Three fresh-face programs advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the East Region, ousting some old-guard coaches along the way.
Colorado wasn’t awed by the mystique of Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, making 16 3-pointers during a 96-73 victory over the Hoyas on Saturday.
Alabama, which won the SEC Tournament and has its best seeding ever at No. 2, eliminated another Hall of Famer in Iona coach Rick Pitino, posting a 68-55 victory over the Gaels. The Crimson Tide (25-6) move into the second round to play the UConn-Maryland winner.
LSU, another SEC football power doing well in basketball, beat St. Bonaventure 76-61. LSU (19-9) can reach its second straight Sweet 16 if it beats top-seeded Michigan (21-4) on Monday. Michigan, coached by Juwan Howard of Fab Five fame, beat No. 16 seed Texas Southern 82-66.
Fifth-seeded Colorado (23-8) will play Monday against No. 4 seed Florida State, which beat UNC Greensboro 64-54.
The Buffaloes came in loose and relaxed, the opposite of how they played in losing the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship game to Oregon State.
Freshman Jabari Walker, who had a career-high 24 points, said the Buffs felt like they were the underdog. That’s probably because No. 12 seed Georgetown reached the NCAAs with a four-wins-in-four-days streak through the Big East Tournament.
“It was really good especially with them winning their championship and their conference,” Walker said. “Everybody thought they were hot. They were on a roll. They had us losing this game. But really we just focused on our group, focused on what we could control. All our guys believed if we’re playing our best basketball, not too many teams in the country can beat us.
”We’re a dangerous team and a lot of teams can’t run with us, just so many skill sets that we have and the seniors that lead us,” he added. “With all that, it’s really hard to beat us.”
Ewing finished his fourth season as Hoyas coach. He was one of the most dominating players in the 1980s, leading Georgetown to three NCAA championship game appearances in four seasons and the 1984 national title.
Colorado’s players were aware of Georgetown’s mystique, but also knew that mystique doesn’t suit up to play.
“It was crazy coming into this game. We were like the underdog, even being a 5 seed, everybody had us losing this game,” Walker said. “We met yesterday as a team. It was like, ‘There’s really no pressure, we’re the underdog, nobody has us winning.’ Everything we do from now on, nobody expected it, so just going in with that underdog mindset, trying to prove everybody wrong.”
The Buffs are one win away from their first Sweet 16 trip since 1969.
Iona was the fifth team Pitino has taken to the NCAA Tournament. He won the NCAA championship with Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013, and also took Providence to the Final Four.
CREAM OF THE SEC
LSU had the chance to win its first Southeastern Conference Tournament title since 1980 after wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas. But Alabama beat the Tigers 80-79 to win its first conference tournament title since 1991.
LSU is making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
Coach Will Wade said the Tigers have been playing more physical lately, and will have to keep that up to have a chance against Michigan.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the season on Monday, no doubt about that,” Wade said. “Hopefully we’re building toward that and can reach a crescendo on Monday.”
Herbert Jones wasn’t happy with Alabama’s overall effort, but did say its intensity picked up in the second half thanks to the fans who chanted “Roll Tide.”
“I looked up in the stands, I saw a whole lot of red. I mean, our fans, they showed up, they showed out,” said Jones, who scored 20 points and keyed an 11-0 run that gave the Crimson Tide a cushion in the second half. “The intensity was great. That’s any player’s dream to be playing in the tournament in that type of game.”
Howard is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since his stellar playing days with the Wolverines, including consecutive Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993.
He was asked about advancing to face LSU.
“I haven’t started my prep yet. One game at a time. Let me enjoy this victory now,” Howard said.
This is his second season in charge, but the NCAA Tournament was canceled last year because of the pandemic.