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Less than three hours into the round of 64 of the men’s tournament, and we already have a wild finish, with No. 13 seed Furman knocking off Virginia, a No. 4 seed that may be best known for dropping its first-round game as the tournament’s top overall seed five years ago.
This time, it looked like Virginia would hold off a rally by Furman until an inbounds play by the Cavaliers completely broke down. Kihei Clark tried to pass the ball halfway up the court, but it was intercepted by Furman’s Garrett Hien. He quickly passed it to JP Pegues, who nailed a 3-pointer from the wing to give Furman a game-winner with about 2 seconds left. Final score: 68-67.
Injuries may play a starring role in this tournament.
ALBANY — Some of the top teams in the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament are dealing with significant injuries to key players.
Houston guard Marcus Sasser, the player of the year in the American Athletic Conference, suffered a groin injury in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Houston was still installed as a No. 1 seed and the No. 2 overall behind Alabama despite the uncertainty around its first first-team All-American since Hakeem Olajuwon.
On Wednesday, ahead of Houston’s Thursday night game with No. 16 Northern Kentucky, Coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters that Sasser would be “one of those infamous game-time decisions.”
Fully healthy, Houston may have the best backcourt in college in Sasser, who averages 17.1 points and 3.2 assists, and Jamal Shead, who averages 10.3 points and 5.4 assists. But without Sasser, Houston may struggle to score.
Miami’s Norchad Omier is a 6-foot-7 forward from Nicaragua who averages 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds; he also plays a key role as a big, physical body in the team’s defensive scheme. Omier missed most of Miami’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal against Duke with an ankle injury, but he looked good during an on-court workout Thursday at MVP Arena in Albany.
“We’re going to put him through a workout today and see how he does,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said beforehand. “If he’s good, we’re good. If he’s not, we’ll know it and we’ll make the adjustment.” –
Several other teams are missing also key contributors. Tennessee point guard Zakai Zeigler suffered an A.C.L. tear in a win over Arkansas on Feb. 28. Xavier is playing without forward Zach Freemantle, out since Jan. 28 with a foot injury. And U.C.L.A. doesn’t have Jaylen Clark, one of the best defenders in the nation, because of an Achilles injury.
Heading into Thursday’s game with No. 15 U.N.C. Asheville, the No. 2 Bruins were also weighing whether to play freshman big man Adem Bona, who is battling left-shoulder soreness after an injury against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament. He did participate in “some stuff” during Wednesday’s practice, head coach Mick Cronin told reporters.
“He’s going to have to play through some soreness at some point if we’re still playing,” Cronin said. “But he would never be put in harm’s way for his career.” — Adam Zagoria
Kansas plays without Coach Bill Self.
Kansas coach Bill Self missed Thursday’s first-round NCAA tournament game against Howard as he continues to recover from a recent health problem.
Norm Roberts, a Kansas assistant coach who had been a head coach at St. John’s, continued to coach the team in Self’s absence.
Self, 60, missed the Big 12 tournament last week after undergoing a procedure to treat blocked arteries in his heart. The Hall of Fame coach was released Sunday from a hospital.
Kansas (22-7) went 13-5 in the Big 12, winning a regular-season title for the 17th time during Self’s 20-year tenure, but lost to Texas, 76-56, in the Big 12 tournament final on Saturday. The Jayhawks, who won last year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, are the No. 3 overall seed — and No. 1 in the West — this postseason despite losing three starters from the 2022 title-winning team. — Adam Zagoria
Obama picks Iona as an upset candidate.
ALBANY — Iona Coach Rick Pitino already admired former President Barack Obama. Now he’s an even bigger fan.
When Obama posted his N.C.A.A. tournament brackets on Twitter on Wednesday, he picked Pitino and the No. 13 Gaels to upset No. 4 Connecticut in the first round, in their meeting Friday afternoon, and then to beat V.C.U. before losing to Kansas in the round of 16.
“I’ve always said that President Obama was one of the most intelligent presidents we’ve ever had, and this lends credence to that,” Pitino cracked here Thursday.
Obama has a men’s Final Four of Baylor against Duke in one national semifinal and Houston against U.C.L.A. in the other. The former president picked Duke over Houston in the final.
In the women’s Final Four, Obama picked all No. 1 seeds, with South Carolina, the defending champion, beating Indiana in the final.
Pitino, 70, has been linked to the St. John’s head coaching opening, after the school fired Mike Anderson last week after four seasons.
“I have a terrific team coming back,” Pitino said Thursday, adding, “It’s going to take a special place for me to consider leaving.In addition to coaching stints at Kentucky and with the Knicks and Celtics, Pitino, a Naismith Hall of Famer, also previously coached in the Big East at Providence, leading the Friars to the 1987 Final Four, and at Louisville, which he guided to the N.C.A.A. championship in 2013. That title was vacated after the NCAA ruled that the school had paid escorts to help recruit players. Pitino has denied that he knew anything about the escort scandal. — Adam Zagoria
Matchups to Watch
We’re on the hunt for upsets as the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament gets going in earnest. Here are our picks for the games we don’t want to miss (all times Eastern):
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Auburn
6:50 p.m., TNT
Iowa has a potential first-round N.B.A. draft pick in Kris Murray, whose twin brother, Keegan, was a lottery pick last year. But the Hawkeyes have been inconsistent all season, including in a home loss to woeful Eastern Illinois. Auburn also recorded an up-and-down season: The Tigers had winning streaks of eight games (to start the year) and five games (in January), but otherwise didn’t win more than two games consecutively. Auburn’s defense could give the Iowa offense trouble; modelers are giving the edge to the Tigers in this tossup game.
No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts
7:10 p.m., CBS
Duke is a trendy Final Four pick in its first year under Coach Jon Scheyer, but the Blue Devils will need to handle Oral Roberts first. The Golden Eagles posted a record of 30-4, including a perfect 18-0 in Summit League play. But Duke is also on a hot streak and has won its past nine games on the way to an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title. Fans are largely picking Duke, but some modelers are skeptical, with Pomeroy giving Duke a 63 percent chance to advance.