(CBS Sacramento/CBS Local)- Following a fairly straightforward first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, we entered the Sweet 16 round of games with all four one seeds still alive. In fact, the top three seeds in each region were all still fighting for a chance to make it to Minneapolis, giving this year’s tournament a very “chalky” feel and leaving fans to wonder whether we would see any close games.
They needn’t have worried, as over the course of four days, we saw three overtime games and an additional four that were within two possessions. It’s hard to overstate how good these games were, with every single Elite Eight game still competitive in the final two minutes.
In the end, four teams remain standing, two of which the college basketball world has never seen at this stage and a third that hasn’t been this far in the tournament in 35 years. The fourth team is a familiar face, albeit one that is looking for its first title in 19 years. We’ll look at the matchups later this week, but for now let’s take a look at the four teams and how they got here.
Michigan State Spartans- The old head of the group, Tom Izzo’s crew is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2014-15. After a first-round scare, in which they were trailing 15-seed Bradley at halftime, Sparty rolled through their next two games against Minnesota (70-50) and LSU (80-63). Sunday’s matchup with Duke was everything that you could hope for from a 1 vs. 2 battle, with fifth-year senior Kenny Goins providing the dagger three.
Virginia Cavaliers- The lone one seed left, Tony Bennett’s team has erased any laughter surrounding the program’s first-round exit last year by following up with a run to the Final Four, the school’s first since Olden Polynice was patrolling the paint in 1983-84. Through the first three rounds, it was defense that ruled the day, as expected. The Cavaliers held their first three opponents to 56, 61 and 49 points respectively before running into the offensive fireworks show that was this year’s Purdue team on Saturday. It looked like the Boilermakers would hang on, before some wildly improbable stuff happened, ending with Mamadi Diakite sending the game to OT.
DeAndre Hunter provided what would prove to be the game-winning bucket in overtime, sending the Cavaliers on to Minneapolis and producing this tear-inducing moment between Tony Bennett and his father, Dick.
Who’s cutting onions in here?
Not to be forgotten from this game, Carsen Edwards was remarkable, with 42 points and 10 made threes in the Boilermakers losing effort.
Auburn Tigers- Prior to this season, the furthest that an Auburn team had advanced in the Big Dance was the Elite Eight back in 1985-86, when they had Chuck Person and Chris Morris (both played in the NBA) on the roster. Like Michigan State, the Tigers struggled with their first-round opponents, needing a late miss from New Mexico State to hang on and move to the second round of action. Since then, they have buried their opponents under a barrage of threes, hitting on 37 of their 90 attempts (41%).
They are the lowest-seeded team (5) left in the tournament, but don’t let that lull you to sleep. This team’s collection of speedy guards who love to jack, and hit from three is a dangerous combination, as Kentucky found out on Sunday.
Texas Tech Red Raiders- Chris Beard has now produced an Elite Eight and a Final Four appearance in the last two years, just his second and third on campus in Lubbock. That’s a pretty darn good start to his tenure. This year’s run is maybe more impressive considering that Beard had to replace four of his top five scorers from last year’s team and six guys overall.
Beard did just that, and this year’s team has been even more stingy defensively, constricting opponents to just 59 points per game and allowing them to shoot 36 percent from the field. In the tournament, Beard’s crew has held opponents to 57, 58, 44 and 69 points in its four tournament games, and that last number came against a Gonzaga team that sported the most efficient offense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s data.
Following a great weekend of Sweet 16/Elite 8 action, it will be fun to see if these four teams can top the excitement this coming Saturday.