is the norm for that program.
It’s ironic, really. That’s what Villanova does, but because Villanova won a national title, it’s not something we’re allowed to mention anymore.
Have we seen a more dominant performance in this tournament than No. 11 Xavier‘s 91-66 win over No. 3 Florida State? The Musketeers, playing without their most important player in Edmond Sumner, advanced to the Sweet 16. The job that Chris Mack has done with this team this season cannot be overlooked. They’ve dealt with more adversity on their roster than just about anyone left in the tournament not named Duke.
The Game of the Day, however, came in the nightcap, as No. 5 Iowa State squared off with Caleb Swanigan and No. 4 Purdue. Swanigan was sensational, but Purdue blew a 19-point second half lead and let Iowa State take the lead … before a 9-0 in the final five minutes game them the lead back. It was wild, it was intense, it was fun and it was a win for Purdue.
No. 7 Saint Mary’s put a scare into No. 2 seed Arizona, jumping out to a 10-point first half lead, but the Gaels faded down the stretch as Allonzo Trier woke up in the second half en route to a 69-60 win. The Wildcats will advance to take on No. 11 seed Xavier, as Chris Mack and Sean Miller, good friends and former colleagues, will square off.
The first game of the day was as impressive of a performance as we’ve seen out of No. 4 seed West Virginia this season. They’ve had bigger wins this year, but their win over No. 5 seed Notre Dame made a statement with the number of huge jumpers they made down the stretch. It’s not often that West Virginia wins games with their shooting, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday.
Kelan Martin scored 19 points and Andrew Chrabacsz scored 15 as No. 4 Butler sent No. 12 Middle Tennessee and their Cinderella slippers home. The Bulldogs are in the Sweet 16 despite having a team that doesn’t quite have the talent you would expect out of a Sweet 16 team. They’ve not a mid-major anymore, but this is one of college basketball’s best stories.
Iowa State vs. Purdue: Everything about this game was great. Comebacks by both teams, stars playing like stars, big shots, big dunks, great pace. If there was a standout, however, it was Caleb Swanigan, who finished with 20 points, 12 boards and seven assists.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett had 29 points as No. 11 Xavier put together one of the most impressive performances of this tournament, beating No. 3 seed Florida State by 25 points.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Carter had 24 points and three assists, hitting four huge threes as the Mountaineers advanced to the Sweet 16.
Not Virginia: The’Hoos saw their scoring issues pop back up on Saturday night, as they managed all of 39 points in a blowout loss to No. 4 seed Florida.