Thursday night brought NCAA fans an incredible first night to the Sweet 16. With such great prospective games as Gonzaga (No. 1) vs. Arkansas (No. 4) and Duke (No. 2) vs. Texas Tech (No. 3), it’s not overly surprising that it was a great night of college, but it was thrilling nonetheless. Here’s a recap of what went down Thursday night:
Down Goes Gonzaga (Again)
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, that’s likely how Gonzaga feels after once again failing to win an NCAA National Championship. Against Arkansas, the Gonzaga Bulldogs came in as heavy favorites, but they were unable to overcome the Razorbacks’ tenacious defense.
It didn’t help matters that star Zag and projected top NBA pick Chet Holmgren suffered from early foul trouble and eventually fouled out of the contest as well. Without Holmgren, the offensive load was once again left on Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard. Timme put up an impressive 25 points and seven rebounds, but Nembhard struggled to find his shot-making only two of eleven shots en route to a seven-point performance.
The Razorbacks meanwhile benefited from balanced offensive performances from Jaylin Williams and Trey Wade, who combined for 30 points on 11 of 22 shooting. The Razorbacks now advance to the Elite Eight for the 11th time in school history. They boast a record of 6-4 in Elite Eight play.
Nova Keeps It Rolling
Head Coach Jay Wright and Villanova also headed into Thursday night’s game as the heavy favorite; however, unlike No. 1 Gonzaga, the Wildcats were able to take care of business. Granted, their opponents — the Michigan Wolverines — were not the staunch opponent that the Razorbacks were, but Villanova did what good teams do, and that’s beat lesser competition.
It was the Jermaine Samuels show early and often for the Wildcats as the senior forward finished the night with 22 points and seven rebounds. Michigan struggled to contain him the entire night, but to their credit, they were able to hold Nova to only 63 total points; they just couldn’t find the offense needed to seal the game.
Coming off of a 27 point performance that saw him shoot over 60% from the field, Michigan standout Hunter Dickinson found it a bit more difficult to get things going against the Wildcats, scoring 15 points on 37.5% shooting. While the loss is a disappointment for Michigan, they should look proudly on an NCAA tournament performance that saw them upset both Colorado State (No. 6) and Tennessee (No. 3).
The Nova Wildcats continue their NCAA tournament journey in the Elite Eight, where they own a record of 5-9 in 14 appearances — not counting their vacated 1971 appearance.
Coach K Makes NCAA History
Few records in basketball are truly unreachable — UCLA’s 88 game winning streak comes to mind. Last night, Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski may have set such a record. After a thrilling victory over a talented Texas Tech team, “Coach K” secured his 100th tournament win, which is first in the NCAA by 23 games over former Kansas and UNC Head Coach Roy Williams.
It was a well-balanced attack for Duke in the win as each starter scored in double figures. It was none other than Paolo Banchero, though, who led the way for the Blue Devils scoring 22 points. Banchero — a consensus top-3 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft — has certainly improved his draft position after this game. Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith — the expected first and second pick, respectively — are now both out of the tournament after less performance — at least in Smith’s case. If Banchero continues to play at this level, expect the first pick in the NBA draft to be a toss-up depending on the team’s needs.
Part of what made Banchero’s performance so impressive was how tough Texas Tech was as an opponent. Truly a strong showing led by Bryson Williams‘ 21 points; it just wasn’t enough to overcome the firepower of Duke in the end.
Duke moves on to the Elite Eight for the 23rd time in school history — the 17th under Coach K. Saturday night against Arkansas; we’ll see if the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach can continue one last run.
Another No. 1 Falls
It was not just the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs who fell flat in the tournament. The Arizona Wildcats lost in a clunker of a performance against the Houston Cougars.
Outside of sophomores Dalen Terry and Pelle Larson, the Wildcats were catastrophic offensively — much to the credit of the Cougars’ top-notch defense. It was an especially difficult game for Bennedict Mathurin, who went 4/14 from the field in the losing effort.
Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has long preached defense, toughness, and spacing, and it has once again led to the Cougars upsetting a team in the NCAA tournament. Their defensive impact was evident while Jamal Shead personified the team’s grit, making his way to the line ten times.
It was an all-around spectacular performance for the Cougars, who now make their way to the team’s seventh appearance in the NCAA’s Elite Eight, where they are incredibly undefeated.