Upsets create new Final Four paths for Virginia, UNC
RALEIGH, N.C. >> Upsets and wild finishes have altered the NCAA Tournament landscape for No. 1 seeds Virginia and North Carolina in their bids for the Final Four.
Ten of the top 16 seeds have reached the Sweet 16, and seven of those are with fellow top seeds Oregon in the West Region or Kansas in the South. But the Midwest and East have lost several expected roadblocks for the Cavaliers and Tar Heels, respectively.
Here's a look at those new tournament paths:
No one talked much about Virginia thanks to the presence of second-seeded Michigan State, which had ousted the higher-seeded Cavaliers the past two years.
Now the Cavaliers (28-7) have a favorable draw after the Spartans lost to 15-seed Middle Tennessee in the tournament's biggest upset.
"It was something to take note of and to recognize," Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon said Saturday after a win against Butler in Raleigh, "but at the same time, we're not really a team that, you know, focuses on everything else."
That task-at-hand focus is one of the reasons the Cavaliers are here, along with an efficient offense and a defense that seems to tighten its grip as the games go on.
KenPom's top-ranked team meets No. 4 seed Iowa State (23-11) in Chicago on Friday. Win that, and the Cavaliers will face a double-digit seed — either 10-seed and ACC leaguemate Syracuse (21-13) or 11-seed Gonzaga (28-7) — for their first Final Four since 1984.
Preseason No. 1-ranked North Carolina (30-6) did the expected by reaching Friday's games in Philadelphia. The other top seeds — No. 2 Xavier, No. 3 West Virginia and No. 4 Kentucky — weren't so lucky.
UNC faces No. 5 seed and Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana (27-7) in the first tournament meeting between the two since 1984, when the Hoosiers upset the Tar Heels to end Michael Jordan's college career.
The bracket also features No. 6 Notre Dame (23-11) and No. 7 Wisconsin (22-12). And if the seeds hold, there would be an all-Atlantic Coast Conference final for a league with a tournament-record six Sweet 16 teams.
"I probably think we've played our best basketball the entire season in these last couple of weeks," UNC coach Roy Williams said after Saturday's home-state win against Providence in Raleigh. "Now is that going to transfer when we play (in Philadelphia)? I have no idea because (they're) 18-, 19-, 20- or 21-year-olds. But the appreciation I have for them is because they've earned it."
Kansas' bracket largely went according to plan entering Thursday's games in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Jayhawks (32-4) draw a dangerous team in No. 5 Maryland (27-8), a team ranked third in the preseason Top 25 and peaked at second in February.
No. 2 seed Villanova (31-5), a contender for its own 1-seed entering Selection Sunday, lurks in the other end of the bracket. The Wildcats meet No. 3 seed Miami (27-7) to give this region three of the top 11 teams in KenPom's rankings, the toughest of the four fields.
So much for the Jayhawks getting a favorable draw as the tournament's top overall seed, even as they're savoring being back in the Sweet 16 after two opening-weekend exits.
"There was a lot of motivation from last year, that feeling that we had," Kansas senior Perry Ellis said, "and we just want to continue to play the way we are and have fun and take it game by game."
This is the only bracket that went chalk with all four top seeds advancing, which has happened just 16 times since 1985, according to STATS.
Oregon (30-6) plays in Anaheim, California, on Thursday against 4-seed Duke (25-10), which is vulnerable to foul trouble or fatigue with largely a six-man rotation. But the Blue Devils can hit the 3, while high-scoring guard Grayson Allen (22.0 points) and likely one-and-done talent Brandon Ingram are scary matchups in a win-or-go-home setting.
The bottom of the bracket features national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield and No. 2 seed Oklahoma (27-7), one of six teams to hold the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 this year. The Sooners face 3-seed Texas A&M (28-8) fresh off the Aggies' miracle comeback to beat Northern Iowa in double overtime.
"We go to a new four-team tournament," Ducks coach Dana Altman said after Sunday's comeback win against St. Joseph's. "We know we're going to have to play better than we did tonight, but it's an opportunity."
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