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Friday in the 2022 NCAA men’s tournament unfolded under a cloud of chalk dust. Upsets happened as they always do, but nothing approaching a St. Peter’s level.
In a way, fans got something even better: top-level performances that offered windows into what we might expect as the tournament moves into the late stages.
In particular, two No. 3 seeds and one conference distinguished themselves on the national stage.
In the day’s early round of games, the Purdue Boilermakers hammered the Yale Bulldogs 78-56 to advance to a Sunday matchup with No. 6 Texas. Later in the day, fellow three-liner Texas Tech manhandled No. 14 Montana State 97-62 and now moves on to face No. 11 Notre Dame.
Speaking of the Irish, Notre Dame was the standard-bearer for a banner day for the ACC, a down-on-its-luck conference that enjoyed a big stock turnaround, at least for one day.
Here’s how it all went down.
Purdue Hits the Boiling Point
You can wrap it in a million caveats, but right now, the Purdue Boilermakers have the look.
You know the look. It’s the one you give someone when you know the East Region is there for the taking, and you’re the one who’s taking it.
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The Boilermakers have skill at every position. They have size. They can score. They showed glimpses of how their defense might not be as big of a concern as some critics thought. They have a star, Jaden Ivey, at the peak of his NBA lottery-level powers. Ivey toyed with an outclassed Yale squad, leading all scorers with 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep. Big man Zach Edey was an immovable object in the paint, tossing in 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting, blocking three shots and grabbing nine rebounds.
The team held Yale to 36.5 percent shooting from the floor and converted 27-of-33 (81.8 percent) of its free throws. They did all the big and little things. There would be no upset like the one Purdue suffered to No. 13 seed North Texas last year.
“We all felt the feeling of losing last year, first round, so I felt like all of our guys were motivated,” Ivey said after the game, per the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports). “And so was I.”
Indeed. Up next are the Longhorns, who looked good if not spectacular in taking down Virginia Tech.
The Boilermakers have got to be licking their chops. Kentucky, the No. 2 seed in the East, is gone, having fallen victim to the Saint Peter’s buzzsaw. Top seed Baylor is hobbled. Make no mistake: This region is ripe for the plucking, and Purdue has its plucking shears at the ready.
The Red Raiders Run Roughshod
Texas Tech was just tired of being typecast.
Defense this, defense that. But apparently, that KenPom.com No. 1 defensive rating was just blinding us to the wider reality. Texas Tech has range. And poor Montana State was left to absorb the lesson and a 97-62 drubbing for the most commanding performance of the tournament thus far.
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Six Red Raiders scored in double figures, with the entire team converting 12-of-20 (60 percent) from distance. In the first half, they shot an unconscious 72 percent from the floor. Texas Tech could probably replay this game 100 times and not get anywhere near those rates again; it managed just 31.4 percent from three on the season, for example. Red Raiders fans must surely be thankful for the immutable laws of physics, which ensure we have just one reality.
One of the team’s biggest advantages was ball movement. The team racked up 23 assists, with nine different players notching at least one helper. This offense was a hydra, and Montana State couldn’t find the head.
The Red Raiders accomplished all of this without letting up on the strengths that led them to this point. That defense stifled the Bobcats into 21-of-55 (38.2 percent) shooting from the floor. The rebounding advantage TTU has enjoyed over the season continued. The team controlled the boards against the Bobcats 33-to-24, which tracks with their average season margin of 6.1 (ranked 26th).
Up next is a fatigued Notre Dame team (and more on the Irish in a moment) for a trip to the Sweet 16. If Texas Tech can shoot anywhere near as well as it did Friday, it’ll cruise into the second weekend as one of the teams to beat.
The ACC: Y’All Must Have Forgot
It wasn’t just some fanciful notion. It wasn’t just the bitter wish of a group who’d had their fill of Tobacco Road nostalgia.
No, the facts don’t lie: The ACC was not a great conference this year.
Team Rankings put the ACC seventh in its conference ratings, below the Pac-12 and Mountain West. Only five schools—Duke, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Notre Dame—ended the season in the KenPom top 50. And Wake couldn’t even make the tournament.
The five teams the ACC ultimately did include was the lowest number since it expanded to 15 teams in 2013-14. In February, Josh Planos of FiveThirtyEight was one of the media voices piling on the ACC for its underperformance:
“The ACC has gone from a conference synonymous with championships to a conference ripe with discord and pleas for support made by coaches to the student body. Since 2007, the ACC has won 133 NCAA tournament games (most), five national championships (most) and boasts a 0.616 tournament win percentage (best). You just wouldn’t know it by watching its teams in 2022.”
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On Friday, the ACC struck back. It notched a 4-1 record on the day and is 5-1 so far in this tournament. It seems reports of the conference’s demise can wait for at least another news cycle.
It was also a day of unexpected wins.
According to ESPN bracket data, only 45 percent of users picked Miami to pull off the No. 10-No. 7 upset on USC, which the Hurricanes did following a 68-66 rock fight. Only 29 percent felt that No. 11 Notre Dame had enough legs left after that unbelievable double-overtime First Four win over Rutgers to defeat No. 6 Alabama, but then it happened 78-64 behind some 62.5 percent shooting from deep.
In between, No. 11 Virginia Tech fell to No. 6 Texas but not before putting up a valiant effort. Bookend it with a 78-61 victory by No. 2 Duke over No. 15 CSU Fullerton and Thursday’s 95-63 win by North Carolina over Marquette, and you have a pretty rock-solid round of 64.
This may not go on. Texas Tech will be a tall order Sunday for a fatigued Notre Dame team that has played a lot of white-knuckle basketball this week. Miami will have to do better than three offensive rebounds and 1-of-14 from three-point range when it faces No. 2 Auburn. But for now, the bluest of the sport’s blue bloods has earned itself a respite from the vitriol.