For the first time in eight NCAA Tournaments, a night of Sweet 16 games featured every game being decided by double digits.
The last time this happened was 2008, which was also the one and only time all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. Will history repeat itself? We have to wait three more nights to find out. On Thursday, the higher-seeded teams proved why they were the higher-seeded teams. Kansas, Villanova, Oregon and Oklahoma looked extremely impressive, well-prepared, and really, Final Four-worthy. Two of those four will not break through to Houston, but no matter what happens Saturday, their seasons will have been a success.
Someone’s gotta lose. Or, in this case, two teams will. We should get a tremendous doubleheader to make up for the chalky outcomes on Thursday.
Let’s take a quick look at what went down on Thursday night.
1. Oregon has no issues with Duke … until the end of the game.
Yeah, so this Grayson Allen/Dillon Brooks encounter has become the story of Oregon’s victory over Duke. All involved parties chimed in on it, and really, it’s much ado about nothing, I think. But it’s Duke and it’s Grayson, so of course it’s going to get play. And when Coach K is chiming in and telling Brooks what he did wrong, yeah, you’re going to get some reaction.
Was Brooks in the wrong to shoot that 3 in a blowout and then try to get Allen to embrace on the floor? Yes. Don’t fault Allen for not wanting any of that as he walked off the floor in what might be his last college game.
As for the game, what a big-time show job by Dana Altman’s team. This group caught some flak — and so did the selection committee — when it landed that No. 1 seed. But I was on board with Oregon as a 1 as soon as it rolled to a Pac-12 conference title. The Ducks have proved themselves as a rightful top seed. They were in the hole deep and late against Saint Joseph’s on Sunday, but rallied and pretty much did what they wanted against Duke.
Brooks, who had 22 points, said to Allie LaForce afterward, “We’ve been underrated the whole season.”
Underrated no more.
Oregon reaches its first regional final since 2007 and sets a school record for most wins in a season (31) in the process.
Now isn’t this neat: Oregon gets Oklahoma on Saturday, and it’s Oregon’s latest chance to make its first Final Four since 1939, when the Ducks won the first NCAA Tournament title in history. What team did Oregon beat to win the crown? Yep: Oklahoma.
2. Duke did not have a disappointing season at all, and we’ll miss you at the college level, Brandon Ingram.
Duke losing in the NCAA Tournament is like a semi-annual national holiday for the Blue Devils haters out there, so they’ll enjoy this. But really, here’s the situation: Duke won a national title last year, and at worst, it will be the No. 2 preseason team next season.
This was the connecting year between two great seasons for Duke. Going 25-11, earning a No. 4 seed and losing in the Sweet 16? That’s fine. Mike Krzyzewski — who had Kobe on hand to cheer on the Devils on Thursday — is still winless when getting placed in the West Region, which is a relatively strange trend.
As for Ingram, the freshman, he likely finished his Duke career by scoring a game-high 24 points in addition to grabbing five boards and a pair of steals. He was a rare kind of quiet, non-hated Duke star. He’s going to be a terrific NBA player and is essentially a lock to be a top-two pick in June.
Meantime, Grayson Allen had a thing with Brooks at the end of the game that will become a story. Both players were asked about this afterward.
Dillon Brooks said Coach K told him in handshake line, “I’m too good of a player to be showing off at the end.” Brooks: “He’s right.”
— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 25, 2016
Grayson Allen said he had no problem with Brooks’ late 3, guys showing emotion. “When you’re winning, you can do stuff like that.”
— Laura Keeley (@laurakeeley) March 25, 2016
And the Internet did its thing with Sad M.J. — though I do appreciate the creativity here by tossing in Ted Cruz.
— Anthony Harp (@AnthonyHarp) March 25, 2016
3. Lon Kruger achieved something amazing Thursday.
He joined these coaches as the only men in Division I basketball history to take three teams to the Elite Eight: Gene Bartow, Rick Pitino, Bill Self and Eddie Sutton. Kruger is considered, within the business, to be one of the best. And certainly one of the nicest guys. He has had a great career, and this is the season where it looks like we’ll all stop to take notice of just how much he has achieved.
Oklahoma had no problems with Texas A&M, which was to be expected. Not so expected? The way Buddy Hield got to play more dynamic role player than counted-on superstar. Save him up for the Oregon game, then.
Speaking of Self, he reached his eighth Elite Eight game with Kansas taking care of Maryland. It was an interesting first half, but then KU outscored Maryland by 14 after the break. Basically, yeah, this.
This sums up Maryland/Kansas pretty well… pic.twitter.com/ahmMmOP30Q
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) March 25, 2016
Also, Perry Ellis had a game-high 27 points, which put him No. 8 all time on Kansas’ scoring list — passing Paul Pierce in the process.
4. Villanova is looking basically unstoppable.
Plenty of context to that statement here, but let me add this: Villanova has only trailed for 75 seconds this tournament! Yes, Oregon, Kansas and Oklahoma looked very good Thursday, but Nova looked the best.
The Wildcats will certainly have their hands full with Kansas. Either Self gets back to a third Final Four, or Villanova completely atones for its past two tournament failures. In reality, Nova kinda already has done that with the way it has played through the first three rounds.
Kansas, meantime, in victory. What’s up, Wayne Selden?
SQUAD. #Elite8 pic.twitter.com/w4Oqav0iaz
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) March 25, 2016
(H/T to @goldenmonkey for the assist on the Nova stat above.)
5. Thursday’s games being just OK means we’re going to be in for a good Friday.
It has to work that way. Think of the first weekend. The first day was OK, then Friday got nuts. So we’ll have Virginia-Iowa State, Notre Dame-Wisconsin, Syracuse-Gonzaga and North Carolina-Indiana to give us plenty to talk about heading into Saturday.
In truth, the Elite Eight is the more reliable round in the NCAAs than the Sweet 16. Don’t believe me? Wait until you see what we have coming Friday in regard to the Elite Eight and how good it has been.
Hey, it just feels great to have the tourney back. Three more days of this, and then the long, five-day wait for the Final Four.
Until Friday’s games begin, watch this Vine like 50 times and let it frustrate you as much as it does me. FALL IN THE HOOP, BALL.
For more March Madness tune in to The Price is Right Friday on CBS for College Rivals Episode. You can see the teams involved by checking out the bracket here.