Three takeaways from Saturday’s Elite Eight matches


Saturday’s Elite Eight saw two of men’s college basketball’s greatest coaches earn another trip to the Final Four.

The appearance in New Orleans next week will be the fourth time in the national semifinals for Villanova’s Jay Wright. Wright and the Wildcats, who beat Houston to clinch their ticket, have won the championship on their last two visits.

He will be joined by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be there for the 13th time after passing UCLA’s John Wooden with his team’s loss to Arkansas. He will end his incredible career on the biggest stage in sport.

Three observations from the day’s action:

Coach K shows he still has his fastball

A coach who has won five national titles and three Olympic gold medals is not going to get upset on the sidelines. So when Arkansas cut Duke’s 15-point lead to five with 13 minutes left, Krzyzewski called a timeout to calm his team down. Then he went to work and did what great coaches do. He made adjustments.

Coming out of time out, a play was made for star Paolo Banchero, who delivered a basket. A score from AJ Griffin pushed the lead to nine and Krzyzewski then switched to a zone defense. The change sent the Razorbacks out of sync and resulted in several missed possessions. The lead quickly increased to 15 and order was restored. From there, Duke made it to its first Final Four since 2015, the last time Coach K won a title.

ELITE EIGHT: Winners and losers of Saturday’s matches

OPINION: Villanova’s top college basketball program and culture come out on top again

It was the second time in successive matches that Coach K had visited an area that had been used sparingly all season. But that’s part of his greatness, knowing when to push the right buttons and giving his team the best chance of winning. Clearly, the match did not pass by Krzyzewski and his team seems to be the favorites to win it all.

Villanova wins but also suffers a potentially big loss

It was a vintage performance for the Wildcats against Houston. They slowed play to their pace, played great defense and mixed in some timely shots to get past the Cougars 50-44. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

The weak point was a right leg injury to guard Justin Moore in the last minute that looked serious. Moore was seen crying on the bench as the team celebrated immediately after the win and was on crutches as the players cut the nets. Wright later admitted “it’s probably not good”.

If Moore can’t play next week, it will be a blow to Villanova’s title hopes. He is not only the team’s second top scorer, but also one of the leading ball handlers. The Wildcats typically only go six deep, so they’ll look to some reserves to pick up the slack and the margin for error will be much slimmer.

Justin Moore (5) left the field on crutches after sustaining a right leg injury.

Nothing for Houston and Arkansas to get their teeth into

The harsh reality of the tournament is that 67 teams will end it in defeat. Where you lose, however, matters. For the Cougars and Razorbacks, who both reached the Elite Eight last year, they had yet another great run they should enjoy. Both teams maxed out their talents and that’s all you can ask for.

Houston hoped to go further after reaching the Final Four in 2021. Despite major injuries midway through the season, the Cougars still managed to defeat co-Big Ten champions Illinois and the No. 1, Arizona, before Saturday’s loss that saw them make 1 of their 20 three-point shots.

Arkansas won the SEC Tournament title and then knocked out Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed overall, before their loss to Duke. On Saturday in the second half, there were plenty of chances at the rim that narrowly missed and would have kept things tight against the Blue Devils. The basket appeared to have a lid on it.

Basketball can be a cruel sport. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t hit the right way no matter how hard you play. This was the case for both teams and led to their exit.

Follow college reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith

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