The Elite Eight always delivers.
If what played out on Saturday night in Louisville winds up being the best game of the final three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, then we’re living just fine.
Because Kansas and Villanova just delivered a terrific — and controversial — Elite Eight game, a quintessential regional final. Villanova, a program that failed to reach the Sweet 16 the past two seasons despite earning a No. 1 and No. 2 seed, has finally broken through to college basketball’s ultimate weekend.
The Wildcats won a dramatic affair over No. 1 Kansas, and so Jay Wright will be coaching the Wildcats in the Final Four for the first time since 2009. It’s the fourth Final Four trip, officially, in program history. The team’s first trip came in 1971 — when they went to Houston. Where will VU play next weekend? Houston.
Villanova headed to #FinalFour for first time since 2009! https://t.co/beEE2sNzie
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 27, 2016
The Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 64-59, but the game was not void of drama late. A controversial (to say the least) fifth foul call on KU’s Devonte Graham (game-high 17 points) came when he went diving for a loose ball, but was called for obstructing Villanova junior Josh Hart.
Here’s one angle.
Diving for the ball is now a foul in the NCAA pic.twitter.com/anHlY3x94P
— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) March 27, 2016
[MORE: The 15 best Elite Eight epics since the turn of the century]
KU was hampered by foul trouble — Graham picked up his fourth foul with 5:18 to go — and also didn’t get a great game out of normally reliable senior Perry Ellis, who played the final game of his college career with four points and four turnovers.
Hart, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono each led Nova with 13 points apiece. Nova overcame 40-percent shooting by going 18 of 19 from the foul line. Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, becomes the 10th such team in the 13 tournaments since the NCAA began ranking the 1 seeds to fail to win the NCAA Tournament.
KU got nothing from its bench (as in, no player who didn’t start scored) and was harassed and altered by Villanova’s defense all night. Quite a script-flip by Nova, which was so good on offense this year and had been amazing through the first three rounds of this tournament with the ball. But it gets to the Final Four the old Big East way, with defense.
And yes, this Nova trip to the national semifinals puts a Big East team into the Final Four for the first time since conference realignment forced that league to move to 10 teams in 2013. It’s a huge day for the league, and Villanova being the flagship program, it’s a fitting first participant in a new era.
Villanova has now won 95 games across the past three seasons — the most in college basketball. They have been for real for a long time now, but if it took a Final Four to convince everyone, then here we have it. The critics are all gone now. The redemption tour rolls on, but this basically completes all that needed to be atoned for.
The left side of the bracket will feature two No. 2s playing in the national semifinals on Saturday, as Villanova will play Oklahoma.
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