NCAA Tournament 2018: Thursday's Sweet 16 Winners and Losers
The Sweet 16 began with another classic shot, this one by Loyola-Chicago's Marques Townes, whose step-to-the-side three-pointer with six seconds left sealed a one-point win for the tournament's biggest underdog.
That is, unless you consider that to be Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, whose team was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, and whose job performance is constantly debated online, and who now finds himself in the Elite Eight, facing Loyola-Chicago for a trip to the Final Four.
It was another big day for underdogs, and it made Weber a lot of money. These are the winners and losers from the first day of the Sweet 16.
Winner: Michigan's Swag
Jordan Poole's game-winner over the Houston Cougars last week is the shot of the tournament so far, and if the first half of Michigan's Sweet 16 game vs. Texas A&M was any indication, it injected the Wolverines with a tremendous amount of confidence.
Michigan made 10 first-half three-pointers and took a 52-28 lead into the break before going on to a 99-72 win.
This from a team that isn't generally great from the arc. The Wolverines shot 36.4 percent from three-point range this year, which is almost exactly average. Michigan hadn't made 10 threes in an entire game since March 2, though it did make 11 in a half against Maryland in February.
Loser: Nature in the Face of Purdue's Engineering School
Unfortunately, Purdue's Isaac Haas likely still won't play when the second-seeded Boilermakers face third-seeded Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 on Friday. But that doesn't take away from what Purdue mechanical engineering students accomplished on short notice for their injured star.
By Monday, a group of students had taken on the project of making a brace for Haas, who suffered a broken right elbow in the first round win over Cal State Fullerton, in hopes it would allow him to play. They got Haas' measurements Monday, worked all night, and delivered it Tuesday.
"They kind of built their own," Haas told the Washington Post's Roman Stubbs. "Now I've just met those guys and just thanked them a lot for everything they've done."
The brace, which incorporates a leather belt, is expected to be approved by the NCAA, but Purdue coach Matt Painter on Thursday said Haas probably won't play anyway, per Stubbs.
Winner: Marques Townes
The crowd started chanting "MVP" at Loyola-Chicago's Marques Townes with 6.3 seconds left in the Ramblers' 69-68 win over Nevada on Thursday.
With a one-point lead in the final seconds, Townes was spotted up in the corner. He caught a pass from Clayton Custer, pumped, dribbled once to the left and drilled a three-pointer that made it a two-possession game and sealed Loyola-Chicago's first Elite Eight appearance since it won the national championship in 1963.
"Marques Townes was the best player on the court tonight," Custer said on the CBS broadcast afterward.
Townes averaged just 11 points per game this year, a little less than he did last season as a sophomore (11.5).
He had 18 points—the most he's scored in more than a month—plus five assists and four rebounds.
Loser: Texas A&M
Michigan made 10 three-pointers in the first half, which is the sort of thing that can happen in sports sometimes. You imagined a Texas A&M run, and you kept imagining, but like an apology from your ex, it never arrived.
The Wolverines led by 24 at halftime and still led by 25 halfway through the second half.
In desperation mode, Texas A&M closed the gap...to 21...with 3:23 left.
You'd have thought the Aggies would show up on defense in the second half, or at the very least Michigan would cool off. But no.
Winner: Bruce Weber's Bank Account
You've heard of performance bonuses, but this one from Bruce Weber's contract is something else: For making the Elite Eight, the Kansas State head coach earns an extra $430,000, per the Kansas City Star's Jeff Rosen.
This is an extraordinarily large number. For comparison's sake, Weber's in-state rival, Kansas coach Bill Self, also has tournament-related performance bonuses, but they top out at $200,000 for winning the national title.
Granted, expectations at Kansas and Kansas State are a little different, but the Wildcats have experienced their share of NCAA tournament success in recent years. They've been to the tournament seven times this decade and made the Elite Eight in 2010 under Frank Martin.
But whatever. The money spends the same.
We'll use Kentucky as a proxy for the one-and-done phenomenon, since John Calipari is the Zeus of that, and this was that type of Wildcats team. It'll be different freshmen playing these roles next year. Maybe they'll fare better than this group did. Maybe not. But in either case, Thursday night went to the program guys.
There is no major-conference school that more accurately embodies the idea of a bucolic, four-year college basketball outfit than Bruce Weber's Kansas State program. Nobody has ever accused Weber of being a world-class recruiter or particularly charismatic. He is the opposite of John Calipari, who is the quintessential example of the college-basketball-coach-as-salesman trope.
Weber's win over Kentucky would have been significant from this angle under any circumstance, but it happened mostly without Kansas State's best player, forward Dean Wade, who is injured and barely played.
Friday may contradict all of this, but for a night at least, old school won.
Winner: Florida State
Florida State beat Gonzaga by 15 on Thursday night, advancing to the Elite Eight. That's a great night for a team that was seeded ninth in its region, and in some years it would be the biggest story of the tournament.
And yet how much do you know about Florida State's basketball team at this point?
The Seminoles' story has escaped attention in part because this was the tournament a No. 16 seed finally beat a No. 1 and also in part because Loyola-Chicago is headed to the Elite Eight.
So here's the story on the Noles: They won their first nine games, including one against Florida, had a rough holiday season and not such a great February and pretty much came limping into the NCAA tournament, having lost six of their last 10 games.
This has truly come out of nowhere. We'll see how long it takes for anybody to notice.
Loser: Gonzaga's Back-to-Back Final Four Bid
Gonzaga was the national runner-up last year, which was a major breakthrough for a program that at the turn of the century had made its name as a Cinderella and by the start of this decade was one of the country's best programs but didn't have deep tourney runs to show for it.
After a surprise Elite Eight appearance in 1999, Gonzaga was held out until 2015. Following that in 2017 with the program's first Final Four appearance, and a shot at the national title, Gonzaga validated its program on a whole new level. Gonzaga has been to the Sweet 16 four years in a row, and back-to-back Elite Eight or Final Four appearances would have taken Gonzaga's run from great to historic.
Alas, the Bulldogs shot 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from the three-point line and lost 75-60.