Zion Williamson

USA Today

Sweet 16 Is Set

Incredible matchups everywhere you look.

March 25, 2019 - 9:37 am

The Sweet Sixteen tastes like chalk doesn’t it? Watching this weekend’s action was like eating a box of chalk.  It’s tied for the chalkiest Sweet 16 in history. The top three in every region are in, as are a pair of fours. Chalk chalk chalk chalk chalk. And now people can stop saying chalk for a while. We get it.

The only teams that aren’t top 4 seeds are a 28-win Auburn team who beat the crap out of Kansas. And a 12 in Oregon who is the nastiest 12 I’ve ever seen. Seriously.  My assssssss they’re a 12!!. That’s for scrappy mid-majors. There’s nothing scrappy or mid-major about these Ducks.

But just because there weren’t any crazy upsets in the second round doesn’t mean the games weren’t good. They were very good and a couple were this close to instant classics. How close? This close


UCF came that close to knocking off Duke. And not just Duke, but Duke with Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. Three top ten picks and UCF nearly did it. Every time I see that replay, I expect the ball to drop in. I still can’t believe it didn’t. It touched just about every inch of the rim, but didn’t fall. How did it stay out? But the shot that would’ve destroyed just about every bracket, would not go down.

UCF did everything they could to win that game. They earned that win. Going into the game, the hype was all about Zion v. Tacko. And that battle lived up to the hype, with Tacko blocking Zion not once, not twice, but three times.

If Zion looked like a man among boys the whole season, Tacko looked like the man’s father among boys. Again…He blocked Zion not once, not twice, but three times.

And you knew it was going to come down to Zion v. Tacko in the final seconds, with Duke down three.

So if you’re Zion Williamson and you’re going up against a 7 foot 6 shot blocking machine, what’s going through your mind?

“A lot’s going through my mind. But like coach said, I consider him the greatest coach of all time, and when he looks at you and tells you you’re made for this moment, it’s like the most confidence you can be given. So when I went to the basket, I knew it was going in.”

Zion scores and Tacko fouls out. And that set up some of the most painful what-ifs for UCF fans. Because while the hype going into the game was Zion v. Tacko, the reality of the game was Zion v. Aubrey, as in Aubrey Dawkins. The UCF guard had 14 points in the first round and broke out for 32 versus his dad’s old school, tying Zion’s total.

Zion is greatest college player since the greatest college player, and Aubrey matched him bucket for bucket. And needed just one more bucket, one more fraction of an inch, to win that battle and win that game.

As Zion said: "I mean, when he tipped it, you talk about microseconds. When that ball rolled around the rim, it looked like it was going in. But as Coach K talks a lot about the basketball gods, they had our back tonight."

They sure as hell did. Because 99 times out of 100, that ball drops. And if Tacko is still on the floor, he probably finds a way to get that down. And that is brutal for UCF fans. 

And if you thought that was painful, that’s nothing compared to what it was like in the UCF locker room after the game. I always love the shots of the winning coach coming into the winning locker room, getting drenched in water, and partying with his guys.

But Johnny Dawkins talking to his team, who played their absolute hearts out, was powerful and painful, and that's why the tournament is great. Not just because of the incredible upsets from underdogs, but because of the great games where the blue bloods hang on. Like Kentucky v. Wofford. The bluest of the blood bloods versus the smallest of small schools.

But if you thought the Terriers were a cool story with a great shooter and a great coach, you were wrong. They are so much more than that. They were not “aww, shucks, it’s nice to be here.” They were battling with Kentucky, giving them absolutely everything they can handle for 40 minutes.

Every single time it looked like Kentucky might pull away, Wofford came right back. Storm Murphy or Nathan Hoover would hit from deep, and the Wildcats would be back on their heels again. The Terriers went toe to toe with one of the biggest, baddest programs. And that was with Fletcher Magee, the most accomplished three-point shooter in NCAA history, going 0 for 12 from deep.

As John Calipari said afterwards: "If they hit a normal amount of 3s, they probably beat us.”

So no, there is no Loyal-Chicago this year. And nothing will top UMBC last year either. But just because this sweet sixteen is still loaded doesn’t mean it’s boring. There’s nothing boring about Florida State v. Gonzaga. Or Texas Tech v. Michigan. Or Duke v. Virginia Tech. Or Auburn v. North Carolina.

The lack of upsets in the second round means way too many people using the word chalk way too many times, but it also means a loaded Sweet Sixteen. And incredible matchups everywhere you look. Bring it on. Bring it the hell on