NCAA Tournament: Day 8 Notebook


  • South Carolina vs. Florida, CBS 2:20 PM
  • UNC vs. Kentucky, CBS 5:05 PM

Enjoy it while you can, folks. We can count the number of remaining college basketball games on one hand, and that’s always a sad realization. College basketball is unarguably a niche sport, but for those who love it, there is nothing remotely close to being able to replace it.

The only local draw to the first game is that we have the team that beat Duke against the team coached by Duke’s AD’s son. South Carolina has been a remarkable team in this tournament, and the thing about Frank Martin’s style of play is that defense rarely has an off night. When the Gamecocks score, which has been something new for them this tournament, they’re almost unbeatable. Even after three impressive offensive performances they’re still ranked 115th in offensive efficiency, but in the NCAAs, only four times has a player getting more than 20 minutes in a game finished with an offensive rating less than 100. Florida, however, has the nation’s 4th best defense, and South Carolina has faced teams ranked 165th, 48th, and 17th so far. Nothing would be taken away from the Gamecocks’ run, but this feels like the kind of game where the team with the better pedigree (Florida) runs them over.

In the main event, two teams who started the season among a group of 5 NCAA favorites play for a Final Four trip. Kentucky gave up 97 points to UCLA and 100 points to UNC back in December, and now enter the game with the 7th best defense in the country. For all of the talk about “do one and dones work as a formula for championships”, the answer is simple … if you get the best recruits and teach them to play defense, you’ll win. It happened with Anthony Davis’ title team, and it happened with the Jones/Winslow/Okafor team (who finally started playing elite defense in the NCAA tournament). Calipari got this group to defend, which is incredibly frightening. Just ask Lonzo Ball and UCLA’s 2nd ranked offense. North Carolina has made a living this year with a rotating “big three”, with Joel Berry and Justin Jackson getting their points consistently, and a third player (Meeks, Hicks, Pinson, and most recently, Luke Maye) filling the required role of a third scorer. Jackson and Berry scored 57 points on 32 shots against Kentucky in December, and if they can repeat that performance today with another 15 point contribution from a third player, they’ll win. The biggest concern for UNC is “what happens if Jackson or Berry only get 10 points, like Lonzo Ball?”. The Heels are likely going to have to have four contributors today to move on.