NCAA Tournament 2017: Grading Sunday's winners; UNC, Kentucky lucky to survive
With blue-blood programs like Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan all advancing, the Sweet 16 field was further rounded out with some heavy hitters on Sunday.
While Louisville’s exit meant more bad press for the ACC, Michigan’s showing in the Midwest Region has them looking like a threat to No. 1 seed Kansas, even after the Jayhawks blew out Michigan State with a furious run in the final minutes of an otherwise close contest.
North Carolina and Kentucky were each barely able to maintain their path to a rematch of the CBS Sports Classic 103-100 thriller from December, finding ways to win when the jump shot wasn’t falling for either team.
As the Sweet 16 takes shape, we’ve got grades for all of Sunday’s winners.
This post will be updated through the evening.
(1) Kansas: A
90-70 over (9) Michigan State
Close, competitive wins against Kentucky, West Virginia and Baylor planted the seeds for Kansas’ March Madness run. In each of those games, and against against Michigan State on Sunday, the Jayhawks were able to generate an offensive spark that triggered a run to win the game. The Spartans hung around for most of the game and got within a point with under 10 to play — before Josh Jackson blew the game open, scoring most of his 23 points during a 29-5 run to close the game. What we saw from Kansas is winning basketball in winning time, plain and simple, and it’s the reason they remain a popular pick to win the national title.
73-69 over Louisville
continues, thanks to another incredible second half. Michigan has made a habit of these phenomenal closing acts, shooting 63 percent after halftime in its wins against Oklahoma State and then Louisville on Sunday. In two weeks since the team plane crashed while trying to leave for the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines have won six straight games and are starting to establish the habits needed for a real title run. Against the Cowboys, Michigan relied on its school-record 16 three-pointers. Against Louisville, most of the work was done inside by budding superstars D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner.
72-65 over Arkansas
Roy Williams will take a win any way it comes, especially when it comes to extending his streak of reaching the second weekend when coaching a 1-seed North Carolina team. The C+ grade is good enough to earn the credit, just like the Tar Heels’ were good enough for a win, but Arkansas outplayed them for long stretches of Sunday night’s game. UNC looked shook on offense, didn’t shoot the ball well and turned the ball over 17 times. But when it was time to go and win the game they did so with lock-down defense, closing out the final three minutes on a 12-0 run. You can look at this result two ways: It’s either a warning sign of things to come or the ugly win we’ve seen before in so many NCAA Tournament title runs. One thing is for sure, it wasn’t UNC’s best performance.
65-62 over (10) Wichita State
The Shockers played terrific defense and threw haymakers at Kentucky, but in the narrow win the Wildcats showed their ability to win without Malik Monk shooting the ball well. The key,, is Bam Adebayo. Bam’s 13 points and 10 rebounds made him just the third player in school history to record a double-double in his first two NCAA Tournament games and his last-second block sealed the win on Sunday afternoon. He’s come on strong here at the end of the year and the fact that Kentucky won when Monk, the SEC Player of the Year, couldn’t hit anything from the outside is a great sign heading into the Sweet 16.