Four of the members of the Elite Eight were decided on Thursday in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. All four are high seeds that make it more difficult to see how a longshot can win March Madness this year.
Michigan State showed the most moxie among the vanquished in the Sweet 16 games played on Thursday. The Spartans rallied in regulation against Kansas State to force overtime. But a few clumsy possessions spelled doom for the last Big 10 team in the tournament. The Wildcats move on to the Elite Eight for the second time in the last five tournaments.
A No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 seed advanced to play on Saturday, as the power conference programs kept flexing their muscle. Only one underdog, Florida Atlantic, a No. 9 seed, won on Thursday, 62-55.
The Owls of Florida Atlantic University are the best thing to happen to Boca Raton since it was Thong Week at the beautiful white beaches in that sweltering seaside community. Many of the residents of Boca Raton may be so laid back they don’t get out on their golf carts until 3 in the afternoon, but they love some great college hoops.
The Owls have gone where no other FAU team has ever gone: deep into the March Madness tournament, as one of the only high seeds left in the tourney. On Saturday, FAU will face Kansas State as a big underdog. But who cares? The underestimated Owls are playing with house money, and don’t give a HOOT.
Oddsmakers at FanDuel Sportsbook price the Owls at +115 to get past Kansas State and on to the Final Four. This marks the first time a school from Conference USA has appeared in the regional finals.
Survive and advance. Survive and advance. That’s the strategy former coach Jim Valvano developed in the 1980s. It's a sound strategy that Gonzaga has taken to heart this season. The “always a bridesmaid-never-the-bride” Zags defeated UCLA in a thrilling back-and-forth contest on Thursday, 79-76.
The Zags strung together a 23-4 in the second half to wrestle the lead from the Bruins. Then UCLA went 12-2 from the two-minute mark to 12 seconds left to take a two-point lead. The Zags missed four free throws in the last 25 seconds to let their rivals in the door. But a 26-foot three-pointer from the top of the key by Julian Strawther with eighth seconds left turned defeat into victory for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga is seeking their first national championship, even though the school has been in 24 straight tournaments, played in the Sweet 16 thirteen times in that stretch, and made an appearance in the title game twice. Five times, the Bulldogs have been a No. 1 seed, but they’ve never brought a title to the little school from Spokane.
Head coach Mark Few has been in Gonzaga since 1989, and has led the team since 1999. How long ago was that? Back in 1999, the NBA was being handed from Michael Jordan to a 21-year old named Kobe Bryant, and Yeezy wasn’t a rapper, it was just a sound your stomach made when you ate undercooked shrimp.
The Bulldogs seem to be hovering under the radar a bit. DraftKings has them at +550 to win the NCAA Tournament, and +210 to get to the Final Four. The early line has Gonzaga at +2 points and +110 against UConn in the Elite Eight.
Other Sweet 16 scores from Thursday, Mar. 23:
Kansas State 98-93 over Michigan State, and Connecticut 88-65 over Arkansas.
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