Sweet Sixteen Superlatives (Daily Sports Thought 3/25)

Best Individual Performance- Caleb Love, North Carolina

It seems like it has been a different player each game for the Tar Heels. First, it was RJ Davis, then it was Brady Manek (before getting ejected for throwing an elbow), and this time around it was Love. He dropped 30 points on UCLA, which was the most of any player in the Sweet 16. The Bruins had a ton of solid perimeter defenders to throw at Love but it didn’t matter. He also played all 40 minutes in the game but it didn’t slow him down considering 27 of his points came in the second half. The most important points he scored were two huge threes in the final stretch of the game. He tied the game with a big three on the wing and then the next time down the floor hit an impressive step-back triple to give his team the lead and eventually the win.

Beast Team Performance- Duke

The Blue Devils are doing their best to ensure that Coach K does not end his career with a loss. They took on their toughest task of the tournament to date against Texas Tach and handled it incredibly well. All five Duke starters scored in double-figures, led by freshman superstar Paolo Banchero with 22 points. The Red Raiders had one of the best defenses in the entire country yet even they couldn’t stop Duke from getting to 78 points.

Best Game- Saint Peter’s versus Purdue

I mean come on, isn’t this one obvious? This game was the epitome of David versus Goliath. The Peacocaks’ tallest starter was 6-foot-8 Clarence Rupert, meanwhile, Purdue rolled out 7-foot-4 Zach Edey (not to mention 6-foot-10 Trevion Williams coming off the bench). Many people thought that height differential would be the final nail in Saint Peter’s coffin and lead to the end of its Cinderella run. That was not the case, as the Peacocks demonstrated their innate toughness and fight that has defined their run. The game was incredibly close for much of it yet the Boilermakers looked poised to run away with it following a very hot stretch in the second half. It seemed like they finally found Saint Peter’s kryptonite in the form of Williams posting up on the block. But the Peacocks kept it tight and even pulled away late. Purdue’s Jaden Ivey hit a huge step-back three to cut the lead to one point but Saint Peter’s hit its free throws down the stretch and was able to pull off yet another upset.

Biggest Upset- Saint Peter’s

How could this be anything but the Peacocks? This wasn’t just a cool upset in the Sweet 16, though, this was legitimate college basketball history. The Peacocks were the third 15-seed to make the Sweet 16 but etched their name in the history books forever when they became the first 15-seed to win in that round. Every Cinderella run comes to an end eventually (or do they?) and usually the Sweet 16 is when that happens. Saint Peter’s is a different kind of Cinderella team and look like they actually have what it takes to prove themselves at the highest level.

Most Upset- Gonzaga Fans

Unfortunately, I had to work during the Sweet 16 games on Thursday but fortunately, that meant I got to be in a restaurant filled to the brim with sad Gonzaga fans. The heartbreak that teams such as Kentucky, Baylor, and Arizona can be offset some by the fact that those schools already have National Championship trophies from previous years. Gonzaga does not have that luxury. All those other top teams losing made it seem like it was Gonzaga’s year. Despite some games that were closer than they should have been in the first two rounds, the Bulldogs were back in the Sweet 16 and had a chance to make another run to the championship game and hopefully win it. Unfortunately, they didn’t even get to the Final Four. Coming in as the number one overall seed and once again not winning the championship is a hard pill to swallow for fans of Gonzaga. Add in the fact that the game included disappointing moments like Chet Holmgren fouling out and failing to capitalize on a late run all added up to a very sad Thursday night for Bulldog fans.

Best Individual Performance in a Loss- Drew Timme, Gonzaga

On the bright side of that terrible Gonzaga loss was the performance of Drew Timme. the star forward fell a bit under the radar this season due to Holmgren coming in as a future top-five NBA draft pick as well as other superstar players around the country playing well. But Timme reminded fans why he was the preseason player of the year in college basketball. The heart and soul of the Bulldogs team once again took matters into his own hands and tried to win the game by himself. He scored 25 points, which was more than double the next-highest scorer for Gonzaga. He was the only player for the Bulldogs that could score consistently down the stretch. He also had to make up for Holmgren’s struggles and pick up some slack when the freshman fouled out. It may be fun to see a number one seed get upset this early, but it sucks to see a player like Timme leave the tournament.

Best Bench Player- Remy Martin, Kansas

Martin is the x-factor for the Jayhawks and if they go on to win the title, he will be a massive part of it. Martin came to Kansas with a ton of hype following a great career at Arizona State but underwhelmed this year. Martin has played his best basketball of the year when it matters most though, as he has been going off in the tournament. He scored a game-high 23 points off the bench, bringing his tournament total up to 58 points. It takes a certain type of player to accept a bench role but it takes a special type of player to accept that role and play like the best player on the team. Martin is showing that he is indeed a special player and will continue to be a secret weapon off the bench for the Jayhawks.

Best Starters- Miami

While it is true that only five players can play at once for a team, Miami took that to an extreme on Friday. The Hurricanes decided that they only needed points from five players in order to win their matchup with Iowa State. Despite getting 17 minutes from players off the bench, none of those minutes included any balls going through the hoop. The five Miami starters scored all of the 70 points, with 27 of them coming from Kameron McGusty. This type of point distribution is not something that we usually see from teams, and we especially don’t see it this deep in the tournament. It will be worth paying attention to Miami in the Elite Eight to see if they repeat this or if the bench players step it up after a lackluster performance.

Quietest Run- Villanova

The Wildcats have been the assassins of this year’s tournament. They have very stealthily taken out Delaware, Ohio State, and Michigan on their way to the Elite Eight. Maybe it is because fans are so used to seeing Nova perform in March or maybe it’s because they have been winning without much drama, but for some reason, it seems like the Wildcats aren’t getting as much attention as some other teams. Well, it is time to start paying attention to them because they are one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament. They have everything a team needs to win the championship and have won the whole thing before. Despite being quiet so far, the Villanova footsteps are getting louder now so it is time to start paying attention.

Best at Proving Haters Wrong- Houston

It’s me, I am the hater. I have picked against Houston in all three rounds and have looked like an idiot three times. Houston, which made the Final Four last year, is once again making an impressive postseason run. The Cougars were given a five-seed despite a very good season of overcoming injuries and are proving whoever made the bracket very wrong with their performance. They eliminated an Illinois team in the second round which was seeded higher than them and then upset Arizona, the number one team in their region. I am probably going to pick against Houston again in this upcoming round so that means you can pencil them in for the Final Four for the second straight year.

Best Grit- Arkansas

When you take down the number one overall seed in the tournament you must be doing something right. Arkansas played incredibly tough all game against Gonzaga and it earned them the upset. The Razorbacks went right after the Bulldogs and punched them in the mouth, matching their strength and toughness. They didn’t shoot the ball particularly well but they did put in the needed effort to win the game. They crashed the boards, jumped the passing lanes and contested shots all night long. They also weren’t afraid of 7-foot-1 Chet Holmgren and eventually fouled him out with over five minutes left. It was clear that Arkansas was not scared of Gonzaga, and it showed on the court. Performances like that are exactly teams such as Arkansas pull of these upsets and they are going to have to do it a few more times if they want to win it all.

Most Likely to Succeed- Duke

I was very close to picking Duke to win the championship before the tournament but went with Kentucky instead (great choice by me). But now I have the chance to rectify that mistake and get back on the Duke bandwagon. I certainly am not rooting for the Blue Devils on an emotional level because there are other teams that I want to see win the championship, but I think they will be the champs. Based on my track record this is probably a bad thing for Duke but they are now my pick to be the 2022 National Champion.