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Saturday, November 18, 2017

6 biggest takeaways from Day 4 of the NCAA Tournament

Coach K

The first weekend of NCAA Tournament play has come to a close and if you can piece together the pieces of your ripped up bracket, it’s easy to see how much mayhem we witnessed in just four days.

In four days we lost a number one seed and two number two seeds. Teams perceived as possible champions are flying home this weekend empty-handed, while others have re-affirmed themselves as contenders to cut down the nets in Phoenix. We’ll be able to catch our breath until the games resume on Thursday, but for now we can look back at the effects of a crazy Sunday will have on the tournament going forward.

Here are the six biggest takeaways from Sunday’s NCAA Tournament action.

1) One seeds survive and advance

After Villanova lost and Gonzaga was tested on Saturday, all eyes turned to Kansas and North Carolina on Sunday. Both teams won, but not without drama.

Like a skilled heavyweight boxer, Kansas avoided and countered a series of haymakers from Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans. As the game wore on, Kansas was just too much for Sparty and pulled away with a series of daggers in the closing minutes.

North Carolina, on the other hand, trailed for most of the second half against a feisty Arkansas squad. When the game slowed in the final moments, things got ugly. Carolina managed to find ways to score, but Arkansas’ offense sank like it was in quicksand. The Razorbacks had no movement, no structure, and as a result, no scoring in the biggest moments of the game. North Carolina’s defense tightened and secured a win, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Kansas will face Purdue on Thursday, while North Carolina will take on Butler on Friday.

2.) Duke and Michigan State bit by the one-and-done bug

Before the season began, Michigan State and Duke highlighted the list of team expected to compete for top seeds and the national title. Both teams featured a mix of veterans from past successful teams and freshmen ready to contribute. Both lost Sunday after rocky seasons where the teams failed to gel into a cohesive unit.

Duke’s season was a wild one filled with drama, injuries, and inconsistent play. Even as the Blue Devils won the ACC Tournament, the squad felt more like a group of star players rather than a team with who fit together. Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, and Jayson Tatum are all great scorers, but none complemented the strengths of the others. Now after the early loss, Tatum likely heads to the NBA, while Kennard and Allen could do the same. All three are built for success at that level, but never meshed correctly at Duke.

Since Coach K has begun to recruit players with an eye on the NBA Draft after just one season, he’s found mixed success. Kyrie Irving battled injuries and was never a factor at Duke. Jabari Parker was on the Duke team bounced by Mercer in the round of 64. Tatum and Harry Giles will both likely leave Duke having never seen the Sweet Sixteen. Of course, Coach K’s 2015 team won the National Championship, led by three one-and-done freshman. Duke hasn’t had a problem bringing in talented recruits or putting them in a position to succeed in the NBA; it has struggled to assimilate those young players with upperclassmen in the span of a year.

Meanwhile, Tom Izzo brought in his first freshman likely to leave in Miles Bridges this season, along with three other very talented recruits. The Spartans’ mix of freshman firepower and steady veterans always felt uneasy this season.

Michigan State’s season ebbed and flowed ferociously all year, finally ending in a blowout loss to Kansas on Sunday. If Bridges is the only Spartan to head for the NBA, Izzo’s freshmen will grow in his system and develop into a Big Ten contender. If Nick Ward also jumps to the pros, Michigan State could spin its tires trying to replace the talent it loses to the NBA this offseason.

3.) Baylor Bears may be back in business

Entering the tournament, not a lot of national attention was paid to Baylor. In fact, there was a lot more chatter about SMU topping the Bears or Duke coasting to a meeting with Villanova in the Elite Eight than Baylor being a real threat to make a run.

Keep in mind though that this a team who was ranked No. 1 in the nation and, at one point, 20-1.

This Baylor team has beaten Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and West Virginia this season. Baylor is healthy and hungry, ready to do damage in this tournament.

The Bears staved off a late charge from the USC Trojans on Sunday, winning in the final minute, behind a double-double by Johnathan Motley and clutch shooting by Manu Lacomte.

Scott Drew has this team humming, and they are capable of rebounding and muscling their way to the Final Four. They will face Duke killer South Carolina in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Read Nos. 4-6 on Page 2

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