Articles By David Fox
Notre Dame may be the best team Kentucky has played all season.
That’s worth saying right here right now since Notre Dame probably won’t touch that kind of talk, not after Kentucky answered West Virginia’s pre-game bravado with a 39-point beat down in the Sweet 16. Speak softly and hit some big shots, that’s probably the most advisable strategy at this point.
But that initial statement is true: With the possible exception of Kansas and Louisville early in the season, Kentucky hasn’t played a team as good as Notre Dame in at least four months. Certainly, Kentucky hasn’t faced a team with an offensive attack as good as Notre Dame.
The Irish rank third in the country in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. The only other top-20 offensive teams Notre Dame has faced are North Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The Irish are in their first Elite Eight since 1979, a game Notre Dame lost to Michigan State as the Spartans continued to face Indiana State in the classic Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird championship game.
And Notre Dame’s prize for getting this far is a date with another potentially historic team.
"We are America's team," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "There's no question about it. ... We've got a monumental challenge on our hands, but we play in the best conference in America. Going through the teams we had to go through in ACC play, I think has us very prepared to play against a great team like Kentucky.
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Kentucky
Region: Midwest (Cleveland)
Time: Saturday, 8:49 p.m., ET
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore
Line: Kentucky by 11
Matchup to Watch: Notre Dame’s perimeter game vs. Kentucky’s defense
One of the only teams to give Kentucky a scare this season was Ole Miss as the Rebels hit 9-of-17 3-point shots in an 89-86 loss in overtime on Jan. 6. Scoring around the basket and getting to the rim is near-impossible at times against Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of Kentucky’s bigs. Notre Dame will try to beat Kentucky from long range. The Irish have five players who have hit at least 40 3-pointers this season, and they’ll need all of them to contribute.
Tournament Surprise: Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson
The sophomore guard has been a valuable contributor for most of the season, but he’s been huge in the Tournament. Jackson scored 20 points against Wichita State and has hit six 3-pointers in the last two games, one fewer than he had the previous six.
Notre Dame will win if...
Grant approaches 20 points and 10 assists. That would seem to be a magic number, and one Grant hit in Notre Dame’s signature win over Duke on Jan. 28. Grant was a mere 3-of-8 from the field for nine points against Wichita State, but he also had 11 assists and two turnovers. Notre Dame will need a hero effort from its best player to pull the upset.
Kentucky will win if...
The Wildcats overwhelm Notre Dame with their size. The Irish have some big guards with Grant, Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia all standing 6-5 or taller. Demetrius Jackson (6-1) is the only regular shorter than 6-5. Kentucky counters with four regulars 6-10 or taller and three 6-6 guards.
Athlon Sports Staff Predictions
David Fox: Kentucky 80-67
Braden Gall: Kentucky 78-65
Mitch Light: Kentucky 77-65
Jake Rose: Notre Dame 78-72
Opportunities like the one Arizona is facing don’t come around all that often.
And this doesn’t just refer to an Elite Eight appearance. Instead, the Wildcats can clinch their first Final Four for the program since 2001 by avenging one of last year’s great disappointments.
In one of the most thrilling games of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin defeated Arizona 64-63 in overtime. Not only is this a rematch, the game features many of the same key figures. Wisconsin returned nearly its entire roster since last season. Arizona returns T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York.
The loss has given Arizona reason to simmer for a year.
“It gave us a long time to think about it, and we watched them go to a Final Four and lose at the buzzer to Kentucky,” McConnell said. “We thought that should have been us. But that's driven all of us to work as hard as we did in the summer and as hard as we did this season to be as good as we are.”
The coaches are also back. Last year’s meeting gave Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan his first Final Four appearance. Now, Arizona’s Sean Miller is atop the list of best coaches without a trip to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona hopes to change that trend while Wisconsin would like nothing more than to have history repeat itself.
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Saturday, 6:09 p.m., ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Arizona by 1 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky vs. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski
The Badgers’ big man was the key figure in last year’s meeting, scoring 28 points. He’ll be matched up again against the seven-footer Tarczewski. He was instrumental in disrupting Matt Stainbrook in the last round against Xavier. Stainbrook had 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Arizona wanted to shut down his passing (two assists, three turnovers) and offensive rebounding (one). Besides approaching 30 points last season, Kaminsky had seven offensive boards against the Wildcats.
Tournament Surprise: Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter
The Badgers rely heavily on their starting five, even though Traevon Jackson returned to play nine minutes in the Sweet 16 against North Carolina. Showalter, though, came off the bench to give Wisconsin three quick buckets in eight minutes against the Tar Heels.
Arizona will win if...
The Wildcats can muster some 3-point shooting. Wisconsin allows opponents to covert 37.4 percent of their 3-point shots, ranking 302nd in the country. That would be a more troubling number for the Badgers if they didn’t give up the ninth-fewest 3-pointers. Arizona is 19-of-52 from 3 in this Tournament.
Wisconsin will win if...
Sam Dekker is a beast again. Dekker was the best player on the court against North Carolina, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Tar Heels. He was especially dangerous around the basket, going 9-of-10 from 2-point range. If Dekker can crack a team that ranks third in defensive efficiency, Wisconsin could go to its second consecutive Final Four.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Arizona 60-57
Braden Gall: Arizona 67-64
Mitch Light: Arizona 56-50
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 74-69
Tennessee needs a coach ... again.
The coaching turmoil with Tennessee’s football and men’s basketball continued Friday with the firing if basketball coach Donnie Tyndall after one season. Only months after his arrival at Tennessee, Tyndall faced an NCAA investigation stemming from allegations at his previous stop at Southern Miss.
Tyndall is likely to face NCAA sanctions related to academic misconduct and impermissible financial aid to players at Southern Miss.
The Volunteers have had three basketball coaches since 2011, including Bruce Pearl and Cuonzo Martin. Tennessee is the third SEC program to replace its coach this season. Alabama is still seeking a replacement for Anthony Grant while Mississippi State hired Ben Howland to replace Rick Ray.
Here are few names to watch as the coaching carousel is fired up. A few of these names were on our list of coaches on the rise in our college basketball expert poll earlier this season.
Chris Holtmann, Butler
Perhaps no coach has enjoyed a greater rise this season than Holtmann. He started the season as an interim coach while Butler’s Brandon Miller took a leave of absence. By December, the interim tag was lifted, and Holtmann was on his way to a 23-11 season and a second-place finish in the Big East. Tennessee has been in discussions with the former Gardner-Webb coach, according to a Friday report from the Tennessean.
Mike White, Louisiana Tech
White turned down the job before the Volunteers hired Tyndall last season. The question is if this is a road either party will go down again. The 38-year-old is primed for a move, but no NCAA Tournament appearances despite three Conference USA regular season titles is a bit concerning. The Bulldogs are 44-8 in C-USA the last three seasons, stalling in the league tournament each year.
Shaka Smart, VCU
Smart has turned down big-time jobs before, so it’s curious what would make the Tennessee job different. Smart became one of the hottest names in coaching when he took the Rams to the Final Four in 2011 with his havoc defense. The Rams are 2-4 in the Tournament since then, and they haven’t won a conference regular season title under Smart.
Rick Barnes, Texas
Barnes may be out at Texas, according to a report from 247Sports.com. The latter end of his tenure with the Longhorns had become frustrating, particularly last season when a preseason top 10 team bowed out of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed. Still, he’s reached the NCAA Tournament in 19 of 20 seasons dating back to his time at Clemson. Barnes’ wife is a Tennessee alum.
Rick Byrd, Belmont
Byrd is another guy who was a serious coaching candidate for Tennessee in a past season. Byrd interviewed for the job in 2011 after Pearl was fired. Byrd is one of the most respected coaches in the country for his work in nearly 30 years at Belmont, a former NAIA program that has reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in 10 years. He’s a Knoxville native who is also about to turn 62 years old.
Archie Miller, Dayton
He’s one of the hottest coaching candidates out there after taking Dayton to the Elite Eight and NCAA round of 32 in the last two seasons. The 2014-15 season was especially impressive as the shorthanded and undersized Flyers finished 13-5 in the Atlantic 10 and defeated Boise State and Providence in the NCAA Tournament. Miller, however, just agreed a contract extension through 2022 at Dayton.
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Jacobson has been at Northern Iowa since 2001 and as head coach since 2006. The entire run includes six NCAA appearances. Jacobson led the Panthers to the Sweet 16 with an upset of No. 1 seed Kansas in 2010, but this year’s squad (31-4) may have been his best team in Cedar Falls.
Steve Prohm, Murray State
In four seasons at Murray State, Prohm has coached a team that went 31-2 in 2011-12 and another that won 25 in a row en route to a 27-5 record in 2014-15. He unearthed point guard Cam Payne out of Memphis two years ago and watched him develop into a pro prospect. The Alabama graduate would be a likely candidate for the opening in Tuscaloosa if the bid for Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall falls through.
Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
Famous for his game-winning shot to beat No. 4 seed Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament, Drew has become a solid coach in his own right. He’s led Valpo to two NCAA Tournaments and three Horizon League titles.
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
The former Frank Martin assistant has been a head coach for only two seasons, but it’s been quite the run. The Lumberjacks are 61-8 in two seasons with two Tournament appearances and two conference titles. His pressure defense has finished in the top 10 in defensive turnover rate in teach of the last two seasons.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The Gophers won 25 games and the NIT last season before slipping to 6-12 in the Big Ten in Pitino’s second season. The 32-year-old is three years into his head coaching career, but he’s served as an assistant for Billy Donovan (as Anthony Grant did before going to VCU) and his father.
Bobby Hurley, Buffalo
The former Duke guard led Buffalo to the first NCAA Tournament in school history in 2015. In two seasons with the Bulls, Hurley is 42-20 overall and 25-11 in the MAC.
Recent years have been a renaissance of basketball in the West. Arizona is a Final Four contender again. UCLA is back in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time since reaching three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08. And Gonzaga may have its best team of the Mark Few era.
One program that has lagged behind, though, is Utah.
The Utes sunk to their deepest depths in the first season under Larry Krystkowiak, going 6-25 overall. Entering this season, Utah has reached the Sweet 16 only once since the height of the Rick Majerus era 1997-98.
To keep advancing, Utah will have perhaps its toughest test of the season.
The Utes are one of the country’s best defensive teams, but handling Duke’s multi-faceted attack. Utah has defeated Wichita State and BYU this season and lost hard-fought games to Arizona and Kansas.
With Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow, Duke may be the toughest hill to climb on a stage where Utah hasn’t been in a decade.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 1 Duke
Region: South (Houston)
Time: Friday, approx. 9:45 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Duke by 5
Matchup to Watch: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor vs. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl
Jahlil Okafor is one of the most prominent names in college basketball. His post game has few equals. Could one of them be Utah’s Jakob Poeltl? He’s an under-the-radar draft prospect and not one of the top names on his own team. But he’s also a seven-footer who is quickly becoming an intriguing prospect. Utah ranks fourth nationally in 2-point defense with opponents shooting 41.2 percent.
Tournament Surprise: Justise Winslow’s stock
Justise Winslow been solid to outstanding for most of the season, but the headlines at Duke have more often been Okafor or the Tyus Jones/Quinn Cook backcourt duo. Winslow, though, has been the highlight-reel guy in the tournament with his all-around play. He’s scored 19 points in two tournament games, but he’s had 12 total assists and 23 total rebounds in two games. He threw in four steals and three blocks against San Diego State.
Utah will win if...
Delon Wright can make life difficult for Duke’s defense. The Blue Devils have had trouble at times this season shutting down attacking guards. If Wright, one of the most well-rounded and unselfish guards in the country, can run the show against Duke, the Utes will have a chance to pull the upset.
Duke will win if...
The Blue Devils’ stars are stars. This is the time for Okafor, Winslow, Jones and Cook to shine — and they need to because Duke doesn’t have a ton of depth.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Duke 71-64
Braden Gall: Duke 67-64
Mitch Light: Duke 80-70
Jake Rose: Duke 74-70
Before this season, Louisville and NC State hadn’t faced each other in a game since 1988. The coaches at that time were Denny Crum and Jim Valvano.
Thanks to ACC expansion, the two met during the regular season this year, and thanks to the glut of teams in the ACC and other power conferences, league games in the NCAA Tournament may becoming a regular occurrence.
Five ACC teams remain in the field, but that number is guaranteed to shrink by one on Friday when Louisville faces NC State at the Carrier Dome.
After upsets of No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia, the East Region is wide open as the first region in 11 years to lose both its No. 1 and No. 2 seed. Despite roster limitations (Louisville) and inconsistent play (NC State) this season, both teams are realistic contenders for a Final Four.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 4 Louisville
Region: East (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Time: Friday, 7:37 p.m. ET
Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel
Line: NC State by 2
Matchup to Watch: Louisville’s Terry Rozier vs. NC State’s Cat Barber
Louisville and NC State need these two guards to flourish for both of them to advance in the Tournament. In the only meeting between these two teams this season, Barber had 21 points, in part because of a 10-of-13 performance from free throw line, on Feb. 14. With eight field goals and seven assists, Rozier was responsible for 15 of Louisville’s 22 buckets against Northern Iowa.
Tournament Surprise: Louisville holding it together without Chris Jones
Rick Pitino admitted that this team would be much better if the Cardinals did not have to dismiss point guard Chris Jones from the team. That’s true, but credit Louisville for not folding, especially in a tight game against UC Irvine and against a dangerous Northern Iowa team. Wayne Blackshear has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games, and Quentin Snider has scored 26 total points in two games in the Tourney.
NC State will win if...
The Wolfpack’s bigs can turn this into a perimeter game. BeeJay Anya is a standout shotblocker, but he isn’t the only big body who will try to counter Montrezl Harrell. Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu, Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman all stand 6-8 or taller. Louisville ranks 308th in 3-point shooting (30.8 percent), so NC State will try to make this a perimeter game.
Louisville will win if...
The Cardinals can shut down the NC State guards. Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Barber all average more than 12 points per game. No forward averages more than 6.7. NC State might not be able to survive an off night by one or two of their standout guards.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Louisville 77-74
Braden Gall: NC State 68-64
Mitch Light: Louisville 66-60
Jake Rose: NC State 64-62
Legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith was renowned for his relationship with everyone who played for him during his 36 years with the Tar Heels.
That extended to his will.
After his passing on Feb. 7, Smith left $200 to each letterman who played for him at North Carolina. The checks carried the note for “Dinner Out.”
Here is the letter addressed to Dante Calabria, who played guard for North Carolina’s 1993 championship team.
Gonzaga is one of the nation’s most consistent basketball programs and, really, one of the great success stories in the sport.
Who would believe that a West Coast Conference school in Spokane, Wash., would be an NCAA Tournament regular with a coach who has stayed for more than a decade?
Yet coach Mark Few has one major hole on his résumé — a trip to the Final Four. The Zags haven’t even been to the Elite Eight since his tenure began. The postseason exits have included five losses in the Sweet 16 or round of 32 as a top-four seed.
That may change this season, but the Bulldogs have have to conquer the demons of 2006 to keep moving. Gonzaga lost to UCLA 73-71 in the 2006 Sweet 16, a game that reduced star forward Adam Morrison to tears. Gonzaga has had two top-two seeds since that loss, this one and the team that lost to Wichita State in the round of 32 two years ago.
For times to change, Gonzaga on one hand faces a No. 11 seed but also a team with some historical baggage and an offense that can match the Bulldogs’ prolific scoring ability.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Gonzaga
Region: South (Houston)
Time: Friday, 7:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Gonzaga by 8 1/2
Matchup to Watch: UCLA’s Tony Parker vs. the Gonzaga frontcourt
UCLA’s big jokester has become a serious impact player on the court. The Bruins are at their best when they can get to Parker off the dribble drive. UCLA is 7-2 when Parker gets 10 shots from the field, including four of the last six games. Gonzaga counters with 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski.
Tournament Surprise: Bryce Alford’s scoring
Alford scored 27 points in the upset of SMU and 22 in the win over UAB, marking the first time all year he’s topped 20 points in back-to-back games. Alford averaged 15.1 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA will win if...
The starting five can continue to hold up. Benches shorten during the NCAA Tournament, but UCLA is taking this to the extreme. The Bruins aren’t a particularly deep team, but they’ve received only 6 points from their bench in the first weekend of the Tournament.
Gonzaga will win if...
The Bulldogs run their offense with minimal interruption. Gonzaga is one of the nation’s best all-around offensive teams from the field, ranking second in 2-point shooting and third in 3-point shooting. This game has all the ingredients for a track meet, and Gonzaga should be able to match up better in those conditions with UCLA than SMU or UAB did.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Gonzaga 85-71
Braden Gall: Gonzaga 80-59
Mitch Light: Gonzaga 88-77
Jake Rose: Gonzaga 82-68
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes already familiarized himself with the NCAA’s stenographers. Now he’s learning a little something about a hot mic.
At Wednesday’s pregame press conference, Wisconsin’s players were asked a question by a female reporter. Hayes leaned over to whisper to teammate Frank Kaminsky, “God, she’s beautiful.”
And, yes, the microphones were on. Hayes, naturally, was a bit embarrassed.
Oddly enough, the stenographer’s official transcript did not note the exchange.
The Sweet 16 will feature its share of powerhouse coaches. Nine of the coaches in the regional semifinals have a grand total of 41 Final Four appearances. Five of those have five or more appearances in the final weekend.
On the other side, seven coaches this weekend are trying to reach the first Final Four of their careers, and for many of them, it’s been a long climb.
Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and UCLA’s Steve Alford have coached 20 years each in college basketball without a Final Four. NC State’s Mark Gottfried has coached 18 years. Gonzaga’s Mark Few has coached 16.
As the NCAA Tournament moves into the regionals, we wouldn’t be surprised if one coach does not reach his first Final Four, though it’s certainly possible all of them get left out yet again.
Suffice to say, no one wants to be on this list next season.
1. Sean Miller, Arizona
Closest call: Miller has lost three times in the Elite Eight, with Arizona in 2011 and 2014 and with Xavier in 2008.
What’s his story? In 11 seasons as a head coach, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite Eight three times with two schools. The last two trips to the regional final have been heartbreakers — a 64-63 loss to Wisconsin last season and a 65-63 loss to UConn in 2011. At 46, Miller's first Final Four probably won’t be his last.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but this region is a grinder. Miller will face his old school and former assistant in the Sweet 16 and then either North Carolina or a rematch with Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.
2. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Closest call: An Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team lost in a 73-71 heartbreaker to UCLA in the 2006 Sweet 16.
What’s his story? Gonzaga was a Tournament darling when the Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight under Dan Monson in 1999. Now, Gonzaga may be more well known for busting your brackets. The Bulldogs’ first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed was marred in 2013 when Gonzaga lost to Final Four-bound No. 9 seed Wichita State. This is Few’s second Sweet 16 since 2006.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes. The Zags sliced through their first weekend opponents and draw an 11 seed — albeit a hot UCLA squad — in the Sweet 16. A potential matchup with Duke in the regional final would be the toughest matchup, but this may be Few’s best team in Spokane.
3. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Closest call: Virginia has lost twice in the Sweet 16, once as the coach at Washington State and once at Virginia, the latter a 61-59 loss to Michigan State in 2014.
What’s his story? After back-to-back regular season ACC championships, Bennett has all of three NCAA wins to show for it. He can coach, but running a slower offense doesn’t always translate to deep NCAA Tournament runs, as Bo Ryan could once attest.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Yes, but remember Ryan didn’t make it to the Final Four until the Frank Kaminsky-Sam Dekker-Josh Gasser group became a dangerous enough offensive team to play at different tempos. Bennett also might be glad to go the rest of his career never seeing Michigan State in the Tourney ever again. Sparty has eliminated the Cavs the last two years.
4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Closest call: Iowa State lost 81-76 to eventual national champion UConn in the Sweet 16 in 2014.
What’s his story? The Mayor has revitalized Iowa State basketball, but the Cyclones have yet to make a ton of noise in the NCAA Tournament other than being a tough out in the early rounds. The Cyclones went cold offensively for a mystifying loss to UAB in the round of 64 this season.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Not if Hoiberg elects to try out coaching in the NBA.
5. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Closest call: A No. 1 seed in 2009, Pitt lost on a buzzer-beating layup by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in the Elite Eight.
What’s his story? Dixon has been remarkably consistent at Pittsburgh in the Big East and the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament only once in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Dixon’s two best teams, though, lost in heartbreakers in the NCAA Tournament. His 2009 team lost on a buzzer-beater by Villanova in the Elite Eight. And two years later, Pittsburgh committed two late fouls that enabled eighth-seeded Butler to hit the free throws to advance to the Sweet 16.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Seems unlikely. Pitt hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since that close call with Villanova.
6. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Closest call: Tennessee lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the 2010 Elite Eight.
What’s his story? Pearl has a tough enough job making Auburn relevant in the SEC, much less the NCAA Tournament. This is a place where winning two games in the most recent SEC tournament was a sign of major progress.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. A Final Four with Auburn? But in the next few years, Pearl probably will bring Auburn to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
7. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Closest call: Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013, where the Golden Eagles lost 55-39 to Syracuse.
What’s his story? Williams’ move from Marquette to Virginia Tech was one of the most stunning job changes in the coaching carousel in 2014. After going 11-22 in his first season with the Hokies, Williams has set back his career trajectory by several seasons.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. Virginia Tech had a young team last season, and it showed as the Hokies went 2-16 in the ACC. Virginia Tech isn’t a place where coaches win with a quick fix.
8. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Closest call: Notre Dame lost 88-71 to Arizona in the 2003 Sweet 16
What’s his story? Not many coaches get to stay at a program 15 years reaching only one Sweet 16. But Brey is universally liked, and he did make the Irish a viable program in the Big East (and now the ACC) even if great NCAA Tournament showings didn’t always follow.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe, but it will take a heck of an upset to get there. This is perhaps Brey’s best team at Notre Dame and one capable of knocking off Wichita State and West Virginia in its reason. Unfortunately, Kentucky is also in this region.
9. Dana Altman, Oregon
Closest call: Oregon lost 77-69 to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
What’s his story? Altman has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament and failed to win 20 games only once since 1999. This year may have been his best coaching job, taking a team that was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 to the NCAA Tournament
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe. Altman has had some off-court issues that could have threatened his job in Eugene, but the man can coach. Coaches this good eventually get the right group players (or breaks) to make a run in the Tournament.
10. Scott Drew, Baylor
Closest call: Baylor lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012
What’s his story? Drew is a divisive coach for some reason, despite taking over one of the toughest situations in college basketball and creating a viable Big 12 program. Drew has twice led Baylor to the Elite Eight where the Bears lost to the eventual champions (Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012). Baylor’s loss to Georgia State in the round of 64 was the second Thursday/Friday loss in five trips to the Tourney.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Why not? He’s been to two Elite Eights and usually has a talented Big 12 roster. This is the kind of coach who makes the Final Four when no one is expecting it.
Xavier coach Chris Mack didn’t spent time thinking of a diplomatic or clever way to respond to the awkward situation of facing his predecessor and former boss in the NCAA tournament.
“Honestly, it stinks,” the Musketeers coach told the Turner crew.
This Tournament has had a funny way of setting up matchups that are just as notable for their backstory as the action on the court.
The semifinal in Los Angeles is no exception as Mack and Xavier take on Sean Miller and Arizona. Miller coached at Xavier from 2004-09, taking the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in his final two years.
When Miller was promoted to replace Thad Matta, Miller hired the former Xavier player and assistant Mack. When Miller left for Arizona, Mack took his place. Between Matta and Mack, Miller his facing his predecessor and his successor in back-to-back games.
If it doesn’t stink for Miller, he’s certainly conflicted.
For both of these programs, a Final Four appearance would be monumental. Between Miller and Mack, they’ve been to the Sweet 16 nine times. Miller has been to the Elite Eight three times.
For either of them to continue this run, they’ll have to go through one of their closest allies in coaching.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, approx. 10:17 p.m., ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Arizona by 11
Matchup to Watch: Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook vs. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Stainbrook hasn’t encountered too many players who can match up with him. The defensive-minded seven-footer Tarczewski is one of them. Stanbrook leads Xavier at 12.1 points per game, but the Musketeers have four guys averaging 9.9 or more. Stainbrook is an effective passer (2.4 assists per game), and the Musketeers have other scorers up front. Jalen Reynolds scored 21 against Georgia State, and wing Trevone Bluiett is capable of going of for 15 or more.
Tournament Surprise: 3-point shooters off the bench
Gabe York has been giving Arizona a lift of the bench for two years now, so it’s not a huge surprise to see him hit five 3s against Ohio State. For Xavier, Myles Davis is 7-of-13 from 3 in two tournament games. Davis hit eight 3s in the final six games of the regular season.
Xavier will win if...
Dee Davis can keep the offense moving. With a team effort, the Wildcats were able to shut down D’Angelo Russell from the field. Russell finished 3-of-19, but he also had six assists and one turnover. In Dee Davis, Xavier has a pass-first point guard (six assists per game, 2.4 assists per turnover) who can get the ball to the weapons around him.
Arizona will win if...
T.J. McConnell runs the show. Arizona is a great defensive team and has a few future pros, starting with freshman Stanley Johnson. But this is McConnell’s team to run. There’s no reason why McConnell shouldn’t be able to pick apart a team that ranks 216th in effective field goal defense.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Arizona 73-69
Braden Gall: Arizona 68-58
Mitch Light: Arizona 63-56
Jake Rose: Arizona 74-64
Sooner or later, the debate of Kentucky’s greatest team will become a major topic. If this year’s team goes 40-0, the debate might not last long.
There’s also the 1995-96 Untouchables or 2012 national championship team or the first title team in 1948.
One team that might get shortchanged is 2010, a team that featured NBA All-Stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, plus pros Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson.
That team was done in by guys named Da’Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla in the Elite Eight.
The sense of history isn’t lost on Kentucky, especially given the familiarity between John Calipari and Bob Huggins. The two have faced each other 10 times, most of those coming when Calipari was at UMass and Memphis and Huggins was at Cincinnati. Huggins holds an 8-2 edge in the series.
Kentucky already avenged that 2010 loss with a meeting in the 2011 round of 32 when No. 4 seed Kentucky defeated No. 5 seed West Virginia on the way to the Final Four.
But given the stakes and the situation — another Kentucky team aiming for history against this pressing, pesky West Virginia squad — seems to bring up old memories.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky
Region: Midwest (Cleveland)
Time: Thursday, Approx. 9:45 p.m., ET
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore
Line: Kentucky by 13 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Kentucky vs. West Virginia’s press
Coaches can be stubborn, but not apparently Bob Huggins. The Hall of Famer scrapped his old plans and installed a relentless fullcourt press. The result has been a Sweet 16 team that leads the nation in turnover rate and steal rate by comfortable margins. Kentucky has faced a pressing team in Arkansas twice this season, plus Louisville, and won with little difficulty. No one does the press quite like West Virginia. The question is if it matters.
Tournament Surprise: Kentucky’s 3-point shooting
Kentucky wasn’t a great 3-point shooting team during the season, and the Wildcats don’t necessarily need to be one even at this stage of the Tournament. Still, the Wildcats are 7-of-25 (28 percent) from 3-point range in the last two games after shooting 34.7 percent during the season.
West Virginia will win if...
The Wildcats are completely befuddled by the press and irritated by another physical opponent. But as Calipari said, many teams have tried many ways to beat Kentucky, and none of them have worked yet.
Kentucky will win if...
The Wildcats get into their offense with minimal trouble. West Virginia is a bit of a one-trick pony. The Mountaineers rank 303rd in effective field goal defense (52.7 percent) and they foul a lot. Kentucky ranks 74th in free throw shooting (72.2),
David Fox: Kentucky 68-54
Braden Gall: Kentucky 71-60
Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-51
Jake Rose: Kentucky 72-60
This is probably not something that gets said very often in college sports: Notre Dame wants what Wichita State has.
Notre Dame is a college athletics powerhouse, primarily due to the football program, though the men’s basketball program is no slouch. Wichita State doesn’t even have a football team.
Despite its lower seeding and place in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State has been the better basketball program in the last three years. The Shockers have been to a Final Four, they went 35-1 last season and they picked up one of the signature wins in school history — and recent NCAA Tournament history — by defeating Kansas in the round of 32.
Notre Dame is an NCAA Tournament regular under Mike Brey, but this year’s trip to the Sweet 16 is a true rarity. The Irish haven’t been this close to a Final Four since 2003; they haven’t been to an Elite Eight since 1979.
Moreover, the amount of emotional energy spent by both Notre Dame and Wichita State — for different reasons — will be worth watching.
Only after the 67-64 overtime win over Butler did Notre Dame coach Mike Brey reveal to the public and his team that his mother had passed that Saturday morning.
A day later, Wichita State faced Kansas in a long-awaited matchup between the in-state foes in an arena in driving distance from both campuses.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Region: Midwest (Cleveland)
Time: Thursday, 7:15 p.m., ET
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore
Line: Wichita State by 1
Matchup to Watch: The contest around the rim
Wichita State is a strong defensive team on the ball and at the rim — despite having a smaller lineup. The Shockers rank ninth nationally in field goal defense at 2-point range at 42.1 percent where Notre Dame, with its attacking guards, is No. 1 in the country from 2-point range (58.3 percent). The 6-foot-10 Zach Auguste, the biggest regular for either team, may be the key player. He had 25 points against Northeastern in the round of 64 and seven points in the round of 32 against Butler.
Tournament Surprise: Wichita State’s free throw shooting
The Shockers were an average free throw shooting team during the season, making 68.8 percent from the line on 20 trips per game entering the NCAA Tournament. Last week, Wichita State was 47-of-58 (81 percent). Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker alone were 18-of-20 against Indiana.
Wichita State will win if...
VanVleet and Baker out-duel Jerian Grant. This is going to be a heavyweight backcourt matchup among veterans who can make huge shots in meaningful games. VanVleet should be able to pick apart the Notre Dame defense while Baker probably won’t have another cold shooting night after an off day against the Hoosiers. Even Evan Wessel emerged from out of nowhere to hit 4-of-6 3-pointers against Kansas. Grant can match this group shot for shot.
Notre Dame will win if...
The Irish make a defensive stand. Notre Dame and Wichita State are both in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. The X-factor would seem to be Notre Dame’s ability to defend. Wichita State doesn’t turn the ball over often, and Notre Dame doesn’t force many. Will that trend change or will Notre Dame need to be sturdy in the halfcourt? Pat Connaughton is coming off a five-block, nine-rebound performance against Butler, including the key block to prevent Butler from a potential game-winning shot.
David Fox: Wichita State 78-75
Braden Gall: Notre Dame 78-69
Mitch Light: Notre Dame 78-70
Jake Rose: Notre Dame 72-70
Sports fans across the country love their Kobe Bryant throwback jerseys. Just not the state where he plays basketball.
Last week, TicketCity shared a map of the most popular college basketball teams in every state, and now we get this map of throwback jerseys from Mitchell & Ness.
The Philadelphia-based throwback and replica specialists posted this look at the most popular throwback jerseys in each state, regardless of sport.
It’s a fascinating bit of state-by-state nostalgia, and we suspect it's by no means definitive since it represents the sales only one company. Mitchell & Ness doesn't carry a Michael Jordan throwback, which would probably be a staple in a handful of states. Still, it's a fun excercise.
Check the key on the site for a few of the jerseys you don’t recognize. A few of our thoughts are below the map.
• The 1997-97 Kobe Bryant throwback carries Delaware, Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Ohio but not California (that belongs to Joe Montana’s ’89 49ers jersey).
It’s shocking that that Steve McNair, Eddie George or even a Colts’ Peyton Manning didn’t carry Tennessee and no Green Bay Packer carried Wisconsin. Presumably, there are too many Brett Favre or Bart Starr throwbacks splitting votes in the Dairy State.
• Ray Nitschke’s ’66 Packers throwback is the top jersey in ... Kansas.
• Bryant is the pick in Ohio, again presumably because Cleveland and Cincinnati are splitting purchases in the Buckeye State. Big Red Machine shortstop Dave Concepcion is the top jersey across the river in Kentucky.
• Check the representation of Dallas Cowboys: Troy Aikman in Texas, Deion Sanders for Oklahoma and a real throwback in Roger Staubach in Montana.
• Deion Sanders is the top jersey in three states with three jerseys: Georgia as an Atlanta Falcon, Oklahoma as a Cowboy and Hawaii as a 49er.
• The no-brainers: John Elway (Colorado), Walter Payton (Illinois), Cal Ripken Jr. (Maryland), Larry Bird (Massachusetts), Barry Sanders (Michigan), Ozzie Smith (Missouri), Steve Largent (Washington)
We also love some of the picks in the flyover states or states without a pro team Ryne Sandberg (Alabama), Bo Jackson (Arkansas — NOT Alabama), Mickey Mantle (Idaho), Joe Namath (Iowa), Larry Bird (Mississippi), Steve Carlton (Nebraska), Ernie Banks (New Mexico), Fred Biletnikoff (North Dakota), Walter Payton (South Dakota), Lou Gehrig (Wyoming).
The East region will have an ACC flavor even though the ACC regular season champion is at home. Louisville and NC State will meet in the Sweet 16 on an ACC floor for a rare conference game in the NCAA Tournament.
At the same time, Oklahoma will try to save face for a beleaguered Big 12, but the Sooners will have to go through Tom Izzo, who as usual has his Michigan State squad peaking in March.
Here’s a look at the East Regional in Syracuse at a glance.
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 4 Louisville (7:37 pm., TBS)
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (approx. 10:07 p.m., TBS)
Top Five Players
1. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
2. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
3. Terry Rozier, Louisville
4. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
5. Trevor Lacey, NC State
Top Dog — Oklahoma
For the first time since 2004, a regional will begin with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds eliminated in the first weekend. That leaves No. 3 Oklahoma as the top-seeded team in the East region. The Sooners held off Dayton in the round of 32 thanks to some late heroics by Buddy Hield. He’s usually a big-time shotmaker, but a block helped seal the win over the Flyers. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is taking his fourth team to the Sweet 16, but he hasn’t taken a team beyond that since the 1994 Final Four at Florida.
Underdog — NC State
NC State was one of the most frustrating teams during the regular season, a team with the talent to be a top team in the ACC, but also a team capable of losing to Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest. LSU collapsed down the stretch in the round of 64, and Villanova’s offense went cold for an entire game as NC State went to the Sweet 16. Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and Abdul-Malik Abu are a talented trio, and the Wolfpack can’t be dismissed simply because it is a No. 8 seed in the Sweet 16.
An All-ACC Sweet 16 game
With memberships ballooning in the major conferences, the selection committee is having a tougher and tougher time of making sure that conference teams don’t play each other until the Elite Eight. The ACC sent six of its 15 members to the field and two of them — Louisville and NC State — will meet in the Sweet 16. On an ACC court in the Carrier Dome, no less. The Louisville-NC State meeting in the regional semifinal was permissible since the two teams played only once during the regular season. NC State won 74-65 on Feb. 14.
“(Former Michigan State All-American) Draymond Green actually this morning said ‘Don't let this be your last game,’ and I texted him back and said, ‘I won't.’ But that was our mindset coming in. We knew they were a great team, we had to jump out on them early.”
-Michigan State guard Travis Trice on his hot start against Virginia
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament wiped away notion of Cinderellas, but if you’re looking for an underdog, perhaps you can find one in the South Region.
Going up against Duke is the lowest seed remaining in the Tournament, a team that won six games just four years ago and a team that’s been very good for a long time but never reached the Final Four. Of course, we’re talking about UCLA, Utah and Gonzaga, so Cinderella fits this crew about as much as “South” region does.
Here’s a look at the South Regional in Houston at a glance.
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Gonzaga (8:15 p.m., CBS)
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 1 Duke (approx. 9:45 p.m., CBS)
Top Five Players
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Delon Wright, Utah
3. Justise Winslow, Duke
4. Tyus Jones, Duke
5. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Top Dog — Duke
Even before the Tournament, Duke looked like the easy favorite in the South region. The first two games made the pick look even more easy. The Blue Devils made easy work of Robert Morris and then had no trouble with the length of San Diego State in the round of 32. The Blue Devils averaged 1.11 points per possession against San Diego State, the third-highest average against the Aztecs this season. Jahlil Okafor was 12-of-16 from the field for 26 points, but the most impressive player may have been Justise Winslow. The freshman had 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a highlight-reel day.
Underdog — UCLA
Go ahead and debate if UCLA should be in the field in the first place, but it’s no question the Bruins have taken advantage of the selection committee’s vote of confidence. A goaltending call late in the round of 64 gave UCLA a leg up on SMU, and the Bruins thrashed No. 11 seed UAB in 92-75 to go to the Sweet 16. UCLA isn’t a deep team, but the Bruins can score. UCLA’s starting five scored 88 points against the Blazers.
The Bulldogs have been snakebit in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 on once since 2006. The program hasn’t won in the Sweet 16 since 1999, the year before Mark Few became the head coach. This is one of Few’s best teams in 16 seasons in Spokane, but Gonzaga will need to conquer one demon to reach the regional final. The Sweet 16 matchup with UCLA is a rematch of the 2006 regional semifinal that ended with National Player of the Year Adam Morrison in tears after a 73-71 Bruins win.
“Now we look around and it's like, Pinch me. Here we are. It's been a fun run with a lot of these guys that have been a part of it.”
-Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, whose first team at Utah in 2011-12 went 6-25 in 2011-12
Kentucky’s bid for an undefeated season will have to go through West Virginia, the team that in 2010 beat what was arguably John Calipari’s best team in Lexington.
In the other regional semifinal, Wichita State and Notre Dame will try to re-orient themselves for an emotional — for very different reasons — Sweet 16 game.
Here’s a look at the Midwest Regional in Cleveland at a glance.
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (7:15 p.m., CBS)
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky (approx. 9:45 p.m., CBS)
Top Five Players
1. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
2. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
4. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
5. Ron Baker. Wichita State
Top Dog — Kentucky
Kentucky has done nothing to change the perception that it is the top dog of the entire Tournament. In the round of 32, Cincinnati gave the Wildcats some difficulty early on, but Kentucky’s depth and length was too much to handle. The Bearcats tried to get under Kentucky’s skin with a physical game to no avail. If anything was an issue, Kentucky’s guards had an off game against Cincinnati. Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis combined to shoot 12-of-34 from the field overall and 4-of-15 from 3.
Underdog — Wichita State
A disclaimer: the underdog label is not appropriate for Wichita State. In the last three years, Wichita State has gone to the Final Four, started a season 35-0 and conquered Kansas in the round of 32. The Shockers have accomplished more in recent years than its Sweet 16 opponent, Notre Dame. But No. 7 Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the region. After the build-up to the anticipated matchup with the Jayhawks, the Shockers’ energy levels will be a storyline to watch.
Kentucky vs. West Virginia again
Kentucky and West Virginia have met in the NCAA Tournament three times since John Calipari and Bob Huggins have been at their current posts. The most recent was a 71-63 Kentucky win in the round of 32 in 2011. The most memorable was in the 2010 Elite Eight when fourth-seeded West Virginia upset a top-seeded Kentucky team led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. This year’s meeting will be just as compelling when undefeated Kentucky faces West Virginia’s relentless pressure. The Wildcats will face back-to-back physical opponents in Cincinnati and West Virginia before they get to the Elite Eight.
“I'd talk to her during the season and very rarely did I get ‘hey, Mike, how you doing?’ It's like, ‘Have you got them ready? Are they ready? I think we can beat Duke, Mike.’ It's unbelievable. She was intense.”
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who revealed Saturday his mother, Betty Brey, died the morning of the Notre Dame’s 67-64 overtime win over Butler.
The West region will be full of familiar faces on a number of fronts. For starters, each team in the Sweet 16 is no stranger to this stage. In the last five seasons alone, these four teams have been to the regional semifinal 12 times.
But if the region goes chalk and sends top two seeds Wisconsin and Arizona to Saturday, the game will be a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight that sent Bo Ryan to his first Final Four.
Here’s a look at the West Regional in Los Angeles at a glance.
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin (7:47 p.m., TBS)
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona (approx. 10:17 p.m., TBS)
Top Five Players
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
2. T.J. McConnell, Arizona
3. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
5. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Top Dog — Wisconsin
The Badgers are making their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in the last five seasons, but the goals are far more grand than they once were for Wisconsin. To reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season, the Badgers have to get through North Carolina. The Tar Heels are generally regarded as a dynamic offensive team because of their up-and-down style, but Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in offensive efficiency. The battle for tempo will be the most interesting matchup of the game.
Underdog — Xavier
Xavier is no stranger to this stage. The Musketeers are in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last eight years. But they’re also a No. 6 seed among Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina. With freshman Trevon Bluiett and sophomore Jalen Reynolds emerging, this Xavier team is peaking at the right time.
Familiar Faces for Sean Miller
The selection committee made sure Sean Miller’s path to his first Final Four was an emotional one. To get to the Sweet 16, the Arizona coach had to go head to head with Ohio State coach Thad Matta, his predecessor and former boss at Xavier. Miller’s Sweet 16 matchup will be a against Xavier, a team he coached for five seasons. On the Xavier bench is Chris Mack, who spent all five of those seasons on Miller’s staff before succeeding him with the Mountaineers.
“It's been a hard year, it really has. I probably acted sillier in the locker room after this game than I have in quite a while. I'm going to try to enjoy the dickens out of this one for a while.”
-North Carolina coach Roy Williams after the 87-78 win over Arkansas, referring to the passing of mentor and UNC legend Dean Smith earlier this year.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over, and in some ways there are relatively few surprises.
In a macro sense, it’s not surprise to see Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State or even UCLA here. The same great coaches keep advancing through the Tournament. Four of the five active Hall of Fame coaches are in the second weekend. The exception, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, is not allowed to be here.
The Sweet 16 and the first weekend of the Tournament brought their share of surprises, too. The ACC and Big East regular season champions aren’t in the field. Neither is Kansas.
These are some of the ups and downs and statistical highlights from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:
Time since the field expanded the ACC and Big East regular season champions both lost before the Sweet 16. Villanova became the third outright Big East champion to lose in the round of 32 since 2008, joining 2011 Pittsburgh and 2008 Georgetown. Virginia became the first outright ACC champion to lose before the Sweet 16 since 2003. But both ACC and Big East champs losing in the first weekend of the same Tournament? That hasn’t happened in the 64-team era.
Only twice have teams that won a share of the ACC/Big East titles lost before the Sweet 16 in the same season. In 2001, outright Big East champion Boston College lost in the second round to USC while North Carolina, which tied for the ACC title with Duke, lost to Penn State. In 1997, outright ACC champion Duke lost to Providence in the second round while two teams that shared the Big East title lost in the first weekend (Boston College to Cal, Villanova to Saint Joseph’s).
The ACC is back to its roots, at least as far as the Sweet 16 is concerned. Three members of the Tobacco Road hub are in the Sweet 16. Duke, North Carolina and NC State are all in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and only the fourth time in NCAA history.
Coaches with NBA coaching experience in the Sweet 16. Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger and Larry Krystkowiak all have been NBA head coaches and not great ones. Their collective record was 364-523, and none of them has a career winning record in the pros.
Times a Mark Gottfried team has upset a No. 1 seed to go to the Sweet 16. Since the field expanded, 17 No. 8 or No. 9 seeds have reached the Sweet 16, needing an upset of a No. 1 seed to get there. Gottfried is responsible for two of those. His eighth-seeded NC State upset Villanova this year, and in 2004, Gottfried led an eighth-seeded Alabama team that upset No. 1 seed Stanford 70-67. The ’04 Tide defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16 before losing to UConn in the Elite Eight.
Speaking of those No. 8/9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16, they’re just as likely to reach the Final Four as they are to lose in the Sweet 16, historically speaking. Six No. 8/9 seeds that made it to the Sweet 16 won their regionals, including each of the last three. NC State will try to join 2014 Kentucky, 2013 Wichita State, 2011 Butler, 2000 Wisconsin and North Carolina, 1986 Auburn and 1985 Villanova in going from the 8/9 game to the Final Four. No. 8 Villanova is the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship.
Times Kansas has lost before the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed, most in NCAA history.
Wichita State tops Kansas to advance to Sweet 16. Kansas has 6 first-weekend losses as a Top-2 seed, most in NCAA Tournament history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2015
The losses are:
|Kansas First Weekend Losses as Top-Two Seed|
|Year||KU's Seed||Lost to...||Coach|
|2015||2||No. 7 Wichita State||Bill Self|
|2014||2||No. 10 Stanford||Bill Self|
|2010||1||No. 9 Northern Iowa||Bill Self|
|1998||1||No. 8 Rhode Island||Roy Williams|
|1992||1||No. 8 UTEP||Roy Williams|
|1990||2||No. 7 UCLA||Roy Williams|
Roy Williams’ record in the round of 64. Mark Titus at Grantland noted the North Carolina coach’s perfect first round record. Just for fun, let’s compare that to the other active Hall of Fame coaches, the two up for the Hall of Fame this season (Bo Ryan and John Calipari) and three other sure-fire Hall of Famers (Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Bill Self).
|Coach||Career Round of 64 Record|
|Roy Williams, North Carolina||25-0|
|Mike Krzyzewski, Duke||26-5|
|Rick Pitino, Louisville||16-4|
|Bob Huggins, West Virginia||16-5|
|Jim Boeheim, Syracuse||26-5|
|Bo Ryan, Wisconsin||12-2|
|John Calipari, Kentucky||15-1|
|Tom Izzo, Michigan State||15-3|
|Bill Self, Kansas||15-2|
|Billy Donovan, Florida||11-3|
Schools Lon Kruger has taken to the Sweet 16. On Friday, Kruger became the first coach to win an NCAA Tournament game with five teams. He topped that Sunday by becoming the first coach to reach the Sweet 16 with four teams after the Sooners defeated Dayton 72-66. Kruger has gone to the Sweet 16 with UNLV (2007), Florida (1994) and Kansas State (1988). The two schools he’s coached not taken to the Sweet 16? Texas-Pan American and Illinois.
Times the top two seeds from the same region lost before the Sweet 16. No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia both lost in the East Region before the Sweet 16, marking the sixth time since 1985 a region lost both of its top two seeds before the Sweet 16. The last time it happened, No. 1 Kentucky lost to UAB and No. 2 Gonzaga lost to Nevada in the first weekend of the 2004 Tournament
Longest Sweet 16 drought ended. By reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003, Notre Dame its ending the longest regional semifinal drought of any team reaching the second weekend. The Irish have lost in the first weekend six times since that trip. The biggest uphill climb, then, belongs to Utah. The Utes last reached the Sweet 16 in 2004, but they made the Tournament only once between then and now.
Teams that reached the Sweet 16 last season. Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan State, UCLA, Wisconsin and Louisville are all making back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16. Louisville has made four in a row.
Average margin of victory for No. 1 seeds in the round of 64. Never say never, but the prospect of a No. 16 seed upsetting a No. 1 seems as far as ever. Two No. 16 seeds playing in the First Four in Dayton and then racing to another Tournament site has made the job even tougher.
Combined record for No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. We’re not ready to swear off 12-5 and 13-4 upsets in our brackets just yet, but this was a startling number. For the first time since 2007, every No. 4 and No. 5 seed advanced to the round of 32. For the No. 5 seeds in particular, this is a reversal of a trend: No. 5 seeds were a combined 2-6 in the 2013 and 2014 Tournaments.
Consecutive favorites to win from Thursday afternoon to Friday night. If you were lucky enough to indulge in the Thursday afternoon games, congratulations, you witnessed all the upsets. After UAB, Georgia State and UCLA, the universe corrected itself and went chalk for 23 consecutive games. Even the No. 8 seeds swept the No. 9s, which in theory are the most evenly matched games in the field.
No. 14 seeds to move into the round of 32. UAB and Georgia State picked up the slack for the mid-major upsets. For the First time since 1996, two No. 14 seeds advanced to the round of 32. That year, Weber State upset Michigan State and Old Dominion upset Villanova.
Margin of victory for No. 7 Iowa over Davidson. The third-highest margin of victory in the round of 64 involved a No. 7 seed against a mid-major regular season champion. Iowa defeated Atlantic 10 champion Davidson 83-52. It was the only game not involving a No. 1 seed decided by more than 20 points.
Games decided by 1 point in the round of 64. This included:
• No. 8 Cincinnati 66, No. 9 Purdue 65
• No. 8 NC State 66, No. 9 LSU 65
• No. 11 UCLA 60, No. 6 SMU 59
• No. 14 Georgia State 57, No. 3 Baylor 56
• No. 14 UAB 60, No. 3 Iowa State 59
Record for the Big 12 in the first weekend the last two seasons. The most competitive league during the regular season again struggled in the NCAA Tournament. True, the league produced two Sweet 16 teams in each of the last two seasons (West Virginia and Oklahoma this year, Baylor and Iowa State last year), but the Big 12 also had seven teams bounced in the first round in the last two seasons and league champ Kansas in the second round.
Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Pac-12 is still working to catch up to the Big Ten and ACC, but at least as far as the Tournament is concerned, the Pac-12 has had a good showing the last two seasons. Arizona and UCLA have reached back-to-back Sweet 16s, Utah advanced this year and Stanford last season. Keep in mind, the Pac-12 had three Sweet 16 teams total from 2009-12.
The hours are counting down in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and Gonzaga has plenty of energy. That’s what going to the Sweet 16 will do for you.
After Gonzaga’s 87-68 win over Iowa in the round of 32, forward Kyle Wiltjer shared this video of the postgame locker room celebration.
Eric McClellan did a backflip and then 52-year-old coach Mark Few attempted a hand stand.
The coach is quite nimble.
For Kansas’ sake, the Jayhawks should beg to schedule Wichita State soon.
In eight years, Gregg Marshall took a program that was already a solid mid-major and built it into a national power. That much was already established before Wichita State's round of 32 game against Kansas.
With a nucleus of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State went to the Final Four on year and started 35-0 the next. The Shockers have defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.
The last remaining white whale was in-state blue blood Kansas, a team that hasn’t played Wichita State since 1993. The Shockers spent 22 years waiting for Sunday's 78-65 win for Wichita State.
Kansas is conquered, and now maybe Marshall won’t be quite as vocal about wanting a matchup with the Jayhawks.
“I'm fine letting the series lay the way it is right now,” Marshall told the media. “The series is good with me at this point.”
Kansas, meanwhile, is left wondering what happened. This Jayhawks team isn’t a vintage Bill Self squad. Its best pro prospect, Cliff Alexander, is sitting while the school figures out his standing with the NCAA. But Kansas also won the Big 12 for the 11th consecutive season and managed to get a No. 2 seed.
Downplaying this Kansas team is a disservice to Wichita State. This also wasn’t the same Wichita State team from the last two seasons without Cleanthony Early in 2014-15. The Shockers didn’t pick up a signature win until their final game of the regular season against Northern Iowa. They lost twice to teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, including Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament.
By avoiding Wichita State, Kansas put all the emotion in this game into Wichita State’s corner. Never mind that VanVleet, Baker, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel are all really, really good veteran players.
“They obviously were better prepared, ready for the moment better than us, and we didn't play very well,” Self told the media. “I obviously didn't get our guys to the point where we should play up to the ability that we should potentially play up to.”
Now, Kansas doesn’t have just a loss or just an NCAA Tournament loss or just an early exit. The Jayhawks won’t make it to the Sweet 16 because it lost to a program it long considered unworthy of its time.
It’s already started. Losses like this tend to magnify what evertyhing that happened before. Kansas has now lost in the round of 32 in each of the last two years, last year to No. 10 seed Stanford. Before that, a No. 1 seed Kansas lost to No. 4 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16.
Expect to hear Kansas’ Final Four in 2012 and national championship from 2008 mentioned a little less prominently.
By no means is this a program in turmoil. Kansas will be in a Final Four again soon enough and will keep cranking out Big 12 titles.
Wichita State, too, won't be the same program five years from than it was Sunday. Gregg Marshall, whenever he wants to leave Wichita State, will have his pick of places to go. VanVleet and Baker are juniors, and they have one more major thing to accomplish.
And it doesn’t involve Kansas.
On Friday, Oregon looked like highlighters in the Ducks’ round of 64 win over Oklahoma State.
On Sunday, the Ducks looked like their former national championship team. Oregon broke out throwback jerseys for the round of 32 game against Wisconsin, possibly trying to gain some karma from the Ducks’ 1939 “Tall Firs” team that won the first NCAA title.
Here’s what Oregon wore against Oklahoma State:
This year’s East region isn’t the craziest bracket in NCAA Tournament history, but it’s pretty darn close to the top.
In a matter of hours, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the region, Villanova and Virginia, lost their round of 32 games. That leaves No. 3 Oklahoma as the top dog in the East region — for now.
Not only did the top two seeds in region lose, the outright conference champions from the ACC and Big East lost in the round of 32.
How strange is all that? Here are a few answers:
• For the first time since field expanded to 64 in 1985, the ACC and Big East outright champions both failed to make it to the Sweet 16.
Now, the unbalanced schedule may have given Virginia a leg up in winning the ACC title at 16-2, one game ahead of Duke. But either way, the Cavaliers are the first outright ACC regular season champ since 2003 Wake Forest to fail to reach the Sweet 16. The 1997 Duke team that lost to Providence in the second round is the only other ACC champion since 1985 to fail to reach the Sweet 16.
Villanova was dominant during the regular season, winning the Big East with a four-game lead over Butler. That didn’t stop the Wildcats from losing to the sixth-place team in the ACC. Villanova is the sixth outright Big East champ to lose before the Sweet 16 and the third since 2008. Pittsburgh lost in the second round to Butler in 2011 and Georgetown lost to Davidson in the second round in 2008.
• For the first time since 2004, the top two seeds in a region lost before the Sweet 16. In 2004, No. 1 Kentucky lost to No. 9 UAB in the second round and No. 2 Gonzaga lost to No. 7 Nevada. Those upsets cleared the path for No. 3 seed Georgia Tech to reach the Final Four.
Only six times in NCAA history, including 2015, have the top two seeds in a region failed to reach the Sweet 16. Not only did it happen in two different regions in the 2000 Tournament, both regions lost their top three seeds, clearing the path for two No. 8 seeds to reach the Final Four (North Carolina and Wisconsin).
• Making the upsets more painful for Virginia and Villanova have to be the teams still playing.
Villanova defeated Xavier three times during the season by an average of 14.3 points per game, and the Musketeers are the only Big East team left in the field.
Meanwhile, Virginia was the first ACC team in nine Tournament games to lose. After NC State’s win over Villanova, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried went so far as to call the ACC “undervalued.” Presumably after Virignia lost to the third-place team in the Big Ten, Gottfried might choose different wording.
“In my opinion, it's an undervalued conference right now for how strong our league is,” Gottfried told the media. “So when you went on the road like we have and beat North Carolina or on the road and beat Louisville or beat a Duke team, it's not that you don't respect (Villanova). We respect Villanova, but we've seen good teams. We've seen a lot of them in our conference. You see them about every night. So a league like that prepares you for games like tonight.”
No, March Madness is weird, and something strange happens every year. This year, the strangest outcomes happened to be in the East bracket.
After No. 1 seed Villanova lost 71-68 to NC State in one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament, one piccolo player in Nova’s band briefly spoke for every Villanova fan out there.
Her perseverance to play on, to do her job, in the face of such emotion is an inspiration to us all.
Naturally, we get all the memes:
I'm probably going to hell for this. pic.twitter.com/0HTybgQToz— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 22, 2015
NOT MY TEMPO! pic.twitter.com/lQGtZXyR6r— Joe Morgan (@joe_morgan) March 22, 2015
And now it seems we have an ID on our piccolo player:
Villanova wildcat till I die, through the smiles and the tears✌️— Roxanne Chalifoux (@roxiechalifoxie) March 22, 2015
If your bracket wasn’t already toast, it might be now.
Villanova became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the NCAA Tournament, losing to an eight-seeded NC State 71-68.
The Wildcats are the 17th No. 1 seed since 1985 to fail to reach the Sweet 16. Last season, undefeated Wichita State lost to Kentucky in the round of 32, and before that Gonzaga lost in the round of 32 to Wichita State.
Even by upset standards, this one was weird.
Villanova was one of the best offensive teams in the country during the season, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
Villanova couldn’t buy a basket in the lane as NC State outscored the Wildcats 34-14 in the paint. Villanova shot 10-of-33 (30.3 percent) from 2-point range — compared to 53 percent during the season. The Wildcats were 9-of-28 from 3-point range (32.1 percent) against NC State — after shooting 38.9 percent during the regular season.
Meanwhile, NC State needed LSU to miss its last 12 shots from the floor for a one-point win in the round of 64. Two days later, the Wolfpack led a 33-win team for the entire second half.
So what might this mean for next week for the Wolfpack?
Each of the last 8/9 seeds that upset a No. 1 advanced at least to the Final Four (2014 Kentucky, 2013 Wichita State and 2011 Butler). Of the 16 Nos. 8-9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16, the same number of them reached the Final Four as lost in the Sweet 16.
NC State wasn’t the most predictable team during the season. The Wolfpack beat Duke at home and Louisville and North Carolina on the road. NC State ended up a No. 8 seed by losing at home to Wofford and Clemson and on the road to Wake Forest and Boston College.
Those neutral courts, though, have been good to NC State.
|No. 8/9 Seeds to Reach the Sweet 16|
|Year||8/9 Seed||Defeated||Advanced to..|
|2014||Kentucky||Wichita State||National championship game|
|2013||Wichita State||Gonzaga||Final Four|
|2011||Butler||Pittsburgh||National championship game|
|2010||Northern Iowa||Kansas||Sweet 16|
|2000||North Carolina||Stanford||Final Four|
|1998||Rhode Island||Kansas||Elite Eight|
|1994||Boston College||North Carolina||Elite Eight|
|1990||North Carolina||Oklahoma||Sweet 16|
|1986||Auburn||St. John's||Elite Eight|
|1985||Villanova||Michigan||Won national championship|
*coached by Mark Gottfried
Georgia State coach Ron Hunter broke down during his team’s postgame news conference after his team lost 75-67 to Xavier.
The moment came to an end, and Hunter embraced his son when he left the court. R.J. is a junior and an NBA Draft prospect, so this may be the last time the two are on the same team.
Hunter got a little choked up as you might imagine.