Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 68, #1 Virginia 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Late Syracuse surge stuns Virginia. When London Perrantes hit his sixth three of the game with 9:33 to go, the Cavaliers led by 15 points (54-39). The Orange looked tired, Virginia appeared as steady as ever, and there seemed little doubt that Tony Bennett was minutes away from his first trip to the Final Four. Then everything changed. Syracuse uncorked a six-minute, 25-4 run that lifted the Orange into the driver’s seat. An experienced, methodical Virginia team unraveled, while Syracuse’s collection of talented but enigmatic freshmen – most notably Malachi Richardson – seized the moment in forcing turnovers and converting on the opposite end. The Midwest region surprised from opening tip last Thursday all the way through to the final minutes this evening.
  2. ACC Player of the Year struggles. Malcolm Brogdon probably didn’t expect his career to end today, and particularly not in the fashion in which it did. The Cavaliers’ star made just two of his 14 field goal attempts, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tonight was also a poor display of Brogdon’s normally paralyzing individual defense, as he struggled to contain Richardson late in the second half. Brogdon did some things well – he handed out seven assists and made all seven of his free throw attempts – but his subpar effort was an undeniably critical element of the Virginia loss.
  3. Finally time to respect the Orange. Jim Boeheim mentioned on Friday that it seemed like every Syracuse opponent in this NCAA Tournament was suddenly considered bad once they lost to the Orange. That trend will be unlikely to continue after tonight. Beating Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga – all seeded #7 or higher – shouldn’t be discarded as nothing, but tonight’s takedown of a national title contender has to fully validate this unexpected postseason run. They may not head to Houston as a Final Four favorite, but Boeheim’s team has proven it must be taken seriously.

Star of the Game. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse. The gifted Syracuse freshman was the key player in the Syracuse comeback, scoring 14 points in the decisive 25-4 spurt that sent the Orange into the Final Four. His three-pointer over Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, with three and a half minutes to play put the Orange up six and should stand as the most memorable bucket in a wild regional final. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 84, #4 Iowa State 71

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Virginia blitzes Iowa State early. The Cavaliers opened on a 12-2 run that they extended to leads of 17-3 (five minutes in) and 26-9 (eight minutes in). Adding to the Cyclones’ early troubles was foul trouble for star Georges Niang, who picked up his second foul with 12:46 to play in the half. Steve Prohm would gamble in re-inserting Niang minutes later, but a tentative Niang didn’t make the Cyclones any better defensively. Getting down early is never recommended, but against a Virginia team that plays at a deliberate tempo and can be suffocating defensively, an early hole is too often a death knell. It certainly played out that way tonight.
  2. Virginia’s passing. The Cavaliers are known as a good-passing team, but their ability to share the ball was particularly excellent this evening. They assisted on a remarkable 81 percent (26 of 32) of their field goals, well above their season average of 55 percent. When Iowa State extended their pressure into the full-court with three minutes to go, Virginia repeatedly passed their way through the press for dunks, as Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins had five combined dunks in a two-minute stretch. London Perrantes led the Cavaliers with nine assists.
  3. Georges Niang. As bad as Iowa State’s first half was, it would have been even worse without heavy contributions from its senior star. Niang shrugged off a pair of quick fouls to score 15 points in the opening half – just one fewer than the rest of his team combined. He opened the second half hot, too, scoring seven points in the first seven minutes. Unfortunately he also picked up two more fouls in that stretch, and headed to the bench with 13:10 to play and Iowa State on a run that had cut the Cavalier lead to eight. He returned with nine minutes to play and his team down 13, after which point Iowa State would never really threaten again. Niang finished with 30 points and eight rebounds in the final game of an outstanding collegiate career.

Star of the Game. Mike Tobey, Virginia. The Cavaliers had a number of key contributors, but Tobey supplied an unexpected lift off the bench that made a huge difference. The senior had 18 points and seven rebounds – including four on the offensive end – and was critical in helping UVA maintain a comfortable lead throughout the second half. Jameel McKay was a virtual non-factor for the Cyclones, as Tobey and the Virginia frontcourt took it to Iowa State on the glass, outrebounding them by eight, 31-23.

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Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 77, #9 Butler 69

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Hello NCAA Tournament fans: Meet Andrew Chrabascz. One of the beauties of the NCAA Tournament is that we are introduced to previously unknown players that raise their games on the biggest stage. Tonight that player was Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz. The junior forward may normally be Butler’s fourth option, but he carried the Bulldogs on his back for the first 24 minutes of tonight’s game. At one point early in the second half, Chrabascz had scored 24 of his team’s 37 total points. That’s when Virginia’s Tony Bennett paid him the ultimate complement by moving ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon over to guard the red-hot Bulldog. Chrabascz pretty much disappeared from the Butler offense from that point on, going scoreless over the game’s last 13 minutes.
  2. The weakest link showed up in the second half. This game featured two offenses and one defense ranked among KenPom’s top 20 in efficiency. Of course that defense is Virginia’s famous pack line that has smothered opponents for years. But Butler’s defense played much better than expected, especially early in the contest. The Cavaliers only managed to score 23 points on 28 possessions in the first half, shooting a chilly 38 percent from the floor. In the second half, however, Virginia heated up by shooting a scorching 73.1 percent from the field. The Bulldogs gave up 1.50 points per possession after halftime, and couldn’t get key stops down the stretch despite hanging around until the very end.
  3. Virginia got support for its main three guys. There’s no doubt that Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes are Virginia’s key players. But if the Cavaliers are going to make a deep run in this year’s Tourney, they will need other players to step up when one of those is having an off night. Tonight, two bench players — Marial Shayok and Mike Tobey — came up huge. Shayok scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and Tobey contributed 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting. That’s the kind of support Bennett needs from his so-called role players from here on out.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 81, #16 Hampton 45

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

London Perrantes hit three first half three-pointers to lead Virginia to a comfortable First Round win over Hampton. (foxsports.com)

London Perrantes hit three first half three-pointers to lead Virginia to a comfortable First Round win over Hampton. (foxsports.com)

  1. Virginia didn’t mess around this time. Two years ago in this same building, another #1 seed Virginia team struggled mightily with #16 Coastal Carolina — the Cavaliers trailed at the half before rallying for a skittish 11-point victory. For awhile today, things seemed headed down a similar path as Hampton came out strong and only trailed by two points with just under six minutes left in the first half. But Virginia went on a three-point shooting spree to close it out and took a comfortable 19-point lead into the locker room from which it never looked back.
  2. As expected, Hampton really struggled to score. Before this game, the Pirates had only been held under 70 points 10 times this season. Against the Virginia pack line defense, Hampton mustered only a season-low 45 points and shot a frigid 30 percent from the floor. The Pirates were really cold from long-range, making only 3-of-19 from outside the arc. Hampton has made the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive years but don’t expect the Pirates to be back in the Big Dance next season. Coach Edward ‘Buck’ Joyner will lose five of his top six players from a team that claimed both the MEAC regular season and tournament titles.
  3. At least for one game, Virginia regained its shooting touch. Maybe it was North Carolina’s defense or the rigors of a third tough game in three nights, but for whatever the reason, Virginia’s guards did not shoot well in last Saturday’s ACC Championship game. The jumpers were falling this afternoon as the Cavaliers went 12-of-25 from behind the arc. London Perrantes led the deep-ball barrage with four made threes, and four of his teammates hit two three-pointers each.

Star of the Game.  Anthony Gill, Virginia. The senior forward helped the Cavaliers control the paint at both ends. Gill finished with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting while also grabbing seven boards and dishing out four assists.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC

Posted by Matt Patton on March 13th, 2016

The ACC got seven bids to the NCAA Tournament. While not a huge surprise, Syracuse was very, very fortunate to earn an at-large bid. Additionally, Roy Williams ended up correctly predicting that both North Carolina and Virginia would wind up on the top seed line. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for the ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina celebrates winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina Celebrated Another ACC Tournament Title Yesterday. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina (#1 East): The Tar Heels were the second overall seed, which shows how much the committee respects winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles (and perhaps also considered the time Marcus Paige missed from injury). That means a pair of opening round games in Raleigh, but the bad news for North Carolina fans is that the #4 and #5 seeds in the region (Kentucky and Indiana) are both grossly underseeded. It almost guarantees a challenging Sweet Sixteen game in Philadelphia.

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels build on their recent momentum and win the National Championship.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen opponent is firing on all cylinders from behind the arc and sends the Tar Heels packing.

Virginia (#1 Midwest): In another surprise twist, Virginia was a #1 seed and the third overall (the committee must have watched the ACC Tournament!) with a trip to Raleigh on tap for the first weekend. The Cavaliers have a great chance to make it to the regional in Chicago, but #5 Purdue could be a very challenging Sweet Sixteen opponent. The rest of the bracket is favorable with one glaring exception: #2 seed Michigan State. The Spartans will be favored to meet Virginia in the Elite Eight and have ended Virginia’s postseason in each of the past two seasons.

  • Best Case: Virginia finally breaks through and silences the doubters with the school’s first National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Virginia, worn out by an incredibly talented Purdue team, is destroyed by the Spartans (leaving Tony Bennett thrilled that he opted to not go to the Big Ten).

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Selection Sunday Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2016

A bunch of questions will be answered later this evening when the Selection Committee announces the 2016 NCAA Tournament field. From an ACC viewpoint, one of the big ones will be answered early in the Selection Show – did both league heavyweights (Virginia and North Carolina) earn #1 seeds? After the top seeds are announced and the rest of the bracket is revealed, ACC intrigue will shift towards the bubble, as Syracuse fans will be nervously watching to see if their team made the cut. With a special focus on those two situations, here’s a predictive peek at what Selection Sunday will hold for the ACC.

Who’s Number One?

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hopes they've earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hope that their teams have earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • North Carolina (28-6) does not have the profile traditionally befitting  a #1 seed (5-5 versus the RPI top 50), but the Tar Heels may have earned it with its performance over the weekend in Washington, DC. They say that the committee ignores conference records in leagues with unbalanced schedules, so the Tar Heels’ claim of winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the ACC shouldn’t guarantee a top line spot (see: Miami’s #2 seed after winning both crowns in 2013). But if the eye test is brought into play (and how can it not be?), there may have been no team in the country that looked as deserving as Roy Williams’ group. With that small boost from the eye test, we think North Carolina has done enough to warrant the second or third #1 seed, which means the Tar Heels will be sent to the East Region. That would give them a path through Raleigh (First/Second rounds) followed by Philadelphia — the easiest possible road. The other contenders for top seeds in the East — Virginia and Villanova — both stumbled in conference tournament finals yesterday. North Carolina is now ahead of both of those teams in the pecking order for preferred locations.
  • Virginia (26-7) may have a resume better than any team in the country save Kansas. Despite an ACC Championship game loss to North Carolina, the Cavaliers have an impressive total of five wins over RPI top 10 teams. They have four losses to teams outside the RPI top 50, but all were close road defeats to conference foes. After the results of Saturday’s league championships, a reasonable ordering of #1 seed contenders might look like this: Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia. As the fourth #1 seed, Tony Bennett’s team would likely be sent to the South Region (Louisville regional), but that would remain the case only if Michigan State fails to win the Big Ten championship this afternoon. If the Spartans win today, we expect Virginia to end up as the South’s #2 seed, a possibility that could mean the Cavaliers are placed in the same region with Michigan State, their March nemesis — remember that Tom Izzo’s team has knocked Virginia out of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Either way, Virginia should be assured of joining North Carolina in Raleigh for the opening two rounds.

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Rushed Reaction: North Carolina 61, Virginia 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. North Carolina’s defense was tremendous, as it was all tournament long in Washington. Marcus Paige was mostly tasked with guarding Malcolm Brogdon (along with Kenny Williams, of all people) and held him to 15 points on 22 shots including only one trip to the foul line. After the game, Brogdon gave North Carolina credit for flooding the lane when he drove, but he also took a lot of responsibility for the poor performance. For his part, Roy Williams called Paige one of the five best defensive guards he’s ever coached. Looking past Brogdon, London Perrantes also struggled shooting with Joel Berry smothering him (he finished 3-of-14 from the field). The Cavaliers did a great job on the offensive boards, but couldn’t convert enough of those to second chance points.

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  2. In the first 13 minutes of the game, North Carolina committed eight turnovers on 19 possessions. They were careless with the ball in the post, often trying to make passes that weren’t there. And while Virginia didn’t light up the scoreboard off of those turnovers, they led to a lot of extra shots. Some post turnovers are inevitable against Virginia — especially considering the Tar Heels’ love of quick post passes — but once North Carolina started hitting some jump shots, their post players started playing better with the ball.
  3. There’s not much Virginia should take away from tonight’s game because the Cavaliers controlled the tempo and dominated the offensive boards. Roy Williams was asked what he thought North Carolina’s chances would be if they had been killed on the glass and didn’t make their threes: “Zero,” he responded. The more I reflect on the game, the more it felt like this was Virginia’s game to win. That shouldn’t take away from what North Carolina accomplished here, but Virginia played a near-perfect game apart from missing its jump shots. One game sample sizes are cruel bedfellows, but don’t use this game to say that Tony Bennett’s team can’t win the NCAA Tournament over the next several weeks.

Star of the Game: It’s tough to choose, but Joel Berry was North Carolina’s difference-maker this whole tournament. As he’s evolved into a backcourt leader, the Heels have started taking on his persona as a team. They have more of an edge than they did at the start of the year, and a lot of the credit for that change in character should go to Berry. He plays for contact and isn’t scared of tough jump shots. Against Pittsburgh, Berry put the team on his back when their shots weren’t falling. Against Virginia, Berry hit the shot to take the lead for good along with a dagger three and four free throws to ice the game. Tonight, his defense and 19 points carried the day.

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