The madness returned on Thursday night two upsets, one close call, and perhaps the best game of the tournament so far. Let’s roll through all the best and all the worst from the first night of Sweet 16 play.
(3) Purdue 99, (2) Tennessee 94 (OT) (South)
Really easy call here.
No regional semifinal on Thursday night came close to matching the quality of play and the level of drama that Purdue-Tennessee gave us. In fact, it’s not hard to argue that the Boilermakers and Volunteers played the best game of the tournament to date.
It took a while for the drama in Louisville to build. Purdue controlled the entire first half and then stretched its lead out to 18 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Tennessee then roared back thanks to 12-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc, a handful of those coming during a 16-2 run that tied the game up with 6:56 to play.
Purdue’s Ryan Cline then promptly caught fire, creating a brilliant back-and-forth between he and UT’s Admiral Schofield where the lead seemed to change hands on every possession.
"YOU'VE GOT TO LOVE IT!"@BoilerBall answers to tie it up!#MarchMadness | #Sweet16 pic.twitter.com/BKleqNLttt— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
A frenzied end to regulation culminated with a questionable foul call on a three-point attempt by Boilermaker star Carsen Edwards. With a chance to put his team ahead by one in the final seconds, Edwards could manage to knock down just two of the three free-throws, and Tennessee and Purdue went to overtime deadlocked at 82.
Matt Painter’s team controlled the extra period, quickly racing out to a 7-point lead that would never dwindle to fewer than five. Edwards finished with a game-high 29 points, while Cline notched a new career-high with 27. Now Purdue is headed to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000, and is one win away from its long-coveted first trip to the Final Four since 1980.
Team That Won It Best
How much better could the nation’s best defensive team be than the nation’s second-best defensive team? A pretty significant amount better, apparently.
Texas Tech held Michigan to just 1-of-19 shooting from three and to just 16 field goals overall in a stifling 63-44 win over the second-seeded Wolverines that never really felt in doubt after the first half. Only five players scored for John Beilein’s team, which played for the national title last season and was in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year.
Texas Tech continues to build a solid case to be regarded as the tournament’s most impressive team through three rounds. Just look at these results:
(3) Texas Tech 72, (14) Northern Kentucky 57
(3) Texas Tech 78, (6) Buffalo 58
(3) Texas Tech 63, (2) Michigan 44
That’s straight domination at every stop. Now, the Red Raiders are just one (very significant) win away from breaking new ground for a second straight year.
You could make a case for Florida State or, I guess, Virginia (I won’t do that again ... after the first weekend just win any way you can), but it’s hard to argue against better-seeded team that still managed to be on the wrong end of the most lopsided score of the evening.
But if you needed more persuading ...
Michigan’s 44 points were its lowest ever in an NCAA tournament game, breaking a previous low of 45 set in a game against Holy Cross that was played in 1948. The point total tied Abilene Christian for the lowest in this year’s tournament, and set a new record for the fewest ever scored by a 2-seed in the history of the dance.
It was bad. They belong here.
3 Thursday Cheers
1. Chris Beard
Chris Beard was already one of the hottest fresh names in coaching heading into the 2018-19 season. Now he may be on the verge of becoming the name at the top of everyone’s coaching wish list.
Despite losing his best player (Keenan Evans), a top 16 draft pick (Zhaire Smith), and five of hist top seven scorers from last season’s team, Beard has Texas Tech back in the Elite Eight for a second straight year. This would be a laudable achievement on its own, but when you toss in the fact that the Red Raiders had never played in a regional final before Beard arrived in Lubbock, it becomes downright remarkable.
If that still isn’t enough to have you conducting the Chris Beard hype train, consider that his second trip to the Elite Eight was just secured via a dominating 19-point win over a better-seeded Michigan team coached by one of the most respected basketball minds in the sport in John Beilein. That same Wolverine team returned five key contributors from a squad that came up one win shy of a national title last season. On Thursday night, those guys looked completely overwhelmed by Beard’s Red Raiders.
It’s not like Texas Tech is place that was completely lacking in history before the arrival of Beard (Bob Knight, Tubby Smith, James Dickey), but no one has ever had this program cooking the way he does right now. If he can win like this at a job like that, just imagine what he could do with one of the 5-10 best gigs in the sport.
My guess is we won’t have to imagine for long.
2. Davide Moretti lighting it up in front of his family
On Wednesday night, Moretti — a native of Bologna, Italy — was surprised by a number of family members who had secretly made the trip across the pond to see Davide play in the NCAA tournament.
Pretty cool that Davide Moretti is lighting it up a night after his family flew in from Italy and surprised him. pic.twitter.com/4fhiqZweEl— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) March 29, 2019
Moretti responded by knocking down 5-of-7 field goals, 3-of-4 three-pointers, and finishing with 15 points and four assists against zero turnovers in Texas Tech’s rout of Michigan. He admitted after the game that playing in front of his mom and little brother in America for the first time was a feeling that overwhelmed him.
“It’s amazing, man. I can’t even describe it.”@TexasTechMBB’s Davide Moretti reflects with @TheAndyKatz on the #Sweet16 win & having his family from Italy in the building to watch him play. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/aHi8EOoLRp— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
Now the Moretti family is one win away from seeing Davide play in the Final Four.
3. At least one head coach is guaranteed to make his first Final Four appearance
Either Tony Bennett or Matt Painter will be the next coach to “finally get over the hump” and into their first Final Four come Saturday night. Bennett’s shortcomings in March have been well documented, but this is just the second time he’s found himself a single win away from the season’s final weekend. Painter had taken Purdue to the Sweet 16 four times before this season, but never all the way to a regional final.
On the other side of the bracket, Chris Beard is also one win away from his first Final Four, but the road has been less winding for the Texas Tech frontman. This is just his third year as a D-I head coach.
Mark Few has been to the Final Four before, but whatever, a regional final appearance is always something worth doing a headstand over.
Signature Mark Few handstand @ZagMBB is HYPED about heading to the #Elite8! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/tynbNCfm9F— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
I’ll never get sick of that tradition.
3 Thursday Jeers
1. The end of the perfect bracket
Imagine having the world’s only perfect NCAA tournament bracket and seeing the dream go up in flames with an overtime loss that only got to overtime because of a questionable foul call in the closing seconds of regulation.
That’s exactly what happened to Greg Nigl, the man who had the only perfect bracket in the world after the NCAA tournament’s first week. Nigl nailed Gonzaga (his national champion pick) over Florida State to kick off Thursday night, but dropped to 49-1 when Tennessee fell to Purdue about 45 minutes later.
As if that weren’t painful enough, Nigl not only lost his dream of a perfect bracket, but he fell from first-place to sixth-place in the NCAA’s contest.
Bracket contests are brutal -- remember perfect bracket dude @GreggNigl? Purdue made him 49-1 and now he's dropped to sixth place in the NCAA's contest. pic.twitter.com/ncwh1Hb8P9— Oskar Garcia (@oskargarcia) March 29, 2019
Nigl can take solace in the fact that before this year, no person (at least not with an official record of it in an online contest) had ever filled out a bracket and gotten every game of the first two rounds correct. Nigl’s streak of 49 consecutive winners to start this year’s tournament smashed the previous record of 39.
2. Ehab Amin’s flop
Come on, man.
uhhhh....flop? pic.twitter.com/vgVVOm5Pum— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 29, 2019
Definitely the worst flop by an Oregon player in at least two years.
Dillon Brooks will always wear the crown.
3. The scheduling
The early window on Thursday gave us a Gonzaga-Florida State game that was up and down, high-scoring, loaded with highlights, and competitive for 38 minutes or so. It also gave us arguably the best game of the tournament so far in Purdue-Tennessee.
The late window ... well, the late window has some explaining to do.
Texas Tech beat the brakes off Michigan, but couldn’t even do it in a fun, overly goreish fashion. This was a python slowly squeezing the life out of an overmatched prey. The writing was on the wall early on, the victim was fully aware of what was happening while it was happening but could do nothing to change or stop it, and there was very little movement.
Virginia-Oregon, on the other hand, was close throughout ... but really, really hard to watch for, well, pretty much the entire time. Both teams shot under 38 percent from the field and from three. The Ducks finished with more turnovers (11) than assists (8). Ultimately, UVA barely escaped making embarrassing history for a second straight year by becoming the first 1-seed to lose to a 12-seed. With the Cavaliers’ 53-49 win, top seeds are now 20-0 all-time versus 12-seeds. Still, it was a struggle to watch that record get secured.
These second tip times are already brutally late for half the country, and there’s always a risk that they’re going to wind up being even later if the first game drags or goes into overtime (like Thursday). If you’re going to ask us to stay up after midnight on a weeknight to watch basketball, at least give us a product that’s going to make the endeavor feel less like slogging through a Jim Jarmusch film you were forced into watching by someone who would be offended if you bowed out early.
We don’t need both the stimulating games to tip-off late. Just make sure we get at least one.
3 Best Dunks
1. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
There was like a minute and-a-half stretch where Gonzaga-Florida State went from solid, competitive game with some decent scoring to greatest game ever played with non-stop ridiculous highlights.
This was near the height of that beautiful period:
Brandon Clarke flies in the BIG putback! #Sweet16#MarchMadness | @ZagMBB pic.twitter.com/U98rb6oGOC— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
Also during that period ...
2. Terrance Mann, Florida State
It looked like Terrance Mann was just going to lay this in, and that he decided to ... go the distance.
TERANCE. MANN. #Sweet16#MarchMadness | @FSUHoops pic.twitter.com/NU4pIljM9P— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
This was Mann’s last college game so you bet your ass I had to fire off one last shitty Field of Dreams reference that maybe 13 percent of the people reading this got and maybe 2 percent enjoyed.
Every now and then you have to do something for yourself. Even in March. Especially in March.
3. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech
Guy dunked all over Michigan Thursday night. This one was the most impressive.
"SKY WALKING WITH THE BIG TIME FLUSH" pic.twitter.com/XIrhY2nTyq— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 29, 2019
3 Best Images
1. Tennessee lost, but this is a great shot.
2. Moments before Ehab Amin checked out of this conversation.
3. Florida State bullied Gonzaga in last year’s Sweet 16. It wasn’t going to happen again.
3 Best Quotes
1. “I sat on the bench as the clock expired, looking around one last time, and I thought I did a pretty good job of processing it all. And then Coach came in to talk to us and it just hit me. He thanked us and mentioned something about next year, and I realized there wouldn’t be a next year for me.’’ —Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander on the sudden and brutal reality of the end
2. “We should give our defensive coaches raises, and we should really talk with our offensive coaches.” —Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard after watching his team hold Michigan to 16 points in the first half, but score just 24 points themselves
3. “It’s winning, man. It’s the culture of winning. And, oh, yeah, the older guys teach the younger guys. This is what you do at Gonzaga. You win.’’ —Gonzaga head coach Mark Few on why his team has been so good at closing opponents out
Friday’s Sweet 16 Schedule
All times Eastern
East: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU, 7:09 p.m. (CBS)
Midwest: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn, 7:29 p.m. (TBS)
East: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech, 9:39 p.m.* (CBS)
Midwest: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston, 9:59 p.m.* (TBS)
*start time is approximate, following earlier game