The Sweet 16 is now in the books, and we have our final matchups set for the Elite Eight over the weekend. Friday was a strange day of college basketball, but we got some fun games out of and plenty to chew over.
The first teams to tip off on Friday were No. 1 Virginia and No. 5 Iowa State. The Cyclones showed good fight, and Georges Niang was a monster in his final college game, but ultimately the Cavaliers kept them at arm's distance. They got the 84-71 win in rather convincing fashion.
The other early game was kind of a turgid affair between Wisconsin and Notre Dame, but the final minutes ended up being pretty exciting, with the Irish pulling off the 61-56 win to make their second straight Elite Eight.
We were guaranteed one double-digit seed in the regional finals with No. 10 Syracuse and No. 11 Gonzaga facing off. The Bulldogs controlled most of the game, leading by double digits at multiple points. But Jim Boeheim's team never laid down and pulled off a big rally in the final minutes, gutting out a 63-60 win. It's been an impressive tournament run for the Orange, who were squarely on the bubble at the end of the regular season.
The final game of the night wasn't much of a game. Indiana was in top form for most of the season, but it was no match for North Carolina on Friday. The Tar Heels were deadly from downtown and put down the Hoosiers 101-86, a scoreline you don't see too often in college basketball. Roy Williams' team is playing its best ball of the season at the exact right time.
3 things we learned
1. Tony Bennett finally gets over the hump. Despite building one of the nation's best teams since arriving at Charlottesville in 2010, Bennett has never reached the Elite Eight, often being tripped up by Michigan State (which was conveniently in the Cavaliers' region once again this year). But the Cavaliers got a break when Michigan State was unexpectedly bounced from the first round, and finally got to the regional finals with a convincing 84-71 win over Iowa State.
The next step for Bennett's squad is fellow ACC nemesis Syracuse, which the Cavaliers beat 73-65 in their only regular season meeting. Virginia now has a clear path towards its first Final Four appearance since 1984.
2. Wisconsin and Notre Dame kill basketball before saving it. The Sweet Sixteen game between the Badgers and Irish went exactly how you'd expect a Wisconsin tournament to go -- lots of stalling, little scoring and even less entertainment. The score was 23-19 at halftime -- not the under-8 media timeout, but halftime. Would this madness never end?
Fortunately, business picked up in a big way down the stretch. The Irish pulled off an 8-0 run and some nifty steals to put away the Badgers in the final minute, setting up an outstanding Elite Eight game with North Carolina. It was hardly pretty (or watchable), but sometimes these things work out in the end.
3. North Carolina is lethal when it remembers how to shoot. UNC-Indiana was possibly the most anticipated game of the night, but it quickly turned into a rout when the Tar Heels got a red-hot shooting hand. Marcus Paige stared the game hot and never cooled off, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting. North Carolina as a team shot 11-of-20 from the three-point line, which would make the Golden State Warriors nod in approval.
All season long, UNC's Achilles heel has been its shooting ability. The Tar Heels have the on-paper talent to win it all next weekend, but they've struggled for consistency on the offensive end. When things are clicking like they were on Friday night, UNC is nearly unstoppable. If they keep it up, Sunday's matchup with Notre Dame should be a thrilling high-scoring affair.
Download our updated printable bracket here.
No. 1 Virginia 84, No. 5 Iowa State 71
No. 6 Notre Dame 61, No. 7 Wisconsin 56
No. 10 Syracuse 63, No. 11 Gonzaga 60
No. 1 North Carolina 101, No. 5 Indiana 86
Saturday's Elite Eight schedule (all times Eastern)
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (6:09 p.m., CBS)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Villanova (8:49 p.m., CBS)
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March Madness: Does 10-seed Syracuse qualify as a Cinderella story?
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