College Hoops: How NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Might Have Played Out -- Day 7

Kansas center Udoka AzubuikePhoto by Kevin Jairaj - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

We are on the nitty-gritty of our fictitious NCAA tournament, as we now get to the Sweet 16, one weekend away from the Final Four.

The Sweet 16 games were scheduled to be played Thurday, March 26, and Friday, March 27, so today (Thursday, March 26) we are predicting how the four Sweet 16 games scheduled for March 26 might have played out.

We used the bracketology and pairings projected by Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com for our purposes, and we have already provided scenarios for what might have taken place on the six previous days of the tournament. It began with the preliminary-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday, then went on to the first-round games on Thursday followed the next day by opening-round games scheduled for Friday. On Saturday we wrote how the first eight games of the second round might have played out, then on Sunday we provided possible results for the remaining second-round games.

Although the NCAA tournament was canceled because of the novel coronavirus,  "One Shining Moment" lives on, as a number of colleges have incorporated it into videos. Here is an SI.com video about that:

But now it's back to the tournament. Or rather our version of how the tournament might have played out.  (For a diversion, you can take a look at how Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde picked the games of his make-believe NCAA tournament. But we suggest you follow our scenarios as we present the first day of Sweet 16 action.)

On we go:

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Day 7, Game 1

No. 1 Kansas (30-2) vs. No. 12 East Tennessee State (32-4) at Indianapolis

***Kansas' Achai Agbai grabs a loose ball againt East Tennesee State

Kansas ETSU
Photo by Denny Medley - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier tournament rounds: Kansas defeated Robert Morris 79-57 and Arizona State 68-59; East Tennessee State upset Wisconsin 70-65 and Kentucky 74-71.

The game: East Tennessee State enters the game on a 14-game winning streak, but the Jayhawks have won 18 in a row, so something has to give.

East Tennessee State cannot sneak up on Kansas as it did the past two opponents. Early-round pressure on the favorites doomed Wisconsin and Kentucky, but Kansas is well aware that the Buccaneers are dangerous because the Jayhawks played East Tennessee State earlier this season.

When these two teams met back on November 19, Kansas won 75-63. But it was just a five-point game with six minutes left, and the game was at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse.

This game is at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the spacious atmosphere seems to be affecting Kansas' shooting at the outset. The Jayhawks miss 10 of their first 13 shots, as ETSU sags bag defensively on 7-foot Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, who had 21 points in the earlier game against the Bucs. Kansas is forced to shoot from the perimeter, and no Jayhawks starter shoots better than 35 percent from beyond the arc. They keep missing from long range, as ETSU standout Bo Hodges scores eight early points to stake the Buccaneers to a 19-13 lead 10 minutes into the game.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson gets a couple shots to go down and the Jayhawks close the gap to 34-31 at halftime.

Kansas coach Bill Self stresses defense at halftime. Despite playing in the tough Big 12, Kansas ranks third in the country in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.7 percent from the field. The Jayhawks put the clamps on ETSU, helping Kansas take off on a 12-4 run to start the second half, putting Kansas ahead by five points.

The Buccaneers stay close, trailing by six with six minutes left, but now the Jayhawks are making a concerted effort to get the ball into Azubuike against a tiring ETSU defense.

Azubuike scores on a dunk, a put-back and a layup on three consecutive possessions to push the Kansas lead to 10 with two minutes left. Kansas guard Marcus Garrett misses a pair of free throws with 51 seconds left that enables ETSU to get within five points with 40 seconds remaining. But Kansas' Isaiah Moss, a 91-percent foul shooter, sinks two free throws with 36 seconds left to end ETSU's bid for a third straight upset.

Final score: Kansas 71, East Tennessee State 64

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Day 7, Game 2

No. 1 Gonzaga (33-2) vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (30-3) at Los Angeles

***Gonzaga coach Mark Few does not know what to make of a call during a disappointing first half

Gonzaga
Photo by James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier tournament results: Gonzaga ousted Prairie View A&M 88-65 and Houston 85-74; Stephen F. Austin beat Penn State 81-66 and Oregon 81-75.

The game: Stephen F. Austin enters the game on a 17-game winning streak and has plenty of firepower, ranking eighth in the country in scoring. The confident Lumberjacks burst out to 23-10 lead at the Staples Center, and hold an eight-point advantage at halftime.

During halftime, TV analysts marvel at SFA's Kevon Harris, who tallied 15 first-half points, and Charles Barkley says Gonzaga is in deep trouble.

But Gonzaga is the top scoring team in the country, with six players averaging double figures in scoring and a seventh averaging 9.8 points. The Zags also rank eighth in the country in three-point percentage, and they put their potent offense on display in the second half.

Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie hit three-pointers early in the second half, and Filip Petrusev begins to dominate inside. Gonzaga makes up the eight-point deficit in the first 10 minutes of the second half, then surge ahead on a three-point basket by Ryan Woolridge at the 8:53 mark

The Lumberjacks stay close for the next few minutes, but Gonzaga hunkers down defensively late in the game.  

In the closing minutes, Gonzaga simply has too many offensive weapons and too many good foul shooters. The Zags keep the ball out Petrusev's hands at the end because he is one of their worst foul shooters, but his teammates make six consecutive free throws in the final minute to close it out.

The Lumberjacks players are stunned by the swiftness with which Gonzaga wiped away their first-half advantage, but they ackkowledge in postgame interviews they are pleased with their postseason performance.

Final score: Gonzaga 80, Stephen F. Austin 74

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Day 7, Game 3

No. 3 Duke (27-6) vs. No. 2 Creighton (26-7) at Indianapolis

***Duke's Wendell Moore Jr. celebrates a trip to the Elite Eight

duke
Photo by Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier tournament results: Duke eliminated Little Rock 90-64 and Cincinnati 81-72; Creighton got past Belmont 72-71 and Utah State 80-72.

The game: A neutral-court win over Kansas as well as a road win over Michigan State during the regular season show what Duke is capable of, but so does its loss to last-place Wake Forest and its 22-point loss to North Carolina State.

Tre Jones shows the importance of point-guard play in the postseason as he dominates the first 10 minutes of the game, collecting eight points and four assists to help the Blue Devils take a six-point lead. The Blue Devils are second in the nation in scoring, and Creighton can't slow them down. 

But the Bluejays can score a lot of points too, having scored more than 90 points in three of their last eight regular-season games. Marcus Zegarowski leads a Creighton surge that ties the game 43-43 at halftime.

Duke has success getting the ball inside to Vernon Carey Jr., who is too quick for Creighton's defenders. He scores 10 second-half points as the Blue Devils move out to a 77-72 lead with two minutes left.

Ty-Shon Alexander hits a three-pointer to get the Bluejays within two points with 1:02 left, and Creighton coach Greg McDermott vociferously disputes a foul called on Alexander with 41 seconds remaining. Wendell Moore Jr. makes those two foul shots, and Jones makes two more with 28.1 seconds to play rendering Zegarowski's three-pointer at the buzzer meaningless.

Creighton players mull around center court and hug each other, unable to believe their season is over.

Final score: Duke 81, Creighton 78  

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Day 7, Game 4

No. 6 BYU (26-8) vs. No. 7 Iowa (22-11) at Los Angeles

***BYU players celebrate during the Cougars' second-half surge, but it is not enough

BYU
Photo by Jeffrey Swiner - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier tournament results: BYU ousted UCLA 71-65 and Hofstra 81-70;  Iowa beat Xavier 74-64 and San Diego State 63-58.

The game: No one was able stop Iowa's All-America center Luka Garza in the first two rounds, and BYU has no better luck with the 6-foot-11 standout. He has scored at least 20 points in 18 straight games, and it looks like he will make it 19 in a row after he puts up 16 points in the first half against BYU.

Garza outplayed BYU's 6-foot-8 Yoeli Childs, who was limited to six points in the first half, which ended with Iowa holding a seven-point lead.

The Cougars were just 2-for-8 on three-point attempts in the first half, but they lead the nation in three-point shooting at 42.2 percent, and they start hitting from the outside in the second half.

Jake Toolson, TJ Haws and Alex Barcello all nail shots from beyond the arc as BYU gets to within two points with nine minjutes left.

However, BYU still has not found a defensive answer for Garza, who puts down a three-pointer of his own to push the Iowa margin to six points with 2:13 to go.

Garza blocks a Childs' shot on BYU's ensuing possession, and a Joe Wieskamp layup pushes the Iowa lead to eight before three-point shots by Haws and Childs get the deficit down to two with 16.2 seconds remaining.

Garza's one shortcoming is at the foul line, where he makes just 65.1 percent of his shots. He makes just one of two from the line with 7.6 seconds left, giving BYU a chance to tie with a three.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery calls timeout and decides not to give BYU a chance to shoot a three-point shot. The Hawkeyes foul Haws as he crosses the midcourt line with 3.2 seconds remaining. Haws makes the first, and purposely misses the second. But Garza grabs the rebound, hits two foul shots with 2.1 seconds left and the Hawkeyes survive.

Disappointed BYU players walk over to the section of the Staples Center crowd where the many BYU fans are situated and salute that contingent, which applauds the Cougars as they slowly make their way to the locker room.

Iowa 77, BYU 73

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Tomorrow (Friday) will present the final four Sweet 16 games.

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