BY JIM O’CONNELL
A look at some interesting things as we head into Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament will finalize its Sweet 16:
Southern Cal’s De’Anthony Melton got as philosophical as a basketball player can get. When asked about the Trojans’ second-round game with Baylor, he answered: “It doesn’t matter who’s better because sometimes the better team wins, the better team loses. So it just depends on who can play harder and who can get stops at the end of the game.”
The Trojans lead the nation in winning games in which they trailed by at least 10 points, including the Trojans’ two wins in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Andy Enfield has started to approach big deficits differently as the season has gone along.
“Early in the season we used to get really mad at our players for falling behind, especially with teams we thought we were equally talented or had more talent than,” he said. “But now, at halftime the other night, we said, ‘Hey, this is great, we’re only down 8. We were down 15 the other night. This is great.’ And our players started laughing.”
With quick turnarounds between games and long travel, sleep becomes a rarity especially for coaches and their staff.
“Sleep is overrated this time of year and this is what you work so hard for,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “So to get to this point, college coaches, we’re all — we were all the kind of guys that probably had to cram anyway back in our college days. We probably weren’t the best, most prepared students. So cramming is something I think we probably practice.”
Kentucky and Wichita State face each other Sunday for the first time since they met in the NCAA Tournament since 2014. In that game Wichita State was the unbeaten No. 1 seed while the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed, a placing many said was well under what they should have been.
On Sunday, the 10th-seeded Shockers, a team many feel is underseeded, face third-seeded Kentucky, a team with national championship consideration.
“The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, other than you media people, are Coach Cal and I. Everyone else is new,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of Kentucky’s John Calipari. “What I thought was really ironic that year is we were such a polarizing team. We deserve a 1 seed. We don’t deserve a 1 seed. And you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. Then we get the 1 seed, but we get Kentucky as an 8. I think they hedged their bet a little bit.
“But in the end, it took a loss to validate our team, which I think is really ironic and sad.”
Sunday’s game will be only the second time in NCAA Tournament history that 30-win teams have played against one another in the second round. Wichita State is 31-4, Kentucky is 30-5.
In 2008, No. 2 Tennessee (30-4) beat No. 7 Butler (30-3) in overtime, 76-71.
Few teams receive negative reaction from fans as Duke does. The old bumper sticker says: “My favorite team is Carolina. My second-favorite team is whoever’s playing Duke.”
On Sunday, when the Blue Devils play South Carolina, not only is the arena in Greenville, South Carolina, but there will also be a strong contingent of North Carolina faithful.
“We were playing in the ACC Tournament where we were playing a game and not only are the opposing fans there but Carolina’s fans are also there waiting to boo us, too. So we’ve played in games that are supposed to be neutral where it felt like an away game. There’s not much difference,” Duke’s Grayson Allen said.
NO No. 1
It isn’t easy being the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the latest to find out, losing 65-62 to eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the second round.
For the 11th time in the past 14 years, the No. 1 overall seed won’t win the NCAA title and yet another reigning national champion fails to get past the Sweet 16. Florida was the last to do so when it repeated in 2007.
Besides this year, the No. 1 seeds to lose in the round of 32 are Kansas in 2010, Pittsburgh in 2011, Gonzaga in 2013, Wichita State in 2014 and Villanova in 2015.
“There should be nothing negative about this tournament. This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Just being in it … we can’t take it for granted. It’s so special to be a part of it. Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re playing the best teams in the country. You’re going to come down to games like this. We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out of the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State two years ago, and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.”
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