The round of 16 has come and gone, and with it, the part of the NCAA tournament where we’re blessed with multiple games happening at the same time. But weep not, fellow hoop heads. The next two days and the three games that will follow those are all shaping up to be pretty stellar.
Before we get to that, let’s relive all of the best and worst from what wound up being a highly eventful Friday night of Sweet 16 play.
(1) Duke 75, (4) Virginia Tech 73 (East)
The march to the Elite Eight was supposed to be the easy part for Duke. Instead, the Blue Devils have struggled for a half with a 16-seed, and the been pushed to the final shot by both Central Florida and Virginia Tech.
The Hokies, who won the regular season meeting between these two in late February, executed Buzz Williams’ game plan to near perfection. They out-toughed Duke in the paint, they rode the offensive brilliance of Kerry Blackshear and Justin Robinson, and they forced the Blue Devils into shooting 6-of-20 from three (five of those coming from one surprising source, but more on that later).
In the end, Virginia Tech came up inches short of getting five extra minutes to take down the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
Also, Zion Williamson did a bunch of unreal stuff that furthered my suspicion that he might be an alien, but you already knew that. The unreal stuff, not the alien stuff. Maybe both.
Team That Won It Best
At some point in the last three weeks, Auburn transitioned out of nowhere from underachieving team destined for a first weekend exit, to the f—ing Playoff Warriors. The common thought heading into this weekend was that the Tigers would have to come back to earth at some point. Some point wasn’t Friday night.
Auburn rained 17 three-pointers on North Carolina and shot 54.5 percent from the field in a 97-80 thrashing of the top-seeded Tar Heels. The 17-point margin of victory was the largest ever by an SEC team over a No. 1 seed.
Just 18 months ago, Auburn was picked to finish ninth in the SEC and appeared to be on the verge of firing Bruce Pearl in the middle of the season. Now the Tigers are in the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history, and one win away from their first trip to the Final Four.
One piece of history that bodes well for Auburn: A regional final pitting a 2-seed against a 5-seed (which will be the case when the Tigers play Kentucky on Sunday) has only happened three times. The 5-seed has won all three of those games (Mississippi State over Cincinnati in 1996, Michigan State over Kentucky in 2005, and Butler over Kansas State in 2010).
A second piece of history that is less encouraging: Every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion, except for the 5-seed line. No. 5 seeds have made it to the national title game three times, but have never been able to be the last team standing.
I’d love to have the biggest disappointment come from a game other than the one we just discussed, but the Tar Heels being the first No. 1 seed to fall and doing so in an extremely graceless fashion make that impossible.
This was UNC’s most lopsided loss in the NCAA tournament since … well, since they lost to Texas A&M by 21 last season. So not that long ago. But it was still bad. Really bad.