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No. 2 Kentucky advances despite Malik Monk’s quiet night

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The only Kentucky player that didn’t show up ready to play on Friday night was the guy that everyone came to see.

De’Aaron Fox scored a team-high 19 points, Bam Adebayo had 15 points and 18 boards, Isaiah Briscoe chipped in with 17 and Derek Willis added eight points, seven boards, three assists, three steals and two blocks as the No. 2 seed Wildcats held off No. 15 Northern Kentucky, 79-70, to advance to the second round to face No. 10 seed Wichita State.

You’ll notice the name missing in that paragraph above is Malik Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer and the single-most dangerous player in college basketball this season.

On Friday night, Monk shot 3-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three, finishing with an unimpressive 12 points in an unimpressive win for the Cats.

And frankly, I think that is a good sign for Kentucky.

Look, Malik Monk isn’t going to be as quiet as he was on Friday all that often. He’s just far too talented for that, and we all know what he’s capable of doing when he gets going. The concern for this Kentucky team wasn’t whether or not Monk would have an off-night, it was whether they were going to be able to survive it. On Friday, they did, because Fox continued to play well, Adebayo was a monster and Willis and Briscoe thrived in the roles they’ve been asked to play.

And while the final score was a nine-point deficit, the game was never really that close. Kentucky jumped out to a double-figure lead early and never really got threatened.

No. 3 UCLA beats No. 14 Kent State, but defensive issues arise once again

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T.J. Leaf scored 23 points to lead five players in double-figures as No. 3 UCLA picked up an impressive-looking win over No. 14 Kent State on Friday evening, 97-80.

Thomas Welsh went for 16 points and Aaron Holiday added 15 points and 10 assists for the Bruins, but the win wasn’t quite as promising as the final score might indicate.

The Bruins jumped out to an 18-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game and were never truly threatened by the Golden Flashes, but the Bruins were also far from convincing in their win. The issue with this team all season long has been their defense — they have a habit of only playing when they decide that they want to play — and that reared its ugly head again on Friday. Kent State more or less got whatever they wanted for the final 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half.

The Golden Flashes cut UCLA’s lead to eight points at the half, and they trimmed that lead to just five points midway through the second half, as the Bruins watch Jaylin Walker go at Bryce Alford and Jimmy Hall go to work in the paint. As a team, they gave up 15 offensive rebounds.

With a path to the Final Four that is going to include 30-5 Cincinnati, the Wichita State-Kentucky winner and, in all likelihood, a game against North Carolina, that kind of an effort on the defensive end of the floor simply is not going to cut it.

So here’s the question, which is the same question we’ve asked all year long with this group: Will UCLA be able to turn that defense up a notch in the games where they can’t simply rely on being able to put up 97 points and coast to a win? It worked at Kentucky, at Arizona and at home against Oregon. It didn’t work against Arizona in Pauley or the Pac-12 tournament, and it didn’t work at Oregon.

Cincinnati beats Kansas State to become only No. 6 seed to advance

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Troy Caupain stepped up when his needed it.

Cincinnati’s star point guard has a disappointing senior season, but he played his best game of the year in the biggest moment, going for 23 points and seven boards as the No. 6-seeded Bearcats easily handled No. 11 Kansas State, 75-61, in their first round game on Friday evening.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 13-point lead early in the first half and led by as many as 17 points down the stretch. The Bearcats did catch a break in the first half, as Wesley Iwundu picked up three early fouls, which played a role in Cincinnati’s ability to pull away in the first half. Known as one of the best defensive teams in the country, the Bearcats actually show 62 percent from the floor Friday.

The Bearcats actually became the first No. 6 seed to win their opening round game this season; Creighton, Maryland and AAC rival SMU all lost in the first round this week. With the win, they will advance to take on, in all likelihood, No. 3 UCLA, as long as they don’t lose to No. 14 Kent State on Friday evening.

No. 10 Wichita State advances past No. 7 Dayton

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Wichita State entered the tournament with the pressure of being the team that every single media member said got screwed.

And they did.

Don’t forget that.

The Shockers, who, at this very moment, are sixth in KenPom’s rankings, entered the NCAA tournament as a 30-4 No. 10 seed that was favored by six points over the No. 7 seed that had won the outright Atlantic 10 regular season title. They were wronged, and the only way that we’re going to get the Selection Committee to fix the process that wrong them is to continually shame them for it.

And the Shockers helped us out with that, as they pulled away from the Flyers in the second half of a 64-58 win, advancing to take on, in all likelihood, No. 2 seed Kentucky in the second round of the tournament.

It wasn’t pretty on Friday night, as the Shockers shot under 40 percent from the floor, Dayton barely cracked 30 percent and the two teams combine for 39 fouls, but it was as fun and as intense as you would expect from a game involving these two programs. Landry Shamet led the way with 13 points and three assists, doing his best to help slow down Scoochie Smith in the second half; Smith finished with 25 points.

But the real story coming out of this game is what happens moving forward, because the Shocker’s potential matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky is loaded with so many story lines that I can barely handle it. It starts with The Malik Monk Show, because who doesn’t love seeing a player of that caliber go crazy in the sport’s biggest stage.

There’s more to it than that, though. Three years ago, when Wichita State was No. 1 in the country and sitting at 35-0 in the second round, the Shockers were screwed over again by the Selection Committee, getting slotted into a Region of Death and drawing No. 8 seed Kentucky in the second round. Kentucky ended that perfect season en route to the national title game.

This year, Wichita State has a chance to return the favor in a game where, as a No. 10 seed, they may only end up being a one or two point underdog.

And should we mention Gregg Marshall and the Indiana job?

We probably should mention Gregg Marshall and the Indiana job.

Marshall has been one of the most sought-after coaches in the country for years, but he has yet to bite on any high-major opening. Indiana is a job that he may actually say yes to … if it gets offered.

And that’s a story line that is going to hang over the head of this Shocker team for as long as they remain a part of this tournament.

POSTERIZED: Dayton’s Kendall Pollard dunks all over Wichita State defender

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Dayton forward Kendall Pollard gave the Flyers a brief lead in a battle with Wichita State with this dunk.

There hasn’t been a ton of offense in this game, but man, the highlights have been good:

No. 11 Rhode Island ends No. 6 Creighton’s once-promising season in anonymity

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Rhode Island got into the NCAA tournament after storming through the Atlantic 10 tournament, and the run of form hasn’t ended yet.

The No. 11 seed Rams blew out No. 6 seed Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, getting 23 points from Jeff Dowtin to lead five players in double-figures in an 84-72 win.

It’s the first NCAA tournament win for Rhode Island since 1998, and it came in their first tournament appearance since 1999, when Lamar Odom was still Kingston. The Rams will advance to take on No. 3 seed Oregon, but it’s fair to wonder if this result was an upset in seed only. The Rams ended up being favored by the time this game tipped off, but more to the point, Creighton is simply not the same team that they were when the season started.

I’m not exactly breaking any news here when I say that Creighton’s season was a massive disappointment. They entered the season as a potential top 20 team, they entered Big East play as a top ten team and midway through the season, they looked like a real contender for the Big East title with a National Player of the Year candidate on the roster.

Then Mo Watson tore his ACL, and a month later was arrested and charged with sexual assault. He’s facing a long, long time in prison, and trust me when I say that I realize everything that alleged victim is dealing with makes what Creighton’s going through seem like a 90-minute deep tissue massage.

The point here isn’t to diminish what happened to her or what Watson was alleged to have done.

But that doesn’t change the fact that a year that started out with such promise for a program that doesn’t experience this kind of success often ended with the Bluejays quietly bowing out of the NCAA tournament in a 15-point first round loss that no one paid attention to as they made the trek from their St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour to wherever it is that they were going to spend their evening downing Guinness and Jamesons.

With the season over, Creighton fans are left to wonder ‘What if?’ while the rest of America didn’t even notice it came to an end.