Two No. 1 seeds went down, Duke not only advanced, but injected the fear of Coach K going out on top directly into the veins of every Blue Devil hater on the planet, and Villanova continued to do what Villanova does in March these days.
Here’s all the best and worst from the evening that was Sweet 16 Thursday.
(2) Duke 78, (3) Texas Tech 73 (West)
This was reminiscent of Duke’s second round win over Michigan State in that if you simply glanced at the box score, you’d never get a true sense of just how phenomenal the quality of play was.
It was also reminiscent of Duke’s win over MSU for another reason: Just like against Sparty, the Blue Devils were damn near perfect down the stretch ... and they had to be.
Duke trailed Texas Tech by four at the half (and was lucky to be down only that much), played from behind for most of the second half, and then flipped the switch into another gear when the likelihood of their season (and Mike Krzyzewski’s career) coming to an end was staring them directly in the face.
Duke did not miss a shot in the game’s final 8 minutes and 25 seconds, connecting on their final eight field goal attempts and scoring on nine of their last 12 offensive possessions. When the final horn sounded, Texas Tech had allowed an opponent over the 75-point mark for the first time all season.
Everything seems to be coming together at the perfect time for a Duke team that had previously been 0-5 all-time in NCAA tournament games played in the Pacific Time Zone. Paolo Banchero is playing the way you expect a top three NBA draft pick to play in these moments, Mark Williams is a monster in the middle that no one seems to have an answer for, and Jeremy Roach is continuing his metamorphosis into 2015 Quinn Cook.
The disaster scenario for Duke/Coach K haters is now fully on the table: The Blue Devils are absolutely capable of winning the national championship.
Now they’re just three Ws away.
Team that won it best
Despite losing all five starters from last year’s team, the Houston Cougars are now just one win away from accomplishing the same feat that squad did.
As was the case in each of its first two NCAA tournament wins: Kelvin Sampson’s team was dominant Thursday night. Houston never trailed and rolled to a 72-60 win over top-seeded Arizona, which entered the evening having scored 80 points or more in eight consecutive games.
It’s not difficult to make the case that through two and-a-half rounds, no team in the 2022 NCAA tournament has been more impressive than Houston. The Cougars were handed an extremely dangerous 12-seed in UAB, and they handled the Blazers with relative ease (82-68). Two days later they had even less trouble (68-53) with Big Ten regular season champion Illinois. Then came Thursday night, where Houston held the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed to its least efficient offensive game since mid-February, and forced it into its second worst defensive performance of the season.
A 5-seed is the only 1-8 seed that has never won a national championship. Don’t put it past Kelvin Sampson. The man is a miracle worker, and it feels like he might be in the midst of his greatest act to date.
Team that was the biggest disappointment
The NCAA tournament selection committee started naming a No. 1 overall seed in 2004. Since then, only three top dogs — Florida in 2007, Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville in 2013 — have gone on to cut down the nets.
Gonzaga has had two consecutive chances to add its name to that short list. The second came crashing down Thursday night in San Francisco after a dud of a performance against Arkansas.
Arkansas answered all the pregame questions about how they would handle Gonzaga’s two-headed frontcourt monster of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren in two forms: 1) They collapsed on Timme and Holmgren defensively, sagged off Gonzaga’s supporting cast and dared them to win the game with outside shooting. 2) They attacked Holmgren relentlessly when they had the ball in their hands.
The strategy paid off in both respects. Gonzaga’s guards were abysmal, and the Bulldogs shot just 5-of-21 from three. Holmgren, meanwhile, was saddled with foul trouble all night and ultimately picked up his fifth after playing just 23 minutes (more on that later).
Eric Musselman’s gameplan was pristine, but it won’t be the primary focus of the country on Friday. That attention will be pointed in the direction of Gonzaga, which continued to have accomplished everything you can accomplish in college basketball outside of the most important thing.
Three Thursday cheers
1. Streaks of futility coming to an end
Arkansas’ all-time tournament record against No. 1 seeds entering Thursday: 0-10.
Duke’s all-time tournament record in the Pacific Time Zone entering Thursday: 0-5.
Done and done.
While not an 0-fer streak, the fact that 5-seeds entered Thursday night with an all-time record of 9-47 against No. 1 seeds should also be pointed out. Houston got that win total into double-digits with its 12-point handling of Arizona.
2. Eric Musselman’s Wayne’s World moment
To hell with the NCAA cups, it’s my choice ... and the choice of a new generation.
A shirtless Musselman not being all over everyone’s timelines was the biggest upset of the night.
3. Another ho-hum Villanova run
It melts your mind a little bit to think about Villanova’s March reputation before 2016. The Wildcats were viewed the same way Gonzaga is at the present time, except with even less tournament success.
After Thursday night’s workmanlike 63-55 triumph over Michigan, Villanova is now 19-3 over the last six NCAA tournaments. That’s the best March Madness winning percentage of any team in college basketball over that span. Only the Zags have more total tournament victories.
This was not a vintage Villanova performance like the one we saw from the Wildcats the last time they faced Michigan — a 79-62 masterpiece in the 2018 national championship game. ‘Nova prevailed despite a 5-minute drought late in the second half that made you wonder if Jay Wright’s team was ever going to be able to put the ball in the basket again. Thankfully, the Wolverines were even more anemic on the other end of the floor.
Michigan finishes 12-of-29 on dunks and layups, 7-of-14 at FT line, loses by 8. Tough way to end a season.— John Niyo (@JohnNiyo) March 25, 2022
With Villanova’s win, 2-seeds improved to 16-3 all-time in games against 11-seeds. The Wildcats also improved to 3-0 all-time in NCAA tournament games against Michigan.
Bonus Cheer: The old Southwest Conference
We were a Texas Tech win away from three of the four teams that advanced Thursday night being former members of the Southwest Conference, which disbanded forever in 1996.
With Texas A&M currently in the Final Four of the NIT, the league still has a shot at sweeping both major postseason tournaments.
Barnhill South forever.
Three Thursday jeers
1. The offensive performances
Eight pretty capable offenses took the floor on Thursday night. Only one of them (Duke) shot better than 47.0 percent from the field. Half of them (Gonzaga, Arizona, Villanova and Michigan) shot worse than 40.0 percent.
We’re gonna need Saint Peter’s to hang about 120 on Purdue Friday night in order to balance this out.
2. The Chet Holmgren foul calls
Gonzaga star freshman and potential top NBA draft pick was hampered by foul trouble pretty much all night on Thursday. With the Zags still trying to play catchup, Holmgren was eventually whistled for his fifth and final foul with 3:29 to play and Arkansas holding a 62-56 advantage.
As more than a few people were willing to point out, more than a couple of the whistles that went against Holmgren seemed to be dubious at best.
Could someone please tell me where did Chet Holmgren commit the foul here? pic.twitter.com/W3A5O6pySc— DGC (@Itamar_17_10) March 25, 2022
There's nothing here! Literally nothing! pic.twitter.com/SF5wNXdjuT— DGC (@Itamar_17_10) March 25, 2022
Terrible fifth foul called on Holmgren. Defender is allowed to jump straight up and it's exactly what Holmgren did.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 25, 2022
I'M SORRY, NCAA BASKETBALL WITH ITS ONLY FIVE FOULS AND AMATEURISH REFS IS A JOKE. SO IF CHET HOLMGREN JUMPS BACKWARD AND THE ARKANSAS PLAYER DRIVES THE BALL UP INTO HIS CHEST, THAT'S A FOUL ON HOLMGREN??? CLOWN COLLEGE CALL - AS WERE 3 OTHERS ON FOULED-OUT HOLMGREN.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 25, 2022
This was called a foul on Chet Holmgren. pic.twitter.com/3FH1pLEUmm— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) March 25, 2022
As many were also quick to point out, the official who blew the whistle on the two Holmgren fouls that appeared to be the most egregious was Doug Shows. Shows is an SEC official who was working the only Sweet 16 game featuring an SEC team. At the very least, that’s a bad look.
Arkansas certainly deserved to win the game — you’re contractually obligated to say or write something like this whenever you’re criticizing the officiating — and I’m not certain that a fair whistle on Holmgren would have changed the way things played out in any sort of dramatic form. I do know that it would have added significantly to the game’s viewing experience.
Holmgren is one of college basketball’s most unique stars and one of the more intriguing NBA prospects in some time. With Gonzaga playing in a mid-major conference —have you guys seen this? have you heard about this? — there was even more intrigue for Holmgren in this tournament than there would have been had he suited up for Duke or Kansas or another school with games on national television throughout January and February. The fact that we only got to see him for 23 minutes on Thursday was a travesty, and an easily avoidable one at that.
I think I’ll miss Chet’s dad most of all.
Kind of obsessed with Chet Holmgren's dad pic.twitter.com/lZsRUrG657— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) March 24, 2022
You know he went straight to the hotel room after the game to view his personal camcorder footage of those foul calls. Top tier March Madness dad.
3. Jim Nantz’s HALO read
This man is calling The Masters in two weeks.
All-Sweet 16 Thursday team
Jermaine Samuels, Villanova
The senior forward was a rock for ‘Nova on a rough offensive night for most of his teammates. Samuels finished with a game-high 22 points to go with seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Paolo Banchero, Duke
Coach K’s freshman star helped the Hall of Famer pick up his 100th career NCAA tournament win by scoring 22 points, handing out four assists and notching three steals.
Huge night for Paolo Banchero leading Duke to the Elite 8 vs the best defense in college basketball. Showed all his skill and talent with some tremendous drives, passes and shots from all over the floor. Was in attack mode down the stretch. Looked like the No. 1 pick in the draft pic.twitter.com/vJNUwk5gR1— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 25, 2022
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
Michigan’s man in the middle did all he could to keep the Wolverines dancing, finishing with 15 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Bryson Williams, Texas Tech
The senior forward did all he could to keep his college career alive, scoring 21 points and snagging five rebounds.
Jamal Shead, Houston
The missed shot and turnover numbers were a tad too high, but we’ll still go with Shead here because of his dogged defense, 21 points and six assists.
Best Thursday dunk
1. Mark Williams, Duke
This hammer shook the Golden Gate Bridge.
I’m sorry. That was awful. Unfortunately my delete button is broken.
Enjoy the dunk.
Best Thursday image
The show rolls on
It certainly feels like Coach K and the Blue Devils are now the tournament’s primary focus ... unless Saint Peter’s has another stunner in them Friday night.
Best Thursday quote
“I thought tonight we were solid. We weren’t good or really good.” —Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson after his team beat the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed by 12
Friday Sweet 16 schedule
Let’s do this again. Bring snacks. Maybe a hot dip or something.