The Best and Worst from Day 3 of March Madness

Let’s get right into it.

1. (11) NC State 79, (14) Oakland 73 (OT) (South)

The first overtime game of the two played in Pittsburgh Saturday night was the best second round game the tournament has shown us so far.

Power conference Cinderella versus Mid-Major Cinderella.

Finesse versus strength.

Mascot with bared teeth versus mascot with bared teeth.

Jack Gohlke versus D.J. Burns.

After a back-and-forth first 39 minutes and 40 seconds, Oakland had a chance to put NC State away and become the first 14-seed ever to beat an 11-seed, and the first 14-seed to advance to a Sweet 16 since Chattanooga in 1997. They threw the ball out-of-bounds with 1.3 seconds to play.

“I blame myself,” longtime Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said after the game. “We got the ball with 17 seconds to go and we didn’t get a shot. There’s only one person to blame for that. That’s me, and I’ve got to sit here and live with that now.”

NC State then nearly made one of the greatest March Madness shots of all-time, as Casey Morsell’s 3/4-court heave took a Gordon Hayward bounce off the glass and front rim.

Both teams looked sluggish for the first few minutes of overtime, but a Jayden Taylor corner three off a beautiful pass from Burns ignited a 7-0 Wolfpack run that put to bed the mid-major dream of another weekend of Oakland basketball.

Trey Townsend, whose parents both played basketball at Oakland as well, led the Golden Grizzlies with 30 points. Gohlke once again came off the bench and lit it up from the outside, hitting six threes and scoring 22 points.

Burns was the star for NC State, scoring 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four assists.

The Wolfpack are headed to the tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2015, and are one win away from playing in a regional final for the first time since 1986.

2. (3) Creighton 86, (11) Oregon 73 (2OT) (Midwest)

The second game of the night in Pittsburgh also featured free basketball and an 11th-seeded bid-stealer from a power conference.

After a wild finish to the game’s first overtime, Dana Altman looked over at Greg McDermott, the man Altman had handed the reigns to at Creighton 14 years ago. The two shared a knowing smile.

“We were both in disbelief about what was transpiring in front of our eyes,” McDermott said.

After nine ties and 14 league exchanges, Oregon — which missed a key free-throw that could have gone a long way towards putting the game away at the end of regulation — appeared to be cooked at the end of the first overtime period. That’s when Jermaine Couisnard, the man who scored 40 points against his old South Carolina team on Thursday, stuck a well-defended three to knot the score at 71.

Creighton had a chance to answer and punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 on the other end, but Trey Alexander’s short baseline jumper found nothing but rim.

The second extra period was all Jays.

Steven Ashworth drilled a three to get things started, and then a possession later, Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kalkbrenner connected on a rare triple that seemed to take all the wind out of Oregon’s sails. Creighton would go on to outscore the Ducks 24-11 over the game’s final five minutes.

If Oregon looked gassed at the end of overtime, it was for good reason. The Ducks only had four players score in the game, and five players played 37 minutes or more. Couisnard and big man N’Faly Dante combined to score every single point that Oregon netted after halftime, and 60 of their 73 points for the entire game.

It wasn’t enough, as Creighton moved two wins away from the Final Four trip they came so tantalizingly close to capturing 12 months ago.

3. (2) Tennessee 62, (7) Texas 58 (Midwest)

Speaking of head coaches going up against their old programs, it was the Rick Barnes Bowl Saturday night in Charlotte.

Barnes, who served as the head coach at Texas from 1998-2015, narrowly avoided another one of the early March upset losses that have come to partially define both himself and the Tennessee program he now champions.

Tennessee trailed for just the first 3:24 of this game, but 33.8 percent shooting from the floor and a woeful 3-for-25 (12.0 percent) effort from beyond the arc allowed the Longhorns to hang around. First Team All-American Dalton Knecht was just 5-for-18 from the field, but his four made free-throws in the game’s final 8.8 seconds prevented UT from a having a shot to push the game into overtime or win it in regulation.

The Volunteers now head back to the Sweet 16, where they’re 0-2 under Barnes. A win over Creighton on Friday would send UT to just its second regional final ever, and put the team a single victory away from becoming the first Volunteer squad ever to make the Final Four.

1. North Carolina

Entering Sunday, only seven No. 1 seeds in the history of the NCAA tournament had ever been favored by four points or fewer in their second round game. Those 1-seeds had gone 2-5 straight up in those seven contests.

Not only was North Carolina a 4-point favorite for its second round game on Saturday, but the Tar Heels were going up against Michigan State and Tom Izzo, the man with more NCAA tournament wins as a worse seed (20) than any other in the history of the sport.

Didn’t matter.

UNC moved to 5-0 all-time against Sparty in the Big Dance with a convincing 85-69 win that was maybe as complete an effort as we’ve seen from any team in the tournament so far. The victory also bolstered the Heels’ already well-established title of Sweet 16 King.


Duke needs a Sunday win over James Madison to stay within two of their arch-rivals.

2. Gonzaga

From the all-time Sweet 16 King to the current Sweet 16 King.

Gonzaga extended the longest active streak of consecutive trips to the tournament’s second weekend to nine with an 89-68 demolition of Kansas. The Zags’ run of nine straight Sweet 16 appearances is also tied for the second-longest streak in tournament history.

Kansas actually led Mark Few’s team by a point going into the break before Gonzaga came out like a house on fire in the second half. The Bulldogs hit 9 out of their first 10 shots after coming out of the locker room, including a 3-for-3 effort from beyond the arc, and scored 23 points in the first eight minutes of the second half.

A 26-4 run after halftime took what had been a wildly competitive contest and turned it into a runaway.

Ken Pomeroy would like the “Gonzaga chokes every year” crowd to note the fact that not only are the Zags headed to a ninth straight Sweet 16, but they have officially played to or above their seed line for the 13th time in the last 16 NCAA tournaments.

Two months ago they had no shot to make the NCAA tournament.

One month ago they had no shot to be a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.

This week they had no shot to avoid a 12/5 upset at the hands of 30-win McNeese State.

Now, they’ve joined 2001 Cincinnati as just the second 5-seed in tournament history to win both of their first two tournament games by 20 points or more.

Mark Few can coach some basketball.

3. Illinois

The biggest blowout of the day came from Illinois, which blasted Duquesne by 26 in a game that I’d be willing to bet had the lowest TV viewership of any on Saturday. That’s not a knock on either team (well, it sort of is on Duquesne), it’s just a recognition of the fact that this game was never close and it also just so happened to tip-off right at the moment we had three games going simultaneously for the first time all day.

The victory was a sweet reward for Illini fans who have not-so-patiently been waiting since 2005 for their team to return to the tournament’s second weekend.

“This program is elite,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “To not be there in 18, 19 years, that’s mind-numbing. It feels good to be advancing with this group. This is one of my favorite teams to coach. On to Boston.”

The win was the 28th of the season for Illinois, making this the third-winningest team in the history of the program. The two squads above them on the all-time list both played in the Final Four.

Illinois’ electric offensive performance in this one was also good enough to move the Illini in to the No. 1 spot In Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. The team’s current rating of 126.7 is actually the fourth-highest of the KenPom era, which dates back to 1999. The three teams above them all played in the national championship game.

1. Kansas

First of all, let me get this out of my system: This should have been Samford. I’m still angry about the whistle from Thursday night. I will always be angry about the whistle from Thursday night.

Second, I know that an early exit had been predictable since the moment Kevin McCullar was declared out for the rest of the season … but goodness. When the Jayhawks laid down after Gonzaga’s blistering start to the second half, they really laid down. The fight just was not there. Like, at all.

A season that began with Kansas at No. 1 in both major polls ended with the Jayhawks losing 11 games, the most of any team in the Bill Self era. No wonder Self said in the postgame press conference that he has been “thinking about next season for the last month.” KU’s 21-point loss to Gonzaga was the second-most lopsided NCAA tournament defeat in program history.

The last four games Kansas has been an underdog in the NCAA tournament have now seen the Jayhawks lose by 34, 14, 16 and 21 points.

2. Duquesne

This is simply a bad break for Duquesne. They were an overachieving 11-seed that got blasted by a 3-seed. We should all leave them alone. I get it.

The problem is that you didn’t have any major favorites falling flat on their faces on Saturday, so the team that was on the receiving end of the day’s biggest ass kicking sort of has to end up on this list.

The loss was the most lopsided of the season for Duquesne. It also marked the end of the head coaching career of Keith Dambrot (did you know he coached LeBron James in high school?), who is retiring after a 26-year head coaching run.

“It wasn’t quite the way I wished it would end,” Dambrot said after the game.

Dambrot’s career ends with a 441-269 overall record over three Division-I stops at Akron, Central Michigan and Duquesne.

3. Washington State

This is more of a personal disappointment, because I thought Washington State was going to beat Iowa State on Saturday.

Kyle Smith’s team forced Iowa State into missing 14 of its first 17 shots of the game, but it didn’t feel like Wazzou took enough advantage of the 2-seed’s slow start. Once the Cyclones found their footing they were still close enough to within striking distance to pretty quickly get back to level with the Cougars.

The worst part about this loss for Washington State was that it was the first of the tournament by any team from the Pac-12 … the conference that famously dissolved and left just the Cougars and Oregon State still sitting in their broken home.

1. Jack Gohlke

Oakland’s NCAA tournament run ended on Saturday, but it didn’t happen without its breakout star making a little bit of history.

Jack Gohlke buried six threes in the loss to NC State, giving him 16 for the tournament. That’s the most of any player in tournament history through two games.

On Thursday morning, nobody knew who this guy was. Three days later he’s doing TurboTax commercials and fans at PPG Arena were lining up 50-deep to try and get their picture with him.

Even after a loss, Gohlke was happy to oblige.

Again, 72 hours ago, none of these people begging for a photo had any idea who Gohlke was. Now, they — and the rest of us — will all remember him forever.

The beauty of March.

2. The ACC’s Sweet 16 streak

Since the elimination of the NCAA tournament’s bids-per-conference restrictions in the 1970s, there has not been a single Sweet 16 that didn’t feature at least one team from the ACC. No other conference can say this.

The streak will continue into at least 2025, as North Carolina and NC State both punched their tickets to the second weekend on Saturday. Duke and Clemson can both join them with wins on Sunday.

Virginia … well, Virginia is still a national embarrassment after Tuesday night.

3. Tournament viewership

We just experienced the most-watched first round in the history of the NCAA tournament, and my guess is that the numbers for the second round are going to be stellar as well.

4. Iowa State’s turnaround

Every fan base in the country supporting a program that’s down is pointing to Iowa State as a reason to have hope that things can be turned around and turned around quickly in this new era of college basketball.

Three seasons ago, the Cyclones went 2-22. After the season, they fired head coach Steve Prohm and brought in T.J. Otzelberger from UNLV. In the three seasons that have transpired since, Iowa State has been to three NCAA tournaments and now a pair of Sweet 16s, making Otzelberger the first coach in Cyclone history to guide the program to the tournament’s second weekend more than once.

Again, he’s done this in three seasons.

Bonus note for Cyclone fans: In three years at Iowa State, Otzelberger also has the same number of NCAA tournament wins that Fran McCaffery has in 14 seasons at rival Iowa. And Otzelberger’s not done this season.

5. Brendan Haywood’s “crossed him over to TruTV” comment

The former North Carolina big man has been thoroughly enjoyable as an analyst so far this tournament, and he gave us without doubt the line of the tournament so far on Saturday afternoon.

Shoutout Impractical Jokers.

1. The early standalone games

I’ll never understand the layout of the tournament’s first Saturday and Sunday. I mean I’m sure the explanation is rooted in something related to ratings and money, but it still defies basic logic from a fan perspective.

After being flooded with games at all hours for the previous 48 hours, we get just two games back-to-back for the first five hours of the day. No games going on at the same time. Even the first half of the third game is alone on an island. And then BAM, we’ve got six games hurled at us during the evening session.

There’s no reason to have second round games wrapping up after midnight on the East Coast. It’s an easy fix, and it blows my mind that it hasn’t happened yet. This year was especially silly with Salt Lake City getting assigned the first two tip-times for some reason, meaning Dayton-Arizona tipped off at around 10:40 a.m. local time.

Both Dayton-Arizona and Michigan State-North Carolina were competitive enough for stretches to keep us engaged, but it would have been nice to have at least one more option outside of a pair of games that both ended up with double-digit margins of victory.

Giving us all these options for 48 hours straight and then yanking them away without a proper adjustment period is cruel and unusual punishment.

2. The lack of competitive games

The three best games of Saturday all delivered. The other five … not so much.

With Creighton winning its double OT game against Oregon by 13, only two of Saturday’s eight games were decided by single-digits.

Sometimes you need a forgettable handful of games to lay the foundation for a more thrilling round ahead. Here’s hoping that not getting a ton of thrillers on Saturday simply means the table is set for stellar Sweet 16.

3. Danning Manning

Look, nothing went right for Kansas on Saturday.

“Danning and the Miranclens.”

4. The “conference tournament fatigue” storyline

Remember the Gerry McNamara Big East tournament in 2006? For those who don’t, McNamara and Syracuse came to New York on the NCAA tournament bubble and promptly ripped off four incredibly competitive victories in four days to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

The Orange ended up earning a 5-seed for the NCAA tournament, but got bounced fairly handily by 12th-seeded Texas A&M in the first round. No one seemed to blame them. Everyone immediately deferred to a “they looked completely exhausted from the week before” excuse, and then talked more about the crazy shot that Gerry hit in the first round against Cincinnati.

Five years later, Kemba Walker and Connecticut one-upped that Syracuse team. Playing in the expanded Big East tournament, the Huskies won five games in five days, in the process becoming the first team in college basketball history to capture a conference tournament title by winning five games. No one needed to use fatigue as an excuse for that team’s exit from the NCAA tournament, because it never happened. Walker and company won six more games over the next three weeks and captured the program’s third national championship.

No one had replicated UConn’s feat until this year, when NC State went from not even close to the NCAA tournament discussion and potentially firing its head coach to winning five games in five days to capture the ACC tournament title. Kevin Keatts’ team wasn’t rewarded with a single-digit seed like that UConn squad, but so far the 11th-seeded Wolfpack has replicated the Huskies’ success.

With NC State’s overtime win over Oakland on Saturday, teams that have won five games in their conference tournaments are now 8-0 all-time in the NCAA tournament.

Let’s also remember that no team has ever won the national title without winning at least one game in their conference tournament, or without advancing to at least their conference tournament semifinals.

Your favorite team’s head coach might tell you that he “secretly was hoping for the extra rest and preparation time” if his squad goes one-and-done in its league tourney. Your favorite team’s head coach is a liar. And a loser. And probably smells.

Fatigue doesn’t exist in March.

5. Tom Izzo against North Carolina

North Carolina’s 85-69 triumph over Michigan State moved it to 6-0 all-time against the Spartans in March Madness, and 5-0 in tournament games against Tom Izzo.

The UNC wins over Izzo have all been wildly consistent:

1998: 15 point win
2005: 16 point win
2007: 14 point win
2009: 17 point win
2024: 16 point win

If you ever see these two matched up again and the spread is outside of the teens, hammer the Heels.

BONUS JEER: The overtime snoozers

We’ve had three overtime games in this tournament, two of them on Saturday, and they’ve been decided by 12, 6 and 13 points, respectively.

I’m never going to be one to complain about free basketball, but if the extra drama isn’t going to come with any, well, extra drama, then I’d just as soon have the thing end with a last second shot in regulation.

We’re also still in search of a true buzzer-beater.

Plenty of time, I know.

Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois

The Fighting Illini star hit 10-of-14 shots and scored 30 points in Illinois’ rout of Duquesne.

N’Faly Dante, Oregon

Hard to pick between Dante and teammate Jermaine Couisnard here, but we’ll go with the big guy, who put up a ridiculous 28 points and 20 rebounds in Oregon’s double overtime loss to Creighton.

Trey Townsend, Oakland

The Horizon League Player of the Year showed the college basketball world what he was about this week. Townsend scored 30 points and snagged 13 rebounds in Oakland’s narrow loss to NC State.

Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton

Creighton’s big man did a little bit of everything to help the Bluejays get back to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four years, finishing with 19 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.

DJ Burns, NC State

America’s favorite big guy was at it again, showing off his soft hands and ridiculous skill set to the tune of 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

1. Keshad Johnson, Arizona

We’re combining his two best dunks into one spot, which is cheating, but whatever. They were both great.

2. N’Faly Dante, Oregon

3. Mohamed Diarra, NC State

1. Locker room euphoria

We were overdue for a locker room water gun fight. Thankfully, Illinois delivered.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Omaha

Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

2. Carolina punks Sparty … again

Michigan State v North Carolina

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

3. Tennessee survives

Texas v Tennessee

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

5 Notable Quotes From Day 3

1. “We really wanted to win today. I wanted to go to Dallas really bad. All the guys really wanted to go to Dallas. But I told them in the locker room, the thing I wanted the most really was to see everyone at practice on Monday. That’s the thing I’m gonna miss the most, is just seeing my guys every single day.” —Oakland senior guard Jack Gohlke

2. “For the last month I’ve been thinking about next season, to be honest.” —Kansas head coach Bill Self

3. “That was an epic game. I’m not sure I’ve been a part of one quite like it in 35 years of coaching.” —Creighton head coach Greg McDermott

4. “I’m not making any bones about it. We underachieved. And that’s on me.” —Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo

5. “These are the kinds of games in the tournament you get bounced when you shoot as poorly as we did, but we found a way with our defense. The 10 extra shots that we got (via offensive rebounds) were obviously important to us. But had to get it done on the defensive end.” —Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes

Last day of the first weekend. Let’s leave it all out there.

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