Football schools shine in Big Dance

Alabama and Clemson with a chance to go to the Final Four? This isn't the CFP. Also, Illinois outlasts Iowa State and can anyone stop UConn? the BCS

It was a tale of two regions on Thursday night, with one being a thriller and the other going as expected. But between that and transfer news, surprises are always in store if you’re willing to stay up late.

Let's get to the news.

1. West Region’s now a CFP showdown

The West Region could’ve had two college hoops powerhouses facing off for a Final Four berth. Instead, we’re gonna have two football schools. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Alabama’s 89-87 win over No. 1 seed North Carolina had plenty of individual stars, and some baffling moments. And it also gave us a breakout game for Crimson tide big man Grant Nelson, who made the biggest plays down the stretch.

In the final minute, Nelson got the go-ahead 3-point play to take the lead, followed by a block on an RJ Davis layup on the following possession.

He finished with an historic stat line: 24 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and two 3-pointers. Aaron Estrada (19 points), Rylan Griffen (19), and Mark Sears (18) also provided some scoring punch as the Tide (24-11) also became the first team to beat a No. 1 seed in this tourney.

Alabama’s now in the second Elite Eight in school history. The Tide lost to UConn in the 2004 West Regional Finals.

It’s a tough loss for North Carolina (29-8), who had a chance despite All-American guard RJ Davis going 4-of-20 from the field for just 16 points. Armando Bacot led UNC with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

“I’m definitely hurt. I think we all are a little shocked,” Bacot said. “Felt like we hand a chance to win the national championship this year.”

There were questions with some of Hubert Davis’ rotations (Elliott Cadeau played fewer minutes than Paxton Wojcik), but the story was RJ Davis’ shooting woes.

Later that night, a former UNC star had the same issues.

In the first two NCAA tourney gamest, Love had a combined 39 points on 12-of-29 shooting. He seemed to be forcing shots early (he started 2-of-9 from the field), while Clemson was locked in and led at halftime. A steal and a layup by Love gave Arizona its first lead with under 15 minutes to play, but it wasn’t to be as shooting struggles doomed the Cats and helped Clemson to a 77-72 win.

Arizona shot just 5-of-28 from deep.

“Obviously I couldn’t make shots,” Love said afterward. “I should have been there for my team. We had a lot of good looks, we just couldn’t finish it. I felt like they were all good shots, the majority that I took. I should have gotten more downhill.”

There will be questions about why Arizona (27-9) didn’t play through Jaden Bradley down the stretch (he finished with 18 points), but that also would dismiss Clemson a bit. The Tigers (24-11) certainly benefitted from Arizona’s issues, but they also did their best to capitalize on them. Opponents are now just 14-of-75 from beyond the arc during the the Big Dance.

"No, we weren't surprised,” Clemson guard Chase Hunter said. “We knew their guys like to get up shots. A few players are volume scorers. We wanted to make it hard for them. When they don't make it easy, when you don't see it going in, your confidence gets down. That's what we wanted to do to them."

Hunter finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, while PJ Hall with 17 points and eight rebounds. Ian Schieffelin, who has played at an all-league level since the start of March, went for 14 points and seven rebounds.

It’s Clemson’s first Elite Eight since 1980 and is a rematch of a November game that Alabama lost 85-77. We’ll see if Clemson can make some history.

2. Get ready for more offense in the East finals

For a game that featured the nation’s most efficient scoring offense against the most efficient defense, offense was king.

Subscribe to The Field of 68 Daily to read the rest.

Become a paying subscriber of The Field of 68 Daily to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.

Already a paying subscriber? Sign In