If you look at the fact that only one lower-seeded team (Dayton) won in Friday’s 16 games, you might think it was a boring day of watching favorites beat up on underdogs. Not so. Louisville, with the help of a late no-call by officials on a smart, aggressive defensive play by Terry Rozier, escaped with a one-possession win over UC Irvine (and 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college hoops). Ten-seed Indiana hung in until the final minute against a tough 7-seed in Wichita State. Thirteen-seed Buffalo had a shot at upsetting West Virginia, 15-seed Belmont had a shot at Virginia, and 13-seed Valparaiso had a shot at Maryland. The only difference between an upset-filled Thursday and a chalk-filled Friday was the final minute of a few games. Friday didn’t lack drama. It just lacked miracles.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
I’m glad the nation got to see the Northern Iowa team I’ve been trumpeting all season.
A 17-point win over Wyoming showed why this team has been hovering around the top 10 for a while now. Don’t enjoy methodical basketball? Look elsewhere. But if you enjoy a well-rounded team as cohesive as any in the country, get on coach Ben Jacobson’s shoulders and ride them all the way to the Final Four, just like I did in my bracket. Senior Seth Tuttle is a top-10 player, and yet on Friday he was only one of five Panthers with 10 or more points. These guys share the ball. They’re deep. They’re versatile. They’re defensively waterproof with that pack-line defense. And yes, if you like all these things — basically, good, fundamental team basketball — you even could call them fun.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
Never doubt Tom Izzo.
I’ve done it too much this year, and for good reason. This is Izzo’s least-talented Michigan State team in a long time, a casualty of missing on a few big-time recruits and having the biggest talents from last season either graduate or head to the NBA. But even when his most talented player, Branden Dawson, has mostly underachieved, Izzo still has his team rolling. Despite its typically poor free-throw shooting, Michigan State rolled over Georgia on Friday and has a winnable matchup against Virginia on Sunday. Death, taxes, Bo Ryan? Sure. But also: Death, taxes, Tom Izzo.
Archie and the Miracles still are going.
As the regular season was winding down, Dayton coach Archie Miller told me this has been his hardest year in coaching. Why? A talented 6-foot-11 freshman had to sit out as a partial qualifier. Then his two tallest players were kicked off the team for being involved in an on-campus burglary. Then another player was lost to concussion symptoms. That left Miller six scholarship players. Miller has zero players taller than 6-foot-6. He’s no longer able to do 5-on-5 scrimmages in practice, and he needs student managers just to do 4-on-4 drills. Yet the 11-seed Flyers, the shortest team in this tourney, are flying into the Round of 32 after a 66-53 upset of Providence — Dayton’s fifth game in a week, including a First Four win over Boise State. Name a better coaching job this year. There isn’t one.
The most surprising breakout player is Kansas point guard Frank Mason.
And the sophomore reminded us why in Friday’s dismantling of New Mexico State, with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. The biggest concern for Kansas going into the season wasn’t simply how the Jayhawks would survive without a top-notch point guard; it was who would even be this team’s starting point guard. Mason has proven to be a top-notch player and then some: He leads the team in assists, is second in points and shoots nearly 41 percent from three. Bill Self has to be thrilled with the chance to have Mason for two more seasons.
Speaking of Kansas, I can’t wait for Sunday’s Sunflower State showdown with Wichita State.
Fred VanVleet (23) is coming off a career-high 27 points in Wichita State’s win over Indiana. Wichita might have the best backcourt with VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. And Kansas’ elite freshman wing Kelly Oubre could have his breakout game on the big stage. Remember last season, when the Wichita-Kentucky matchup in the second round was the best of the tourney? This second-round matchup could be too. Making it better is the storyline. Allen Fieldhouse and Koch Arena are 162 miles apart, but it took the tournament selection committee to get Gregg Marshall his long-awaited matchup with Kansas. (I don’t blame Bill Self; he has nothing to gain and everything to lose by scheduling Wichita.) These teams haven’t played in 22 years. Maybe the reason is the Jayhawks have a long memory; in 1981, Wichita beat Kansas by one in the Sweet 16.
I get the sense that Rick Pitino would rather this season be over.
After Louisville barely escaped an upset at the hands of 13-seed UC Irvine, here’s what Pitino said in the on-court interview: “We’re not a great team this year.” It’s true. He’s been preaching caution about this team all season, calling it “offensively challenged” and saying it can only go as far as its upperclassmen can take it. Then one upperclassman, Chris Jones, was dismissed from the team, arrested and charged with rape. It’s been a long season for Pitino, and the fact he coached his team to a fourth-place finish in the ACC and a 4-seed in the tournament is impressive considering this team’s deficiencies. But a great coach leading a flawed team probably means Louisville’s season ends sooner instead of later.
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Bobby Hurley is terrifying.
I have a son who is 2 years old. If he is watching Hurley’s Buffalo team play next season, I’m going to have something at the ready to distract him when a call goes against Hurley’s team. His death stare is out of a horror movie. His face contorts into something diabolical when he’s angry. I picked Buffalo to upset West Virginia, and the Bulls almost did Friday. But although it hurt my bracket, I’m sort of glad Hurley’s team didn’t advance. For the children.
There’s Good Iowa and Bad Iowa, and on Friday we saw Good Iowa.
Fran McCaffery’s team is talented and fast-paced, tough-minded and fun. Senior Aaron White has proven to be one of the best players in Iowa history, and taken his game to a new level in the past month. He’s scored 20 or more points in six straight games, the first Iowa player to do so since 1984. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the NBA soon. Good Iowa is pretty damn good; the Hawkeyes beat Davidson by 31 on Friday. It was the most lopsided score of the day. Bad Iowa can be pretty damn uninspiring; it does things like lose at Northwestern, or lose to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. Iowa’s guards have been up and down this season. I don’t know which to expect Sunday when the Hawkeyes play 2-seed Gonzaga. But if we get Good Iowa, we’re going to have a helluva game.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
Call off the dogs on the Big 12. For now.
The nation’s best regular season conference had a rough Thursday. The Big 12 went 0-3 on the first day, including two 3-seeds, Baylor and Iowa State, losing to 14-seeds. That was the first time that’s happened to two 3-seeds in the same tournament since 1995. The noises came from all ends of the Twittersphere that the Big 12 was, in fact, overrated. Friday should calm those folks. The Big 12 went 3-1, with Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia all winning. I hate that we judge everything in college basketball based on a few games in March, but that’s the reality. If those three teams all lose Sunday, expect the “Big 12 is overrated” talk to reach a fever pitch. Meanwhile, note that both the ACC and Pac-12 are undefeated.