The NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 is set, and it’s a college basketball dream. Just two teams from outside the NCAA’s power conferences survived the tournament’s first weekend, and that includes top-seeded Gonzaga, a heavyweight in its own right. Here are five takeaways to get you ready for another week of madness.
• Chalk talk: All top three seeds advance, with two No. 4 seeds and a No. 5 joining them. The power conferences will be well represented among the final 16: ACC (5 teams), SEC (4), Big Ten (3), Big 12 (1) and Pac-12 (1).
• No. 12 seed Oregon, which played in a Final Four as recently as 2017, is your Cinderella. The Ducks made it into the tournament by winning the Pac-12. Up next: a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 Virginia. We’re also still waiting for our first buzzer-beating, game-winning, Madness-defining shot. Not your typical March.
• Duke’s Zion Williamson has been as good as advertised, but his Blue Devils, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, were fortunate to survive No. 9 Central Florida in the round of 32.
• It’s not just Williamson. The tournament’s standout individual performers have included Purdue’s Carsen Edwards (68 points on 13-for-28 shooting from three), Murray State’s Ja Morant (45 points, 20 assists, 16 rebounds), UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins (46 points), Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver (55 points) and Houston’s Corey Davis Jr. (47 points).
• Duke still has some work to do to reach the Final Four, with a matchup against ACC rival Virginia Tech, which beat the Blue Devils last month, followed by a date with either No. 2 Michigan State or No. 3 LSU. Those games will be held next weekend in Washington.
Sweet 16 schedule
Anaheim, Calif. (West Region)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State, 7:09 p.m., CBS
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas Tech, 9:39 p.m., CBS
Louisville (South Region)
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue, 7:29 p.m., TBS
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 12 Oregon, 9:59 p.m., TBS
Washington, D.C. (East Region)
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU, 7:09 p.m., CBS
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech, 9:39 p.m., CBS
Kansas City, Mo. (Midwest Region)
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn, 7:29 p.m., TBS
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston, 9:59 p.m., TBS
‘We end in tears’
The term “heartbreaking loss” gets thrown around a fair amount, but it more than applies to Central Florida, which saw a potentially game-winning tip-in roll around the rim and out, denying the school a monumental upset of top-seeded Duke.
After the game, UCF Coach Johnny Dawkins — a former star at Duke who helped lead the Blue Devils to the 1986 national championship game, only to lose to Louisville — spoke with his openly weeping players. Struggling to contain his own emotions, Dawkins told the Knights of how proud he was of them.
“Look, we always said its going to end in two ways, when you invest like we invested: we’re going to end celebrating or we’re going to end crying,” Dawkins said. “We end in tears. That’s because we invested so much in each other, so much in what we were doing.”
This year’s installment of the tournament may have been short, at least so far, on buzzer-beating shots and stunning ousters of powerhouse teams, but it hasn’t lacked for emotion, most notably on the part of UCF. As Dawkins noted, at some point the Knights will look back on their tourney run with a little less agony, particularly after they realize they helped provide a contest that may well go down as March’s most riveting.
Oregon is our Cinderella?
UC Irvine would have made for a true Cinderella in this year’s tournament, but Oregon will just have to do. The 12th-seeded Ducks swallowed up the 13th-seeded Anteaters with a 38-17 run to end the game, and Oregon became the only double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet 16.
In fact, only two teams not seeded one through four — i.e., expected to get exactly this far — have broken through, and one of them is No. 5 Auburn, hardly a fit for the glass slipper. So we’re left with the Ducks, who won the Pac-12 tournament and were in the Final Four just two years ago, as the closest thing to an upstart in a tournament that has taken an oh-so-chalky turn.
Payton Pritchard led the Ducks with 18 points while teammate Kenny Wooten was his usual terror on the defensive end, blocking seven UC Irvine shots to go with 11 points and eight rebounds. Robert Cartwright was the Anteaters’ top scorer with 14, but he hit just 5 of 14 shots, and the normally sharpshooting backcourt of Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard combined to go 3 of 12 from three-point range.
UC Irvine was coming off its first NCAA tournament win, a rousing ouster of Kansas State. A second straight triumph over a power-conference team by the Big West champions — and confirmation of fairy-tale status — was not to be, however.
Houston advances for first time since Phi Slama Jama team
The last time Houston played a Big Ten team, it lost in the second round of last year’s tournament. Faced with a similar task Sunday but a different opponent from that conference, Ohio State instead of Michigan, the Cougars took care of business, reaching the Sweet 16 with a 74-59 win.
The victory was the 33rd for Houston this season, setting a program record. In addition, the school made it past the second round of the tournament for the first time since 1984, when the “Phi Slama Jama” squad led by Hakeem Olajuwon lost its second straight national championship game.
Just as he had done in an easy opening-round win over Georgia State, Corey Davis Jr. led the No. 3 Cougars in scoring with 21 points. This victory was a bit more tense, though, as the No. 11 Buckeyes hung around until Houston began to build a relatively comfortable lead with under nine minutes to go.
C.J. Jackson was OSU's top scorer with 18 points, while star big man Kaleb Wesson contributed 15. As is its wont, Houston spread the scoring around, with five players scoring at least nine points.
The Buckeyes saw their tight first-round win over Iowa State as vindication for having been selected to the tournament despite having an 8-12 record in the Big Ten and going 3-7 down the stretch. The Cougars are hoping a magical season, featuring just three losses thus far, continues with a win in the next round over No. 2 Kentucky.
Virginia joins fellow No. 1 seeds on the tournament’s second weekend
The connection between Virginia and the number 16 is finally a happy one, as the school’s win Sunday has them moving on to that coveted round of the NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers, who last year became the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 seed and got a scare on Friday from similarly 16th-seeded Gardner Webb, used their stifling defense to dispatch No. 9 Oklahoma, 63-51.
The Sooners were coming off a 95-point performance in a win Friday over Mississippi, but they struggled to score more than half those points against Virginia. The game might have gotten away more quickly from Oklahoma, which shot 35.5 percent from the field — after hitting 57.6 percent of its shots versus Ole Miss — but the Cavs made just 7 of their 24 three-point attempts.
Virginia led the nation by a wide margin in scoring defense, so perhaps its effort Sunday could have been expected. However, the school earned so much notoriety from its 2018 first-round loss to UMBC that it entered this tournament with a something to prove. Now, with an Elite Eight berth at stake, the Cavs get a guaranteed matchup with a double-digit seed, as their next opponent will either be No. 12 Oregon or No. 13 UC Irvine.
Mamadi Diakite led the Cavs Sunday with a game-high 14 points and nine rebounds, while teammates Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter added 12 and 10 points, respectively. Brady Manek and Christian James paced the Sooners with 13 points apiece.
Virginia Tech returning to Sweet 16 for first time since 1967
Virginia Tech began its season with an exhibition win over Liberty. On Sunday, the stakes were far, far higher but the result was the same: a Hokies win over their fellow southern Virginia school.
The one big man in Virginia Tech’s guard-heavy lineup, Kerry Blackshear Jr,. scored a game-high 19 points as his team overcame a narrow halftime deficit, much as it did in the first meeting. Caleb Homesley, 12th-seeded Liberty’s hero as it upset Mississippi State in the first round, shot just 3 of 11 en route to eight points, while Darius McGhee came off the bench to lead the Flames with 15 points.
The Hokies set a program record with their 26th win, and Coach Buzz Williams got his 100th victory in five seasons at the school. Virginia Tech got past the second round of the NCAA tournament for only the second time in its history, with the first coming in 1967.
Justin Robinson, the Hokies’ all-time assists leader who recovered from a foot injury in time to play limited minutes in their first-round win over Saint Louis, again played in a reserve role but was a major factor with 13 points, four assists and two steals. Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw also scored in double figures for Virginia Tech.
The fourth-seeded Hokies will now have another date with a familiar opponent in ACC rival Duke, the East’s top seed which barely survived against Central Florida. In a game against the Blue Devils on Feb. 26, Virginia Tech won, 77-72.
Duke survives and advances
UCF almost pulled off a monumental, bracket-busting win, but a last-second tip-in rolled around the rim and fell away. Moments before that, Duke had taken the final lead it needed when R.J. Barrett grabbed a rebound and scored off fellow freshman star Zion Williamson's miss of a free-throw attempt.
Williamson was at the line after making a layup while getting a fifth foul UCF's Tacko Fall, which forced the 7-6 center out of the game. His ability to simply reach over opponents and pluck stray balls, or block shot attempts, was sorely missed on the ensuing play, but as it happened, UCF was almost able to convert a key offensive rebound of its own.
Almost, but not quite, agonizingly so. Duke moves on to the Sweet 16 matchup, meaning that college basketball fans get more WIlliamson, the presumptive No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft who lived up to the billing Sunday with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists.
UCF was led by 32 points from Aubrey Dawkins, the son of his head coach and former Duke star Johnny Dawkins. Krzyzewski said he felt “bad” for the elder Dawkins and described his son as “magnificent.”
Krzyzewski, who will coach in his 25th Sweet 16 at Duke on Friday, said postgame that his squad got “lucky” and that the Knights were “deserving of winning.” Here’s hoping that UCF can take some solace in that message, because more than a few of the school’s players and fans will be walking away with some very painful memories.
Texas Tech is moving on
Buffalo came into its matchup with Texas Tech on a 13-game winning streak and averaging over 85 points per game. It was all the Bulls could do, though to reach 58 points against a stingy Red Raiders defense, which proved superior in a 20-point win.
Texas Tech, which was fourth in the nation in scoring defense this season, held a second straight opponent in the NCAA tournament to under 60 points, following a 72-57 win over Northern Kentucky in the opening round. Red Raiders star Jarrett Culver, the Big 12 player of the year, led his team with 16 points, albeit on 6-of-17 shooting.
Nick Perkins paced all scorers with 17 points, but while he shot 7 of 11 from the field, his teammates combined to go just 12 of 40. The Bulls started the game slowly before managing to take a 25-24 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half, but after that it was all Texas Tech, which built a 29-point lead midway through the second half.
Tar Heels take early lead and never look back
There were negatives, like 10 turnovers in the first half, but those blemishes couldn’t detract from what No. 1 seed North Carolina accomplished with its methodical 81-59 victory over ninth-seeded Washington.
For Roy Williams, the trip to the Sweet 16 is the 19th of his career, the 10th since he came to North Carolina. He got there this time with Luke Maye and Nassir Little each scoring 20 points, while Cody White had 17 and Cameron Johnson 13.
The Tar Heels lost Garrison Brooks for a time midway through the first half when he took an elbow to the chin. He lost a tooth, another was broken and after receiving stitches, he was back on the bench when the second half began. (Box score)
Tennessee wins in overtime
There was a lot for Tennessee to take away from its 83-77 overtime victory over Iowa -- mostly what not to do.
The Volunteers came out running, jumping to a 25-point lead but then, with fouls and carelessness, they watched as Iowa got back into the game, bidding to become only the second team to rally from a 25-point deficit for a victory with a spirited 52-25 run.
The Hawkeyes were fierce down the stretch, tying the score at 71 on two free throws by Joe Weiskamp with 20.8 seconds left, and Tennessee couldn’t get off a game-winner in regulation. In overtime, Grant Williams led the way for Tennessee (31-5) with six of his 19 points.
The Volunteers set a program record for victories in a season.
Iowa (23-13), down 21 points at the half, seemed game to get back into this one, opening the second half with a 16-6 run, fueled in part by Tyler Cook, and going on another 12-2 spurt midway through the half. Helped by a phantom call on Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bohannon’s three free throws tied the score at 67 with 2:37 left. (The verdict on the call from CBS’s Gene Steratore: “I think they’ll like to have that one back” when officials see a replay.)
But it took a lot to counter the hot start by Tennessee, who dominated Iowa all across the box score in the first half and once led by 25. The Volunteers, who made their first three three-pointers, were led by Admiral Schofield’s 17 points (nine on three-pointers) and five rebounds.
Charles Barkley perhaps summed this one up best. With a huge lead like Tennessee had, just let the shot clock expire when the other team has the ball. The Volts have to play smarter. (Box score)
Frank Garza is the day’s first big star
CBS had Frank Garza, father of Iowa’s Luka wearing a mic and it was some of the best stuff the tournament has produced all day, including the catchphrase, “You gotta let the peacock fly.” (Read more: Take it from Lefty Dreisell, Luka Garza is a rising star.)
Ja Morant makes a new fan on his way out
Ja Morant, Murray State’s standout guard, could have made a quick exit after the Racers’ loss to Florida State on Saturday in Hartford, Conn., but instead he took a moment to return to the floor. Why on earth would he do that? He gave his shoes to a young Purdue fan named Nash, who was ready for the next game between the Boilermakers and VIilanova. Morant stayed to autograph the sneakers and pose for a photo.
- No. 2 Tennessee 83, No. 10 Iowa 77 (OT)
- No. 1 North Carolina 81, No. 9 Washington 59
- No. 1 Duke 77, No. 9 Central Florida 76
- No. 3 Texas Tech 78, No. 6 Buffalo 58
- No. 4 Virginia Tech 67, No. 12 Liberty 58
- No. 1 Virginia 63, No. 9 Oklahoma 51
- No. 3 Houston 74, No. 11 Ohio State 59
- No. 12 Oregon 73, No. 13 UC Irvine 54
Tournament news and notes
The luckiest man in basketball is a 50-year-old real estate agent, writes Post columnist Jerry Brewer. Ricky Taylor may be the only person on the planet who coached both leading men of March — Zion Williamson and Ja Morant — before their names meant something, but these houses aren’t going to buy and sell themselves. (Read more)
The Zags are in their fifth straight Sweet 16, a remarkable achievement. (Read more)
Barnes, who will turn 65 this summer, isn’t at his first rodeo, writes Post columnist John Feinstein. This is Barnes’s 32nd season as a head coach. The only one of the five schools he has coached that didn’t make the NCAA tournament is George Mason, where he went 20-10 in 1987-88, his only season in Fairfax County. Since then he has taken Providence to the tournament three times, Clemson three times, Texas 16 times and Tennessee twice. And this time, his volunteers are a powerhouse. (Read more)
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter are Virginia’s big three. But reserve Mamadi Diakite, who had 17 points and a career-high nine rebounds in the first round, stands out with his power, plus his hair. (Read more)
Maryland’s Jalen Smith is 6-foot-10, every bit of it. And after the final 30 seconds of Maryland’s season-ending loss to LSU, he was a puddle, writes Post columnist Barry Svrluga. He made a shot. He couldn’t stop a game-winning drive. The former nearly made him a hero. The latter, well, it left him not only bawling on the court, but falling on the sword afterward. (Read more)
A North Carolina-Duke tournament matchup? Three No. 1 seeds ousted before the Sweet 16? A team lower than a No. 11 seed in the Final Four? Here are the odds. (Read more)