Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

3. Arizona Dominates Oregon

Arizona Played With a Chip On Its Shoulder in Las Vegas (USA Today Images)

Arizona Played With a Chip On Its Shoulder in Las Vegas (USA Today Images)

The Wildcats jumped all over a noticeably fatigued Ducks team and led wire to wire to win the Pac-12 title. It was an all-around great performance from Sean Miller’s team, which appears to be playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time. Because of the strength of several other candidates’ resumes, Arizona is not likely to get a #1 seed, but seriously, who cares? The Wildcats are pretty clearly playing like one of the four best teams in the country right now. As long they avoid Kentucky — which, based on geography, they will — the top seed part isn’t all that important. Arizona should be a Final Four favorite.

4. Villanova and Wisconsin Make the Committee’s Decision Impossible 

After it watched (or probably didn’t watch) Wisconsin overwhelm Purdue in the second half of yesterday’s Big Ten semifinal, Villanova decided it too had to make a statement. Jay Wright’s team thoroughly took down upstart Xavier at Madison Square Garden to bring the Big East title back to Philadelphia. The Wildcats haven’t lost a game since January 19, winning eight games against NCAA Tournament teams in the process. If Wisconsin can hold off Michigan State this afternoon, the Selection Committee will have a really tough decision to make. Kentucky is clearly the top overall seed, but there are five teams all on a similar level behind the Wildcats. It can be easy to make too much of seeding, especially a difference of just one seed line, but for the #2 seed that draws Kentucky, it becomes a pretty big deal. Wisconsin will have one more chance tomorrow to make its case to avoid John Calipari’s team for as long as possible.

5. Bid-Stealer Alert!

For bubble teams now, all there is to do is sit back, wait, and hope for the best. Saturday must have been excruciating for them, though, because an unknown bubble team just got knocked out of the Tournament. Indiana? Boise State? BYU? Ole Miss? Somebody else? The bubble shrank by one spot due to Wyoming’s upset victory over San Diego State in the Mountain West final. Elsewhere, Connecticut assured those same teams on the fringe of the field that today will be full of fret and worry too. The Huskies knocked off Tulsa to set up a date with SMU this afternoon in the AAC final. They’ll have a chance to pilfer yet another bid. And with what they’ve done in recent March runs, is there really any doubt whether UConn, playing in Hartford, will pull it off?

Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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