Elite Eight Rundown – Sunday, March 26th

For other coaching updates and CIT postseason games – CLICK HERE

As we had teased yesterday, we were guaranteed a new entrant into the 2017 Final Four to be played in Glendale, Arizona next weekend. It will be the Gonzaga Bulldogs – they smashed Xavier 83-59 yesterday. While Gonzaga hadn’t shot well on a consistent basis all tournament long, they found their shots yesterday, especially from outside the arc. Xavier stuck with their gameplan for most of the tournament essentially daring teams to beat them from the outside and pack in the lane. Gonzaga will now await the winner of the East Regional between Florida and South Carolina this afternoon.

For the second year in a row, both Oregon and Kansas advanced to the Elite 8, but this time the Ducks were able to hit an extra gear and they will advance to the Final Four for the first time since the inaugural NCAA Tournament was played in 1939. Much to the horror of the quasi-hometown crowd, Oregon beat Kansas rather handily by a 74-60 final score. The Ducks now await the winner of the Kentucky-North Carolina game in the South Region.

East Region (New York, NY)) (all times Eastern)

(7) SOUTH CAROLINA vs. (4) FLORIDA (CBS, 2:20 PM). Today’s matchup represents the 3rd time this season that the Gamecocks and Gators will face each other this season (with each team winning on their home court). South Carolina’s defense suffocated Baylor in their win on Friday night and had an easier night than Florida did – they survived a meltdown in the end of regulation and needed a clutch block from Canyon Barry and a game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to knock out Wisconsin. South Carolina continues to break barriers in their program’s history, whereas Florida has an opportunity to reach the Final Four under their 3rd different coach (Lon Kruger and Billy Donovan were the first two).

South Region (Memphis, TN) (all times Eastern)

(2) KENTUCKY vs. (1) NORTH CAROLINA (CBS, 5:05 PM). This is also a regular-season rematch of a game played back in December in Las Vegas. Kentucky won the first matchup, although North Carolina wasn’t completely healthy at the time. While the Tar Heels struggled to beat Arkansas last week, they had little trouble knocking out Butler on Friday. Kentucky wore down UCLA in their Sweet 16 matchup and had an easier time than their close call against Wichita State the week before.

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Sunday, March 26

It finally happened for Indiana. They announced yesterday that Archie Miller will become their next head coach to replace the departed Tom Crean. Miller had a run to the Elite 8 in 2014 with Dayton and other multiple NCAA Tournament appearances to his credit (along with the outright A-10 regular season title this year). This now leaves Dayton in a more precarious position since they now have a head coaching vacancy and a roster that’s losing a boatload of experienced seniors.

As for yesterday’s results in the CIT, both Furman and Saint Peter’s advanced to the CIT semifinals with road wins against Campbell and Texas State, respectively. Both Furman and Saint Peter’s were runners-up in their respective conferences during the regular season and had early exits in their conference tournaments. We will learn the semifinal matchups tonight after the final two quarterfinal games are played today.

CIT

LIBERTY at UMBC (2:00 PM, Facebook Live). This is the only quarterfinal matchup where neither team got a bye into this round. Liberty made it this far with wins over Norfolk State and Samford and UMBC’s continued turnaround season includes wins over Fairfield and St. Francis Univerity in the CIT.

FORT WAYNE at TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI (3:00 PM, Facebook Live). The last quarterfinal matchup first involves the Fort Wayne Mastodons – they were the final team to get a bye into the quarterfinal round after their opening win against Ball State. They will hit the road to play the Islanders of Corpus Christi – they beat Georgia State and Weber State at home to advance to this checkpoint in the CIT. Both this game and the aforementioned game will be streamed on Facebook Live.

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Saturday, March 25

With UCLA’s loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen last night, it cleared a roadblock for Indiana fans who are waiting on bended knee for Steve Alford to return home to Indiana to become their next head coach. As of this morning, however, all indications are that he will remain at UCLA for the foreseeable future.

There were 2 other notable vacancies filled yesterday – both were in-house hires. Oklahoma State announced that former assistant coach Mike Boynton Jr. will take over as head coach for the Cowboys following Brad Underwood’s surprise departure for Illinois. Boynton played for South Carolina and also spent 4 years as an assistant for the Gamecocks, but recently he was an assistant for Underwood both at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State.

Wyking Jones will also be promoted at California and takes over as head coach for the Golden Bears after Cuonzo Martin resigned to become the new head coach at Missouri. Not only was he an assistant for Martin, but had also spent time as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville.

As for other postseason tournaments, the CIT resumes this weekend with 2 quarterfinal games today and 2 quarterfinal games tomorrow. All 4 games can be streamed on Facebook Live. (And if you really want to go below the radar, Fairmont State (WV) and Northwest Missouri State will play for the Division II title today at 3 PM at the Samford Pentagon on CBS.)

CIT

FURMAN at CAMPBELL (2:00 PM, Facebook Live). The Camels’ improbable success in March continues after a pair of home wins against Houston Baptist and UT-Martin. Furman was one of 3 teams to get a bye into the quarterfinals, but that also means they must hit the road for today. They did look impressive in beating nearby USC-Upstate in their only game in the CIT so far.

SAINT PETER’S at TEXAS STATE (5:00 PM, Facebook Live). Like the aforementioned Paladins, one of the trade-offs of getting a 2nd-round bye for Saint Peter’s will be a road game this round. The Peacocks won their opener against Albany last week. Texas State is coming off of a pair of home wins against Lamar and Idaho.

Elite Eight Rundown: Saturday, March 25th

For today’s Under The Radar postseason games along with coaching carousel updates – CLICK HERE

WEST REGIONAL (San Jose, CA) (all times Eastern)

#11 XAVIER VS #1 GONZAGA (TBS, 6:09 PM).  These two do not play regularly, but they have played on occasion and the two programs seem to have an awareness of one another.  Neither has been to a Final Four, and although many expected Gonzaga to be here, almost no one expected Xavier to make it this far.  Xavier is not the same team they were fifteen days ago.  In the last two weeks, they’ve beaten three protected seeds away from home, including a full strength Arizona team (well, almost) in their last game.  It ranks up there with some of the most improbable tournament runs ever.  We’ve seen #11 seeds make it this far (and even farther), but we’ve never seen one who only managed to beat one team (albeit two different times) in the last five weeks of the regular season.  As for Gonzaga, I can’t help but get the feeling they haven’t played a really good game in the tournament yet, but yet here they are.  If they do manage to put it together today and play like they did during much of the regular season, it could be a long day for Xavier.

 

MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City, MO) (all times Eastern)

#3 OREGON VS #1 KANSAS (TBS, 8:49 PM).  Kansas blew past a pretty good Purdue team in the second half, whereas Oregon won in a thriller against Michigan.  Both teams were in the Elite Eight a year ago, and both failed to advance to the Final Four.  Kansas is obviously a storied program and this year’s edition of it has looked as good as anyone else in the country despite their off the court issues.  Oregon has had a great two year run with back to back Elite Eights and first place finishes in the Pac Twelve.  If it ends today, then all I can say is that I hate it had to end with them not being at full strength.  To be fair to Kansas, I think I’d pick them to win this even if Oregon was at full strength, but I just hate to see a team that’s been so good (be it Oregon or anyone else) lose when they’re not able to be at their best.

 

PUPPET NOTES AND RAMBLINGS

-The games last night weren’t nearly as good as Thursday night.  I thought Butler would really squeeze North Carolina and that just didn’t happen.  The Tar Heels blew it open early, Butler couldn’t knock down the open looks that they did get and it was never really in doubt.

-South Carolina sprinted ahead of Baylor in a game that was also blown open early on, but this was much more of a surprise.  South Carolina has played magnificently in this tournament and Frank Martin deserves a ton of credit not just for what he’s done this year, but for how much that program has progressed since he took it over.  They had almost no tournament history or history of success to speak of and now their games are sold out, people are excited, and last night they blew out a Baylor team that had been having a spectacular season.  Now they’re one win away from the Final Four against a familiar foe in Florida.

-UCLA vs. Kentucky was expected to be the game of the night, and while it wasn’t a bad game, it wasn’t exactly down to the wire either.  Kentucky played one of their better games of the entire season in that they were able to score against UCLA (I know a lot of teams have done that, but UCLA was pretty solid on defense against Cincinnati), but they were also able to limit UCLA’s high powered offense.  Kentucky moves on to face North Carolina on Sunday in a game that should give us a rather large volume of viewers.

-The game of the night was between Florida and Wisconsin.  Coming into last night, there had been no overtime games, nor were there any games won on a buzzer beater.  Well, this game gave us both of those things.  The two teams seesawed back and forth, and after Wisconsin appeared to be completely dead at the end of regulation, they forced turnovers and hit a game tying three to force overtime.  Wisky got a lead early in overtime, and it was then Florida who had to come back.  Canyon Barry ran the length of the court to block a breakaway Badger layup prior to a game-tying shot by Florida. After one final defensive stop, they went the length of the court in four seconds and hit a game winning three pointer to knock out the Badgers.  This is the second year in a row that Wisconsin has lost in the Sweet Sixteen in rather dramatic fashion.

-If Xavier wins tonight, everyone in the greater Cincinnati area needs to be on the lookout for John Stalica!!  He may lose control!!  He may not be able to handle himself!!

Sweet Sixteen Rundown: Friday, March 24th

SOUTH REGIONAL (Memphis, TN) (all times Eastern)

#4 BUTLER VS #1 NORTH CAROLINA (CBS, 7:09 PM).  This is a fantastic match-up.  If you look at the top of Butler’s profile and you see the wins away from home against Arizona, Villanova and Xavier, then it actually beats what is at the top of North Carolina’s profile, so although UNC is favored, you absolutely cannot count out Butler.  In fact, an argument could be made that North Carolina hasn’t beaten a team away from home that’s as good as Butler and that this would be their single most impressive win of the year if they’re able to pull it off.  UNC is definitely talented, but they had to really sweat out their Round of 32 game against Arkansas.  Butler’s road to the Sweet Sixteen involved beating a #13 and a #12 seed, but they are definitely battle tested based on what they did throughout the season and they are capable of winning this.

#3 UCLA VS #2 KENTUCKY (CBS, approx. 9:39 PM).  These two met earlier in the regular season and UCLA picked up a huge win at Rupp Arena.  I personally don’t agree at all with UCLA being the weaker seed in this match-up, but that’s the call the selection committee made and it’s also the call that our mock Hoops HD committee made and I guess it really doesn’t matter a whole lot now.  UCLA has one of the most potent offenses in the country and although their defense was weak throughout much of the season, it’s been rather effective in this tournament.  At the same time, Kentucky has struggled offensively at times and also had to really sweat out a tough Wichita State team in the Round of 32.  It should be a fun one!

 

EAST REGION (New York, NY) (all times Eastern)

#7 SOUTH CAROLINA VS #3 BAYLOR (TBS, 7:29 PM).  South Carolina is coming off one of the biggest wins in their program’s history in what was a whistle-happy affair against Duke.  Baylor had to sweat out USC to get here, but all throughout the season Baylor has been the better team.  They appear to have both a size and athletic advantage coming into this one, but having said that South Carolina has played fantastic basketball in the first two rounds of this tournament, so you can’t count them out.

#8 WISCONSIN VS #4 FLORIDA (TBS, approx. 9:59 PM).  Wisconsin pulled off one of the more surprising upsets of the tournament when they knocked off Villanova in the Round of 32, whereas Florida pulled off one of the more surprising results of tournament when they completely blew Virginia off the floor.  Both of these teams are coming into this game with a ton of momentum, and both of them are more than capable of winning the next game if they’re able to win this game.

PUPPET RAMBLINGS/REVIEW

We had four games last night, which means we had eight halves of basketball, and seven of them were outstanding!!  Purdue actually jumped out to a lead over Kansas, and stayed with the Jayhawks in front of a very partial KU crowd all throughout the first half, but early on in the second half Kansas just hit the gas and never looked back.  It was the most impressive performance of the night.

I was very curious to see how Gonzaga would respond to West Virginia’s pressure defense, and although the Mountaineers were able to force turnovers, I think it was West Virginia’s ability to rebound and play smothering defense in the half court that kept them in the game.  Gonzaga came out with a strong defensive effort of their own as West Virginia could not get their shots to fall.  It came down to the final possession when West Virginia needed a three pointer to tie and force overtime, but just couldn’t get it off.  Gonzaga is back in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years, and will once again have a shot at advancing to their first ever Final Four.

Michigan and Oregon gave us another thriller that seesawed back and forth.  Oregon has shown they can win despite the injury by advancing to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row after Michigan missed what would have been a game winning shot at the buzzer.  It was an incredible postseason story and run for Michigan as they had the incident with their plane, then managed to win the Big Ten Tournament after playing their first game in practice uniforms, then pulling off the thrilling upset against Louisville in the Round of 32.  As for Oregon, you have to really be impressed with what they have done as well despite some of the adversity they’ve faced.

Last but not least, the lowest remaining seed in the tournament is still in the tournament.  Xavier and Arizona seesawed back and forth last night as well, and it appeared to be over when Arizona built up an 8 point lead after the final media timeout.  But somehow Xavier, who had been getting dominated on the glass all night, came up with two consecutive defensive stops and converted on their end to get back into it.  After missing the front end of a one-and-one once the shotclock had been turned off, Arizona again had the ball with a chance to tie or win, but missed a three point attempt and Xavier managed to get a defensive rebound when it mattered and they dribbled out the clock.  They will face Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.  It’s rare that a team without football of any kind advances to the Final Four, but we will see it happen this year.  Recent examples include VCU (2011) and George Mason (2006) (both of whom were coincidentally #11 seeds just like Xavier).  We also saw Marquette do it in 2003 and Wichita State in 2009, but those are the only three examples I can think of off the top of my head.  Keep in mind that Butler does play football at the FCS non-scholarship level.  Xavier and Gonzaga don’t have football of any kind.

OTHER HISTORICAL NOTES (footnote, Chad Sherwood and John S.)

-Baylor looking for first Final Four since 1950.
-Oregon looking for their first Final Four appearance since 1939 – this was the first-ever sanctioned NCAA tournament which they won).
-Not only is South Carolina looking for their first Final Four ever, a win tonight would launch them into the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
-Both Xavier and Gonzaga are tied for the most NCAA Tournament victories (27) without an appearance in the Final Four. One program will come off this list tomorrow night – the next team on this list is Boston College with 22 NCAA Tournament wins.
-Xavier is also 2nd place all-time with 27 NCAA Tournament appearances without a Final Four. BYU remains #1 with 29 appearances and Missouri is 3rd with 25 such appearances.
-The East and West Regions will both give us a first time Final Four head coach, one of whom will play for the national title.  The Midwest could as well if Oregon/Dana Altman wins.  If Butler (Holtman) or UCLA (Alford) win the South, their coaches would be in the Final Four for the first time ever too.  In fact, Steve Alford has never made it past the Sweet 16 round.
OTHER COACHING NEWS
– It seemed inevitable, but Georgetown finally dismissed John Thompson III after 13 seasons. The atmosphere throughout the program seemed to get worse as the season wore on and finally reached critical mass after a couple of key departures this offseason.
– Pat Kelsey was announced earlier in the week as the next head coach at UMass, but abruptly did an about-face just prior to his introductory press conference at UMass. Kelsey has already returned to his original post as head coach at Winthrop.
– Cleveland State has announced that Dennis Felton will be their new head coach for the 2017-18 season. He will replace Gary Waters as head coach for the Vikings.

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Thursday, March 23

It may only be the NIT, but Cal State Bakersfield is STILL in the process of making a historic run through that tournament as a bottom seed. They nearly blew a 15-point 2nd half lead at Texas-Arlington, but managed to hang on for an 80-76 victory that will send the Roadrunners to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden next week. This is the first time in the history of the NIT that an 8-seed advanced to the NIT Final Four and also the first time a bottom seed advanced to the Final 4 of any postseason tournament since Penn pulled off a similar feat in the 1979 NCAA Tournament.

Johnny Dawkins is no stranger to success in the NIT and his Central Florida team also secured their place in New York for next Tuesday with a 68-58 victory over Illinois. Next week, Georgia Tech will play Bakersfield in one semifinal matchup and UCF will play TCU in the other game.

In the CBI, Wyoming held Utah Valley scoreless for the final 2 minutes of the game and finished the game on a 6-0 run to win 74-68 in their CBI semifinal game. They will play Coastal Carolina in the best-of-3 CIT Finals next week beginning on Monday night on ESPNU. The Chanticleers advanced with an 89-78 victory over Illinois-Chicago.

In the final 2nd round matchup in the CIT, Texas State advanced to the quarterfinals with a 64-55 victory over Idaho at home last night. They will host Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinal round on Saturday afternoon at 5 PM. Furman will also play at Campbell on Saturday at 2 PM. As for the Sunday matchups, Liberty goes to UMBC for a 2 PM game and Fort Wayne will play at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 3 PM (all times Eastern). All 4 quarterfinal matchups will be streamed on Facebook Live.