If you love upsets, this is the NCAA tournament of your dreams.
A day after records were set for underdog triumphs, with favourites falling left and right, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Kentucky got bounced, too.
After all, this was only a No. 4 seed losing to a No. 5, Indiana. The Wildcats picked a bad time to play poorly and fell 73-67 to the Hoosiers.
That Kentucky couldn’t defend Indiana, one of the best offensive squads in college basketball, wasn’t surprising at all. That the Wildcats played horribly at the other end was.
Canadian Jamal Murray, of Kitchener, Ont., was way off in what surely will be his final college contest in a one-and-done season that will be followed by being a high pick in June’s NBA Draft.
Kentucky went one-on-one far too often, unwilling – or unable – to spread the ball around, forcing the action on too many occasions.
Murray made just 1-of-9 three-point attempts and only got to the free throw line twice. Backcourt mate Tyler Ulis, one of the nation’s top playmakers, instead changed his game, scoring 27 points, with only three assists.
Thomas Bryant hit a flurry of late free throws to preserve the lead and finished with 19 points for the Hoosiers, while Yogi Ferrell added 18.
Wildcats coach John Calipari’s group was totally out of sorts against its long-time rival and Tom Crean got a third tournament win over Kentucky (the first two were while with Marquette).
Calipari was gracious afterward.
“I thought they played a terrific game and they deserved to win the game,” Calipari said.
“We tried to come back … We didn’t play our best, but maybe it’s because of them that we didn’t play our best.”
Kentucky went scoreless for several minutes heading into the halftime break, only hit one three-pointer in the opening 20 minutes and trailed by a point.
Then, late breakdowns proved crucial, allowing Indiana to hit big outside shots.
Calipari also claimed he couldn’t remember ever having eight offensive fouls called on one of his teams and said what had become the most efficient team in college basketball just “didn’t have it today.”
It was sweet revenge for Indiana, after falling in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans in 2012 to the eventual title winners.
There was also the matter of Calipari essentially ending a decades-old rivalry a few years ago.
The storied rivals had met at least once for 44 years in a row before they stopped scheduling against each other after the 2012 season.
The Hoosiers had won a game at home that year against the Wildcats and unranked Indiana had beaten top-ranked Kentucky at the buzzer the year before. After the 2012 tournament meeting, the two programs had not met again, with Calipari basically kiboshing the series because he wanted the games to be held at a neutral site, Indianapolis’ cavernouse football stadium, an easy drive from Lexington.
It was Kentucky’s earliest exit since 2008 – also at the hands of a Crean-led squad.
Calipari said he believed Crean should be named NCAA coach of the year for what he has done with his team and Crean gushed afterward about getting the chance to keep going.
“The bottom line for me is what drives me right now is that I want to just keep coaching them,” Crean said.
“I just want to be around them because they inspire me so much with their resiliency.”
By Friday, 10 double-digit seeds – everything but a No. 16 – had won, breaking the old mark of nine in both 2001 and 2012 and Northern Iowa’s crazy half-court winner at the buzzer late Friday evening equalled the record of lower seeds winning in the first-round since 1985.
There would have been 14 upsets had a Cincinnati player let go of the ball a fraction of a second earlier as he dunked as time expired in a loss to St. Joseph’s.
The favourites did much better to start the next round, but not Kentucky.
Meanwhile, next up for the Hoosiers is the East Region’s top seed, North Carolina, which led by only two points at halftime, but erupted in the final 20 minutes to roll past Providence 85-66.
STAY OR GO?
As usual, the end of a Kentucky season brought immediate question about the future of many players.
Calipari gets more one-year athletes than any other coach and didn’t dance around it afterward when asked about possible NBA declarations.
“My guess is we’ll have a lot of guys that will put their name in,” he said.
Forward Marcus Lee didn’t feel like discussing it.
“I mean, game just ended,” Lee said incredulously. “We could care less what’s happening next. Literally the game ended 30 minutes ago, so we’re still (worrying) about that.”
Murray probably hurt his stock a bit in the two games at the tournament (another slow start from the floor after going 1-for-9 early the previous game against Stony Brook before getting it going), but Ulis helped his. Both are expected to bolt. Skal Labissiere desperately needs more work, but could leave as well.
Defending champion Duke looked very, very good, for a good chunk of Saturday’s game, before hanging on for dear life in a 71-64 victory over upstart Yale.
Blue Devils superstar Brandon Ingram again looked like a deserving NBA No. 1 pick, scoring 25 points without any turnovers and Grayson Allen went off for 29 points, shooting 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc.
After a career scoring night in the opener, Marshall Plumlee only scored one basket, but still had a major impact on the game, blocking five shots, along with 10 rebounds.
Coming off of its first tournament win and in the dance for the first time since 1962, Yale whittled the lead down to three points from as many as 27, outscoring the Blue Devils 39-23 in the second half, including a 15-0 run.
Brandon Sherrod led Yale with 22 points, but the Bulldogs hit just four three-pointers and missed 9-of-10 attempts to start the game.
Next up? The Oregon-St. Joseph’s winner.
NOT ANOTHER SHOCKER
Another stunning run was not in the cards for the Wichita State Shockers.
After a truly out of nowhere Final Four run as a No. 9 seed in 2013, and then an undefeated season until the tournament’s third round in 2014, followed by a Sweet 16 trip last season, this year’s group failed to build on its opening-round upset over Arizona.
The Shockers gave it a good try in what was to be the swan song of star seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but a late rally wasn’t quite enough and No. 3 Miami won 65-55 over the 11th seeded squad from the midwest.
VanVleet was brilliant, with five rebounds and assists to go along with four steals and 12 points, but missed 5-of-6 three-point attempts and Wichita State went just 6-for-22 from deep, perhaps due to fatigue. The team played late games on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Miami shot 55 per cent against a team that had only allowed opponents to average 38 per cent shooting, but blew a 21-point lead in the second half. Angel Rodriguez scored 28 points, many off incredibly difficult shots, to lead his team to a date with the Villanova-Iowa winner.
Gonzaga seems to do better as an underdog than a favourite. The No. 11 seed in the Midwest beat No. 3 Utah 82-59 behind 19 points from Domantas Sabonis, 22 from Eric McClellan and 17 from Kyle Wiltjer.
The Bulldogs were great at both ends of the floor, shutting down star Utah centre Jakob Poetl.
No. 9 Butler struck fear in No. 1 Virginia early, building a halftime lead, but the Cavaliers shot 73 per cent after the break to cruise to a 77-69 win.
Ottawa’s Marial Shayok scored 12 points for Virginia, including a key free throw with Butler within three inside of the final minute.
Virginia will meet No. 4 Iowa State, a 78-61 winner over Arkansas-Little Rock in a game that was never in doubt.
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie suffered his first NCAA tournament loss and the team dropped to 17-3 at the tourney since 2009 thanks to a 73-61 loss to No. 1 overall seed Kansas.
Kansas had 20 more rebounds than the Huskies and overwhelmed with depth and skill.