The 2018 NCAA tournament continues to be full of unpredictablites and stunners, and after eight teams advanced to the Sweet 16 on Saturday, one thing has remained constant: We have no idea what to expect.
With powerhouses looking dominant, underdogs prevailing and plenty of buzzer beaters, here's eight things we learned from Saturday:If Mikal Bridges plays like he did in the second half against Alabama, the rest of the NCAA tournament field better watch out. Bridges scored 22 of his 23 points in the second half and went 5-for-6 from 3. The Wildcats’ defense looked as good as it has all season over the last 20 minutes, holding the Crimson Tide to just 36-percent shooting from the field and 2-of-10 from 3. Villanova awaits the winner of Sunday’s West Virginia vs. Marshall winner, but regardless, the Wildcats are looking like the clear-cut favorites from the East region to advance to the Final Four, especially with an elbow injury to Purdue’s Isaac Has.
Kentucky coach John Calipari broke down the maturation process of this freshmen class and what needs to be tweaked before the Sweet 16 with https://t.co/5W4P0z50BV’s Andy Katz after beating Buffalo in Boise to advance to the Sweet 16. pic.twitter.com/2g4f3OOY8h— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) March 18, 2018
The Wildcats waltzed to the Sweet 16 after a win against another double-digit seed as Kentucky ran away from No. 13 seed Buffalo 95-75 in a game in which the ‘Cats led by just five with less than eight minutes remaining. Kentucky’s backcourt carried the load offensively as guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo combined for 49 points on 19-of-24 shooting.
After initially facing a potentially perilous path to the Final Four that could’ve included games against Virginia and Arizona, the Wildcats will have a Sweet 16 matchup against either No. 9 seed Kansas State or No. 16 seed UMBC.
Like clockwork, at least one Cinderella team emerges every March. UMBC made history with its upset of No. 1 seed Virginia but Loyola Chicago could be the double-digit seed that makes the deepest run in this year's tournament. For the second time in three days, the Ramblers hit a game-winner to upset a higher-seeded team. This time it was Clayton Custer’s jumper that sent No. 3 seed Tennessee packing. How long can the Ramblers and Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt continue to survive and advance?
Kansas survived everything that Seton Hall gave them and still pulled out a 83-79 win despite Devonte’ Graham having one of his worst games of the season with just eight points on 1-for-7 shooting (missed all four 3-point attempts) and five turnovers. It’s doubtful Graham will have a repeat performance of Saturday night, but the question is will Malik Newman be the X-factor the Jayhawks need to advance out of the Midwest region. Newman finished with 28 points, including 18 in the second half (4-for-5 field goals, 2-of-3 from 3). Kansas will need more performances like this, especially with Duke, Auburn/Clemson and Michigan State/Syracuse still looming in the region. Next weekend in Omaha is appointment television.
Gonzaga returned several key players from last year’s national runner-up team but it was two of the Bulldogs’ breakout players that carried them to the Sweet 16 with a 90-84 win over Ohio State. Zach Norvell Jr., a redshirt freshman, and Rui Hachimura, a sophomore who played just six minutes in last year’s NCAA tournament, combined for 53 points and 17 rebounds.
Gonzaga will face the winner of Florida State and Xavier, the latter of whom they defeated in the Elite Eight last season, next weekend.
There’s always something to be said about senior guards in March, and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans was the latest example of that Saturday night against Florida. The Red Raiders survived not one but two open 3-pointers from the Gators that would have tied the game, but instead it was Texas Tech advancing to its first Sweet 16 with a 69-66 win behind Evans’ 22 points. Freshman guard Zhaire Smith — who finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists — is the prefect backcourt complement to Evans, and with either Butler or Purdue waiting in Boston, Evans will need to continue to be the Red Raiders’ driving force.
If you stayed up to watch the finish to Saturday’s last game, the decision paid off for you. Michigan, trailing Houston by two with 3.6 seconds left, executed to perfection an inbounds play that resulted in freshman guard Jordan Poole making a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Wolverines to the Sweet 16.
Now Michigan potentially gets to play North Carolina, the No. 2 seed in the West who beat the Wolverines by 15 in November, or Texas A&M.