Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 |
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LIHU‘E — It may not have been the heart-stopping day that last year’s first 16 games provided, but Thursday let us know quickly that March Madness was indeed back with a vengeance.
Butler and Temple each won at the buzzer, Kentucky hit a game-winner with 2 seconds remaining to survive Princeton and 13th-seeded Morehead State nailed a three with 4.2 seconds left to stun Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals.
No. 12 Richmond continued to play spoiler in a three-point win over Vanderbilt, No. 11 Gonzaga dominated an up-tempo St. John’s squad and UCLA saw a 23-point lead with eight minutes to play cut to just one in the closing seconds before holding off the charging Spartans of Michigan State.
It had something for everyone. What might today’s 16 games have in store?
There’s no reason to think the jaw-dropping action will slow down, but there don’t appear to be as many potential shockers in store.
Again, here are a couple of the most likely — or rather, least unlikely — shockers for Friday’s slate:
No. 13 Oakland over No. 4 Texas
The very first game of the day, tipping off at 6:15 a.m. Hawaiian (CBS) should be a great way to start the morning, as it pits a pair of teams who want to run, run and run some more. Oakland ranks second in the nation with 85.6 points per game. That may force one to think they are all about volume, but they somehow also rank second in the nation in field goal percentage (49.4 percent). The Golden Grizzlies lost to four teams ranked in the top 25 at the time (Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State) during non-conference play, then got a win over then seventh-ranked Tennessee, plus losses to West Virginia and Michigan. They are clearly battle tested and won’t be afraid of the Longhorns.
Texas was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season, but has a history of disappointing tournament exits under head coach Rick Barnes. The Longhorns have lost to lower seeds in eight of their last 12 NCAA tournaments. Texas lost seven games on the season, but five were by five points or fewer.
It will be a fun game to watch, but Oakland has been circling its calendar for this day, waiting to knock off one of the big boys on the big stage.
No. 11 Marquette over No. 6 Xavier
Another game that doesn’t tell the whole truth as far as seeding. Marquette and Xavier are very similar teams and should play a tight one. The Golden Eagles were the final team to make it from the Big East and had a really strong season going until a late skid. Their defeats were the very definition of “quality losses,” 13 of 14 coming against teams that made the dance. Yet they slipped up against Seton Hall late and got blasted by 25 points against Louisville in the Big East tournament. Yet senior Jimmy Butler (16.0 ppg, 37 percent on threes) is capable of handling the pressure and coming out on top.
But Xavier won’t go lightly, as it is trying to make the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year. Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway (20.1 ppg, 5.5 apg) is lightning quick and can change a game in a variety of ways.
No. 14 Indiana State over No. 3 Syracuse
If you’re looking for a hail mary bomb, this could be the one to watch. Indiana State has a four-guard attack that might — just might — be a bad matchup for the famous 2-3 zone of the Syracuse Orange. The Sycamores also have depth and can get scoring from multiple sources. Just one player, Dwayne Lathan, averages in double-figured (11.0 ppg). But another seven players all average between 4.3 and 9.8 points.
Syracuse started the season winning 18 straight games and vaulted to the top of the rankings before coming back to earth. It is a very good team with a fantastic leader and floor general in Scoop Jardine (12.6 ppg, 6.0 apg). However, head coach Jim Boeheim said that this group was the “most overrated team” he has ever had. That might be worth noting.
Some of the Rest
George Mason (8) should do away with the completely lost Villanova (9) team that has lost five straight games… Arizona (5) will see a familiar face in Memphis (12) head coach Josh Pastner, who played for the Wildcats and sat on the bench under Lute Olsen. The boy wonder coach just doesn’t have the experience yet — on the sidelines or on the floor — as he starts five freshmen. Zona should roll… UNLV (8) could come up with a big showing and turn some heads in a win over Illinois (9)… Georgetown (6) seems susceptible to a loss, but VCU (11) will likely be plagued by the same fatigue that hit Clemson on Thursday. The Hoyas get a win here… Washington (7) faces a Georgia (10) team that apparently wasn’t as close to the bubble as anticipated. No matter, as the Huskies cruise and set the stage for a great matchup with North Carolina on Sunday.
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