Surprisingly, all four number one seeds made it to the Elite Eight, for the first time since 2009, but only one of them made it out. Three number one seeds fell in the Elite Eight, including one monumental upset following a crazy comeback. The next round is set with Oklahoma, Villanova, Syracuse and North Carolina the Final Four teams remaining.
One Seeds Finally Fall
As mentioned, all four number one seeds, UNC, Virginia, Oregon and Kansas, made the Elite Eight, but three were upset.
The first number one to go down was Oregon, the top ranked team in the West bracket. The Ducks were beaten by the Oklahoma Sooners 80-68, in a game that was never really close. Senior Buddy Hield came out smoking hot, scoring 11 points in the first five minutes, hitting a trio of three pointers. Hield would finish the game with 37 on 13/20 shooting (8/13 from three point range) in front of Kobe Bryant.
As for Oregon, they didn’t get much out of star sophomore Dillon Brooks. Brooks only put up six shots for seven points and fouled out late in the game. Leading scorer Elgin Cook had to live at the free throw line, going 11/12, to get almost half of his 24 points.
The Sooners took an 18 point lead into the half, and outside of a little burst from Oregon in the second half, the game was never really in question after the first 10 minutes.
Kansas, the number one overall team, was stunned by Villanova, a team who has lacked in March success for a few years. It was a back and forth game between the Jayhawks and Wildcats, but Nova always seemed to have the momentum and were the more desperate team late. Villanova had a huge 10 run to retake the lead they had lost at halftime, and never really looked back after that.
Nova won this game with their defense, which was stingy from start to finish. They forced Kansas to commit 16 turnovers and the game was sealed on a couple of steals in the final minute. Nova shut down Perry Ellis, who scored just four points. The Jayhawks, outside of DeVonte’ Graham, couldn’t hit a thing from three, and Wayne Selden, who was 0/6 from deep had a couple of ugly misses.
The final one seed to be upset was Virginia, who was absolutely stunned by fellow ACC opponent Syracuse. Virginia was up 14 at the break, and with their stifling defense, it seemed highly unlikely that the Orange would make a comeback.
But it was a combination of Syracuse’s defense and there point shooting that allowed them to pull ahead of Virginia in the second half. Syracuse went on an epic 25-4 run in the second half, which not only reduced the Virginia lead, it gave Syracuse a lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half.
Syracuse was led by freshman Malachi Richardson, who led the comeback scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half. Tyler Lydon, another freshman, came up big off the bench with 11 points, six rebounds and five blocks, one being the game sealing block.
Most Impressive Team Remaining is Villanova
I never thought I would type that in my life, but here it is. Villanova has been rolling through every team they have played in the tournament, save for Kansas. They wiped UNC Asheville by 30, as they should have, but then faced arguably the toughest #7 seed in Iowa. The Hawkeyes were no match for the Wildcats, and Nova won by 19.
In the Sweet Sixteen, Nova took on a very similar team in Miami and, like the first two games for Villanova, they dominated from start to finish, winning by 23 and hanging 92 on a pretty good defensive team.
The game against Kansas was close, but Nova came out on top against the best team in the country. They used defense and timely shooting to get past the Jayhawks. The play of senior captain Ryan Arcidiacono has been key in the success for Nova. He’s shooting 62% from the field and 93% from the foul line and scoring 16 points per game. Daniel Ochefu has been the big difference maker inside, bringing in about eight rebounds a game. Mikal Bridges played a huge part in the upset over Kansas, keeping plays alive with his hustle and recording a key steal.
The only one seed to make it to the Final Four this year was UNC, who has been rolling, winning each game by double figures. They beat down a tough Notre Dame team that was led by Demetrious Jackson and VJ Beachem. But senior Brice Johnson was the difference maker once again for UNC, as he had 25 and 12 in just 32 minutes of play.
Syracuse Should Have Been In After All
Heading into the tournament, there was much debate as to whether the Orange should get into the field of 68. Syracuse finished ninth in the ACC with a record of 9-9 in conference, finishing 18-13 overall. They were without head coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended the first nine games of the season following recruiting violations. During that time, the ‘Cuse went 7-2, but the two losses were ugly, to Georgetown and Wisconsin, who was struggling massively at the time.
The committee was challenged as to whether look at the whole body of work, both with and without Boeheim, or whether to ignore the first nine games and see how Syracuse did with their real head coach. Either way, Syracuse would have been on the bubble, and as it turns out, they were given a 10 seed in the tournament.
They lucked out with Michigan State losing to Mid Tennessee State, but took care of Dayton and a tough Gonzaga team. The comeback against Virginia solidified that they should have indeed been one of the teams in the tournament.
Syracuse is the only 10 seed to make the Final Four in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Their toughest task remains, as they’ll go against a dominant
Nova Helping Big East Regain Prominence
We’re back on the subject of Villanova, but this section of the article is based of a heated (and I mean heated) debate between myself, Tyler and our friend Fitz. I won’t get into the details of the whole argument, but it was basically that Villanova’s run is helping the Big East regain their once high status.
Back in the day, the Big East was the best conference in college basketball. But a fall from grace and conference realignment later, the Big East hasn’t been able to have a team be successful in March. While Nova’s run absolutely without a doubt helps its own school more than its conference, the Big East still benefits.
Especially after teams like Xavier (sorry Tyler and Gabe) and Seton Hall failed to live up to postseason expectations, the burden fell on Villanova to carry the conference, and they have done it with a flourish.
Nova’s run will bring in money to the conference, which teams can use to upgrade facilities and help recruit better players to play for their schools. While this run can help Villanova recruit better players to join a flourishing program, it can also help other teams recruit by recruiting players who want to take down the favorite.
While certainly other quality teams from the Big East, like Xavier, Providence and Seton Hall, won’t be rooting for their conference rival in the Final Four, it does help them in the long run.
Cover Photo via IndyStar