Princeton is the latest 15-seed in the Sweet 16, Eric Musselman’s continues his March heroics, and the defending champs go down.
Another day, another 1-seed gone. On Thursday, Purdue was left stunned in the biggest NCAA Tournament in history, falling as a 23-point favorite against heavily undersized Fairleigh Dickinson.
While Saturday’s top-seed ousting wasn’t nearly as improbable, it certainly was notable. Kansas, the reigning national champions, couldn’t preserve its 12-point lead with 15:20 to play as Eric Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks sent the Jayhawks packing.
Let’s dive into the biggest storylines from Saturday’s second-round action.
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Eric Musselman’s NCAA Tournament dominance continues
Arkansas erased a 12-point deficit in the second half to knock off top-seeded Kansas in a thriller. The victory marked the latest bullet point in Eric Musselman’s growing tournament resume.
The Razorbacks entered the season with national title aspirations but never found their footing in conference play after an 11-1 start. Only four rotational players have appeared in every game, including Trevon Brazile playing just six times, Nick Smith recording 19 absences, and Makhel Mitchell missing seven games.
Saturday’s performance might have been Arkansas’ finest 40 minutes all season. The Razorbacks hung around enough to make Kansas sweat and remained within striking distance for a late-game surge.
Davonte Davis and Ricky Council were especially effective. The two combined for 46 of Arkansas’ 72 points, including 16-of-18 at the free-throw line.
“I keep telling people that we’re getting better,” Musselman said after the game with Allie LaForce. “Not many teams can get better at this time of year. I’ve never been prouder in a team like tonight.”
Musselman led the Razorbacks to Elite Eights in each of the previous two years. Either Saint Mary’s or UConn will try to prevent Musselman from a third.
Princeton keeps “Sweet 15” streak alive
The 15-seed Princeton Tigers are off to the Sweet 16 after soundly defeating Missouri — and it somehow feels underwhelming? There’s no offense intended there, and I bear no anti-Ivy or anti-Jersey sentiments. It’s just that this kind of run has happened three tournaments in a row now, and the latest one comes just a day removed from the second-ever 16-over-1 upset in Big Dance history.
Still, let’s try to shake away the jadedness and appreciate this recent run for how cool it is!
These 15-seeds aren’t just playing their best basketball during the NCAA Tournament; all four of the 15s that have made the Sweet 16 (2013 FGCU, 2021 Oral Roberts, 2022 Saint Peter’s, 2023 Princeton) were not the No. 1 seed in their own conference tournament. As they all hail from one-bid leagues, they were all naturally playing for their lives entering March Madness — but they all had the added stress of not being expected to prevail.
Each of the prior “Sweet 15” runs has built on the last: FGCU broke the mold in 2013 but got beaten by double digits in its third game. Then, Oral Roberts came tantalizingly close to beating Arkansas and lost by just two points. Last year, Saint Peter’s broke the glass ceiling to become the first 15-seed to reach the Elite Eight.
Can Princeton go even further?
So far, the Tigers have held two top-10 KenPom offenses to just 59.0 points per game, and they won the rebounding battle against both Arizona and Missouri. That should give pause to fans of both Baylor (No. 2 offense) and Creighton (No. 29), who square off tomorrow for the pleasure of facing off with one of the country’s latest Cinderellas. Looking further ahead, should Princeton advance again, the Tigers would then have to solve the elite defense of either Alabama (No. 3 in KenPom) or San Diego State (No. 5).
Tramon makes his Mark for Houston
The NCAA Tournament is a pretty great place to have set a new career-high in scoring.
Just ask Houston’s Tramon Mark, who scored 26 points in a second-round win over Auburn — including 20 in the second half after his Cougars trailed by 10 points at halftime. Mark was 6-of-9 from the field over the final 20 minutes, as well as a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe, and he was instrumental in helping Houston reach the second weekend.
With lead guard Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker getting a lot of the headlines, and Jamal Shead and J’Wan Roberts often being highlighted as underrated pieces on the team, Mark can sometimes fly under the radar as Houston’s forgotten man. Part of that is because he missed most of last season due to injury, but he was a part of the bench rotation during the Cougars’ Final Four run back in 2021.
This year, Mark has started all 35 games and has been a critical glue guy. He is the only player in the country meeting the following criteria: usage rate under 20 percent; offensive rating over 105; offensive rebound rate over 5 percent; defensive rebound rate over 10 percent; assist rate over 10 percent; block rate over 1.5 percent and steal rate over 1.5 percent.
Of course, Mark was much more than just a glue guy on Saturday.
Not a great year to be No. 1?
While Houston and Alabama were able to stave off the second-round upsets, the defending champs over at Kansas were not so lucky. The Jayhawks were bounced from the field by 8-seed Arkansas, joining fellow 1-seed Purdue in the land of the lost.
It’s just the third time since the field expanded in 1985 that two 1-seeds have failed to make it to the second weekend. The last time was in 2018 — which, coincidentally, also saw one of the tournament’s top dogs downed by a 16-seed. In addition to Virginia’s epic defeat in the first round, Xavier also bowed out early against 9-seed Florida State. Before that, the only other time it had happened was 2004, when the second round featured UAB beating Kentucky and Alabama taking down Stanford.
So, how did the surviving 1-seeds fare in 2004 and 2018? The first time around, St. Joseph’s lasted one more game before falling to OK State in the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, Duke went to the Final Four but fell to the eventual champs, UConn. More recently, 1-seeds Villanova and Kansas met in the 2018 Final Four, with the Wildcats eventually cutting down the nets.
A 1-seed has won it all in each of the past five seasons. With two of the top teams already gone, it begs the question: Is this the year the streak ends?
Dylan Disu takes over in Texas win
Penn State put up an admirable fight against the Longhorns but Dylan Disu had all the answers for Rodney Terry’s squad. Disu, who entered the day averaging 8.5 points per game, exploded for a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds in the 71-66 victory.
Disu is on a heater of late. The former Vanderbilt transfer has logged 89 points since the start of the Big 12 tournament, good for an average of 17.8 per game.
On a team of capable bucket-getters in Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen, Sir’Jabari Rice and Tyrese Hunter, it’s been Disu of late energizing the Texas offense. The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player is playing the best basketball of his career, making an already dangerous Texas team that much more lethal.
It was an extra special night for Disu.
“My Iowa family doesn’t really see me play too often. Being able to play in front of my grandma, my cousins, my uncle, it’s great,” Disu said in the postgame press conference.