The 2018 NCAA tournament resumed play Thursday, and it continued to do what it had done throughout its opening weekend: Make history.
The sum total of the seeds of the four victorious teams on Thursday night was 32. That’s the highest total for any single night of Sweet 16 play since the expansion of the tournament to 64 teams.
Let’s relive everything about how the latest helping of madness went down.
(11) Loyola-Chicago 69, (7) Nevada 68 (South)
Every time Loyola-Chicago and Nevada have taken the court this tournament, it’s been cant-miss TV. Naturally, Thursday night was no exception.
Nevada did what it does: Go through unbelievably hot and cold stretches that never let you too feel comfortable about the game one way or the other.
Loyola countered by doing what it does: Drill soul-crushing shots in the final seconds of games that send them on to the next round.
LOYOLA HAVE THE CLUTCH (SISTER) JEAN— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) March 23, 2018
Marques Townes hits another huge shot for the Ramblers as Loyola Chicago beats Nevada and advances to the Elite 8 #ClutchJean #ThisIsMarch pic.twitter.com/36xzkklj9s
Of course Nevada hit a late three to provide some more last-second drama. That shot by the Wolf Pack also made Loyola just the second team in history to advance to the Elite Eight by winning its first three games by a grand total of four points. The 1980-81 Saint Joseph’s Hawks are the only other team to accomplish that feat.
Team That Won It Best
The only favorite to prevail on Thursday was also the most impressive team on the first night of the Sweet 16. And it really wasn’t close.
Michigan shot 61.9 percent from the field and connected on 14 of 24 three-point attempts on its way to a 99-72 demolition of Texas A&M. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led five Michigan players in double figures with 24 points. Moe Wagner chipped in 21.
The offensive explosion by Michigan comes on the heels of an opening weekend where the Wolverines didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. The team plodded its way to an ugly 61-47 first round win over Montana. The Wolverines were then outplayed for the majority of the night against Houston before a 28-foot buzzer-beater by Jordan Poole lifted John Beilein’s team into the Sweet 16.
Suddenly, No. 3-seed Michigan finds itself as the only team seeded better than ninth on the left side of the bracket, and the runaway favorite to make it out of that group of four and into the national championship game.
Given the way runaway favorites have fared in this tournament, it’s hard to say whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
Kentucky didn’t play well either and ruined a dream trip to the Final Four, but the Zags and Wildcats were both favored by the same margin (5.5 points) heading into their games against the last No. 9 seeds standing. Kentucky lost by three in the closing seconds to Kansas State. Gonzaga lost by 15 in a game where Florida State was basically in control from start to finish.
How bad were the Zags? They played their worst offensive game in seven years, and did so against a Seminoles team that has allowed opponents to score 73.7 points per game this season, good for 210th-best in the country. A rough way to go out for a team that had seemed poised to at least threaten to play its way back to the national title game for a second straight season.
All-Sweet 16 Thursday Team
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan
Led five Michigan players in double figures with 24 points.
Xavier Sneed, Kansas State
Despite being hampered by foul trouble and eventually fouling out of the game, Sneed led K-State with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Marques Townes, Loyola-Chicago
Scored 18 points, dished out five assists, and hit the biggest shot of the game in Loyola’s thrilling win over Nevada.
Moe Wagner, Michigan
Was 8 of 12 from three and a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, finishing with 21 points over 30 minutes in Michigan’s demolition of Texas A&M.
Cody Martin, Nevada
Martin did all he could for the Wolf Pack, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, six assists, five rebounds, and four steals.
Three Thursday Cheers
1. Problem Children
I’m not going to go into the full explanation of what a “Problem Child” is. You should have been reading. I can’t feed you forever, baby bird.
OK, but basically a Problem Child is a team that’s seeded 6-11. It’s not a favorite, and it’s not a Cinderella, it’s just a middle of the seed line team that wrecks everyone’s bracket unexpectedly.
After Thursday night’s madness, in which three Problem Children advanced, we’re now guaranteed to have a team seeded No. 7 or worse crash the Final Four for a sixth straight year. We’re also getting our highest combined seed total for a regional final ever in No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers will be the first 11 seed in history that hasn’t faced a No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight.
Loyola will also be looking to become the fourth No. 11 seed to play their way to the Final Four. Kansas State would become just the third No. 9 seed to play in a national semifinal. Unless their opponent is Florida State, in which case the teams would become the third and fourth No. 9 seeds to make the Final Four.
2. C.J. Baird
In the span of a few short months, the freshman went from student manager, to walk-on at the end of the bench, to burying a three in the Sweet 16.
What a moment for @baird_cj. Started as a student manager and turned into a walk-on as a freshman this season. Can now say that he made a three-pointer in the Sweet 16. The bench’s reaction makes it so much better, too. pic.twitter.com/YCOEmA1gUi— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) March 23, 2018
As fantastic as the shot was, the bench reactions might have been better.
3. Lengthy Regional Final Droughts Ending
Loyola-Chicago’s win over Nevada sent the Ramblers to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1985. Florida State is playing in a regional final for the first time since 1993, and Kansas State for the first time since 2010.
Michigan was here in 2013 and 2014. Whatever.
BONUS CHEER: Loyola/Sister Jean
Seeing all the stuff with Sister Jean and the celebratory Loyola fans Thursday night was a nice reminder that you just don’t get this type of stuff in any other major American sport.
Loyola fans are feeling lots of emotions during this game pic.twitter.com/ju4TXa0WuO— Loyola Phoenix Sports (@LUPhoenixSports) March 22, 2018
This tournament is so much better because Loyola is doing what it’s doing.
Three Thursday Jeers
1. Kansas State vs. Kentucky
It’s hard for a Sweet 16 game that’s competitive from start to finish to be borderline unwatchable. Credit(?) Kentucky, Kansas State, and the officiating crew in Atlanta for making that happen.
The two teams combined to go 35-for-96 (36.5 percent) from the field, and 37-for-59 (62.7 percent) from the free-throw line. Kentucky finished with just one fewer turnover (15) than made field goal (16). UK also finished with just six assists.
There were a total of 51 fouls called in the game, which ended just five minutes before Gonzaga-Florida State, despite starting almost 30 minutes earlier. Thirty of those fouls were called on Kansas State, which is tied for the most whistles on a team in this tournament. Three K-State players fouled out, and four Kentucky players finished with four fouls. John Calipari got hit with a CLASS B technical foul — which is apparently a real thing — for being just outside the coaches box at one point.
The game ended appropriately. Kentucky air-balled a rushed three that would have given them the lead, Kansas State missed a free throw that would have put the game out of reach, and then UK nearly broke the backboard with a glass-chipper at the buzzer in its final attempt to send the game into overtime. Kentucky had won eight straight Sweet 16 games, and had been 9-0 all-time against Kansas State.
It’s no surprise to see a Wildcats team playing in the South Regional final. It’s certainly a surprise for it to be this one.
2. Porter Moser’s Fashion Sense
He might be able to get away with this for one more game, but he’s going to have to step it up if the Ramblers make it to the Final Four.
If Loyola winds up playing Villanova for the national title and Moser gets a glimpse of what Jay Wright’s wearing before tip-off, well then the game’s going to be over right then.
3. The “Hot” Teams (besides Michigan)
Texas A&M had made itself a trendy Final Four pick after finally playing to its potential and bulldozing North Carolina in the second round. Ditto for Kentucky, which steamrolled through the SEC tournament, through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and appeared to have the easiest route to the Final Four of any team left in the field. Gonzaga had been beaten just once in 2018, and not at all since Jan. 18.
On Thursday, all three teams proved momentum can only mean so much in March. Each saw its season end in the Sweet 16, and end with an effort that wasn’t anywhere near its best.
Best Thursday Dunk
P.J. Washington, Kentucky
Not a great night for crams. This one was more about the shake than it was the slam.
3 Best Images
1. Happy Cats/Sad Cats.
2. Josh Perkins ready for his close up.
3. At least one more for the Ramblers
“I said I don’t care that you broke my bracket. I’m ready for the next one. This is a great feat for us.” —Sister Jean on Loyola-Chicago busting her bracket, which had the Ramblers losing in the Sweet 16
Friday’s Sweet 16 Schedule
All times Eastern
East Region | TD Garden, Boston
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia, 7:37 p.m. (TBS)
No. 2 Purdue vs. 3 Texas Tech, 10:07 p.m. (TBS)
Midwest Region | CenturyLink Center, Omaha
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Clemson, 7:07 p.m. (CBS)
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Syracuse, 9:37 p.m. (CBS)