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#pounditSunday, February 5, 2023

8 biggest takeaways from Day 2 of the NCAA Tournament

USC Trojans basketball

When casual fans tune into college basketball’s most wild weekend, they expect the “Madness” to be as wild as they always remembered. This season’s first two days of tournament play did not exactly pay off.

None of the top 16 seeded teams lost, and only one five seed was defeated, though Minnesota opened as an underdog according to betting markets. We had no buzzer-beaters, as both Princeton and SMU’s shots to win bounced off the rim. Despite all of that, we had back-to-back days of basketball overload, and we’re preparing for even more as the round of 32 tips off Saturday.

Even without things going absolutely wild, there was plenty to watch and learn from during Friday’s action.

1.) Michigan’s wild ride continues

Last week, Michigan charged through the Big Ten Tournament, winning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was an unlikely run, not because of Michigan’s talent pool or skill level, but because of travel problems. The Wolverines’ team plane skidded off the runway and they were forced to fly into Washington, DC on the morning of their first game. Playing in practice jerseys, they still gutted out victories.

Friday they went toe-to-toe with the nation’s most efficient offense, Oklahoma State.

Despite talk of the Cowboys firepower, it was Michigan who simply could not miss a shot in the second half. The Wolverines shot 16 of 29 from outside the arc, displaying a hot streak that could make them a dangerous team in this tournament.

2.) Questionable call deflates Seton Hall

The Pirates trailed Arkansas by one with under 30 seconds to play, with the Razorbacks in control of the ball. Desi Rodriguez did what any player would, reaching out to foul his opponent. Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford took a tumble as Rodriguez laid hands on him (video here). The officials went to the review monitor and inexplicably ruled the contact as a flagrant foul.

By the letter of the law, the call was not egregious, but a bit confusing. In practice, and in the context of the game, that call cannot be made. Teams always foul when losing and refs know that, so the particulars of the rule book don’t necessarily fit the situation. Rodriguez did nothing malicious or overtly harmful, but was penalized as if he had.

Arkansas would have still had every opportunity to win the game if the play was ruled a common foul, while a flagrant foul essentially ended Seton Hall’s season.

3.) North Carolina and Kansas rolled

Both the Jayhawks and Tar Heels took the court, a day after fellow number one seeds Gonzaga and Villanova struggled in their respective first halves. Friday’s two 1-seeds did not disappoint.

Both coasted to big victories and scored in triple-digits. There was never a doubt for these top seeds.

Both North Carolina and Kansas are built for blowouts, with fast teams and faster tempos. The length and size of KU and UNC proved to just be too much for their inferior opponents.

The two will face a tougher test Sunday, with Carolina taking on Arkansas, and Kansas fielding Michigan State.

4.) The Trojans fight on

After winning in Tuesday’s First Four match-up, USC met a much-hyped SMU squad. Semi Ojeleye and the Mustangs entered the tournament on a hot streak, with hopes of reaching the second weekend.

USC had other ideas, topping SMU in the final seconds.

In the eight years since the inception of the First Four, one of the eight teams in the play-in games has gone on to reach the round of 32 after playing in Dayton. This year it was USC.

In a weekend without many upsets, the Trojans’ victory was among the most shocking. They rallied from down by as many as 12 to win the game, following a similar pattern established in their victory over Providence, where the Trojans overcame a 17-point deficit.

USC now faces a Baylor team who has struggled down the stretch, with the winner headed to the Sweet Sixteen.

See Nos. 5-8 on Page 2

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