(CBS Denver/CBS Local) The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is usually when we see the most “madness.” This year, that wasn’t really the case, as we have just one double-digit seed (Oregon) advancing to the second weekend of games. Furthermore, there is just one other team that is outside the top four seeds in any region, and that is the fifth-seeded Auburn Tigers in the Midwest.
Aside from the general “chalkiness” of the bracket, what are the biggest takeaways from the first weekend, and what are the biggest questions to be answered in the coming days? That is what Tournament Buzz is here to help with, starting first with an eye-opening stat from the first four days.
11 of 16 Round of 32 Games Decided By 10+ Points
Not only did a majority of the top seeds advance to the Sweet 16, but most did so in dominating fashion. Of the 16 games played on Saturday and Sunday, 11 were decided by 10 or more points. Drilling down even further, five teams (Michigan State, Florida State, Texas Tech, North Carolina and Purdue) trounced their opponents by 20+ points. That made for a weekend largely devoid of drama, outside of a few games here and there. Speaking of which…
UCF Showed Duke’s Vulnerability
Entering the tournament, the Blue Devils were a favorite to win it all, thanks to their stellar freshman class of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Cameron Reddish. FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model gave the Blue Devils a 53 percent chance of making the Final Four and a 19 percent chance at cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. After pulling away in the second half from 16-seed North Dakota State, the Blue Devils found themselves facing down a Round of 32 matchup with 9-seed Central Florida.
Tacko Fall, UCF’s 7’6″ center, got a lot of the billing, and watching Duke’s young team try to figure out how to attack him was certainly an entertaining part of Sunday’s game. However, it was Knights coach Johnny Dawkins’ second-half defensive adjustments to how his team defended Duke’s guards that really changed the game and gave UCF a near massive upset.
Dawkins had whoever was manned up on Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire drop all the way back into the paint daring them to take shots from long range.
The strategy worked for the most part, allowing UCF to take a 74-70 lead with 2:09 left. We all know what happened next. Duke ended up escaping with a 77-76 win, but it will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils’ next opponent, Virginia Tech, employs a similar strategy when the teams meet on Friday night at 9:39 Eastern Time on CBS.
Kenny Wooten’s Star Turn
Entering the tournament, most of the country was unfamiliar with Oregon’s 6’9″ sophomore forward. They could be forgiven for that lack of knowledge, because Wooten hadn’t produced numbers that generate a ton of recognition. In 31 games in the regular season and conference tournament, Wooten averaged just 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.
On the first weekend of the tournament, Wooten may have produced more highlight reel-worthy plays than any other player in the tournament. It started on Friday in the Ducks first-round game against Wisconsin with a massive dunk.
And continued with Wooten channeling his inner Karch Kiraly and swatting a ball into the stands.
He finished with nine points, six rebounds and four blocks in the Ducks 72-54 upset win over the Badgers and seemingly every bit of that stat line was memorable due to his leaping ability. The highlights only continued on Sunday, when the Ducks put away UC Irvine 73-54 to advance to the Sweet 16.
If you watch the replay of that block closely, Wooten nearly hits his head on the backboard as he’s in the process of swatting Cartwright’s offering into the 10th row. And, on the offensive end, Wooten put a poor Anteaters player on a poster.
Wooten upped his game in the Round of 32 with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven (!) blocks. With top seed Virginia awaiting in the Sweet 16, we can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the spotlight even brighter on Thursday night.
Auburn vs. North Carolina Looks Like A Lot Of Fun
The Tar Heels rolled Washington 81-59, while the Tigers blew by Kansas 89-75 to set up this matchup in the Midwest region semifinal. What stood out most from both games was the sheer shooting ability of these two teams when they have it going. The Tigers hit 13 threes against Kansas, building an insurmountable lead and burying the Jayhawks with a first-half barrage from the outside. The Tar Heels weren’t far off against Washington, burying nine of their 21 threes (42.9%) as they waltzed into the Sweet 16.
Both teams have multiple guys connecting on 36% or more of their long-distance attempts while shooting at least three per game. For Auburn, it’s the trio of Bryce Brown (40.8%), Jared Harper (37.9%) and Chuma Okeke (38%). For the Tar Heels, it’s Cameron Johnson (46.3%) and Coby White (36.3%). Oh, and let’s not forget that North Carolina has Nassir Little, who will attempt to dunk on you and your entire family without a care in the world about any of your feelings.
The Tar Heels and Tigers meet in Kansas City on Friday with tip set for 7:29 p.m. Eastern Time on TBS.