Well, that was fun. Except for Michigan State, Texas, and Baylor and Purdue and USC and . . . many more March Madness predictions.Thursday gave us Yale and Little Rock. It gave us Providence winning at 1.5 seconds, on something as simple as an inbounds play. It give us seven higher seeds losing, out of 16 games, four of them beaten by double-digit seeds. Friday gave us Middle Tennessee State, the University of Northern Iowa, and Stephen F. Austin. "It’s March," Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell announced. Yes, it is. So now what?
Consider Saturday, with seeds in parenthesis.
Kentucky (4) vs. Indiana (5)
Jackpot. A second round showdown between hallowed programs who won’t pass each other on the street during the regular season? We seldom get heavyweight bouts of this stature on the first weekend. Tyler Ulis vs. Yogi Ferrell at point guard might be the match-up of the week.
The Hoosiers’ dismantlement of Chattanooga Thursday, from the 64.9 percent shooting that shredded the Mocs to Ferrell’s 10 assists, was the latest evidence of how far they have come from the uncertain team of December. Kentucky was every bit as impressive with five players in double figures in the thrashing of Stony Brook.So now they meet by NCAA bracket order, when they haven’t been able to work out the details of a regular season series on their own. Tom Crean wants home-and-home, John Calipari wants something else. And there it sits. But not Saturday.
"It's kinda unfortunate that this game is being played this early," Calipari said. "This should be another round or two later. But it is what it is, so both of us are going to have to play."
The last time they met was the 2012 Sweet 16, when Kentucky beat Indiana 102-90, as repayment for the 73-72 buzzer-beater loss the Hoosiers handed them earlier in the season. The Wildcats lead the series 32-24, but can even do better than that. They have met four times in the NCAA Tournament, and Kentucky has won the last three, including the one that hurt the worst – 92-90 over previously unbeaten Indiana in 1975.
Kansas (1) vs. Connecticut (9)
As if the Jayhawks didn’t have enough weapons, a guy who had scored eight points in the past five games put 23 on poor Austin Peay. Add hard-to-guard, harder-to-spell Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk to the Kansas arsenal, as the Jayhawks went for 105 for their 15th consecutive victory. Svi, to his fans. But now they’re up against Mr. March.
Kevin Ollie has coached seven NCAA Tournament games at Connecticut and hasn’t had to deliver a losing speech yet to his Huskies. His team is showing the toughness of the 2014 champions, storming through the American conference tournament and erasing an 11-point deficit against Colorado.
Kansas and UConn have met only twice, the last time in 1997. Des Moines is not far from Kansas, so the ambiance will be mostly Jayhawks. "Kinda playing in their backyard," Ollie said. "But we’ve been in these brawls before and we'll be ready to fight."
Duke (4) vs. Yale (12)
Was it the visit they got from members of the 1962 Yale team that did it? The pep talk from Yale alum and governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo? "We’ve had everyone and their mother come out to say kind words to us," Justin Sears said after the Bulldogs won their first NCAA Tournament game in history, holding off Baylor. Yale has been around more than 300 years, so it took awhile.
But maybe Makai Mason, hitting all 11 of his free throws, had more to do with it. "We’re not on national TV every night, so guys haven’t heard of Makai Mason before, and he just dropped 31,’" Sears said. "He should be a scholarship player at any high major program."They’ll be on national television Saturday all right, in their rematch with Duke. The two met in November – in Cameron Indoor Stadium, of course – and the Blue Devils rolled 80-61. But it was 38-36 at halftime. Good chance Duke's Marshall Plumlee will go without his mask, since he scored 19 in the second half without it Thursday.
Sleep on the Ivy League at your peril. The conference that went 0-10 in the NCAA Tournament last decade just won for the fifth time this decade. "Yale is an amazing place," Sears said. "The history is there, the prestige is there."
Wait till he sees the prestige if the Bulldogs win Saturday.
North Carolina (1) vs. Providence (9)
The Tar Heels took a first half Mulligan against Florida Gulf Coast, then Brice Johnson turned Dunk City into Swat Shotville, blocking eight of them in an 83-67 win. They’ll need more good minutes against Providence – a team they beat 79-77 in the 2014 tournament. The Friars have the glow of just winning their first NCAA Tournament game in 19 years, and did it with a layup on an inbounds play with 1.5 seconds left against USC.Unlike many Carolina opponents, Providence has two players who can stand as near equals to any Tar Heels. So long as the Friars have Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil on the floor, they have to be taken seriously, even with the game played in Raleigh, where they’ll be an awful lot of sky blue in the stands.
For Providence’s peace of mind, should we not mention North Carolina is 32-1 in NCAA Tournament games in its own state? Keep that to yourself.
Virginia (1) vs. Butler (9)
First item on the Virginia game plan: Tony Bennett should drink more water. No more collapses from dehydration before halftime. Aside from that, this game – the first meeting every between the two -- will feature a lot of defense and a little bit of underdog mystique. The world is full of victims who were supposed to have beaten Butler in the NCAA Tournament.
It’ll also be a collision of long, long, long careers. Malcolm Brogdon has seemingly been around forever at Virginia, Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham even longer than that at Butler.
By the way, what does Butler have that Virginia doesn’t? An appearance in the national championship game. Two, in fact. The Cavaliers have never been there.
Miami (3) vs. Wichita State (11)
Everyone does remember Miami finished tied for second in the ACC and beat five ranked opponents this season, right? The Hurricanes have not always been an imposing blip on the radar screen, but they’re dangerous enough, even if they had to struggle to get past Buffalo. And it’d only be fitting if they did something memorable on the 10th anniversary of coach Jim Larranaga’s magic carpet ride with George Mason.
But here’s Miami’s problem, against a team it has only met once, 27 years ago. In Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State has senior leaders who have faced about everything, including the Final Four and an unbeaten regular season. Now they’re leading a terrific defense that took apart Arizona Thursday with 19 turnovers. The Shockers are probably underseeded, due to early struggles when the absolutely indispensable VanVleet was injured. But they’re at full steam now.
Utah (3) vs. Gonzaga (11)
They’re baaaack. The Zags were on the brink of missing the tournament for the first time this century, but look at the past and they’ve often done their best work when seeded lower, when they could surprise people. Gonzaga built its brand as an underdog. So it went Thursday night when the Zags thumped Seton Hall. That’s 13 wins in the last 15 games.Domantas Sabonis led the way for Gonzaga with 21 points and 16 rebounds, just as Jakob Poeltl did for Utah over Fresno State with 16 and 18. The Utes had to save the Pac-12’s day after Colorado, USC and Arizona all went down. So it’ll be Lithuania vs. Austria in the paint Saturday in Denver, when these two teams meet for the first time since 2008. To the winner goes the Sweet 16.
Iowa State (4) vs. Little Rock (12)
To review, Little Rock trailed Purdue by 13 points with 3:33 left and hardly blinked. The Trojans have now won seven games in which they’ve trailed by double digits. In one year, they have gone from 13-18 to 30-4. And they believe that anything is possible. ``This team doesn’t lose,’’ coach Chris Beard said. Especially Josh Hagins, one of the tournament’s first folk heroes after 31 points and an overtime-forcing 3-pointer from the next zip code.
The Trojans come from the Sun Belt, who last spring gave the world Georgia State and coach Ron Hunter falling off his stool after his son won a game. If the Iowa State Cyclones are not on red alert from all that, they ought to be.
The Cyclones were suitably offensive against Iona, scoring 94 points, with 28 of them from Georges Niang, and shooting 50 percent. They have the 14th most prolific scoring attack in the nation. But they’re about to go against the No. 2 scoring defense, and a team they’ve never played before.
"I’m a senior,’’ Hagins said. "I’ve waited 22 years, to be honest, to get to this point.’’
Said Beard, "We’re not done yet.’’
Doesn’t sound as if they intend to leave soon.
But eight more teams will have to on Saturday.