TIPPING OFF: Can Peacock Power prevail vs North Carolina?
A look at what’s happening in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday:
GAME OF THE DAY
SAINT PETER’S VS. NORTH CAROLINA
Saint Peter’s startling win over mighty Kentucky was written off as an accident, a happy one for fans who love seeing the little guy rise up to knock off a behemoth in the NCAA Tournament.
It followed then that the 15th-seeded Peacocks’ win over Murray State was a coincidence, again, a savory one for everyone who loves an underdog story.
Now the ever-growing legion of Peacocks fans — folks who’d never heard of Daryl Banks III, Clarence Rupert or Doug Edert two weeks ago — hold to the belief the Sweet 16 upset over powerful Purdue established a pattern, one that could take the little school from Jersey City, New Jersey, right to the Final Four.
All that stands between the Peacocks and Bourbon Street next week is No. 8 seed North Carolina, one of the bluest of the bluebloods, in the East Region final in Philadelphia, a 93-mile drive from their campus.
First-year coach Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels have been a pretty good story themselves, playing their way off the tournament bubble late in the regular season and knocking out Marquette, Baylor and UCLA.
Never mind that Carolina’s number of national championships, six, is one fewer than the Peacocks’ total number of NCAA Tournament games played in their 58-year basketball history.
Coach Shaheen Holloway’s Peacocks are 8.5-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. All of Carolina’s advantages on paper really don’t mean much at this point. After all, Saint Peter’s wasn’t supposed to be able to handle Purdue’s superior size, strength and talent, but it did.
Brady Manek, Caleb Love and Armando Bacot — not to mention the name on the front of their jerseys and the whole Carolina legacy— can be intimidating. It’s safe to assume the Peacocks won’t be fazed a bit.
SELF-ANALYSIS: RUGGED ROAD AHEAD
Kansas, the last No. 1 seed still standing, has reached the Elite Eight. That should make Jayhawks fans very nervous entering the Midwest Region final against 10th-seeded Miami in Chicago.
This has been the game that has dogged coach Bill Self more than any other. He’s 3-7 in regional finals in his career, including 3-5 at Kansas.
“It is a different game because it’s the hardest game in the tournament to not win,” Self said Saturday. “You can talk about first round, you can talk about whatever, it’s the hardest game. The national championship finals, at least you’re playing for it all or whatever.
“But this one, every goal of every team is road to the Final Four. It’s not road to the national championship. It’s road to the Final Four. And even though the national championship is by far the biggest carrot and the biggest prize.”
The Jayhawks won their most recent regional final, 85-81 over Duke in overtime in 2018.
Self’s worst regional final loss came under circumstances similar to this year. It was 2011, the Jayhawks were the last No. 1 seed in the tournament, and they were playing a double-digit seed, No. 11 VCU. The Jayhawks fell behind early and never caught up while going down 71-61.
HOPING FOR THE BEST
Villanova might find out how badly guard Justin Moore was injured in the final minute of the Wildcats’ 50-44 win over Houston.
Moore hurt his lower leg and was on crutches Saturday after ’Nova earned a spot in the Final Four. He dribbling against a defender, and looked like he slipped and fell, then went back down after trying to get up.
Initial X-rays showed nothing was broken, but coach Jay Wright said an MRI was planned and that it didn’t look good for Moore.
Moore averaged 15 points and five rebounds per game this season.
Villanova will face the Kansas-Miami winner next weekend in a national semifinal.
NOW HEAR THIS
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said he pays no attention to seedings, so the fact Saint Peter’s is a 15 is meaningless to him.
More important, he said, is that the Peacocks have beaten two of the teams North Carolina lost to during the regular season. The Tar Heels lost 93-84 to Purdue in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Nov. 20 and 98-69 to Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 18.
Davis said Saint Peter’s will be Carolina’s toughest game of the season.
“They have an outstanding coaching staff, and it’s a team that has won 10 games in a row and they’re playing with a confidence and a toughness that has put them in the final eight,” Davis said.
The winner will face Duke next Saturday in a national semifinal. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils beat Arkansas 78-69 to win the West.
GEORGE MASON CONNECTION
Miami’s Jordan Miller played his first three seasons at George Mason.
That’s the same the school that current Miami coach Jim Larranaga led to the Final Four in 2006, when Miller was 6 years old.
“Yeah, being at George Mason, it’s hard not to hear about his success there,” Miller said.
Miller drew laughs at a news conference when he added, “Coach L, when I first talked to him, he actually said, ‘Do you know about my success at George Mason?’”
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25