It really is wide open, isn’t it?
Yes, top seeds Alabama and Houston are still in it and will be favored (thought it’s tough to say how much Houston will be favored given how banged up the Cougars are). But in a season in which there was no real consistent standout or even separation between a handful of top teams and everyone else, the NCAA Tournament has delivered just like we thought it would.
We’re through the most fun part of the tournament, which is a bit of a bummer. Nothing beats the first weekend, when everyone’s juggling multiple screens and multiple brackets, living and dying with each basket. But the basketball (theoretically) gets better now, which will be a welcome change from some ugly viewing the last four days. Please, someone, shoot better than 45% the rest of the way. We, the viewers and fans, deserve it!
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There were quite a few winners Sunday — eight, to be exact. Read on for a list of which ones we highlighted and why.
Xavier and its coach are both back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017, though when Sean Miller last coached in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament it was with Arizona.
This has been a redemption season of sorts for Miller, whose public fall from grace at Arizona following the FBI pay-for-play scandal and a lack of Final Four appearances made some wonder if he’d be able to come back to college hoops. But it’s going well in his first season in his second stint at Xavier (Miller went 57-23 there from 2004-09), and a trip to the Elite 8 would make it even sweeter.
Picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason poll, Kansas State has done nothing but surprise people this year — including Kentucky, who fell to the K-State Wildcats, 75-69, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Kansas State finished tied for third in the Big 12, the nation’s toughest conference, and being battle-tested has proven to pay off. KSU found a way to win Sunday despite being outrebounded 44-25. Turning the ball over just eight times, scoring 20 fast break points and grabbing 11 steals probably had something to do with it.
Sunday’s win was just the latest accomplishment for first-year coach Jerome Tang, the Big 12 coach of the year who brought in 13 (13!) newcomers before the season.
“Mr. March,” as he is aptly nicknamed, did it again, as 7th-seeded Michigan State knocked off No. 2 Marquette. Izzo is one of college basketball’s most celebrated coaches, though he’s only won one title, in 2000 (the Spartans were runners up in 2009).
Other teams dread matching up with Michigan State in March, because Izzo’s groups are always tough and physical, and typically rebound well. That was the case Sunday as well, as Michigan State outrebounded Marquette 36-31, scored 15 second chance points and outscored the Golden Eagles in the paint, 32-16.
It’s the sixth time Izzo has taken a team seeded fifth or higher to the Sweet 16, which is an NCAA record. Not too shabby.
Kentucky’s bank account
Sixth-seeded Kentucky and John Calipari lost 75-69 to third-seeded Kansas State on Sunday but don’t worry, Calipari is still getting paid. A lot.
Calipari, one of the highest paid coaches in college sports, will take home $8.5 million this season despite Kentucky underachieving again. The Wildcats haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2019, a puzzling trend for a team typically stacked with NBA talent. Kansas State, meanwhile, is only paying Jerome Tang $2.1 million.
Given all of Kentucky’s advantages and all of K-State’s disadvantages, it seems like maybe the pay should be just a little more equitable. Or, at the very least, like Coach Cal should consider giving back some of his money.
Just two years removed from winning the national championship, the third-seeded Bears are out of the NCAA Tournament after falling to sixth-seeded Creighton, 85-76. We know Kansas, the defending champ, also bowed out this round, but at least they had the excuse of missing their head coach.
The Bears got out-physicaled (Creighton won the rebounding battle, 34-29) and out-hustled (Creighton had 19 fast-break points to Baylor’s seven), and it’s making us wonder if we overhyped the Big 12 just a tad.