The first night of the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 round is in the books, and Villanova, Oklahoma, Kansas and Oregon have punched their way through to this year's regional finals round. After a wild opening weekend full of upsets and buzzer beaters, the Sweet 16's opening night saw chalk prevail in all four games, none of which came down to the closing seconds. Nos. 1 Oregon and Kansas will meet Nos. 2 Oklahoma and Villanova, respectively, on Saturday night.
Duke hasn't missed a big dance since 1995, but your new favorite team Oregon downed the Blue Devils, 82-68, to send the defending champs packing in the West Regional semifinal. The last time Duke lost in a semifinal game was in 2011, when they dropped a 93-77 loss to Arizona. Thursday's bout with the Ducks hung close through the first half, but Oregon exploded out of the locker room with dunk after dunk after dunk to usher Grayson Allen and company off the floor in Anaheim.
With Duke out, and with Maryland slowly but surely despatched by Kansas, two number one seeds march on to the regional finals, after which a potential all No. 1 seed Final Four may very well lie ahead. Here are three storylines from Thursday's Sweet 16 action.
1. Villanova is clicking at just the right time.
Jay Wright's Wildcats may have lost in the Big East Tournament final to Seton Hall, but their 27-4 season record rings indicative of a team that throttled Miami, 92-69, in a big dance regional semifinal. Villanova's average margin of victory in this year's tournament is a phenomenal 24 points, and Thursday's offensive performance was the most efficient outing by any team all year, full stop. Four 'Nova scorers hung double digits on Miami, with Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono mailing in nine three pointers.
Villanova, quite frankly, looks unstoppable, and with 88.3 points per game average in the dance this year, Kansas should have some very real misgivings about meeting these Wildcats on Saturday, especially if the Jayhawks struggle to find the gas pedal on offense.
2. Even with a down night from Buddy Hield, Oklahoma steamrolled Texas A&M.
The Aggies, this year's craziest comeback artists, had but one crazy comeback in them as the Sooners battled back from an early deficit to lead by double digits for the entire second period Thursday. Player of the Year candidate and all-around handyman Buddy Hield came back to earth in the win, dropping a rather pedestrian double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. His season average of 25.3 points per game was unneeded against A&M, though, as Jordan Woodard went off for 22 points, five assists and two steals.
A down scoring night was bound to happen for Hield, whose all-around game has pushed him into the role of Oklahoma's go-to guy, and it's certainly reassuring to see that other Sooners around him can distribute labors among themselves while under fire. In addition to Woodard's 22 points, Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin offered 10 each. Such sharing of duties is a necessary trait for the chaos that is big dance basketball, especially so against Oregon, who can score from all over the county.
3. After a shaky start, Kansas rolled over Maryland, 79-63.
For a time in the first half, things hung very much in the balance for the Jayhawks, what with Maryland shooting well, picking pockets, and dunking off the fast break (rim-hanging technical fouls notwithstanding). Kansas' first-half offensive game was all out of whack, as five Jayhawks registered turnovers on Thursday. That Kansas led, 36-34, at halftime was fortunate for Bill Self's club, whose lack of execution was matched by Maryland's opportunism.
Kansas' second half was a very different story. Their passing tightened up, they found their accuracy, and Perry Ellis ceased his somnambulism. The Jayhawks managed to contain Jake Layman for long stretches, forcing Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon to carry the lion's share of scoring weight. Ellis finished with 27 points and five rebounds, and Wayne Selden Jr. threw in 19 of his own. Four Jayhawks finished in double digits, in fact, with Landen Lucas contributing a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Still, should Kansas carry Thursday's ball-carelessness into Saturday's meeting with Villanova, one suspects the Jayhawks don't have another win in them. Villanova is efficient with their possessions, and the Wildcats' press is as disruptive as any out there.
Thursday's Sweet 16 scores
No. 1 Villanova def. No. 3 Miami, 92-69
No. 2 Oklahoma def. No. 3 Texas A&M, 77-63
No. 1 Kansas def. No. 5 Maryland, 79-63
No. 1 Oregon def. No. 4 Duke, 82-68