After three long, dark, cold, lonely nights without any NCAA Tournament hoops, the sports world got its fix Thursday night. It wasn’t exactly Grade A stuff — all four higher seeds won and did so by double digits — but it got the job done. Or at least it set the stage for what should be a pair of sensational regional finals on Saturday.
There were some pretty lofty expectations set by the tournament’s opening weekend, and you can’t expect to take time off and then jump right back into things as if nothing ever changed. You’ve gotta dip that toe back in first.
Let’s relive all of Thursday’s toe-tipping — or do something that sounds significantly less inappropriate — right now.
(1) Kansas 79, (5) Maryland 63 (South)
The nod goes in this direction just because Kansas/Maryland gave us the best half of Thursday night. That’s how desperate we are.
Whenever we’re still speaking about a team in terms like “if they can ever realize their potential” or “they might actually have as much talent as anybody still playing” in mid or late March, it never works out well for that team. If a group hasn’t “realized its potential” by the second weekend of the Big Dance, it ain’t happening.
The result is a game that we all should have seen coming: Maryland looks like world-beaters for the opening 12 minutes, hangs in there up until halftime, but then Kansas — probably the most consistent team in the country since the calendar flipped to 2016 — wears them down and pulls away. We all gave the Terps more benefit of the doubt than any other team in college basketball. This is the ending we deserved.
TEAM THAT WON IT BEST
With the Wildcats desperately needing a win over Miami to shed the “can’t get it done in March” stigma that has annoyed everyone in ‘Nova Nation so much, all they did was give the best overall offensive performance of the entire 2015-16 season.
That’s not hyperbole or opinion either.
1.60 points per possession for Villanova. The best offensive game for any team the ENTIRE SEASON
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 25, 2016
For the record Villanova just scored 92 points in the second-slowest game of the tournament so far. That’ll do.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 25, 2016
That’s … that’s pretty good.
Villanova’s issue at the beginning of the season was that it refused to stop taking outside shots even though it was, statistically, the worst three-point shooting team that Jay Wright had coached in some time. That is no longer the case.
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) March 25, 2016
I was tempted to pull a DiCaprio/Scorsese here and give Maryland the honor as sort of a reward for its season-long disappointment since there multiple candidates that all sort of looked the same Thursday. Instead, we’ll do the right thing and go with Texas A&M, which took the gift of a historic Northern Iowa collapse and did absolutely nothing with it aside from show up in Anaheim.
After a close opening 10 minutes, Oklahoma blew open the door by ending the first half on a 30-8 run that demoralized Texas A&M. The Aggies were beaten handily despite OU getting only 17 points from Buddy Hield. A&M finished just 6 of 28 from beyond the arc, and 13 of 24 from the free-throw line.
ALL-SWEET 16 THURSDAY TEAM
Perry Ellis, Kansas
In a game loaded with next-level talent, the Jayhawks’ “ole reliable” was the best player on the floor. Ellis scored a game-high 27 points, the most by any Kansas player in the NCAA Tournament since Sherron Collins in 2009, to lead KU into to the Elite Eight.
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Jenkins has been sensational for the past five weeks, a trend which continued on Thursday night when he scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists to lead ‘Nova’s romp over Miami. The junior forward was 8 of 10 from the field, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Brandon Ingram, Duke
In what will almost certainly be his final collegiate performance, the Duke freshman went out with 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Devils’ loss to Oregon.
Sheldon McClellan, Miami
McClellan was the only Hurricane player who didn’t appear overwhelmed by the moment Thursday night, finishing with a game-high 26 points.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
The Ducks star led his team’s offensive onslaught against Duke, scoring 22 points to go with six assists and five boards.
THREE THURSDAY CHEERS
1. Puddles the Duck continuing to make mischief
Last Sunday it was trolling the Saint Joseph’s Hawk. Sunday night it was taking a perfectly timed selfie with Kobe Bryant.
— The Oregon Duck (@TheOregonDuck) March 25, 2016
It’s a really good thing that Kobe ended up making the picture, because without him it is just straight up Puddles nightmare fuel.
2. The most hypnotic vine of the tournament coming out of Kansas/Maryland
This was the play of the night:
I’ve watched it about 50 times and I still have no idea how it doesn’t go down, which pretty much makes it the perfect embodiment of Maryland’s evening/season.
3. Kobe Bryant and Buddy Hield spending some QT together in Anaheim
Kobe was there to watch Coach K and Duke, but it was very cool to see him take some time to have a conversation with the potential player of the year in college hoops.
— Liz Habib (@LizHabib) March 25, 2016
BONUS CHEER: Lon Kruger
The Oklahoma front man is now just the sixth coach to take three different teams to the Elite Eight. Kruger is the only coach in the history of Division I to lead five different programs to wins in the NCAA Tournament.
THREE THURSDAY JEERS
1. The lack of anything resembling a competitive game
We’re being pretty cool about it for now, but if going through that doesn’t produce a pair of classic regional finals on Saturday, then we’re not going to be nearly as understanding.
2. This technical foul on Jake Layman
If Layman doesn’t hang onto the rim here, he lands directly on his back and probably breaks something.
It was a dumb rule when it was put into effect, and it’s still a dumb rule however many years later.
It’s also worth noting that Layman clearly double-dribbled at midcourt the moment before this Vine starts, which means the officials screwed this up twice.
3. Whatever happened between Coach K and Dillon Brooks after the Oregon-Duke game
After Oregon star Dillon Brooks hit an unnecessary shot in closing seconds of his team’s win over Duke, cameras appeared to catch Mike Krzyzewski lecturing him about the move in the postgame handshake line, a criticism to which Brooks responded “my bad.”
Brooks was asked about the interaction in his postgame presser and confirmed that this what did, in fact, take place.
“He told me I’m too good of a player to be showing off at the end and he’s right,” Brooks said. “I have respect for Duke and I’ve got to respect them. I have to learn from those things. At the same time, that’s my fire, that’s my passion. I’m going to take in what he said and keep doing me.”
Krzyzewski, however, denied that anything along those lines took place.
“I didn’t say that,” saod Coach K “You can say whatever you want. Dillon Brooks is a hell of a player. I said, ‘You’re a terrific player.’ And you can take whatever he said and then go with it, all right?”
I’m not sure why Brooks would lie about something like that, especially when the footage of the interaction appears to back up what he’s saying, but whatever.
No technical for Jake Layman on this one.
THREE NOTABLE THURSDAY QUOTES
1. “I think we don’t have a history of being a basketball school, but I think we did some great things this year to prove we deserve it. I think we played one of our best games this year. Everybody, not just including me. I think we showed everybody we’re a good team.” –Oregon’s Jordan Bell
2. “If any team is shooting the way we’re shooting right now, they’ll easily be the most dangerous team in the country. But hopefully, we’ll keep shooting like that, so we can keep playing the way we are.” –Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu
3. “Did you know I signed a contract already?” –Wisconsin coach Greg Gard when asked if he thought he deserved to keep his job after this season
YOUR FRIDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
We started with 351, now just 12 remain. Let’s hit it.
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March Madness: Does 7-seed Wisconsin qualify as a Cinderella story?
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