OK, the NCAA tournament regional semifinals didn’t provide the same thrills and surprises that college basketball fans received on the opening weekend. With six of the eight matchups decided by double-digit margins, the Sweet 16 could have been sweeter from an entertainment perspective. Still, there were many memorable moments. Here are five to ponder before the Elite Eight cranks up this evening.The No. 1 seeds look the part.
Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia heard their names called first on Selection Sunday. The way each team is playing, don’t be surprised if they are the last four teams standing in Houston. It’s happened once before, in 2008 when No. 1 seeds North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis and UCLA met in San Antonio.
Virginia carved up Butler and Iowa State, winning those two by an average of 11.5 points. Oregon was tested by St. Joe’s but dismantled Duke by 14 with a second-half dunking exhibition. North Carolina cracked the century mark in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 40 years against Indiana, and made 10 3-pointers. And Kansas just continues rolling. The Jayhawks have won 17 in a row, defeating nine top-30 KenPom opponents during that stretch.
Of course, Villanova proved it won’t go lightly.
The Wildcats are playing offense on a level rarely seen in the NCAA tournament. In the Sweet 16 they blitzed a good Miami team 92-69 by giving a clinic on how to put the ball in the basket.
They’ve scored 1.31, 1.26 and 1.57 points per possession in their three victories. Villanova has a bevy of scoring options, and six rotation players who boast an offensive rating of 118 or better on the season.
The center, Daniel Ochefu, is the key according to Villanova coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats are second in the nation in adjusted efficiency.
“When you have a five-man like Daniel Ochefu, who is as skilled as any of the guards, great decision-maker, ball handler, passer for his position, extremely skilled, usually the other guys are skilled,” Wright said. But when you have a guy like that at the five spot, you know you've got a chance to be pretty good.”
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Demetrius Jackson crushed Wisconsin’s dreams of a Final Four return
Notre Dame is in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row. Mike Brey has led the Fighting Irish to six NCAA tournament victories in two years, which is as many as the program had in the previous 25.
Things looked bleak in the final 30 seconds on Friday night, before Demetrius Jackson scooped up a ball Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes lost in a double-team, and made the layup to give Notre Dame a one-point lead.
“Coach did a great job recognizing and letting us know that we had a foul to give,” Jackson said. “So we had a really aggressive trap, and then Bonzie (Colson) made a great defensive play, getting his hands on it. It kind of fell into my arms and I just wanted to put it in and finish it.”
Gbinije, Lydon lift Syracuse
In the only Sweet 16 matchup between double-digit seeds, Syracuse was in trouble down five points to Gonzaga with three minutes remaining. Then the Orange raised its defensive intensity and bottled up the Zags dominant frontcourt.
The Orange forced the Zags into three turnovers and blocked two shots in holding them to one point in the final 3:10. Tyler Lydon blocked both, including stuffing Josh Perkins in the lane as he attempted the go-ahead shot at the four second mark.
“Tyler Lydon, for a freshman, made an unbelievable play because he normally stays back there,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “But both their big guys were high, so I think he saw that, and he read where Perkins was coming, and he just came up. That's a pretty big play for a freshman to make.”
Michael Gbinije, who started his career at Duke, put Syracuse ahead on a short shot in the lane with 21 seconds remaining.
Marcus Paige is firing from deep again
Thousands of words were written during the regular season trying to decipher why North Carolina guard Marcus Paige was struggling with his 3-point touch. He went 5-for-36 beyond-the-arc in a six-game stretch in January, inexplicable for a senior who made 180 3-pointers in his sophomore and junior seasons at a 39 percent clip. Even in the Tar Heels’ ACC championship game defeat of Virginia, Paige was 0-for-7.
But he showed signs that his touch had returned in UNC’s opening weekend wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Providence. And on Friday night he cemented - at least in the minds of Indiana fans - that the slump is busted. Paige drilled his first five 3-pointers and added a sixth late.
“Marcus was making video game shots to start the game,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I mean seriously. He's a tremendous player.”
Paige has made 11 of 21 from beyond-the-arc in the NCAA tournament. When he and Joel Berry are connecting from distance, the Tar Heels become extremely difficult to stop as Indiana learned, allowing 1.42 points per possession.
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