It’s tough for a defending champion in the men’s NCAA tournament.
Arkansas’ 72-71 win over Kansas extended a remarkable streak for the reigning national title winners. The Jayhawks are now the sixth straight national title winner to be eliminated on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament the following year.
The last defending champion to advance to the second weekend of the tournament is Duke in 2016. The Blue Devils were a No. 4 seed that season and beat No. 13 UNC Wilmington and No. 12 Yale before losing to No. 1 Oregon in the Sweet 16. Since then, the tournament performances for defending champions have gone like this:
2017 Villanova: Lost in second round to No. 8 Wisconsin as No. 1 seed.
2018 North Carolina: Lost in second round to No. 7 Texas A&M as No. 2 seed.
2019 Villanova: Lost in second round to No. 3 Purdue as No. 6 seed.
2021 Virginia: Lost in first round to No. 13 Ohio as No. 4 seed.
2022 Baylor: Lost in second round to No. 8 North Carolina as No. 1 seed.
2023 Kansas: Lost in second round to No. 8 Arkansas as No. 1 seed.
Kansas kept Arkansas at an arm’s length over the course of the first half before the Razorbacks’ chaotic style started giving the Jayhawks real fits. The foul-filled game featured 23 fouls as four players fouled out and four others finished with four fouls.
The foul-fest made it fitting that the game was decided at the free-throw line. Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV made five free throws in the final 24 seconds and made four straight after getting a key offensive rebound after a missed free throw.
If Kansas was going to make a deep run in this year’s tournament, it was going to happen with a team that barely resembled the one that cut down the nets in 2022. Jalen Wilson averaged 20 points a game this season as Kansas’ leading scorer after averaging 11 a season ago. With players like Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun in the NBA, freshman Gradey Dick and Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar played big roles and big man K.J. Adams went from five minutes a game a season ago to 27 a game this year.
That remodeled team was really good. Kansas won the regular season Big 12 title again but showed some flaws down the stretch that were exposed twice by Texas in the span of eight days. A talented but underachieving Arkansas was also a bad matchup for the Jayhawks as the Hogs were able to match up well with Kansas all over the court and pressure the Jayhawks in the second half.
Here’s what else you need to know to catch up on everything big that happened on the third day of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments.
Princeton continues the run for No. 15 seeds
Princeton became the third No. 15 seed in as many years to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 78-63 win over Missouri.
The Ivy League champions absolutely dominated Missouri on the glass and out-rebounded the Tigers by 15. Princeton also made 12 3-pointers as it shot over Missouri’s zone defense in the second half. A Missouri team that relies on turnovers and outside shooting didn’t force Princeton into any harried possessions and shot poorly from 3.
Four No. 15 seeds have made the Sweet 16 in men’s NCAA tournament history and they’ve all made it in the past decade. Florida Gulf Coast was the first in 2013 before Oral Roberts in 2021 and St. Peter’s in 2022.
The Peacocks were the first No. 15 to make the Elite Eight when they took down Purdue a season ago. And it’s not hard to see how Princeton could do the same if they keep rebounding like they have against both Arizona and Missouri
Louisville avoids a third 12-over-5 upset
Louisville narrowly escaped being the third No. 5 seed to fall to a No. 12 seed in the women’s NCAA tournament.
The Cardinals beat Drake 83-81 after a fourth quarter that featured 54 combined points. Louisville clinched the game off a slick inbounds play with 20 seconds to go when Hailey Van Lith converted an and-1 to give the Cardinals a 4-point lead.
Van Lith scored 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field as Mykasa Robinson added 14.
Earlier in the day, Florida Gulf Coast beat Pac-12 tournament champion Washington State 74-63 as Sha Carter scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds. The Eagles’ upset came just before Toledo took down Iowa State 80-73. The Rockets pulled away from Iowa State in the second quarter and kept the Cyclones at bay in the second half thanks to some phenomenal free-throw shooting.
A day of big comebacks
Double-digit leads weren’t as safe as they typically are on Saturday in the women’s NCAA tournament.
No. 9 Miami came back from 17 points down at halftime to beat No. 8 Oklahoma State 62-61. The Cowgirls had a shot at the buzzer to win after a Miami five-second violation but it bounced harmlessly off the rim.
Hours later, in the Seattle Regional 3, No. 7 Baylor erased an 18-point Alabama lead in the second quarter to win 78-74.
Baylor trailed 22-4 at the end of the first quarter before cutting the lead to 11 at halftime. The Bears then dominated the fourth quarter and took the lead with 3:30 to go on a 3-pointer by Sarah Andrews. Alabama scored six straight to retake the lead before Baylor scored 7 straight points over the final 53 seconds to get the win.
Miami’s comeback tied for the fifth-largest in women’s NCAA tournament history before Baylor’s comeback jumped to a tie for third.
We can’t forget Ohio State, either. The No. 3 Buckeyes trailed No. 14 James Madison 35-19 with 4:01 to go in the second quarter before coming back in the second half and outscoring the Dukes by 30 points the rest of the way. Ohio State beat JMU 80-66 as Cotie McMahon had 18 points and Jacy Sheldon scored 17.
UCLA holds off Northwestern
No. 2 UCLA kept Northwestern’s upset attempt at bay in a 68-63 win over the Wildcats.
The Bruins shot 50% from the field as Northwestern never led after taking a 3-0 lead to start the game. Tyger Campbell was a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line and Jaime Jaquez scored 24 points for the Bruins.
There is some concern for UCLA, however. The Bruins got Adem Bona back in the starting lineup on Saturday but guard David Singleton looked like he severely rolled his right ankle in the final minute while turning up court. Singleton was helped from the court after he writhed in pain, though he was able to put weight on his leg.
“He didn’t break his ankle, which I was worried that he did,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said of the injury.
A Singleton absence in the Sweet 16 and a potential Elite Eight matchup would be huge for a UCLA team that’s without Jaylen Clark because of a lower leg injury.
Maddy Siegrist dominates
Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist entered Saturday’s first-round game against Cleveland State as the leading scorer in the nation with 29 points per game. She easily surpassed that average with 35 points in Villanova’s 76-59 win.
Siegrist leads the nation in field goals made and is second in field goal attempts per game. She was 15-of-28 from the field as no other Wildcat had more than 10 shots.
Villanova made sure to make a statement early and outscored Cleveland State 42-21 in the first half. The margin was 29 at the end of the third quarter, yet Siegrist ended up playing all but four minutes.
The win sets up a matchup with Florida Gulf Coast in the second round on Monday.
Rick Barnes looking for first Elite Eight since 2008
Rick Barnes is in his 36th season as a head coach at the top level of college basketball. His teams have won 778 games over those 36 seasons and he’s coached 20-win teams in 23 of those 36 seasons.
Yet Barnes has never found much success in the NCAA tournament. His teams are consistently very bad against the spread in the postseason and have made just one Final Four. That came in 2003, when Texas made it to the national semifinals.
And Barnes’ most recent Elite Eight appearance came five years after that with the Longhorns in 2008. Since then, Texas and Tennessee teams coached by Barnes have made nine NCAA tournaments. But none of those teams have won three games in any of those appearances.
Tennessee has a great chance to win three games in 2023 after a 65-52 win over Duke. The Vols got 27 points from Olivier Nkamhoua and simply outmuscled the Blue Devils on the glass. And thanks to Purdue’s upset loss to Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday, Tennessee will have to beat either the Knights or Florida Atlantic next Thursday for the chance at Barnes’ second Final Four.
Furman can’t advance to Sweet 16
Furman’s NCAA tournament run ended on the first weekend.
The No. 13 Paladins stunned Virginia on Thursday but were dominated by No. 5 San Diego State in the first game of the day on Saturday. The Aztecs won 75-52 as their stifling defense made Furman shoot just 32% from the field.
JP Pegues hit the game-winning shot against Virginia and was just 3-of-15 from the field against San Diego State. The Aztecs had four players in double figures and shot 23-of-38 from inside the arc.
San Diego State broke the Mountain West’s losing streak in the NCAA tournament with its win on Thursday and is now in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.