March Madness 2024: The Best and Worst From Day 4

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By Sohaib

As always, it’s been one hell of a week, and thanks for following along with all of these recaps. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together.

Let’s finish strong.

1. (1) Houston 100, (9) Texas A&M 95 (South)

After a competitive first half that saw Houston carry a five-point lead into the locker room, the Cougars had seemed to seize complete control in the second half and appeared poised to be yet another top 2-seed cruising to a double-digit victory this weekend.

Not so much.

Texas A&M pulled a … well … 2016 Texas A&M and completely erased an 11-point deficit in 94 seconds. Houston aided in the process by missing two free-throws, turning the ball over twice, and fouling Wade Taylor IV on a three-point attempts. The last step in the comeback, however, the Aggies had to do it all themselves.

The shot by Andersson Garcia is obviously the star here, but how about that unbelievable inbounds pass from Tyrece Radford? The low, hard bounce pass was the only possible route to get that ball into Garcia’s hands, and he executed it perfectly.

Texas A&M seemed to be taking all the momentum in the world into overtime. To make matters worse for Houston, the already thin Cougars were dealing with significant foul trouble. Four UH players would ultimately foul out of the game.

Didn’t matter. Kelvin Sampson had Jamal Shead.

Widely regarded as one of the best leaders in college basketball, Shead took control in the extra period. He found Emmanuel Sharp for a made three on the first possession of overtime, which seemed to calm the nerves of everyone wearing home white. He then hit two free-throws, assisted on another basket, and hit a beautiful floater in the lane with 30 seconds to play that pushed the Cougar lead to four.

That was pretty much all she wrote.

If you wanted to reduce this game by explaining it in the simplest way possible, you would say that Houston’s All-American played like an All-American, while Texas A&M’s All-American did not.

Shead scored 21 points, dished out 10 assists, and was seemingly involved in every key play for his team down the stretch. Taylor IV, meanwhile, had a woeful evening, shooting 5-of-26 from the field and exhibiting some questionable decision-making in the final moments of both regulation and overtime.

The win improved Houston to 8-2 all-time as a No. 1 seed, and sent the Cougars to the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive tournament, the second-longest active streak of second weekend appearances in the country.

Texas A&M was denied its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2018, and their loss left Tennessee as the only SEC team still standing.

2. (2) Marquette 81, (10) Colorado 77 (South)

On the final day of what many believe to be the greatest weekend on the sports calendar, there’s a ton of pressure on Sunday’s early standalone game to deliver.

Marquette and Colorado delivered.

Despite perhaps being haunted by the memory of last year’s second round loss in a 2/10 matchup, Marquette was able to make just enough plays down the stretch to hold off Colorado and return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.

The Golden Eagles shot a scorching 61.8 percent from the field, but still couldn’t fully shake Tad Boyle’s team until the game’s closing seconds. A late jumper by star point guard Tyler Kolek and then two free-throws by David Joplin with 7.6 seconds to play kept Colorado from having a shot at scoring their fourth win in six days.

Kolek, who had been sidelined by an oblique injury since Feb. 28 before this week, became the first player since 1998 to have at least 15 points and 10 assists in each of his first two games of an NCAA Tournament. He’s the first player since 1989 to achieve the feat with his team winning both games.

“When a team shoots 61% against you for the game, almost 62%, and you’ve still got a chance at the end, it means you’re doing something right,” Boyle said. “We rebounded the ball well, we fought, we battled. … I’ve got a lot of respect for Marquette.”

While the Buffaloes were hoping to build on the total, Colorado’s 26 wins this season were already the most of any team in school history.

For Marquette, the win not only broke an 11-year Sweet 16 drought for the program, but it broke a 13-year Sweet 16 drought for head coach Shaka Smart. He was emotional after the final buzzer.

When Marquette faces NC State on Friday night, Smart will coach in the second weekend for the first time since his magical run to the Final Four with VCU in 2011.

3. (4) Alabama 72, (12) Grand Canyon 61 (West)

There was no clear-cut third best game of the day, so we’re going with Alabama-Grand Canyon over Clemson-Baylor because of the sheer level of absurdity present in the former.

Mark Sears and Tyon Grant-Foster shooting it out? Absurd.

The Grand Canyon fans? Absurd.

A combined 121 field goal attempts and 59 free-throw attempts in a game where only 133 points were scored? Beyond absurd.

While Sears netted a team-high 26 points, it was relatively unknown freshman Mouhamed Dioubate who played hero by scoring all nine of his points in the game’s final five minutes to push Alabama past the upset-minded Lopes. It was just the third time this season Dioubate has scored nine or more points in a game. Absurd.

Alabama, which is in the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1990-91, now gets to take its shot at top-seeded North Carolina.

1. Purdue

While the biggest hurdles are obviously still to come, Sunday was still a pretty rough day for the members of the “Can’t Trust Purdue Crew” who predicted the Boilermakers would struggle against an under-seeded Utah State team.

They, uh, did not.

Purdue hammered the Aggies, 106-67, in a game that could have undoubtedly been even more lopsided if Zach Edey didn’t check for the final time with more than 12 minutes still to play.

The 106 points are the most ever scored by a Purdue team in the NCAA tournament. The 39-point margin of victory is the fourth-largest for any round of 32 game, and the largest since 1999.

The Boilermakers’ quest to follow in the redemptive footsteps of the 2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers continues … even though that UVA team didn’t have a performance anywhere near this dominant on their road to the national title.

With the win, Purdue improved to 4-0 all-time in games played on March 24.

Unfortunately, the Boilermakers are also 1-7 all-time in games played after March 24.

2. Duke

Speaking of domination.

Duke rolled to a 93-55 beatdown of a James Madison team that just two nights ago sure looked stout enough to win at least another game or two in this tournament.

The Blue Devils shot 52.4 percent from the field, 50.0 percent from three, and got a virtuoso performance from freshman guard Jared McCain.

McCain knocked down eight three-pointers, the most ever by a Duke player in an NCAA tournament game. He also became the first freshman to score 30 points and have no turnovers in an NCAA tournament game since the field expanded in 1985.

The Blue Devils are now headed to the Sweet 16 for the 28th time. That’s the most of any program besides arch-rival North Carolina, who on Saturday punched their ticket to the second weekend for a 31st time.

3. Clemson

Yes, UConn and San Diego State were also impressive in blowout victories, but it would be a mistake not to give the final spot on this list to the only team that pulled off an upset on Sunday.

Clemson controlled its game against third-seeded Baylor from the opening tip, and held a comfortable 61-46 lead with 6:41 to play. Their lead would ultimately shrink to just two in the game’s final minute, but the Tigers never allowed the Bears to get all the way to the top of the mountain.

It’s easy to forget now, but just a few days ago Clemson was on the wrong end of what was likely the trendiest pre-tournament upset pick. It wasn’t totally unwarranted. The Tigers came into the Big Dance having lost three of the four games they had played in the month of March, with all three of those losses coming to teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament.

None of that matters now, because Clemson is headed to the Sweet 16 for the second time under head coach Brad Brownell, and just the fifth time in program history.

1. James Madison

Really? You thoroughly dominate Wisconsin for 40 consecutive minutes on Friday and you can’t even give us a couple of minutes of mildly competitive basketball against Duke just two days later? Really?

Yet another tournament without a 12-seed in the second weekend. We’re not blaming you entirely, we’re just kind of saying that it’s totally your fault.

And let’s be really clear about something before we move on: This has nothing to do with certain people claiming very publicly that you guys were going to go to the Final Four. It has absolutely nothing to do with your performance now making those certain people look like idiots. Nothing to do with that. I don’t even remember who that certain person is. Nobody should Google it.

2. Yale

Really? You beat the No. 4 team on KenPom on Friday and you can’t even give us a couple of minutes of mildly competitive basketball against San Diego State just two days later? Really?

The worst part about this performance was that it came in the final game of the weekend. You had a chance to put an exclamation mark on this thing that could carry us through the next three days without basketball. Instead, I don’t think anyone is even going to remember that you played, because they all just turned their TVs off after the Houston-Texas A&M game.

We’re being harsh because we care. And because we’re just really, really, really disappointed in both you and JMU.

3. Northwestern

Baylor and Utah State have already been mentioned in this post, so we need to single out the Wildcats here.

On the surface, a 75-58 loss to No. 1 overall seed UConn isn’t too embarrassing, but let’s be real, the Huskies led 40-18 at halftime and could have won this game by 30 if they’d really wanted to.

Some people were actually claiming heading into this weekend that Northwestern might present the most difficult matchup for UConn of any team in the East Region. Congrats on making those people sound like morons.

1. The ACC

Eventually we’re going to learn.

This is now three straight years where everyone has ragged on the ACC for four months during the regular season, and then watched as league’s teams have rolled in March Madness.

Duke and Clemson winning on Sunday brought the ACC’s overall record in the NCAA tournament to 8-1, and guaranteed that 25 percent of the Sweet 16 will be teams from their conference.

The ACC’s 8-0 record in the first two rounds (Virginia lost in the First Four) is also tied for the best first weekend record by any conference in the history of the NCAA tournament, a feat achieved most recently by the Big East in 2003.

We’re also going to see a Sweet 16 that features the three North Carolina Triangle teams — Duke, North Carolina and NC State — for the first time since 2015.

2. Ryan Elvin

With less than a minute to go in overtime and four of his starters fouled out of the game, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson had no choice but to look to the end of his bench and insert seldom-used walk-on Ryan Elvin into the game.

Naturally, Elvin was immediately fouled and forced to go to the line where he needed to make at least one free-throw to extend the Cougars lead to four and make it a two possession game.

Elvin, whose career at Houston began in 2020, had played a total of 173 minutes in his four seasons as a Cougar before Sunday night. He had attempted seven free-throws.

Despite giving a confident thumbs up to the bench as he strolled to the line, Elvin’s first free-throw found the back iron. The second one, the one he needed to make in order to make sure Texas A&M couldn’t tie the game just before the buzzer with a three (again), ripped through the net.

If you want to know how much Elvin means to everyone associated with Houston basketball, watch this:

And if you want to know how much confidence Elvin’s teammates had in him in that moment, just look at these quotes:

“I knew one of ‘em or both of ‘em were going in,” said Ramon Walker Jr. “That’s just how hard he works. Nobody works harder than him. One or both, I had no doubt. I never thought he was going to miss two. I believe in him.”

“He works just like we work,” Shead said. “And if I’m being honest, he works harder than we work. Anytime − you can ask anybody on our team and they can vouch for him − anytime we walk into the gym, Ryan Elvin is in the gym, working, helping someone else work.”

“He’s built for it,” said Houston guard Damian Dunn. “Don’t nobody work as hard as Ryan Elvin, man. Once he went to the line, man, we knew what time it was. Happy for him to have that moment.”

Two more things on Elvin:

1) He lost his dad in October of 2021 and wrote this beautiful piece about the experience a year later.

2) The fact that this is the first picture that comes up when you do a Google image search for him is pretty incredible:

Ryan Elvin forever.

3. This young Baylor fan’s food choices

This is what you call a “March diet,” and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Nothing at all.

4. Fired up winners

First round celebrations are great from Cinderellas and teams that maybe won at the buzzer, but it’s the second round — when teams have ensured that they get another week to be together — when people really start going nuts after wins.

5. A national title game rematch

UConn and San Diego State’s big wins on Sunday set up a Sweet 16 rematch of last season’s national championship game, which the Huskies won convincingly, 76-59.

It’ll be just the fourth time that two teams that played one another for the title will have met in the NCAA tournament a year later.

Should be a blast.

BONUS CHEER: The end-of-game moment between Chris Collins and Boo Buie.

This is what it’s all about.


BONUS CHEER: This guy’s reaction to Andersson Garcia’s buzzer-beater

Us too, buddy. Us too.

1. Late game lack of urgency

I don’t know why this has become a thing in this year’s tournament, but it absolutely has: Guys either aren’t paying enough attention to the clock, or they’re just moving way too leisurely to accomplish what they need to accomplish in the game’s final seconds.

It happened a few times before Sunday (looking at you, Johnell Davis), and then was on full display near the end of Colorado’s loss to Marquette.

First, the Buffaloes took wayyyy too much time giving the three fouls they still needed to give in order to get Marquette to the free-throw line and extend the game. Then, trailing by four with less than 10 seconds to play, KJ Simpson strolled up the floor like he was trying to make sure his team got the final shot of the first half.

Personally, I blame the math professors at these schools.

2. A Cinderella-less second weekend

For just the fifth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, we have a tournament where all eight of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have advanced to the second weekend.

That alone isn’t really a problem. These Sweet 16 and regional finals look like they’re gonna be good as hell.

The problem is that not having at least one true Cinderella still dancing after two rounds just sort of sucks.

This is the first tournament since 2018 where zero teams seeded 12-16 are headed to the second weekend. The only double-digit seed left at all is ACC tournament champion NC State. While the Wolfpack’s run is certainly a fun story, it’s definitely not a true underdog story.

3. The out-of-bounds call against Texas A&M

Texas A&M still managed to make a late-game really despite this egregious call, but at the time, it certainly felt like it nuked the Aggies’ chances of taking out top-seeded Houston.

And who knows, maybe Texas A&M wins in regulation if they’re able to build on the momentum they had at that moment.

This probably wasn’t the worst opening weekend we’ve seen from a group of NCAA tournament officials, but they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either.

Yes, I’m still mad about Samford.

4. Whatever this was from Nate Oats.

The Alabama head coach has seen the future, and the future is bleak.

Beyond haunting.

5. Blowouts

Again, I’m willing to accept this if the payoff is a group of sensational regional semifinal and final games next weekend, but man, if we’re being honest with ourselves, this was an extremely vanilla year for second round games.

Houston-Texas A&M was a thriller and Marquette-Colorado was solid throughout. Outside of that, we didn’t get a ton of “oh my god this is the good stuff” action on Saturday.

The other six games were decided by 39, 17, 8, 38, 11 and 28 points, respectively. That’s a lot of “scrolling through Instagram and glancing up at the TV when the announcer raises their voice” time.

Please deliver, second weekend.

Jared McCain, Duke

We laid out the numbers and the facts earlier, but McCain made both Duke and tournament history on Saturday with his eight three-pointer, 30-point performance.

Mark Sears, Alabama

Sears was stellar once again in the Tide’s win over Grand Canyon, finishing with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

Donovan Clingan, UConn

Northwestern simply had no answer for Connecticut’s monster in the middle. Klingan scored 14 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and swatted eight shots all in just 27 minutes of action.

Zach Edey, Purdue

The soon-to-be back-to-back national Player of the Year had 21 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks … at halftime. Those numbers grew to 23, 14, three and three when he checked out of the game for good with 12:46 still to play.

Edey is the first player with 50 points, 35 rebounds and 65.0 percent shooting through his first two games of an NCAA tournament since UCLA legend Lew Alcindor put up those numbers in 1968.

Emanuel Sharp, Houston

Jamal Shead was the man for Houston down the stretch, but Sharp was the guy who put the Cougars in a position where they could see the finish line. The sophomore guard drilled seven three-pointers and scored a game-high 30 points before fouling out.

1. Jamal Shead, Houston

The little guy has some major, major hops.

2. Manny Obaseki, Texas A&M

3. Mark Mitchell, Duke

1. Zach Edey: Ball Head

This image is not photoshopped in any way. Edey now joins this elite group of ball head individuals.

2. Mark Mitchell rack attack

Don’t jump with him.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - James Madison v Duke

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

3. At least the James Madison mascot got a shot in against Duke

1. “They just shouldn’t cover basketball. I just think everybody should take tests on their knowledge of what they’re doing. I think all coaches should take a test so they understand refereeing, and I think all referees should take a test so they understand coaching, and I think all journalists should have to take a basketball quiz or a test or, anybody that tweets, they should have to be able to do it.

“If they say something so moronic as that, then they should have to have a probationary status where they can’t tweet for three months. I think it’ll help society to try to knock out the fools so they don’t have to meet at the local Walmart and say things that don’t make any sense.” —Purdue head coach Matt Painter on critics of Boilermaker center Zach Edey

2. “In all my years, I’m probably more proud of this win than any of them.” —Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson

3. “I do think the committee tried to make this as difficult as they can for us. We know what they had in mind. It just adds more fuel on the fire.” —UConn head coach Danny Hurley

4. “We knew we had a chance to win that game. I will just say we were one rebound away from winning that game. We get one rebound, like, the game’s turned. We win that game.” —Grand Canyon guard Tyon Grant-Foster

5. “They’re not known to be a great three-point shooting team, but they saw me coming and they figured they would make them all today.” —Yale head coach James Jones

Everyone take a deep breath, get a few nights of solid sleep, and we’ll meet back here on Thursday.

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