Eight teams punched their tickets to the Sweet 16 on a day that was filled with excitement, frustration and a bevy of lopsided victories.
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That sound you heard is college basketball collectively groaning that its most electric player—no, not Zion—got bounced from the Big Dance (Murray State’s Ja Morant). That gasp you heard is the nation’s reaction to LSU’s buzzer-beating layup that sent a team with a suspended head coach to the Sweet 16. That weeping is the poor Wofford guard, three-pointing whiz Fletcher Magee, who went 0-for-12 from beyond the arc during a 62-56 loss to two-seeded Kentucky in which his squad could have used just a couple of those long-range bombs. And, finally, that other sound? It’s the fans and media grumbling over all the blowouts (six of eight games Saturday were won by a combined 115 points, or about 20 points each).
Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament, at times wild, maddening, exciting and frustrating, sent eight squads to the Sweet 16: Kentucky, LSU, Florida State, Michigan, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Purdue and Auburn. The first seven went chalk, before the Tigers walloped Kansas in a stunning beatdown that’s usually only reserved for KU’s football program. The Big Ten continued its surge. The league is now 9-3 in the tournament and one of those losses was Big Ten Michigan State’s 70-50 win over Big Ten Minnesota. The football-loving SEC will have at least three teams in the Sweet 16, only the third time that’s happened since 2007. Tennessee, a No. 2 seed, could make four, something that hasn’t happened in at least that long. Ah, but some of the fun is gone, rudely swept off the stage by a hot-shooting Florida State team. The Seminoles thumped Morant and Murray State 90-62 in a game that never really felt all that close after the first five minutes. Morant hit five three-pointers in the first half, finished with 28 points and had four assists, but his production slipped over the final 30 minutes, and the ’Noles found their stroke from beyond the arc. They made 11 threes.
Meanwhile, the first game of the day ended in heart-pounding fashion. LSU gave up a 15-point second-half lead, made just two baskets over the final four minutes and needed a driving layup off the high glass from point guard wizard Tremont Waters to down Maryland. There’s a lot going on in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are playing without suspended head coach Will Wade, who refuses to speak to his bosses about being caught on FBI wiretaps potentially committing an NCAA violation. The Tigers’ fans, a local Baton Rouge radio station and even several prominent alums, are in a public spat with ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale over the situation, and guard Javonte Smart, the player Wade is supposedly discussing on his taped call, was only recently cleared to play for the Tigers after being withheld. If that’s not enough drama for you, the Tigers meet Michigan State in the third round—you know, the school embroiled in the Larry Nassar scandal.
The Wildcats from the Bluegrass State survived and, maybe, only because seventh-seeded Wofford’s three-point marksman Magee set a record he’d like to soon forget. Two days after breaking the NCAA Division I mark for career three-pointers, Magee attempted the most threes in an NCAA tournament game without a make. "I just feel like I let everyone down,” he said afterward. “I shot them how I always shoot them. They just didn't go in." Finally, the day was capped in fitting fashion—another blowout, this time from, of all teams, Auburn thrashing, of all teams, Kansas. The Tigers, at one point in the first half, led 40-20, and their victory eliminated the state of Kansas from the NCAA tournament. – By Ross Dellenger
• Mike Hopkins is the upbeat player’s coach that Washington needed to help shift the culture. (By Dan Greene)
• Behind a slump-busting performance from Carsen Edwards, Purdue showed why it’s a threat to make a deep run this March. (By Laken Litman)
• LSU may not be the most popular team in the tournament, but the Tigers don't care what you think. (By Andy Staples)
• Tacko Fall is enough of a basketball spectacle to rival Zion Williamson. (By Charles Pierce)
• Saturday's newsletter: NCAA tournament Round of 32 preview. (By Laken Litman)
Pick 'Em: Sunday's Slate of Eight
SI's Ross Dellenger makes his picks for the second day of the Round of 32.
No. 1 North Carolina over No. 9 Washington: The Tar Heels toyed around with Iona in the first round, but that’ll only serve as a wake-up call in what should be a double-digit win over the Pac-12 regular-season champs.
No. 3 Houston over No. 11 Ohio State: Houston is no Iowa State, the team the Buckeyes and coach Chris Holtmann knocked off in the first round.
No. 6 Buffalo over No. 3 Texas Tech: The Bulls are the fastest-scoring offense in the nation, and they’ve got a big presence inside as well to go with some gifted three-point shooters.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 10 Iowa: A first-round scare is all the Volunteers needed to get serious ahead of the matchup with the Big 10’s sixth-place team.
No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 12 Oregon: Max Hazzard will lead the Anteaters to the Sweet 16 45 years after his grandfather played for UCLA in the Big Dance.
No. 1 Duke over No. 9 UCF: A 7'6" center isn’t stopping Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils from advancing to next week.
No. 4 Virginia Tech over No. 12 Liberty: The Texas A&M buzz around Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams doesn’t distract these Hokies.
No. 1 Virginia over No. 9 Oklahoma: The Cavaliers sweated through Round 1, but they’ll find Sunday much easier against a Sooners team that finished eighth in the Big 12 with a 7-11 record in the league.
Money Shot: Sunday's Best Bet
UC Irvine +4.5
Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country, and the Ducks are coming off an 18-point thrashing. But don’t underestimate UC Irvine, coming off an upset of its own over Kansas State. Irvine has the size to match Oregon and the Anteaters are the deeper team. Oregon doesn’t shoot very well from outside (34.6%, 163rd in the country), and will struggle to score against the top two-point defense in the country in the Anteaters. Additionally, Irvine takes care of the ball (17.3% turnover rate, 90th), a must against Oregon’s heavy-pressure schemes. In what should be a very low scoring game, I not only think Irvine can keep it extremely close, but I like the ‘Eaters to continue to eat their way into the Sweet 16. – By Max Meyer
By Sunday night, those who aren’t familiar with Buffalo center Nick Perkins will be familiar with Buffalo center Nick Perkins. He’s a 6'8", 260-pound senior who provides the fast-paced Bulls (32-3) with a big body on the block. Buffalo transitions as good as anyone in college basketball, but its big guy gets overlooked too often. He’s a difference maker inside. – By Ross Dellenger
At The Buzzer
We’re not the only ones glued to our TVs, smartphones and laptops watching March Madness. After practice Saturday, Houston players gathered around a small flat screen television in the corner of their locker room in the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. During the final intense minutes of a tight game between Kentucky and Wofford, the locker room filled with disappointing waves of emotions as the Terriers fell. After all, Everybody—players, too—loves an underdog.