What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (2024)

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Mar 23, 2024, 01:30 AM ET

When Creighton walked off the court at the end of double-overtime with a hard-earned victory over Oregon, it capped the end of a strangely predictable day.

Every higher seed won on Saturday except one. Even the exception wasn't exactly what you'd call a plucky underdog.

No. 5 seed Gonzaga reached its ninth straight Sweet 16 by brushing aside No. 4 seed Kansas. The Bulldogs were actually favored in a game where the Jayhawks were playing without Kevin McCullar Jr.

Of course, "higher seed" includes the No. 11 seed NC State, who survived overtime and got past No. 14 seed Oakland. We're not saying this bracket looks completely normal. Still, Saturday did go pretty much according to form.

Your big names are all still here: North Carolina, Arizona, Iowa State, Tennessee, Creighton and Illinois.

Will Sunday follow the same pattern? There are 24 teams remaining, and anything can happen.

Scroll to read our breakdown of every game of the first day of the men's round of 32 -- and what the results mean for the rest of the tournament. Check your bracket here.

Live projections: ESPN's March Madness forecast

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (1)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (2)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (3)

SOUTH REGION: No. 11 NC State 79, No. 14 Oakland 73 (OT)

Can anyone stop DJ Burns Jr.? The short answer: No. Burns scored 24 points and grabbed 11 boards in the overtime win, fighting through double and triple teams. When he couldn't muscle his way to the rim, he passed it out to the shooters freed up by the defensive crush around him and recorded four assists. Burns' double-double was just his second this season, his first since Dec. 12 against UT Martin. After the game, Burns nodded as NC State coach Kevin Keatts described the game as a "boxing match." He said he made a choice not to get in his feelings when he could've gotten frustrated about a lack of foul calls, and that made all the difference.

What the win means for NC State: Two weeks ago, the Wolfpack weren't anywhere near the NCAA tournament. But this team, which finished 10th in the ACC's regular season standings, is Sweet 16-bound. The Wolfpack were sloppy at times in the overtime win, but they showed grit in getting past an upset-minded Oakland team that eliminated Kentucky two days earlier. Along with Burns, four other Wolfpack players finished in double figures, and Mohamed Diarra snagged 11 rebounds. That newfound balanced offense and cohesion, Keatts said, is the difference in his team winning eight games between Jan. 1 and the end of the regular season, and seven games in 12 days in the postseason.

What the loss means for Oakland: Coach Greg Kampe said it best before Oakland's first-round game: Winning a game in the NCAA tournament would change his life, his players' lives, the collective life of the university. Jack Gohlke, a Division II-graduate transfer and an unknown name outside of Rochester, Michigan before Thursday night, is March's newest folk hero and NCAA tournament record holder for most 3-pointers in his first two tournament games. Even though Oakland's dance is over, the shine from its first-round win will last forever. -- Brooke Pryor

From the hot seat to the Sweet 16: This almost didn't happen. The Wolfpack trailed last-place Louisville at halftime of the first game of the ACC tournament, and the temperature under Keatts' seat was hotter than ever. But they turned that game around and ended up winning five games in five days to grab the ACC tournament championship and the autobid to the NCAA tournament. Along with that conference tournament title came a contract extension and raise for Keatts. And now two more wins in three days has NC State in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015. To recap, that's seven wins in 12 days. From the hot seat to the Sweet 16. Burns has been a huge part of that resurgence, but don't forget Michael O'Connell. The former Stanford transfer had scored in double figures three times in the first 31 games of the regular season. He's hit that threshold six times in the seven-game winning streak, shooting 54.5% from 3. -- Jeff Borzello

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (4)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (5)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (6)

MIDWEST REGION: No. 3 Creighton 86, No. 11 Oregon 73 (2OT)

Creighton is 80 minutes from the program's first-ever Final Four. Can it get there? After escaping in one of the best games of the 2024 NCAA tournament, Creighton has a few days to recover from the double overtime win before facing Tennessee. But the Bluejays should feel confident moving forward. Their core quartet of Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Steven Ashworth is firing on all cylinders right now. All four made huge plays against Oregon, combining for 78 of Creighton's 86 points and making a combined 13 3-pointers. Despite their inability to stop Jermaine Couisnard (32 points) and N'Faly Dante (28 points) on Saturday, their defense stepped up down the stretch. Dalton Knecht and Tennessee will be a completely different task. And if they get past the Vols, Zach Edey and Purdue are likely to be waiting in the Elite Eight. It's a difficult road, but with Creighton's offensive prowess -- and ability to bury teams in a barrage of 3-pointers -- they won't be overmatched in either game.

What it means for Creighton: This is the third Sweet 16 appearance in four years for Creighton, and the Bluejays are aiming for their second straight Elite Eight appearance. It's a complete shift from McDermott's early years at Creighton, when the Bluejays were knocked out in the second round in three straight years from 2012-14 and then were upset in the first round in two straight years in 2017 and 2018. Over the last five years, McDermott has built his teams to be much tougher on the defensive end of the floor, and much of that stems from Kalkbrenner's ability to protect the rim. He struggled against N'Faly Dante on Saturday, but still managed to block five shots and grab 14 rebounds.

What it means for Oregon: Being seconds away from the Sweet 16 was never a likely outcome for Oregon this season. The Ducks went 6-8 from mid-January to early March and needed to win the Pac-12 tournament to get to the NCAA tournament. And that's exactly what they did, following it up with a dominant win over 6-seed South Carolina. The postseason run solidified Dana Altman as one of the better elimination-game coaches in the country; had Oregon won tonight, it would have been three Sweet 16 runs as double-digits seeds for Altman in Eugene.

Can Creighton tighten up defensively against Tennessee? Oregon did whatever it wanted for most of the game on the offensive end, and in very simple fashion. Dante would set a high ball screen for Couisnard, who would attack Kalkbrenner in drop coverage and either score himself or pass it to Dante, who would finish at the rim. The two players combined for 60 of Oregon's 73 points and every single second-half point. Creighton will have to figure something out against Knecht and Tennessee next week. Greg McDermott made a game-changing adjustment late in the first overtime, sending Kalkbrenner to double Couisnard and force him to get rid of it early. Tennessee will use Knecht in ball screens as well, but they also like to let him operate in space to isolate defenders. Will Creighton be able to contain him? - Jeff Borzello

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (7)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (8)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (9)

EAST REGION: No. 3 Illinois 89, No. 11 Duquesne 63

Is Illinois a championship-caliber team? The Illini can score. They can attack an opponent many different ways. They have big men who can shoot the 3 (Coleman Hawkins) and score from the post (Dain Dainja). They have one of the country's leading scorers in Terrence Shannon Jr., who averages more than 23 points per game on the season. Marcus Domask was the first player in the NCAA tournament to record a triple-double in five years, in the first-round win over Morehead State. The road gets more difficult, but the Illini have what it takes to win a national championship.

What the win means for Illinois: It will be interesting to see how it holds up to the defensive pressure of Iowa State in the Sweet 16 in Boston. The Cyclones were second in the country in forcing turnovers during the season and scored 21 of their 67 points off turnovers in their second-round win over Washington State. Their defensive pressure tends to wear down an opponent. If anyone is equipped to handle that pressure, though, it's Illinois, with a veteran point guard in Domask and a scoring threat like Shannon. With a victory over Iowa State, Illinois would likely face UConn in the Elite Eight.

What the loss means for Duquesne: In no way should the lopsided loss ruin the Dukes' season. They earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 47 years and won a game in the tournament for the first time in 55 years. Those facts made the season an unqualified success. -- Adam Teicher

Brad Underwood has another real shot at the Final Four: In 1986, Underwood got his first taste of coaching as a graduate assistant at Hardin-Simmons, a Division III school in Texas. Then, he climbed the ladder and led Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament before taking the top job at Illinois. He has guided the Illini the postseason before, but this is his first trip to the second weekend. This year's group, has been an offensive force, led by Shannon, who's averaging 30.5 PPG during his team's six-game winning streak. Overall, you could make the case that Illinois has played in recent weeks like a 1-seed. Underwood's squad will have a tough test ahead with an Iowa State team that boasts the nation's best defense and a newfound 3-point efficiency. But Illinois will have a chance against any team it sees the rest of the way. -- Myron Medcalf

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (10)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (11)play

Knecht throws down dunk all over Texas defender

Dalton Knecht goes hard to the rim and throws down a posterizing dunk for Tennessee.

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (12)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (13)

MIDWEST REGION: No. 2 Tennessee 62, No. 7 Texas 58

Can Tennessee actually shoot? "Whether people believe it or not, I think we can shoot the ball," Rick Barnes said, unprompted, after Tennessee's win over Texas to advance to the Sweet 16. Barnes' faith comes from a sincere place, of course -- just not the box score. The Vols couldn't get much of anything to fall Saturday, including a woeful 3-of-25 performance from beyond the arc. And yet it was still enough to win. It felt, Barnes said, a bit like last year. In 2023's tournament, the Vols played without Zakai Zeigler and were forced into a makeshift offense that struggled for baskets -- and they still made the Sweet 16. That blueprint couldn't get Tennessee to the Elite 8 a year ago, and Barnes knows things have to get better for his title hopes to stay alive. "It seems like the lid's been on the basket for the past two weeks," Barnes said. "But if we can [shoot], it'll give us a chance."

What the win means for Tennessee: The Volunteers move on to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season, which is pretty sweet for Barnes. Beating his former team to get there, though? He isn't celebrating that. "I've been away nine years, and that's a long time, really," he said. Indeed, he's hoping Texas' move to the SEC will be the birth of a strong rivalry. So what if Texas let him walk after 17 years, due, in large part, to some early tournament exits? So what if Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, just a day earlier, noted that Barnes was "probably underappreciated" by the Longhorns? Barnes insisted he has no room for hard feelings. In fact, he said he received a slew of text messages from former players before Saturday's game -- Longhorns for life who were still wishing their one-time coach the best. "There's a love affair there," he said. "It's a family, and I'm a part of that family. And I always will be."

What the loss means for Texas: The relentlessness the Longhorns showed Saturday was commendable. The Horns' offense was miserable for much of the game, they trailed by nine at the half, coughed up 17 turnovers and watched as Tennessee grabbed 14 offensive boards. And yet, with six seconds to play, Texas trailed by just 2. But moral victories offer little solace, and it's noteworthy that, since Barnes' departure in 2015, the Horns have made it beyond the second round just once under three different coaches. Perhaps Barnes wasn't the problem after all. -- David Hale

Historically poor shooting: It's a mark of Tennessee's strength that the Volunteers could defeat an opponent as good as Texas while shooting 3-of-25 from beyond the arc. Rick Barnes' group scratched out a four-point win just the same. The 12% 3-point shooting qualifies as the worst effort on at least 15 attempts in the NCAA tournament since at least 2011. This was the first time all season Tennessee did not record at least five made 3s. Tennessee's defense is excellent, and in fact the Volunteers held Texas to 58 points in a 71-possession contest. If Dalton Knecht, Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi rediscover their touch from the perimeter, look out. -- John Gasaway

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (14)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (15)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (16)

WEST REGION: No. 1 North Carolina 85, No. 9 Michigan State 69

Who is North Carolina's secret weapon? During Friday's shootaround, Harrison Ingram made a prediction to teammate Armando Bacot: "I'm going to have a big-time performance." He wasn't lying. That Bacot and senior RJ Davis would be the primary playmakers in North Carolina's quest for a championship was obvious all season -- but what's become increasingly clear is that Ingram is at his best on the biggest of stages, including Saturday's second-round win over Michigan State. "He was the X-factor," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. Ingram hit five 3-pointers, scored 17 overall, pulled in seven boards and was the spark the Heels needed after falling behind by 12 early. His best games this year have repeatedly come against elite competition, including 20 points in a win over Tennessee, 20 in a loss to UConn and 21 in a victory against Duke. "Games like this, when it gets real rowdy and physical and it's in the trenches," Bacot said, "we know those are Harry games."

What the win means for North Carolina: Perhaps the biggest question mark facing the Heels coming into Saturday's game was freshman guard Elliot Cadeau. In the opener against Wagner, Cadeau looked overwhelmed by the moment, with four turnovers and no points in 18 minutes of action. Afterward, he called the performance "terrible." Saturday's work, against a far more talented backcourt at Michigan State, offered room for optimism of his continued growth. Cadeau played 22 minutes and scored six points with four assists and no turnovers. Notably, he was +20 for the game, tops among all Tar Heels.

What the loss means for Michigan State: Izzo had said he hoped this would be another "patented run" in the tournament for his Spartans, and through 10 minutes it looked like more of that March magic was at play. After that, nothing felt typical. Michigan State's guard play, which had been elite in the opening-round win over Mississippi State, struggled, with A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins combining for just 5-of-22 shooting. The truth is, that might be what's typical now. Michigan State has gone out by Round 2 in six of its last eight tournament appearances. "We felt we could make a run," Hoggard said. "We definitely thought we had a chance. We just didn't finish how we thought we were going to." -- David Hale

A potential rebuild set to begin in East Lansing? It's going to be a very interesting offseason for Izzo and Michigan State. Tyson Walker and Malik Hall, two fifth-year seniors who were mainstays in the Spartans' rotation for the past few seasons, are both out of eligibility. Hoggard is a senior, but still has one year of eligibility -- will he take advantage of it? And will he do so at Michigan State? Mady Sissoko, who started 26 games this season, is also a senior with one year of eligibility left. Former touted recruits Xavier Booker and Coen Carr had up-and-down freshman seasons, with Booker starting slow and finishing strong and Carr's role diminishing in the second half of the campaign. Three ESPN 100 prospects are set to enter the program, led by guard Jase Richardson. But how comfortable is Izzo relying on his current freshmen and the incoming class? Will he opt to hit the transfer market for a couple experienced pieces to help Akins? Keep an eye on the portal in the coming weeks. That will dictate how much Izzo has to do this offseason. - Jeff Borzello

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (17)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (18)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (19)

EAST REGION: No. 2 Iowa State 67, No. 7 Washington State 56

What is Iowa State's ceiling? The Cyclones can be inconsistent on offense. In this tournament, they made their first nine shots in the first round against South Dakota State but missed their first nine against Washington State. They also won't have the homecourt advantage going forward like they did playing so close to campus in the first two rounds in Omaha. But they can also play smothering defense and are good enough to get to the Final Four -- if they make some shots.

What the win means for Iowa State: It gets the winner of the later game in Omaha between Illinois and Duquesne. The likely matchup against Illinois is an interesting one. The Illini average 84 points per game, and guard Terrence Shannon Jr. is one of the top scorers in the country, averaging 23.1 points per game. Defending national champion UConn would likely await if the Cyclones can prevail there. Beating the Huskies in Boston would be a tough task, but Iowa State plays defense well enough to give them some problems.

What the loss means for Washington State: The Cougars made their final season in the Pac-12 a memorable one. They made the NCAA tournament -- their first since 2008 -- and once there won a close game after overcoming a late deficit in the first round against Drake. No shame in losing to second seeded Iowa State, particularly when the game was played in an arena filled with Cyclones fans. -- Adam Teicher

Iowa State is more than just a hot defense: While Tennessee and Houston have largely been discussed as the top defensive teams all season, Iowa State has owned that honor since Feb. 1, per barttorvik.com. But a rapid uptick in 3-point shooting is the reason why T.J. Otzelberger's squad could make the Final Four. Somehow, a Cyclones squad that shot just 32.4% from 3 during Big 12 play (10th in the league) -- which includes a 1-for-14 effort against Kansas State in the first round of the conference tournament -- has connected on 47% of its shots from beyond the arc (37-for-79) over its last four games. Fluke? We'll see. But that sharpshooting is the reason this group will be a challenge for any opponent the rest of the way -- if the trend continues. -- Myron Medcalf

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (20)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (21)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (22)

MIDWEST REGION: No. 5 Gonzaga 89, No. 4 Kansas 68

Just how good is Gonzaga? This much is known: the Bulldogs turned it up at exactly the right time. They put together a 23-4 run over a 7-minute stretch in the second half to pull away, using their size and deft shooting -- they shot 53.3% from 3 -- to put the game out of reach for Kansas. The Zags' ability to put a combination of 6-foot-9 Graham Ike, 6-10 Ben Gregg and 6-10 Braden Huff on the court together at any given time, complimented by 6-8 senior forward Anton Watson, can make the Zags a tough matchup down the stretch in March. Do they have what it takes to make a second Final Four in four seasons? That's yet to be seen, but they're playing some of their best ball when it matters most.

What the win means for Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are back in the Sweet 16 for a ninth straight season, tying Duke for the second-longest streak in NCAA tournament history. They'll face the winner of Purdue and Utah State in Detroit next weekend, with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line. In a season that started with the Zags ranked 11th in the preseason AP top 25, they put on a clinic Saturday, dismantling Kansas for an easy second-round win.

What the loss means for Kansas: For a second straight year, the Jayhawks went home after their second game of the tournament, capping an underwhelming season. Before Feb. 17, the Jayhawks had just six losses. Since Feb. 17, they haven't been able to figure things out, and it cost them Saturday. A 23-11 season ended with a 2-5 stretch. With three seniors in the starting lineup, Kansas will begin the process of regrouping for next season. -- Josh Weinfuss

Making history: The Zags are in select company. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, reaching nine consecutive Sweet 16s has happened just three times: North Carolina advanced to nine straight regional semifinals from 1985 to 1993. Duke did the same between 1998 and 2006. And now Gonzaga. Any true Tar Heel will tell you UNC actually made an incredible 13 straight Sweet 16 appearances between 1981 and 1993. That is correct, and prior to 1985 those fields were smaller. In each year from 1981 through 1984, Dean Smith's team arrived in the regional semifinals after winning one game. -- John Gasaway

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (23)

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (24)What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (25)

WEST REGION: No. 2 Arizona 78, No. 7 Dayton 68

Does Arizona have what it takes to takes to make the Final Four? The Wildcats showed Saturday morning in Salt Lake City that they can take someone's best punch and not get knocked down. Dayton hung around and chipped away anytime Arizona extended its lead into the double digits, but the Wildcats never let the Flyers tie the game or take a lead.

What the win means for Arizona: Redemption. A year after getting bounced in the first round in an upset by then-No. 15 Princeton Tigers, the Wildcats showed that they have the talent, size, experience and depth to make a splash during the second weekend of the tournament. Between 7-footer Oumar Ballo and 7-2 freshman Motiejus Krivas patrolling the lane, the likes of Caleb Love, Kylan Boswell, KJ Lewis, Pelle Larsson and Jaden Bradley handling the perimeter, and Keshad Johnson doing everything else, Arizona has the depth to avoid fatigue in the tournament. And with Love and Johnson's Final Four experience at North Carolina and San Diego State, respectively, the Wildcats can rely on them for the type of poise needed in the Sweet 16 and, possibly, the Elite Eight. Arizona will play the winner of Baylor and Clemson, who square off Sunday, in the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. The short trip from Tucson will likely turn into a home game, with a chance for a true home game -- the Final Four is in Glendale, Arizona -- on the line.

What the loss means for Dayton: By all measurements, this season was a major win. Coach Anthony Grant led Dayton back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since his first season in 2017. And the Flyers' second-round exit was their best showing in the tournament since 2015, when they lost in the Sweet 16. Dayton, which finished 25-8 this season, provided one of the best moments of the first round when they erased a 17-point deficit to avoid an upset and beat No. 10 Nevada to advance to Saturday's meeting with Arizona. However, the Flyers couldn't come back from this 17-point deficit. -- Josh Weinfuss

Arizona's turnover woes exposed: The Wildcats gave the ball away on just 15% of their possessions in Pac-12 play this season. That rate increased against the Flyers, however, as the Wildcats gave the ball away 15 times in 72 possessions. Committing a turnover on 21% of your trips down the floor isn't customary for Tommy Lloyd's team. Credit Dayton, which turned up its defensive pressure late in the first half -- the press deployed by the Flyers forced Arizona out of its comfort zone. Opponents facing the Wildcats from here on out might consider following the Flyers' example. -- John Gasaway

What we learned: NC State can't stop, won't stop winning and Creighton survives 2OT (2024)


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