March 24, 2018 2:57 am
SportsPulse: After some stunning results in Thursday’s Sweet 16 games, the Elite Eight is beginning to take shape. USA TODAY Sports
A day after a No. 3 seed, two No. 9 seeds and a No. 11 seed advanced to the Elite Eight, Friday’s Sweet 16 games provided us with a familiar dose of chalk.
No. 1 seeds Kansas and Villanova both took care of business to reach the Elite Eight, and are one win away from getting to San Antonio — where they were expected to be heading into the NCAA tournament. While top overall No. 1 Virginia lost in a historic upset to UMBC and the worst of the No. 1s, Xavier, was upset by Florida State, we still have two kingpin teams dancing that are very much our title favorites.
That’s a conclusion that’s not just based on KU and ‘Nova being the top remaining seeds here in March. It’s based on how strong they looked in their Sweet 16 games Friday, and their ability to weather enough storms to be in position for Final Four berths.
For Villanova, its Sweet 16 test against a physical, pressing West Virginia team showed an ability to flip the switch and pull away with its potent offense after playing out of sync for a half. That came in the form of an 11-0 run that West Virginia never recovered from. Usually a dynamic offense in the halfcourt, the Wildcats proved they can light it up — at the rate of 54% from three — in a sped up pace, too. The unsung hero was big man Omari Spellman, who had 18 points and two huge blocks and three-pointers. It’s those type of performances from role players that define NCAA championship teams.
For Kansas, a team that’s now reached three consecutive Elite Eights and has been knocking on the Final Four wall for too long, its Sweet 16 win over Clemson was the best performance of the tournament and one that reminds us how good Bill Self’s team is. This is the Big 12 regular season and tournament champs, a group that plays with a necessary edge due to lack of interior firepower it’s had in the past.
KU’s Sweet 16 showdown with Clemson was all about the first big blow it threw at the Tigers to build a 17-point lead. That aggressiveness from the get-go put the game out of reach early. Clemson came back, but KU never trailed nor was really threatened. Credit the win to a solid 46% shooting from beyond the arc. We can make all the points we want about Kansas’ reliance on perimeter shooting, but even on a night where top catalyst Devonte’ Graham goes 4-for-11 from the field, the Jayhawks rarely go cold and the balanced scoring was indicative of that on Friday.
Malik Newman’s breakout performances in the NCAAs couldn’t have come at a better time. Then factor in the key play of Udoka Azubuike (14 points and 11 rebounds), who has been the X-Factor in the Clemson win and Seton Hall second round win.
Both these No. 1 seeds have two of the best players in the whole tournament in Brunson, the national player of the year, and Graham, the Big 12 player of the year. Especially because they are point guards who create so much for their teammates, if one of these teams win the national title it will have so much to do with the lead guards. Brunson was particularly impressive in the Wildcats’ victory, finishing with 27 points and willing his team to victory with his playmaking.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE NCAA TOURNAMENT’S SWEET 16
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This post was written by All Charts News