Talent trumps experience after all … and other tourney takeaways

Aaron Gordon and the Wildcats looked like He-Men against Gonzaga.

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Remember how good Kentucky haters felt last year when the defending champs ended up in the NIT? Or this year when the preseason No. 1 ended up unranked?

Experts said this was the downfall of the one-and-done system. Experienced teams with lesser talent like Wichita State would trump freshman dream teams like John Calipari’s.

Or not.

The No. 8 ‘Cats played perhaps their best game of the season against arguably the top team in the nation on Sunday, and in the end, their best was better than the top-seeded Shockers’. Kentucky’€™s freshmen did what no other team could all season: They beat Wichita State, 78-76. Now Cal’€™s kids have him back in the Sweet 16 and contending for another championship. And next up they face Louisville. Think there will be any interest in that one?

But that was college basketball at its finest — with the most successful program in college basketball history playing the underdog against a Missouri Valley team. Can’t say the Shockers choked, because they probably aren’t as good as their seed and Kentucky’s probably better than its. Rarely do you get such an amazing game that feels so meaningful so early in the tourney. Calipari said it should’ve been an Elite Eight game. He was right.

No. 2 Kansas losing to No. 10 Stanford 60-57 on Sunday in the third round was not a shocker, considering the Jayhawks were missing standout center Joel Embiid. But who could believe that Andrew Wiggins wouldn’€™t show up, either?

Wiggins had the second-worst performance of his college career, scoring just four points on 1-of-6 shooting with four turnovers. He also gave Stanford extra fuel by giggling when asked about guard Chasson Randle at a press conference this week.

"We definitely saw that video," said Randle, who had 13 points, six steals and four assists. "Coach told me not to talk about it but I definitely took it as a challenge. It was a little bit extra motivation."

The freshman Wiggins had a strong season and was being hailed by many as the top pick in the NBA Draft after Jabari Parker’€™s so-so performance in Duke’€™s opening loss to Mercer. Forget that noise now. (Read more here.)

FYI: Wiggins’€™ worst game was Jan. 18 against Marcus Smart (another candidate to be the top pick) and OK State (Kansas’€™ top Big 12 rival). And Embiid, also a candidate to be the top pick, didn’€™t hurt or help his stock by sitting out Sunday.

It wasn’€™t really an upset, but No. 3 Iowa State’€™s 85-83 victory over No. 6 North Carolina was no less thrilling than the day’€™s previous two games, with the lead changing hands and teams trading big baskets down the stretch, capped by Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane hitting the go-ahead runner off the glass with 2 seconds left.

Then the wheels came off.

The clock never started on the inbounds pass and didn’€™t budge until after UNC’€™s Nate Britt was almost at halfcourt. There was a timeout that ended up being much longer than planned, and then ruled to have never happened.

We just wanted to see someone take the last shot, whether it was a good look or a desperation heave.

After officials reviewed it all for several minutes, they explained to a stone-faced Roy Williams that the timeout was not called in time and the game was over. Along with the Tar Heels’ season. And the excitement of everyone watching.

"Let’s not anybody lay it on the officials or anything like that. We didn’t call the timeout with 1.6 seconds to play," Williams said.

Britt said he thought North Carolina got the timeout before the buzzer.

"When I looked up at the clock I saw one-point-something time left," he said. "I saw staff screaming and trying to call timeout."

And for the first time since 1979, none of North Carolina’s "Big Four" is among the Sweet 16.

Everyone was captivated by Mercer’€™s run to the Round of 32, but the No. 11 Tennessee Vols squashed that feel-good story with an 83-63 win over the No. 14 Bears.

Now might be the time to say "Oh snap! That Vols team that started in the First Four is in the Sweet 16!"€ A First Four team has ended up in the Sweet 16 every year but one since they started doing it in 2011, with VCU reaching the Final Four that year. And the one year it didn’t happen, the team (South Florida) still pulled off a Round of 64 upset. Hard to argue that it’s a waste of time for those of us who miss the simpler times of a straight 64-team bracket. Ken Pom was right!

Anyway, the Vols a€™re back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010 and riding maybe the most dominant big man in the tournament: Forward Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and a career-high-tying 18 rebounds against Mercer after going for 26 and 13 against UMass and 18 and 13 in the play-in game against Iowa.

"NIT two straight years, I guess that’s what you’d call starting from the bottom," Stokes said. "A lot of people doubted us, and that just makes the ride much better."

No. 6 Baylor’s 85-55 rout of No. 3 Creighton really only matters because it’€™s the end of the Dougie McBuckets era, in which we all had to hear how this guy was so … freaking … great.

Particularly this year, when McDermott dominated the player of the year talk as he led Division I in scoring (26.9 ppg), was named Big East Player of the Year and moved to fifth on the all-time scoring list (3,150 points).

Except he didn’€™t lead Creighton to the Big East championship, losing to Bryce Cotton and Providence. He didn’€™t lead the Bluejays past the third round of the tournament, scoring just 15 points and finishing with as many fouls (4) as rebounds, assists, threes, made free throws, steals and blocks COMBINED.

(Note: Cotton didn’€™t lead Providence past the second round, but he had 36 points in the Friars’€™ 79-77 loss to UNC.)

So McDermott never sniffed a national championship or won anything of any significance outside of the Missouri Valley Conference. His swan song was a blowout at the hands of a Baylor team that was No. 23 in the last AP poll. And no one, not even his biggest fans, considers him a potential No. 1 draft pick.

McDermott was a great player. Period. Now let us never speak of him again.

Baylor, meanwhile, just had the single best game of the tourney. Between posting one of the most lopsided scores of the tourney, doing it against a higher seed, and shutting down McDermott, you gotta believe nobody wants to play the Bears. They look like they have a real Final Four shot.

The Cavaliers looked very little like one in their opening game against Coastal Carolina, but they took control pretty fast in Sunday’s 78-60 win over No. 8 Memphis and never let go. Now they’€™re in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995 and will face No. 4 Michigan State.

The Cavs shot 56 percent against the Tigers and will need plenty of offense against a Spartans team that has gotten career highs in scoring from both Adriean Payne (41) and Branden Dawson (26) in the tournament.

But it’s Virginia — not traditional powers Duke and North Carolina or league newcomer Syracuse — that stands as the only ACC team still alive in the round of 16.

First-year coach Steve Alford has gotten mixed results this season, as the young Bruins transitioned from a grind-it-out defensive team under Ben Howland to a high-scoring unit that gets up and down the floor, but they certainly are firing on all cylinders in the postseason.

After upsetting Arizona to win the Pac-12 tourney and dispatching Tulsa in their NCAA opener, the No. 4 Bruins had no trouble in a 77-60 win over No. 12 Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. The Lumberjacks hadn’t lost since Nov. 23, a 29-game streak.

Alford has won as many NCAA tournament games in three days as the Bruins had in the previous five seasons combined. They have won five straight and seven of eight overall. They’€™ll get a rematch with Florida, which beat UCLA in the national championship game in 2006 and again in the national semifinals the following season. Florida defeated UCLA again in 2011 to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Zags have been to the tourney 16 straight times, but the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats made them look like scrubs in Sunday’€™s 84-61 victory.

The No. 8 Zags were impressive in ousting Oklahoma State in their opener. But they were hapless against the Wildcats, who forced a Gonzaga season high in turnovers (21), scored 31 points off them, leaped over them for dunks, blocked their shots and led by double digits most of the game.

"That Arizona team we saw tonight was as good a team as we have faced, that I can remember," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "It was just too much for us tonight."

The ‘Cats will face No. 4 San Diego State in the Sweet 16 on Friday and it will be interesting. It’s almost a “road” game in Anaheim.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.