Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 9:56 AM
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UPDATE: HERE'S THE THURSDAY HOOPS MENU
It's been a sweet ride to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the likes of Cinderella squad Loyola-Chicago and ACC after-thought Florida State - heck, these guys were supposed to be long gone from the scene by the time this tourney swung into its second week but both teams copped first- and
second-round NCAA Tournament wins en route to busting a whole lot of brackets.Now, Loyola-Chicago - a/k/a the "Fighting Sister Jeans" and the #11 seed in the South - and aforementioned Florida State (the #9 seed in the West) are just two of the big storylines in this man's tournament and we'll get to all the Thursday previews
NCAA TOURNAMENT - SOUTH REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Philips Arena - Atlanta, GA
#11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO (30-5) vs. #7 NEVADA (29-7) - 7:07 p.m. ET, CBS
The South Region was torn apart at the seams as the #1-thru-#4 seeds all lost in the first week of NCAA Tourney play - Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Arizona were all handed their walking papers after winning a combined two games - but has anyone really noticed that the way these Loyola-Chicago Ramblers have survived-and-advanced has been with defense and the challenge here is to keep Wolf Pack twins Caleb and Cody Martin below their combined 32 ppg average ... and maybe the key there is to limit the Martin twins field-goal attempts, so another game in the 60s (see chart below) truly benefits this Missouri Valley Conference crew that needs G Clayton Custer (game-winning jumper against Tennessee) to stay hot from behind the three-point arc.
Here's the earlier-round NCAA Tournament games for Loyola-Chicago and then Nevada:
#9 KANSAS STATE (24-11) vs. #5 KENTUCKY (26-10) - approximately 9:37 p.m. ET, CBS
It may not be your typical John Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats team this year - they have double-digit losses and remember that long losing streak a few weeks ago - but the fact of the matter is Ashley Judd's favorite team is back in the Sweet 16 but this could be "danger zone" time as K-State believes leading scorer Dean Wade (16.5 ppg) will be back after missing his team's last three games with a stress fracture in his foot. Major key for the 5.5-point favored Kentucky 'Cats is can Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (see 27 points versus Buffalo last weekend) keep it up and will the SEC champs continue to play lights-out defense from beyond the arc where Calipari's guys rank 3rd in the nation in 3-point "D" ... and we say holding Kansas State to six-or-fewer triples will get the job done here.
Here's the earlier-round NCAA Tournament games for Kansas State and Kentucky:
|3-16||Kansas St.||+ 2.5||Creighton||69-59|
|3-18||Kansas St.||- 10||UMBC||50-43|
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NCAA TOURNAMENT - WEST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Staples Center - Los Angeles, CA
#7 TEXAS A&M (22-12) vs. #3 MICHIGAN (30-7) - 7:35 p.m. ET, TBS
Okay, so what were the odds that the Michigan Wolverines would be the highest-rated team alive among tonight's eight participants ... and the maize-and-blue were this close to not being a part of the Sweet 16 save for that three-point/ buzzer-beating jumper that stunned Houston late last Saturday night in Wichita? Now, you could say John Beilein's Big 10 champs have major "mojo" for this clash - remember the Wolverines actually have an 11-game SU (straight-up) winning streak heading into this one in Hollywood - but can they boogie into the Elite 8 if big man Mo Wagner isn't playing his best ball (he's been average at best in this tourney thus far). On the flip side, the A&M Aggies are fresh off one of the biggest blowouts of a defending national champs in last Sunday's 21-point rout and if frosh TJ Sparks (19 points vs. Carolina) is a - pardon the pun - spark for Billy Kennedy's club, than this could be a mild upset.
Here's the earlier-round NCAA Tournament games for Texas A&M and Michigan:
|3-16||Texas A&M||- 2.5||Providence||73-69|
|3-18||Texas A&M||+ 7.5||North Carolina||86-65|
#9 FLORIDA STATE (22-11) vs. #4 GONZAGA (32-4) - approximately 10:05 p.m. ET, TBS
Just consider that we've reached the Sweet 16 and a quarter of the participating teams hail from the ACC - but none of them are named Virginia or North Carolina. Instead, here's gritty/athletic Florida State looking to steal more tourney headlines days after blitzing the West's #1 seed Xavier with a game-ending 18-4 run last Sunday evening. Now, Leonard Hamilton's crew has upset on its minds here against a Gonzaga team that's faced its own bits of adversity in the first two rounds of tourney play - and hats off to Mark Few's crew for overcoming a 67-62 deficit to beat Ohio State last Saturday, thanks in large part to redshirt freshman Zach Norvell, Jr. (28 points including 6 triples). Gut feeling if 5.5-point fav Gonzaga is going to be movin' on here, than Norvell must get some in-the-paint scoring help with 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie a main candidate to break out ... or the 'Zags could go bust.
Here's the earlier-round NCAA Tournament games for Florida State and Gonzaga:
|3-16||Florida St.||- 1||Missouri||67-54|
|3-18||Florida St.||+ 5.5||Xavier||75-70|
NOTE: Get more of our Sweet 16 Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.