After a fairly boring day Sunday, Monday night’s NCAA games were taut and exciting.
First, Houston and Oregon State threw down. Oregon State, in the end, was a gutty team that came together nicely and despite falling behind early nearly came back to win a spot in the Final Four.
Not bad for a team that appeared to have no hope going into the PAC-12 tournament. That team was superbly coached and ready for almost anything.
Just not for Houston, where Laurinburg native Kelvin Sampson has done a brilliant job and has probably become the greatest Lumbee coach in any sport.
He’s put together a team that just keeps coming. The Cougars looked like they were going to run away from the Beavers, then OSU fought back and Houston had to earn it, hanging on to win by six. But they did, and they never really looked rattled.
And Houston did so despite shooting just 32 percent for the game. Keep in mind what they did to Syracuse last time out and in Indiana too, the state where Sampson’s college career fractured after he was found guilty of recruiting violations at IU.
Can they do it to Baylor?
The Bears are back in the Final Four for the first time since 1950, when Dick Groat was still playing for Duke, and Duke Indoor Stadium was just 10 years old - and not yet “Cameron.”
Shutting down Baylor won’t be easy not least of all because Scott Drew’s guards are wonderfully gifted and they play pit bull defense too. That’s a really fascinating matchup and the loser will have to leave Texas.
The final two games of this round will feature Gonzaga-USC and Michigan-UCLA.
Defense always rises in the NCAA tournament but it’s become different lately and we blame Virginia.
Kidding again, sort of, but Virginia has made low scoring sort of cool and we’ve seen several halves with around 20 or fewer points in this tournament. Unless you’re Gonzaga, you can't escape their influence anymore.
The one team that no one has defended well is Gonzaga and that could get interesting. The Zags get Southern Cal Tuesday and they’ve been brilliant in March. Gonzaga has it cranked up to an unbelievable level but they haven’t really gotten a punch in the mouth yet.
USC is very capable of slugging the Zags.
If Gonzaga gets past USC, they’ll probably get Michigan then Baylor. All three of those teams are going to try to cream the Zags. The problem is you have to know where to hit a team and Gonzaga is not easy to hit right now.
Still, we like Gonzaga and Michigan to advance to the Final Four.
Juwan Howard has his team playing at an insane level defensively. If they can do it to Gonzaga, well, who knows?
For their part, if Gonzaga goes through USC, Michigan, and Baylor, and if none of them can push them, then that’s truly a brilliant team and they’ll deserve all the accolades they’ll get. Consider this scenario too thought: after an intense game against Michigan, they have 48 hours to get ready for, mostly likely, Baylor. And that, we think, could see Gonzaga with tired legs.
Just keep it in mind.