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#pounditThursday, June 13, 2024

Six biggest takeaways from Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen games

Sister Jean

It’s not every year that the Sweet Sixteen venue days are split by each side of the bracket, like this year. Thursday treated us to four games between the eight teams still alive on the left side of the bracket. One of the eight teams we saw Thursday night will advance and play for a national championship next Monday.

Before they reach San Antonio, regionals in Atlanta and Los Angeles need to be decided. With four games Thursday, we saw two tight contests, one utter blowout, and one disappointment. We’ll now see four teams battle Saturday for their place in the Final Four. Before they do so, let’s look at the six biggest takeaways from Thursday.

1. Loyola Chicago survives again with hot second half

In two upset victories in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve seen Loyola Chicago beautiful share the ball to find the perfect shot on every offensive possession. Coming out of the halftime break Thursday night against Nevada, the Ramblers put on an offensive clinic.

Loyola made its first 13 field goal attempts of the second half, picking apart the Wolf Pack defense. Guards Clayton Custer and Marques Townes sliced through the lane, finding teammates for a series of layups and dunks at the rim.

Naturally, Loyola’s defense dried up and Nevada made a run late in the game. The Ramblers held on for the win after Custer hit Townes for a wide open three to seal the game.

2. Nevada’s late-game management was costly

With just four team fouls in the second half, Nevada trailed by one point with under 40 seconds left to play. Coach Eric Musselman elected to play the possession out, hoping for a stop and a chance at a game-winning shot.

It’s the same decision we saw from Butler coach Lavell Jordan last weekend and again, failing to extend the game resulted in a loss.

Loyola ended up hitting a three to take a four-point lead, essentially ending the game with a two possession difference. Had the 3-point attempt missed and Loyola grabbed an offensive rebound, the Ramblers would have sealed the game and been able to run out the clock. Certainly, Nevada would have a chance to win with a stop, but fouling to extend the game would have given the Wolf Pack more ways to win. Even when Caleb Martin responded to Townes’ three with one of his own, Nevada had two fouls-to-give and just one second left on the clock.

3. Michigan shot the lights out

While Loyola was putting on their offensive clinic in Atlanta, Michigan refused to be outdone while playing Texas A&M in Los Angeles. The Wolverines shot 61 percent from the floor, with 14 threes and 21 assists.

Absolutely everything Michigan tried to do offensively worked, no matter who had the ball. Eight different Wolverines sank a three Thursday night and five had multiple assists in the game.

Michigan was also able to help their offense with defensive effort. Zavier Simpson had five steals to spark his team. It all added up to a blowout win and Michigan’s third Elite Eight in six years.

4. Kentucky squandered an opportunity

When the top four seeds in the South Region failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, all signs pointed to a run from Kentucky. The Wildcats were the highest remaining seed left in the region and looked to be gelling more and more with each passing game.

Kentucky faced Kansas State Thursday night in a game that slowed down into a mess. Referees whistled 51 fouls on both teams, with 30 of those penalties on Kansas State. Five of Bruce Weber’s players were disqualified with five fouls.

Kentucky was treated with 37 trips to the free throw line, yet converted just 23 of those attempts. PJ Washington was just 8 of 20 from the charity stripe. That percentage of misses is difficult to swallow in a close game.

Kansas State scored in the game’s final minute to secure the lead and Kentucky’s last gasp shot came nowhere close. Kentucky’s supposed “easy” path to the Final Four through “Catlanta” proved far more difficult than perceived.

5. Gonzaga badly missed Killian Tillie

Mere moments before Gonzaga tipped off against Florida State, sophomore forward Killian Tillie was ruled out with a hip injury. It was a brutal blow for the Zags, with Tillie contributing in a variety of ways this season. The French big was Gonzaga’s second-leading scorer, stretched the floor with outside shooting, and protected the rim.

The Zags clearly missed Tillie, as Florida State was able to dominate the paint and shut down Gonzaga’s offense. With high intensity man-to-man defense from the Seminoles, Gonzaga looked panicked and forced low percentage shots all night.

Florida State blocked nine shots and held the Zags to just 5 of 20 from outside the arc.

6. Power conferences show their might

Few expected to see Florida State and Kansas State advance to the Elite Eight after their respective regular seasons. Neither inspired enough confidence in the selection committee to earn higher than a nine seed.

Both, however, have some things in common. They played in the two toughest conferences in college basketball this season. Kansas State finished 4th in the Big XII at 10-8, while Florida State managed 8th in the ACC at 9-9. Those records don’t jump off the page, yet in leagues as strong as the Big XII and ACC, these teams had to win tough games to earn those marks.

Kansas State beat Oklahoma, Texas (twice), Oklahoma State (twice), and TCU (twice) this season. Florida State has wins over UNC, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Clemson in conference this season.

They may both be nine seeds, but these teams are battle-tested and have earned their stripes. With their three wins in the NCAA Tournament, both have shown the ability to not just survive and advance, but also to impress and earn their victories.

Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court,, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.


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