The Sweet 16 wrapped up on Friday night with Texas Tech being the lone lower seed to get a win as the NCAA Tournament heads to the Elite Eight.
After the chaos that took over the NCAA Tournament in Thursday night’s Sweet 16 action, most of the top seeds were able to take care of business as the regional semifinals wrapped up on Friday night. The lone “upset” came in the East region (Boston) as (3) Texas Tech blew out (2) Purdue, 78-65, to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
The team that will be awaiting Texas Tech on Sunday (2:20 p.m ET, CBS) is the top seed, Villanova. It wasn’t easy for the Wildcats, but their second-half scoring surge against West Virginia was enough to get them back to the regional final with a 90-78 win. The Wildcats have now made 44 three-pointers in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest Region (Omaha), the top two seeds held serve as (1) Kansas was able to hang on to their big lead against (5) Clemson (80-76 win) and (2) Duke ended the upset run of (11) Syracuse with a close 69-65 victory. This sets up a matchup between two of the giants in the sport on Sunday (5:05 p.m, CBS).
Before the Elite Eight starts tonight with the underdog matchup of Loyola-Chicago vs. Kansas State (6:09 p.m, TBS), check out my takeaways from Friday night’s regional semifinals:
Kansas Able to Hold Off Late Clemson Rally
The Jayhawks were able to show why they are a force to be reckoned with Friday night in Omaha. While Clemson kept it close for the first part of the first half, the Jayhawks were eventually able to use their size down low and dominated for most of the game.
As Udoka Azubuike continues to get more minutes for Kansas coming off of his injury, he is starting to find his form. He had a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and made seven of his nine field goal attempts. He is 11-for-14 from the floor in the two games he’s played in during this NCAA Tournament.
The one thing that Duke should be worried about on Sunday is that Kansas is finding ways to win when Devonte’ Graham isn’t playing his best. Graham did finish with 16 points, but the Big 12 Player of the Year only made four of his 12 shot attempts and committed three turnovers.
Despite Graham not having his best game, Kansas got help from their other guards as Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick combined for 30 points and they were 7-for-13 from downtown. If the three of them can all click at the same time, look out.
While Clemson ended up getting the loss, give the Tigers credit for fighting back and making it a game at the end. The Jayhawks had a 20-point lead with 12:01 left, but Gabe DeVoe led the charge in helping Clemson come back with his game-high 31 points.
In the end, Kansas just built up too much of a margin for Clemson to complete the comeback. Now, Bill Self’s squad is in their third straight Elite Eight. Kansas lost in this round each of the last two seasons to Villanova and Oregon respectively. Will the third time be the charge for them on Sunday?
Villanova Casts A Spell On West Virginia
West Virginia’s press defense put a lot of pressure on Villanova throughout the night. The Wildcats had nine first-half turnovers and they had to battle early foul trouble to Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo.
With 11:08 left in the game, West Virginia had a six-point lead. After that point, Villanova kicked it into another gear and showed why their offense is one of the best in college basketball. Bridges and Jalen Brunson are names everyone know, but the nation got introduced to Omari Spellman on Friday night.
Spellman, who was the Big East Freshman of the Year, had 18 points (13 in the second half), eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and a pair of steals in the victory. He can dominate in the post and shoot from the outside as evident by his team-high four three-pointers. There was one point in the game where he made a great block on defense and turned it into a dunk at the other end:
DO WE HAVE TO SPELL-MAN OUT FOR YOU?!?!
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 24, 2018
Of course, Brunson had his first great game of the tournament as he had a game-high 27 points. During the first half, he went on a stretch where he had 11 consecutive points for Villanova. It is also the fourth time in the last five games where he has made at least three trifectas.
When Villanova is on their A game from the perimeter (13-for-24 from three-point range) and from the free throw line (23-for-27), it is very difficult to slow them down for the full 40 minutes. While West Virginia forced them to make mistakes, Daxter Miles Jr. picked up his fourth foul with 15:14 left and that ended up playing a big factor.
It wasn’t a great game for DiVincenzo as he had six turnovers off the bench. So, the fact that Villanova can shoot 50 percent as a team without getting a great game from their sixth man is a scary fact for ‘Nova’s opponent, Texas Tech, in Boston on Sunday.
Duke Uses Lobs To Take Care Of Syracuse
In the matchup of two teams that each play a 2-3 zone defense, points were going to be at a premium between these two ACC rivals. While Duke did not make their three-pointers (5-for-26 in the game), their duo down low of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., they handled their business in the paint.
Bagley III did not have a rebound in the first half, but he found a way to get to the free throw line and hit the short-range jump shot throughout the night. He finished with 22 points and seven rebounds. As for Carter Jr., he had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) and the two of them combined for ten offensive boards. The Orange’s defense was strong, but they left the baseline open for Duke to beat the zone over the top with some alley-oops.
As for Syracuse, they did shoot 49 percent from the floor and got 19 points out of Tyus Battle. However, the Orange only hit four three-pointers and they only got six points out of Frank Howard, which wasn’t enough. Plus, they did turn it over 16 times in the loss.
If Duke is going to get to San Antonio, they will need Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. to be more consistent form the outside and they are going to need more production from Trevon Duvall in terms of facilitating (two points, four assists). It was ugly, but the young Blue Devils squad found a way to get it done and that’s what matters in March.
Despite the loss, you have to tip your hat to Syracuse for the run they went on in this tournament since the First Four. For a team that plays only seven guys, to get to the Sweet 16 has to feel like a great accomplishment.
Red Raiders Roll On To Elite Eight
Texas Tech wasn’t a team that got a lot of attention throughout the season compared to the big giants in the sport, but the Red Raiders made an emphatic statement Friday night with a blowout win over Purdue. Keenan Evans did lead the team with 16 points, but the point guard only took eight shots (made three of them) and that was part of their balance.
Out of the Red Raiders’ 78 points, 33 of them came from the bench, including 14 points from Zach Smith in 24 minutes. In fact, it was Smith who took the most shot attempts (ten) of any player on Texas Tech. Since they dominated the bench scoring (33-6), it took a lot of pressure off of their starters to make big plays.
As for Purdue, Carsen Edwards did have a game-high 30 points, but it was his second foul late in the first half that helped Texas Tech get the lead for good. At the 3:27 mark, the Boilermakers led by five, but then the Red Raiders went on a 10-0 run to end the half and they did not look back.
With a defense that forced 17 turnovers tonight, Texas Tech will need stats similar to that on Sunday to stop Villanova. However, Chris Beard has his club playing with a lot of confidence and it should be a fun point guard matchup to watch between Evans and Brunson.
Meanwhile, on the Purdue side, you have to wonder how their NCAA Tournament would’ve been different if Isaac Haas was healthy (fractured elbow). Vincent Edwards did have ten points in the frontcourt, but he also had six turnovers. Plus, Dakota Mathias had his second single-digit point total of the tournament (three).
For a Purdue team that was filled with seniors, this is a tough way for them to end their season after the high expectations people had for them heading into March Madness.