Analysis: Baylor bullied Gonzaga to win national title

INDIANAPOLIS — The big, bad Baylor Bears bullied college basketball’s beautiful game into a corner.

The bid for an undefeated season, one game short. A first-time national champion, crowned.

Baylor overwhelmed Gonzaga with a burst of power and speed, winning its first national championship while ending the Bulldogs’ perfect season with an 86-70 victory on Monday night.

“Our guys, when the best is needed, the best is provided,” Baylor coach Scott Drew. “The better the opponent, the better they play.”

A two-year wait for a title game became the coronation of a team constructed to batter anything in its path, even the ultra-efficient Zags.

Gonzaga (31-1) appeared to feel the pressure of perfection and the fatigue – mentally and physically – from playing one of the most dramatic games in Final Four history less than 48 hours earlier.

The Bears (28-2) pounced with an onslaught of 3-pointers and blow-bys off the dribble, sprinkled with five sets of sliding feet and waving arms on defense.

“It’s a really really tough one to end a storybook season on, but listen, Baylor just beat us,” Mark Few said after Gonzaga’s second loss in the national title game the past three NCAA tournaments. “They beat us in every facet of the game and deserve all the credit.”

Baylor hit 10 3-pointers and turned 16 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. All-American Jared Butler was the orchestrator, finishing with 22 points and seven assists.

Davion “Off Night” Mitchell spearheaded a defense that pressured the normally careful Zags into 14 turnovers and turned Gonzaga All-American Corey Kispert into a nonfactor.

The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers are still Division I’s last undefeated men’s team.

Baylor is the new king, 18 years after one of the darkest scandals the sport’s history. Drew, son of a Hall of Fame coach, was the architect, assembling a team of fast-footed, broad-shouldered Bears who ran through and around nearly every team in their path.

“It was just electrifying, especially in that type of environment in the big game,” Butler said. “Everybody was clicking on all cylinders and that’s what it takes to win.”

This highly anticipated match-up was supposed to be played in December, only to have COVID-19 force a cancellation. The wait turned out to be worth it, the two best teams all season – and the bracket’s top two seeds – each playing for its first national championship.

While Baylor cruised to another lopsided victory in the first Final Four game, UCLA laid out a possible blueprint of how to throw a wrench in the spokes of the Gonzaga machine. The Bruins made shots, lots of them, and that prevented the Zags from getting out in transition. They also played methodically on offense, refusing to run even when the opportunity arose. Gonzaga had to play UCLA shot for shot and won it in overtime on Jalen Suggs’ banked-in heave from th edge of the midcourt logo.

The Bears certainly had the shot-making part down.

Baylor’s quickness off the dribble gave the Zags fits, setting up shots at the basket or kickouts to the arc. Miss and the Bears grabbed offensive rebounds for putbacks. Even when Gonzaga had some brief success with a zone, Baylor solved it by getting the ball to deft-passing MaCio Teague in the high post.

The Bears had seven 3-pointers and nine offensive rebounds by halftime.

They also had the added caveat of being a defensive team unlike anything Gonzaga had seen, a flying force of springy, quick-footed defenders. Switching nearly every screen, Baylor kept the Zags in front of them and out of the lane. Their fast hands created turnovers, leading to shots in transition. When they did get beat, they blocked and altered shots at the rim.

“We couldn’t get anything going on either end,” Few said. “We couldn’t get consecutive stops on the defensive end and when we did get stops, it was really hard to generate offense consistently because, I mean, they were just so aggressive with their coverages defensively. We couldn’t get any rhythm there.”

Baylor opened the game with a 16-4 run and led by 19 at one point in the first half.

Gonzaga shot 1 for 8 from 3-point range, but managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 by halftime with aggressive play that led to 14 free throws (12 makes).

The Zags had a couple of early second-half opportunities to cut the lead to single digits. Every time they did, a missed shot, a big block or a Baylor bucket followed.

Gonzaga finally got the deficit down to nine. Just over a minute later it was 16.

“When you come up against a team like that, that’s firing on all cylinders for 40 minutes, it really hard to compete against,” Kispert said.

Then lead continued to grow, the cheers from the limited number of Baylor fans with it.

National champions at last.

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Alexander: Another UCLA victory in another crazy finish

Being the 11th Seed That Could is nice. But Mick Cronin noted Sunday night, after his UCLA Bruins knocked off Alabama, that just overachieving is hardly satisfactory.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, now you’ve been to an Elite Eight,’” he said. “That’s not why I came to UCLA. I’ve got a lot of friends in the NBA, and they make fun of people that have rings that say ‘Conference champion.’ There’s only one. Whoever wins the NBA title is the world champion.

“So for me, we’ve got to win three more games.”

They still have a chance. And now that UCLA is back in the Final Four, maybe we should stop being surprised.

They were ready for the moment again Tuesday night, beating No. 1 seed Michigan, 51-49, in a slog of a game that further demonstrated the resilience that has made UCLA just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four. And while Cronin has repeated at each of his post-game news conferences during this run that all the credit should go to the players, those players are a reflection of the guy in charge.

“On April 9, 2019, I told you, I spell fun w-i-n,” Cronin said Tuesday night, a reference to the day he was hired at UCLA. “You have to find a way to win, and these guys are having the most fun they’ve ever had in their life back in that locker room because they won.

“I told them I was going to teach them how to win. And you have to be able to win different ways … to find a way to beat (Michigan) with defense the way we did tonight, I’m obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience.”

Johnny Juzang, who shot the Bruins back into the game in the first half after they trailed 11-4, and finished with 28 points even after hurting his right ankle early in the second half and leaving the game briefly, is an L.A. guy who originally chose Kentucky but had no hesitation returning home to play for Cronin. The shooter and the defensive-minded coach wouldn’t seem to be a natural match, but Juzang said the idea of being coached hard appealed to him.

“There’s just something inexplainable. I just felt something about Coach,” he said. “I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me. I wanted that. I wanted to be pushed. … I knew that he would push me and hold me accountable and challenge me, and I wanted to play for a program where he does that for everybody.”

Consider that he left Kentucky, another of the sport’s blue-bloods.

Also consider that Kentucky missed the tournament, while UCLA knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its region to get to the last Saturday. The last 11 seed to do that was LSU in 1986, led by former Crenshaw High star John Williams, which beat the top three seeds in its region.

These Bruins and those Tigers are two of only five No. 11 seeds ever to make it to the Final Four, joining George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 – the first team to get there from the First Four – and Loyola-Chicago in 2018.

None of us had the heart during the postgame Zoom session to ask Cronin if he’d started looking ahead to Gonzaga, the undefeated overall  No. 1 seed that laid waste to USC’s Final Four chances in the first game of the evening.

But maybe the Bruins – having won two tourney games in overtime already – were paying close enough attention to that game to be reminded just how important it is to seize the moment. Gonzaga (30-0) took the initiative from the tipoff and USC was on its heels most of that game. In the nightcap, after Michigan (23-5) took its early 11-4 lead with UCLA making just 2 of 13 field-goal attempts, the Bruins (22-9) threw the next punch. Juzang scored 12 points in a 3:40 span to put his team in front, where it would stay most of the game.

The little things matter for this team, hugely, and a guy who didn’t score a point might have been indispensable. Kenneth Nwuba, the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore from Lagos, Nigeria who had averaged 5.4 minutes in the 16 games he played, was on the court for 21 minutes after Cody Riley got into early foul difficulty. Nwuba had five rebounds, drew two charging fouls early in the game and was one of the guys Cronin was thinking of when he suggested that the stat sheet might as well be crumpled up.

“Kenny has never played that many minutes, I don’t think,” he said. “He dug deep for us – five big rebounds, great physicality, set some great screens. Again, stats can be overrated. Here is a guy that didn’t score but (the questioner) brought his name up for a reason. He had a big impact on the game physically.”

How big a milestone is this? UCLA will be in the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and the 19th time overall (though the 1980 appearance was vacated by the NCAA, so the official number is 18).

Cronin made it in his second season in Westwood. It took Ben Howland three years. It took John Wooden 14.

“I knew the expectations, right?” Cronin said. “I mean, it’s pretty clear at UCLA.

“I thank (former athletic director) Dan Guerrero for believing in me. I tried to convince him and the guys that were around him with this that I understood it and I wanted it. Coach (Rick) Pitino is like an older brother to me, and he used to say, ‘I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb.’ It’s like I told my father (Hep), ‘If I don’t take this job I’ll feel like a lamb.’”

Oh, he’s a lion all right. His players will attest to that, and so will any official within earshot after a questionable call.

That passion has gotten his team back to the Final Four. It already is a double-digit underdog to Gonzaga in Saturday’s semifinal, according to the experts in the desert. But would you really want to bet against UCLA’s toughness, resilience and stubbornness?

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Whicker: Beat-up UCLA rallies to beat Michigan State in night of validation

Mick Cronin had not seen John Wooden’s statue yet, the one that sits outside Purdue’s Mackey Arena, just in front of the Pyramid of Success. UCLA hadn’t reached West Lafayette, Indiana until 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night for practice, and the Bruins were herded through the halls without a chance to wander.

Nowadays, Wooden’s image is a good omen for those who follow him. It used to peer through thick glasses, disapprovingly, when the first successors fell short of ultimate victory, but nearly everyone understands that 46 years have changed things. Wooden now is a reminder that UCLA once could do this, rather than a taskmaster who insisted it must.

Besides, Cronin had another old coach to worry about.

Hep Cronin came up from Cincinnati to watch his son’s first NCAA Tournament game as UCLA’s coach. It turned out to be UCLA’s first tournament win since the second round in 2017, when Lonzo Ball led the Bruins past Cincinnati, coached by Cronin, in Sacramento.

Mick had not seen his dad since February of 2020. Hep was coming to the Pac-12 Tournament that March, but a virus intervened. They talk each day, with Mick gently ribbing him about the winter sunshine that L.A. generally has and Cincinnati generally doesn’t.

Now?

“Now I get to see him again,” Mick said.

After a series of late-game swan dives, and after a long Sunday afternoon of waiting to see if the NCAA would even beckon, UCLA suddenly has much to anticipate.

Its 86-80 overtime victory over Michigan State will be prized as a rare example of Bruin grit and gumption, even though both teams were 11th seeds, and in the second half everyone found out why Michigan State was. The Spartans (15-13) were smooth and commanding in seizing a 44-33 halftime lead, but UCLA (20-7) paralyzed them with the defense that it hasn’t displayed often, and it somehow grabbed the game’s joystick and made every play it had to in the final minutes. Michigan State missed 11 of its final 15 shots and lost a game it had led by five with 30 seconds left.

“I never thought we couldn’t come back and win,” Jaime Jaquez, Jr. said. “But we had to come out in the second half with different energy.”

Or maybe Jaquez needed to bequeath some of his to everyone else. It’s difficult to remember when a UCLA player has had such an influential NCAA Tournament. Jaquez played all 45 minutes, hit 11 of 20 shots and scored a career-high 27 points, and after halftime, Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard got on board. In overtime Juzang went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court, and who knows if he’ll be available Saturday against No. 6 seed Brigham Young? But by then he had scored 21 points, and the Bruins had underlined the fact that Michigan State’s defense, at least temporarily, has gone the way of the Oldsmobile.

“We thought (Malik) Hall and (Joey) Houser would guard Jaime,” Cronin said, “and we liked those matchups, so he knew I was going to be coming his way.”

Jaquez used his exemplary footwork and his keen anticipation, a sense that he displayed from Day One in a Bruin uniform in the fall of 2019. He can also shoot it conventionally, but he also has worked at the game so diligently that he knows how to invent the angles of attack. At one point he was zooming in for a layup and the ball escaped his hands, but he kept his legs moving and found himself in the left corner. The ball found him, too, and Jaquez swished a 3-pointer.

He also rebounded his own free-throw miss and converted the 3-point play that gave the Bruins the 77-77 tie it took into overtime. Over the final 25 minutes, Michigan State scored 36 points.

Jaquez had already committed to UCLA when Cronin took the job. He also had traveled with the Mexican national team, playing against men. “I think sometimes he’s almost better when we’re down,” Cronin said.

“I just try to give us what we need,” Jaquez said. “Tonight it was scoring, along with trying to get deflections. The kind of defense we played in the first half wasn’t going to get it done.”

The win also showed a maturity level in the program itself. True, UCLA spent the final two weeks losing close games. But it lost to USC on a fanciful shot at the buzzer, and it lost to Oregon because it suffered late turnovers against pressure, and it didn’t shoot free throws well against Oregon State. The Bruins had a four-game losing streak but they weren’t in the tank. They were actually the better team through most of those games and just couldn’t hold up down the stretch. There’s a difference, and Cronin kept saying that it was the nature of the game, not the nature of the players, that was causing the problem.

“They needed something like this,” Cronin said. He also said that he would find that Wooden statue before the Bruins left Indiana. They seem in no rush.

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Guy sinks FTs on disputed foul, Virginia shocks Auburn in Final Four game

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hard to call Virginia basketball boring after the last two games. And the Cavaliers have pretty much put the choker label to rest, too.

From one-and-done to NCAA Tournament miracle men, Virginia will play for the national title for the first time after pulling off another last-second stunner. Kyle Guy made three free throws with 0.6 seconds left, steadily swishing each one as debate immediately started over the sequence that sent him to the line, and Virginia beat Auburn 63-62 Saturday in the Final Four.

A year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, these top-seeded Cavaliers now look like destiny’s team.

“It’s a great story,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “It is.”

The Cavaliers (34-3) will face Texas Tech on Monday night as the slight favorite to win the tournament.

Bennett has built a powerhouse in 10 years in Charlottesville on a style of play that is often about as exciting as a trip to the campus library. The Cavaliers have gotten straight A’s in the regular season with stingy defense and walk-it-up offense, but NCAA success has been hard to come by. Blown leads and early exits have been their story — never more than when the Cavaliers lost to UMBC, a school known for chess, not hoops.

Something has gotten into these Wahoos the last two weeks, though. They reached the Final Four for the first time since 1984 with a wild buzzer-beater by Mamadi Diakite to send their Elite Eight game against Purdue to overtime. Beating the Tigers took an even crazier finish.

Fifth-seeded Auburn (30-10) had erased a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes and taken a 4-point lead. Heartbreak was again at hand for Virginia.

The Tigers led 61-60 after Guy made an off-balance 3 with 7.6 seconds left. The shot snapped a drought of more than five minutes by the Cavaliers, who then immediately sent Jared Harper to the line.

Harper made one and Auburn, with fouls to give, did so twice. On one of them, it looked as if Ty Jerome might have double-dribbled into a decisive turnover. Jerome also might have been fouled before the mishandle. But there was no whistle for either.

“We knew there was a disruption,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

With 1.5 seconds left and in need of some magic, Virginia got the ball to Guy in the corner. He turned and fired and Samir Doughty, hands straight up in the air, bumped into Guy’s hip. The shot was short, bouncing off the rim. Game over? Auburn started to celebrate and the PA announcer in U.S. Bank Stadium even announced the Tigers had won.

Guy pulled his jersey over his face. But not in angst. He said he exactly knew why official James Breeding had blown his whistle.

“I heard him call it right away,” Guy said. “That was me focusing.”

Meanwhile, Pearl lost it on the sideline, pumping his fist and screaming.

“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” said Bryce Brown, who led the Auburn comeback with three 3s in the final 4:30. “It’s not why we lost the game. I just didn’t agree with the call.”

Pearl said he didn’t want the final call to define a great game, but he did say the officials seemed to be letting physical play go throughout.

“My advice … if that’s a foul, call it,” Pearl said. “Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game. Don’t call it any more or less at any other time during the game.”

Guy swished the first two free throws to tie it and Auburn called a timeout to ice him. Didn’t work. He hit one more for the lead.

“I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special,” Guy said.

Auburn threw a long inbound pass to Brown, but his desperation 3 was short.

The Cavaliers mobbed Guy on one end. Brown sat on the court, head hanging on the other. Auburn, in the Final Four for the first time, had its 12-game winning streak and season end in a most painful way.

NCAA national coordinator of officials J.D. Collins declined comment on the potential double dribble, but said Breeding’s call was correct.

The foul violated the rule that “verticality applies to a legal position and also to both the offensive and defensive players,” Collins said. “The defender may not ‘belly up’ or use the lower part of the body or arms to cause contact outside his vertical plane or inside the opponent’s vertical plane.”

Jerome scored 21 points for Virginia and De’Andre Hunter had 10 of his 14 in a stellar second half.

Doughty led Auburn with 13 points and Brown had 12 for Auburn, which survived the first round against New Mexico State when Terrell Brown of the Aggies missed two of three free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining in the Tigers’ 78-77 victory.

Auburn wasn’t so fortunate this time, and Virginia, the team that made UMBC a household name — at least for a little while — in the first round of last year’s tournament would not be denied. Being on the receiving end of maybe the most humbling NCAA Tournament upset ever has been Virginia’s cross to bear all season. Even after beating Auburn, the Cavaliers had to recall the feeling of their offseason routine starting unexpectedly early last year.

“I feel like I get asked this question every single round, every round we advance, and every round I say the same thing almost,” Jerome said, “and it feels a little bit sweeter, a little bit sweeter.”

Then Guy said: “Not much to add. Just you guys can ask that question again on Monday.”

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Mooney scores, Texas Tech clamps down in Final Four victory over Michigan State

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For those who thought Texas Tech only plays defense, it’s time to meet Matt Mooney.

While the Red Raiders were locking down Michigan State on one end, the graduate transfer shooting guard was raining in 3s on the other, lifting Tech one win away from a title Saturday night with a 61-51 victory over the Spartans in the Final Four.

Mooney matched his season-high with 22 points, including three 3-pointers over the span of 3 minutes to give Texas Tech a 13-point lead midway through the second half.

With the kind of ‘D’ Texas Tech plays, it was too much to overcome, and now the Red Raiders are getting ready for another defensive battle, in a Monday final against Virginia, and its vaunted pack line defense. The Cavaliers are a slight 1-point favorite, and the over/under was at 117½ and falling late Saturday night.

Texas Tech wins by doing just enough on the offensive end. On this night, Mooney did the major damage.

“He’s obviously very, very talented, but the thing that impressed me tonight was just his courage, wanting to make those big plays in big moment,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said.

Mooney’s first two shots in the stretch capped a 5-for-5 hot streak by Texas Tech (31-6) that stood as the game’s only true blast of offense. His third 3 gave Texas Tech a 48-35 lead with 9:38 left.

Before and after that, it was all about defense — a game filled with air balls, blocked shots and clogged-up passing lanes. At one point, over a two minute stretch late in the first half, eight shots went up. Six of them didn’t touch the rim.

It was, to put it Texas Tech’s way, perfectly ugly.

“It’s like they never make mistakes,” Michigan State forward Kenny Goins said. “They got us kind of caught in that trap today.”

Michigan State (32-7) leaves coach Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four with its seventh loss — the 2000 title is still the only time the Spartans have taken it all the way under their veteran coach.

But they did not go away easily.

After Mooney put them down by a baker’s dozen, the Spartans trimmed it to 3. Matt McQuaid had a wide-open look from the corner — one of the very few on this night — that would’ve tied it with 1:50 left, but the ball rimmed out and the Red Raiders pulled away.

Jarrett Culver (10 points, five boards) finished it off. He made one free throw on the next trip down, then Norense Odiase swiped the ball from MSU’s Xavier Tillman — one of Tech’s four steals on the night — and the Red Raiders worked the ball to Culver, who made his only 3 to push the lead to 58-51 and start the celebration.

Culver shot 0 for 6 in the first half, and scored six of his 10 points over the last 2:30.

“When you’ve got a whole team that trusts you on the court, you keep shooting with confidence,” he said.

Meanwhile, a defense that led the nation in efficiency and held teams to under 37% shooting this season — second best in the county — held Michigan State to 31.9% from the floor.

Most tellingly, it stymied Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston. Yes, Winston led the Spartans with 16 points, but it came on 4-for-16 shooting, and he was held scoreless in second half for more than 10 minutes — not perking up until after Mooney had given the Red Raiders their big cushion.

Mooney is the fifth-year senior who made his way to Texas Tech after graduating from South Dakota — the school he transferred to after a rough year at Air Force.

Most all these Red Raiders have a story like that.

Beard is on his 12th stop in a travelogue of a career — and he’s been recruiting grinders like him to help him take this most-unexpected ride.

Culver wasn’t in the top 300 among high school recruits, and chose his hometown college over a few other places. He kept battling despite the rough start, and Texas Tech overcame his cold first half to head to the locker room leading by the not-so-scintillating score of 23-21. It was the lowest scoring first half at the Final Four since the Spartans took a 19-17 lead over Wisconsin in a 2000 slugfest.

“We threw a lot of punches tonight,” Beard said. “We tried a lot of things on defense, and fortunately most of them worked.”

Culver had one block and rim protector Tariq Owens, also a grad transfer, had three more before leaving late in the second half with a leg injury.

Owens came jogging back in toward the end to the cheers of the Texas Tech crowd, which included alum Patrick Mahomes, the high-flying QB for the Chiefs.

“Pretty cool to have the MVP of the NFL on our side, cheering for us,” Mooney said.

Turns out, the quarterback isn’t the only Red Raider who can light up that scoreboard.

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March Madness 2019: NCAA Tournament South Region breakdown

With so much going on, who can remember what happened the last time Virginia was the No. 1 seed in the South Region? Oh right, everyone does.

Last year Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round – and it wasn’t close, with No. 16 UMBC winning by 20.

After a stellar regular season – the only losses were to No. 1 overall seed Duke — now the Cavs are right back in the same spot. Will the added motivation lead to their first Final Four in 35 years, or will the added pressure lead to more disappointment?

Virginia isn’t the only team seeking a breakthrough. No. 2 Tennessee has never made the Final Four, but it has wins over Gonzaga and Kentucky (twice) and was the top-ranked team in the country for four weeks behind SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, the conference’s leading scorer.

Third-seeded Purdue (1980) and fourth-seeded Kansas State (1964) are also looking to break long Final Four droughts.

The Cavs could get a serious test in the second round against No. 9 Oklahoma, which is led by three senior guards.

An intriguing wild card will be home-court advantage for lower-seeded teams in the second round. No. 7 Cincinnati could play Tennessee two hours from campus in Columbus, Ohio, while No. 6 Villanova could play Purdue in the Big East territory of Hartford, Connecticut.

A double-digit seed with the best chance to advance is Oregon, which has won eight straight (albeit in the much-maligned Pac-12). The Ducks were also a No. 12 seed in San Jose in 2013 when it beat Oklahoma State and St. Louis to get the Sweet 16.

Looking for a sentimental choice? Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones is currently battling prostate cancer. The Monarchs beat tournament teams Syracuse and VCU and made the NCAAs for the first time in eight years.

SOUTH REGION

FAVORITE: VIRGINIA

The Cavaliers allow 54.6 points per game, four fewer than anyone else in the country. Of course, they’ve disproved the “defense wins championships” myth plenty of times under coach Tony Bennett, with no regional titles despite four No. 1 seeds in the past six years. At least they’re healthy this time – ACC defensive player of the year De’Andre Hunter missed last year’s loss with a broken wrist.

SLEEPER: VILLANOVA

No program has had as much recent NCAA Tournament success – the Wildcats have won 2 of the last 3 titles. Sure, four players from last year’s championship team are now in the NBA, but Villanova continued to dominate the Big East, winning the regular season and conference titles behind guard Phil Booth and forward Eric Paschall.

UPSET ALERT: UC IRVINE OVER KANSAS STATE

UC Irvine might be the best team in California. Featuring eight different players that have led the team in scoring, the Anteaters are the first Big West program with 30 wins since UNLV went to the Final Four in 1991. Meanwhile, Kansas State will likely be without All-Big 12 senior forward Dean Wade, who missed the conference tournament with a foot injury.

BRACKET BREAKDOWN

While none of the top five seeds are riding the momentum of a conference championship, they all feature either outstanding offense or lockdown defense (or both). Virginia, Tennessee and Purdue and three of the top four offenses in the Ken Pomeroy efficiency rankings, while Virginia, Wisconsin and Kansas State have three of the top five defenses.

THE MATCHUPS

1. Virginia (29-3), at-large, ACC

16. Gardner-Webb (23-11), automatic, Big South

 

8. Ole Miss (20-12), at-large, SEC

9. Oklahoma (19-13), at-large, Big 12

 

5. Wisconsin (23-10), at-large, Big Ten

12. Oregon (23-12), automatic, Pac-12

 

4. Kansas State (25-8), at-large, SEC

13. UC Irvine (30-5), automatic, Big West

 

6. Villanova (25-9), automatic, Big East

11. St. Mary’s (22-11), automatic, WCC

3. Purdue (23-9), at-large, Big Ten

14. Old Dominion (26-8), automatic, Conference USA

 

7. Cincinnati (28-6), automatic, American

10. Iowa (22-11), at-large, Big Ten

 

2. Tennessee (29-5), at-large, SEC

15. Colgate (24-10), automatic, Patriot

 

BY THE NUMBERS

3 – Wisconsin and Oregon will be meeting in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in six seasons. Wisconsin beat Oregon in the second round in 2014 and 2015.

14 – Ole Miss was picked to finish last out of 14 teams in the SEC preseason poll under new coach Kermit Davis.

FAB FIVE

  • Phil Booth: Villanova, G, 18.6 ppg, 3.8 apg
  • Carson Edwards: Purdue, G, 23.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
  • Ethan Happ: Wisconsin, F, 17.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.6 apg
  • De’Andre Hunter: Virginia, G, 15.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg
  • Grant Williams: Tennessee, F, 19.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

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Whicker: Florida State makes Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s fears come to life

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins, left, and forward Johnathan Williams walk off the court for a timeout during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal against Florida State on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins, left, and forward Johnathan Williams walk off the court for a timeout during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal against Florida State on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Gonzaga players watch as Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) shoots free throws during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Gonzaga players watch as Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) shoots free throws during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) defends on a shot by Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (21) during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) defends on a shot by Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (21) during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann celebrates after scoring and drawing a foul against Gonzaga during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann celebrates after scoring and drawing a foul against Gonzaga during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) reaches for the ball next to Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) reaches for the ball next to Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele, right, grabs a rebound in front of Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele, right, grabs a rebound in front of Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) grabs a rebound in front of Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) grabs a rebound in front of Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann, right, shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann, right, shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann shoots against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann shoots against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) shoots against Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. (23) shoots against Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. (23) shoots against Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Florida State guard Terance Mann (14) celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr., right, shoots against Florida State forward Phil Cofer during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr., right, shoots against Florida State forward Phil Cofer during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24) shoots in front of Florida State forward Phil Cofer during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24) shoots in front of Florida State forward Phil Cofer during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton gestures during the first half of the team’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal against Gonzaga on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton gestures during the first half of the team’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal against Gonzaga on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

  • Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele, left, tries to block a shot by Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele, left, tries to block a shot by Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. (23) reaches for a rebound over Florida State center Ike Obiagu, center, and PJ Savoy during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

    Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. (23) reaches for a rebound over Florida State center Ike Obiagu, center, and PJ Savoy during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams, bottom, reaches for the ball under Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

    Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams, bottom, reaches for the ball under Florida State forward Phil Cofer (0) during the first half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional semifinal Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

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LOS ANGELES — Video doesn’t tell you the whole truth, but it rarely lies.

Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach, kept watching Florida State’s tapes this week in hopes that the plot would twist and the characters would change.

“I started getting a bad feeling,” Few said.

It got worse on Tuesday when Killian Tillie, a 6-foot-11  starter with 47.9 three-point shooting, bumped hips with a teammate in practice, and could play no more.

Then Few saw the Seminoles live, in concert, at Staples Center Thursday night. They filled up the court just like they filled up his screen. They eventually knocked out Gonzaga, last year’s NCAA tournament runnerup, with that defense and size and depth.  The 75-60 margin was Gonzaga’s second worst in a 32-5 season, and it sets up the Seminoles for a regional championship game against Michigan Saturday.

“Their size bothered us,” said Zach Norvell, who had led the Bulldogs through the first weekend. “We had chances in the second half, we had some run-outs and opportunities, but just bad shots, turnovers….we couldn’t overcome all those.”

Gonzaga’s 60 points were a season low. So was its 33.9 field goal percentage.

Again it showed how matchups, not portfolio, make the difference. Gonzaga’s offense normally flows like the mountain streams where Few goes fishing. In this game it was like the L.A. waterbed. The Bulldogs had only seven assists on their 20 field goals, and they shot 5-for-20 from the 3-point line, where they retreated after 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje and 6-8 Mfiondu Kabengele closed down the paint.

Florida State blocked nine shots, four by Kabengele in his 14 minutes.  The Seminoles outscored Gonzaga 38-22 in the lane. Twice the Bulldogs sneaked to within four in the second half, but Braian Angola responded with buckets each time.

When Terance Mann got a steal and fed Phil Cofer for  a dunk, Florida State led by 11 with three minutes to go, and  Few watched stoically, knowing the game tape had become a documentary.

“There were some bad decisions there,” Few said. “We’d work for open 3-pointers and then turn them down, and a couple of times we had fast breaks with numbers and we didn’t slow down enough to take advantage. But their athleticism and their effort were too much. They didn’t allow us to find a rhythm.”

“I thought we sped them up,” said M.J. Walker, the freshman guard for FSU. “They like to go into the paint, and when we stopped them, they didn’t really run their offense after that.”

On the blackboard in the FSU locker room, someone had written “FTH.” That, according to Walker, means Forget The Hype, or something maybe a little raunchier than that.

Lord knows Florida State has lived without it. It won nine of 18 games in the ACC. It lost to Louisville at home and in the ACC tournament,  lost on the road to Boston College and Wake Forest, lost a late 20-pointer to N.C. State. If not for wins over North Carolina, Florida and Clemson, the situation could have gotten bubbly for the Seminoles, who still were 9th-seeded before they took out Missouri and then top-seeded Xavier.

“You know how tough the ACC is,” Angola said. “You have your ups and downs.”

“Even though we struggled I think this team was different because we locked in defensively from the beginning,” Cofer said.

Leonard Hamilton’s team has been hurt by one-and-dones like Jonathan Isaac and Malik Beasley.  Now it tries to outnumber you. Ten Seminoles played 10 or more minutes, and their bench outscored Gonzaga’s, 30-6.

“We had great depth last year,” Few remembered. “It was quite a luxury. You didn’t worry about foul trouble. Tonight, with Killian out, we did run into foul trouble. It hurt us at the end of the first half and again in the second.”

South of here, a spiffy new soccer stadium is poised for operation, just next to the L.A. Coliseum. History-minded Florida State fans might want to stop by to pay homage.

The Sports Arena used to stand there, and in 1972 Hugh Durham brought another imposing but unheralded Florida State team there for a Final Four.  With Ron King and Reggie Royals and a road-running 5-foot-8 guard named Otto Petty, the Seminoles upset North Carolina in the semifinals and gave UCLA and sophomore Bill Walton a 5-point test in the final.

Florida State has not returned to the Final Four and, in fact,  went four years without making the bloated NCAA field until 2017.

Yet if you total up the overall records of ACC teams in the past 12 years, FSU is fourth, behind only Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

“It’s interesting that we probably are the only ones who believe we’re capable of doing this,” Hamilton said. “But it’s fun because we’re always scratching and clawing, always the underdog.”

On Saturday, they will be again. Mark Few will be back in Spokane, a bit bruised and discouraged. At least he knows his vision is fine.

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Whicker: Villanova bears the burden of this bracket pick

My annual NCAA Tournament bracket, also known as The Shape Of Water:

EAST

Xavier over Texas Southern:  TSU’s Health and Physical Education Center was homecourt for two NCAA teams this year, the home team and Houston.

Missouri over Florida State: Even with Michael Porter Jr. struggling to sync up, the Tigers are too good here.

South Dakota State over Ohio State: Mke Daum loses his title as Least-Known Good Player.

Gonzaga over UNC Greensboro: UNCG hasn’t seen anybody like Rui Hachimura.

San Diego State over Houston: Aztecs were on a fearsome roll in Mountain West Tournament.

Michigan over Montana: Even more so for Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament.

Providence over Texas A&M: If the Aggies had the Friars’ tenacity they’d be more like a 3 seed, not a 7.

North Carolina over Lipscomb: Pat Boone’s alma mater requires mandatory attendance at Bible class. Not so at Carolina.

Missouri over Xavier: Porter finds his sweet spot.

Gonzaga over South Dakota State: Killian Tillie’s brother Kevin won two NCAA volleyball titles at UC Irvine.

Michigan over San Diego State: The Steve Fisher Bowl.

North Carolina over Providence: Theo Pinson is one of the Tar Heels’ most resourceful players in years.

Gonzaga over Missouri: It’s a shame, but the Zags have outgrown the WCC.

Michigan over North Carolina: Wolverines make a Beilein to the basket against Carolina’s spotty defense.

Michigan over Gonzaga: How come the basketball team always has a quarterback and the football team doesn’t?

SOUTH

Virginia over Maryland Baltimore-County: UMBC coach Ryan Odom is son of former UVA assistant Dave Odom, who went on to coach Tim Duncan at Wake Forest.

Kansas State over Creighton: Dean Wade came from St. John, Kans. (population 1,265) to fashion a fine career at K-State.

Kentucky over Davidson: The Big Blue survives dynamic freshman Kerran Grady.

Arizona over Buffalo: Deandre Ayton roams like, well, a buffalo.

Tennessee over Wright State: Vols star Admiral Schofield has a father who was a captain in the Navy. Not named after the old TV set.

Loyola-Chicago over Miami: Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, 98, is spiritual adviser for the Ramblers.

Nevada over Texas: The Longhorns were the worst offensive team in the Big 12.

Cincinnati over Georgia State: GSU coach Ron Hunter needed a stool for his torn Achilles when his club beat Baylor three years ago. He’s healthy but he’s keeping the stool.

Virginia over Kansas State: Incredible that nobody scored 70 points against UVA this season.

Kentucky over Arizona: There will come a time when Arizona needs to shoot well and won’t. It might as well be now.

Tennessee over Loyola-Chicago: Didn’t Texas fire Rick Barnes because he couldn’t win big NCAA games?

Cincinnati over Nevada: Only Virginia has better defensive efficiency than the Bearcats.

Kentucky over Virginia: De’Andre Hunter’s broken wrist finally catches up with the Cavaliers.

Cincinnati over Tennessee: Cincinnati foes only average 6.3 made 3-pointers.

Cincinnati over Kentucky: Seniors and juniors over freshmen.

EAST

Villanova over Radford: Highlanders coach Mike Jones has a son, Nate, playing in the tournament for Bucknell.

Virginia Tech over Alabama: The Crimson Tide has Collin Sexton. It also has 15 losses.

Murray State over West Virginia: The Racers have the nation’s longest winning streak (13) and can handle pressure.

Marshall over Wichita State: Dan D’Antoni coaches the Herd. So, yeah they shoot 28.3 3-pointers a game.

St. Bonaventure over Florida: First Four momentum. It’s real.

Texas Tech over Stephen F. Austin: The Red Raiders will go as far as Keenan Evans’ sore turf toe takes them.

Arkansas over Butler: Young center Daniel Gafford might be playing this game for years and years.

Purdue over Cal State Fullerton: The Titans are dealing with a 9:40 a.m. PDT tipoff, body.

Villanova over Virginia Tech: Few teams have a pair of aces like Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

Murray State over Marshall: The Coal Bowl.

Texas Tech over St. Bonaventure: Three games in five days is too much for the thin Bonnies.

Purdue over Arkansas: The Boilermakers have put two good games together more often than the Razorbacks.

Villanova over Murray State: The Wildcats got better when Phil Booth got healthy.

Purdue over Texas Tech: Purdue is no longer just a bunch of hard hats, but a 3-point firing squad.

Villanova over Purdue: Muscle memory takes over for the ’Nova players, some of whom remember winning it all in 2016.

MIDWEST

Kansas over Penn: Lots of wishful thinking about a No. 1 seed finally losing to a 16. Not Kansas, not in Wichita.

N.C. State over Seton Hall: The Wolfpack beat Arizona, North Carolina and Duke this season.

New Mexico State over Clemson: Jemerrio Jones averages a double-double for the Aggies.

Auburn over Charleston: The NCAA somehow made fans of both teams make the trek to San Diego.

TCU over Syracuse: You have to win ugly in the tournament sometimes. The Orange can lose ugly, too.

Michigan State over Bucknell: A bit of danger here.

Rhode Island over Oklahoma: Trae Young shot Oklahoma into prominence and nearly shot Oklahoma out of the tournament.

Duke over Iona: Grayson Allen has only a few flagrant fouls left.

Kansas over N.C. State: The chalk holds up, as does the rock.

Auburn over New Mexico State: Tigers enjoy their first NCAA trip in 15 years.

Michigan State over TCU: Freshman Jaren Jackson has a lottery seat awaiting.

Rhode Island over Duke: The Blue Devils’ defense and depth crumble in the face of the experienced, passionate Rams.

Kansas over Auburn: Devonte Graham, the Jayhawks’ valuable point guard, was a prep school teammate of probable NBA Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell.

Michigan State over Rhode Island: Freshman center Xavier Tillman is ready to break out.

Michigan State over Kansas: The Big Ten wasn’t that bad after all.

SEMIFINALS

Michigan over Cincinnati: German center Moritz Wagner joins the NCAA zeitgeist, gives Michigan fans a sense of schadenfreude.

Villanova over Michigan State: It’s Michigan State’s first loss to anyone but Michigan since Jan. 4.

FINAL

Villanova over Michigan: And Nick Foles won’t even need to catch a touchdown.

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