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.
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.