And then there were three (and a half).
After two historically great opening days to the NCAA Tournament, the Sports Gods seemed to be going through a college basketball hangover as Saturday’s slate got off to a slow and plodding start.
However once Loyola-Chicago called in some divine intervention to keep its own Cinderella run alive, we were blessed with an evening slate of games that did not disappoint.
That is, unless you root for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
-No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs 90, No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes 84
Just incase Sister Jean of Loyola-Chicago fame decides to give this the ol’ lookie-loo, I’m going to self-sensor my sailor-like potty mouth moving forward.
I had no dog in the fight and was stress eating Oreos throughout the second half. I can only assume the entire collective of Columbus and Spokane were simultaneously breathing into a paper bag while mainlining Xanax and Clockwork Orange-ing puppy videos.
In the end though, Ohio State’s season was undone thanks to spotting the Bulldogs a 15 point lead out of the gate and being on the wrong side of a 28-16 scoring margin to close out the games final minutes.
Keita Bates-Diop did everything he could in the interim between those scoring runs to will the Buckeyes to the Sweet Sixteen, but his 28 points weren’t enough to carry Ohio State past a really good Gonzaga group that got 53 points combined from underclassmen Zach Norvell Jr. and Rui Hackimura.
It can be tough to see the whole story looking through the lens of a disappointing ending, but time will ultimately look kindly on the 2017-’18 Buckeyes season. After all, this team was pretty much left for dead before the year even tipped off, yet it ended up with the unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year and a coach in Chris Holtmann who looks primed to build the next great Ohio State dynasty.
Yes, the loss suffered Saturday evening will sting for awhile. But one game isn’t cause for Brutus to hang his head. Things are pointing up in central Ohio. The Buckeyes are back.
-No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 64, No. 6 Houston Cougars 63
Highlight. Right Click. Delete.
Trying to meet my midnight deadline as closely as possible, I had a decent chunk of this recap already typed out.
I was going to tell you that for a team from Texas that plays in the American Athletic Conference, the Houston Cougars sure look like a group that would feel right at home in the Big Ten.
I was going to highlight its stellar guard play, its methodical and calculated offense, and its shutdown defense that controls the tempo of the game.
And then I was going to tell you how on Saturday the Cougars out Big Ten’d Michigan, ending the Wolverines season in the process.
That is, until Jordan Poole said not so fast.
By now you’ve seen the highlights, so I won’t run down the play frame-by-frame like its the Zapruder film.
Instead, I’ll point to a Michigan team that did it’s darndest to survive and advance, a Michigan team that overcame foul trouble to its star forward and found a way to win.
Its reward for winning is a trip to the Sweet Sixteen where a rematch with the North Carolina Tar Heels is very much in the offing.
I could say more, but why do it when Jon Rothstein and his trademarked catch phrase says it best.
THIS IS ******* MARCH.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 18, 2018
-No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions 73, No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 63
And lest us not forgot the sideshow that kicked off Saturday’s Big Ten madness.
Down two key members of his rotation, Patrick Chambers leaned heavily on the foursome of Shep Garner, Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, and Lamar Stevens. That group played 155 of the 200 available minutes for the Nittany Lions while accounting for a staggering 93-percent of its total points scored.
Relying on that quartet proved a successful strategy though, as the Lions sprung the road upset over the higher seeded Irish.
Individually, Tony Carr led the way for Penn State, rebounding from his two point evening against Temple in a big way with a game-high 24 points and four assists in South Bend.
Meanwhile, Josh Reaves fell one rebound short of his second consecutive double-double, settling for nine rebounds to go along with his 18 points, nine of which came on a 50-percent shooting night from beyond the extra long arc.
Penn State scored 21 or more points in three of the games four quarters and never trailed the Fighting Irish.
Awaiting the Lions in the NIT quarterfinals is either a trip to Oregon or Marquette. The Ducks and Golden Eagles play Sunday evening with the winner entertaining Penn State next Tuesday.
And if Pat Chambers team can continue to exceed objectively low expectations, it’ll book a trip back to Madison Square Garden a mere 16 days removed from the greatest Big Ten Tournament of all-time!
-Other Random Musings
1. Herbert Jones got his clock cleaned in Alabama’s loss to Villanova. It was pretty clear watching the game live that the freshmen guard was seeing stars after a shoulder to the head, yet no whistles were blown and Jones couldn’t get subbed off the court until the next stoppage in play.
Alabama's Herbert Jones shows clear #concussion sign after head impact in @NCAA Villanova game (see video). Glad he was pulled, but back on the bench in 6 minutes? Jacobson:"I am told he is fine." Look out for delayed symptoms/late hook. Glad announcers talking about head hit. pic.twitter.com/1ftcPkVSBQ— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) March 17, 2018
How in the world the refs let the game continue without getting Jones off the court immediately is beyond me. Like all of us, I’ve watched the NFL provide nothing but lip service and cold shoulders when it comes to addressing head injuries. Its self-regulated concussion protocol remains shrouded in whatever happens in the mysterious sideline tent and I pray this indifference isn’t finding its way into college basketball.
2. I can only hope Isaac Haas is familiar with the sayings of Mark Twain, as it would tickle me silly if he dropped a “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” while being fitted for an arm brace. The Boilermaker turned bionic man is still 50-50 to suit up against Butler on Sunday, but even odds is a welcome development only one day removed from being declared out for the tournament.
3. Move over Carlos, I’ve got me a new favorite Delgado. Against Kansas, Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado del-got-it, putting up 24 points, 23 rebounds, and five assists in the Pirates almost-upset of the no. 1 seed. The Jayhawks had no answer for the 6-foot-10 senior, whose collegiate career came to a frustrating end as Kansas clung to its win thanks to the clock finally striking midnight on the Pirates upset bid.