Eventually, an NCAA Tournament bracket begins to correct itself. Sunday’s underwhelming Sweet 16 games are proving that theory to be correct. Two more one-seeds advanced to the Elite Eight and two “Cinderellas” continued their stories.
Sunday’s Sweet 16 Games Were Underwhelming
The key to staying alive in a bracket pool is not picking upsets; it’s predicting the Elite Eight and Final Four. Then, of course, selecting the eventual champion. Gonzaga was picked to win the championship in 38.82% of brackets, and that’s looking to be a very smart choice.
(1) Gonzaga 83, (5) Creighton 65
The question may not be will Gonzaga win the championship, but rather will there be a competitive game along the way. If compared to the famed 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, the last team to have an undefeated season and win a national title, the Bulldogs’ point differential is better so far. In the Hoosiers’ five tournament games, their margin of victory was 13.2 points. As of right now, Gonzaga is winning games by 25.7.
Creighton played the Bulldogs close for part of the first half, getting within two points. Gonzaga then finished the half on a 16-6 run. The second half was only more of the same. The Bulldogs had four players in double-figures, led by Drew Timme with 22 points. More impressively, all starters had at least one assist and four or more rebounds. Gonzaga even turned the ball over 16 times and still won by 18. The key to Gonzaga’s game is balance and efficiency. Yes, they had 16 turnovers, but also had 23 assists and out-rebounded the Blue Jays by nine.
I believe the “weak conference” argument has run its course. Here’s a fun stat: Gonzaga has only won one game by single digits this season.
(1) Michigan 76, Florida State 58
Florida State had a 4-2 lead in this game at one point. That’s about the most positive thing you can say about the Seminoles’ performance. The game was controlled by Michigan, and the Wolverines are playing with an unwarranted chip on their shoulder. After Isaiah Livers went down with an injury, the team was casted with immediate uncertainty. Also, due to the struggles of the Big Ten, Florida State winning this matchup was a juicy pick. Soon into the first half, basketball fans were just hoping it would be somewhat of a close game.
Michigan forced 14 turnovers and held the Seminoles to 40% shooting, including a dismal 25% from long range. One key stat is that the Wolverines only committed 10 fouls. They are playing very smart basketball and are proving why there shouldn’t have been any doubt about their strength and confidence. Chaundee Brown was once again a key contributor with 12 points off the bench. The senior guard has stepped up tremendously since Livers’ injury. Franz Wagner added 13 points and 10 rebounds against the heralded bigs of the Seminoles, and Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. both had 13 points.
The Wolverines are quieting doubters and redeeming the Big Ten’s name.
(11) UCLA 88, (2) Alabama 78
The Crimson Tide had to stop rolling at some point. Nate Oats is a great coach and Alabama had a wonderful season. However, with their style of play, they are susceptible to defeat on any given night. The Tide’s defense certainly became part of their identity during the season, and it’s what kept them in this game. Shooting 25% from beyond the arc and 44% from the free throw line isn’t going to beat anyone—especially a good Bruins’ squad.
At least we were given an entertaining contest—the only one of the night (spoiler alert for the last recap). UCLA played great defense and Mick Cronin developed a good game plan against a potent Alabama offense. The Bruins forced 14 turnovers and held the Tide to 43.5% shooting overall. One of the key moments of the game came in the first minute when Alabama’s All-American Herbert Jones committed his second foul. Yet, the game still reached overtime on a glorious buzzer-beating three by the Tide’s Alex Reese. If was all for naught, however, for UCLA dominated the extra period. The Bruins outscored Alabama 23-13 in overtime.
Each UCLA starter was in double-digits, led by Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard who both had 17. They were a combined 6-16 from 3-point range, including some very clutch shots. Tyger Campbell played fantastic as a game manager and facilitator, and UCLA made Alabama work every possession on both sides of the ball.
The Pac-12 has been the surprise conference this NCAA Tournament and they now make up almost half the Elite Eight (spoiler alert, again).
(6) USC 82, (7) Oregon 68
Another snoozer, but many were probably already in bed before this one ended. USC handily won the only regular-season conference meeting between the two squads, 72-58. This game was more of the same. Oregon came out fast, but the momentum shifted in the Trojans’ favor about midway through the first half. Around the 11-minute mark, USC went on a 25-9 run into the break. Good thing; it was Sunday night and some people had work the next morning. Mondays, am I right?
Statistically, USC shouldn’t have won this game if you just read the box score in the paper this morning. The Ducks had 16 offensive rebounds, made 91.7% of their free throws, forced 13 Trojan turnovers, and had more assists. They did, however, shoot 37.7% from the field and only made 5-of-21 3-pointers. On the other side of the court, USC shot 58.8% from deep, 57.4% overall. That will do it.
Evan Mobley posted 10 points and eight rebounds, and his older brother, Isaiah Mobley added 13 and six. The younger Mobley also had six assists—the youngest sibling always learns to share the best. USC could put a scare into Gonzaga. They may lose by single-digits on Tuesday.
A Seesaw of Sweet 16 Games
Saturday showed us some excitement; Sunday was just kind of background noise while you did chores around the house. What we learned is how we should start defining “Cinderella.” Oregon State, UCLA, and USC are not Cinderella teams. They are good programs seeded too low. Is the committee just forcing upsets by this point? They are taking away bids from mid-majors, giving them poor matchups, and just slotting Power-5 schools into low seeds to create some sort of corporate dystopian fairy tale. For example, how many times is Jim Boeheim going to prove Syracuse is not an 11-seed?
Yet, it’s still exciting–sometimes.
Three one-seeds remain and expect all three to advance, and then the two-seed Houston to join them. See, it all balances out in the end—that’s where the most bracket points are earned anyway.
Elite Eight Schedule
(12) Oregon State vs. (2) Houston: Monday, March 29- 7:15 p.m. ET
(3) Arkansas vs. (1) Baylor: Monday, March 29- 9:57 p.m. ET
(6) USC vs. (1) Gonzaga: Tuesday, March 30- 7:15 p.m. ET
(11) UCLA vs. (1) Michigan: Tuesday, March 30- 9:57 p.m. ET
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