Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament brought an unexpected freshman shining in the spotlight, and top seeds surviving and advancing.
The Other Freshman
Kentucky and head coach John Calipari are rightfully known for their tremendous freshmen, most of whom are “one-and-done”, going straight to the NBA after only one season in college.
Calipari had those players again this season. Guard Jamaal Murray and big man Skal Labissiere are both projected to go in the lottery in the NBA Draft this June, and even Tom Crean has one of his own at Indiana with center Thomas Bryant.
The freshman that caught everyone’s eye Saturday, however, and a name that is guaranteed to pick up steam in NBA draft circles, is Hoosiers wing OG Anunoby.
Anunoby guarded everyone from 5-foot-9 Wildcats point guard Tyler Ulis to the 6-foot-11 Labissiere, showing tremendous promise on the defensive end with his 6-foot-8 215-pound frame.
His athleticism is truly next level and this block on Murray shows that.
The most difficult part to wrap your head around regarding Anunoby is how unheralded of a recruit he was out of high school despite the tremendous plays he is capable of.
He finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and three blocks in 26 minutes.
Survive And Advance
No. 4 Duke and 3-seeded Miami were in different situations Saturday. Duke was a heavy favorite over Yale, but Miami were the underdogs in Vegas against double-digit seed Wichita State.
Both teams would live up to their seeding by jumping out to monster leads. At their highest points, the leads would be 27 points for Duke and 21 points for Miami. Both teams, however, did not protect their giant advantage well in the second half, and in the case of the Hurricanes, they gave it up entirely.
Wichita State’s Ron Baker hit a 3-pointer with 10:25 left to give the Shockers the lead. Miami quickly responded, though, after head coach Jim Larranaga’s technical foul pumped up his team. Sheldon McClellan scored nine points and enigmatic point guard Angel Rodriguez continued to make plays like he did all game.
Rodriguez finished the game with 28 points on only 11 shots. That included five rebounds and four assists, but also seven turnovers.
Meanwhile, Duke mustered up a similar response after Yale’s 15-0 run to make it an eight point game with just over 11 minutes left.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, they had the best NBA prospect in the tournament. Brandon Ingram went on to score nine of Duke’s next 11 points after that run and finished with 25 points.
A popular mantra in the tournament is that there is always one early game where you just have to “survive and advance,” and both Miami and Duke did just that.
Sabonis and Johnson dominate
Guard play is often made out to be a large contributing factor to success in the NCAA Tournament, but No. 11 seed Gonzaga and No. 1 seed North Carolina advanced Saturday because of their big men Domantas Sabonis and Brice Johnson.
Sabonis had one of the best games of his career against Utah and likely NBA lottery pick Jakob Poeltl, who he dominated in every aspect of the game. Sabonis’ footwork, craftiness and strength around the basket was too much for the Utes and Poeltl to handle.
He even flashed a 3-pointer — his fifth of the season — to the amazement of NBA scouts everywhere, who saw the intuitive big as a post player with the ability to hit the occasional jumper.
His passing has certainly carried over from his father, Arvydas, who was known for his flashy passes from the center position in his seven seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. Sabonis finished with 19 points, ten rebounds and three assists and his Bulldog squad looked like a serious Final Four threat.
As for Johnson, the Tar Heel did what he always does — create havoc. The 6-foot-9 senior bounced around the court, grabbing ten rebounds for his 21st double-double of the season and blocked two shots as well.
His 21 points on nine shots were a consistent for North Carolina throughout the game, something sorely needed with 9-seeded Providence keeping the game close until the last ten minutes of the game.
Johnson and Sabonis could meet in the Final Four, an individual matchup that would delight both college basketball and NBA fans alike.
Cyclones stay under the radar
No. 4 seed Iowa State has failed to make it to the second week of the tournament three out of the past four seasons, and while two of those losses were to higher seeded teams, they had built up a reputation.
Last year didn’t help matters, after an incredibly disappointing loss to 14-seeded UAB in a tournament that many had the Cyclones as a sleeper to go all the way.
This season, however, they are taking care of business. Double-digit wins over double-digit seeded Iona and Arkansas Little Rock might be called expected by some, but others could call it a team finding their groove at the right time.
Senior Georges Niang was on two of those teams with early exits and his 56 points in two games have refused to allow it to happen for the third time.
Niang and junior point guard Monte Morris form a devastating duo that has flown under the radar nationally all the way to a Sweet 16 appearance.
If Iowa State gets past Virginia next week and with the other side of the bracket guaranteed to bring a double-digit seed to the Elite Eight, is this the year for the Cyclones?
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