The hidden side of politics

What we learned: DJ Burns Jr., Zach Edey have come to rep the big men

Reported by ESPN:

The Final Four is all set.

No. 11 seed NC State is going to a men’s national semifinal for the first time since winning it all under Jim Valvano in 1983. The Wolfpack rode a big second half and a huge game from DJ Burns Jr. to a 12-point win over Duke.

Kevin Keatts’ team will face Purdue. Zach Edey posted a 40-16 double-double and the Boilermakers overcame an 11-point deficit in the first half to defeat Tennessee. The Boilermakers are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1980.

The other half of the bracket was set Saturday night. Alabama drained 16 3s to defeat Clemson. The Crimson Tide are going to the first Final Four in the program’s history.

Nate Oats’ team is paired against overall No. 1 seed UConn in one national semifinal. The Huskies advanced easily against Illinois to reach their second consecutive Final Four as they defend their 2023 title.



DJ Burns Jr. pivots around defender for epic floater

DJ Burns Jr. pivots around his defender, puts the bucket up on one knee and drains the floater late in the second half.

Can NC State win the national championship? As ridiculous as that question sounded just three weeks ago, it has to be asked now that the Wolfpack are going to the Final Four. They’ve won nine straight games, five against ranked teams, so NC State can play with better competition. That said, beating the combination of Purdue in the semifinals and either UConn or Alabama in the championship would require even more than the Wolfpack have given so far. Strange things tend to happen when NC State makes the Final Four, but their season likely ends with the Purdue game.

What the win means for NC State: It gives validation to what coach Keatts and his players have been saying all along, that they belong in the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are no longer just a cute story but a legitimate title contender. Still, their matchup with Edey and Purdue in the semifinals will be their most difficult one yet. Burns is a tremendous post player, but scoring over Edey will be challenging. The Wolfpack must shoot well from the perimeter to stand a chance.

What the loss means for Duke: Everything seemed set for Duke to reach the Final Four for the first time under coach Jon Scheyer when it led by nine points in the first half and had Burns in foul trouble. But the Blue Devils couldn’t finish the job, and that’s how their season will be remembered. — Adam Teicher



Zach Edey’s 14 straight points boost Purdue to the Final Four

Zach Edey dominates in the paint, scoring 14 straight points as Purdue beats Tennessee to advance to the Final Four.

Who is the best player in America? Both Edey and Dalton Knecht made a strong case for the honor in their epic performances in Detroit in the Elite Eight on Sunday. Knecht finished with 37 points and a 6-for-12 clip from the 3-point line. He was the star who kept Tennessee‘s dream alive. But Edey ended any argument — if there was a valid one — about America’s best player for the second year in a row.

His 40-point, 16-rebound outing in 39 minutes was one of the greatest performances in the NCAA tournament in recent memory. It was a career scoring high for Edey and the first time a player had finished with at least 40 points and 15 rebounds in the NCAA tournament in 34 years, per ESPN Stats & Information. Edey wasn’t just good Sunday against Tennessee. He was legendary. Knecht is one of the best players in America and his effort proved as much. But Edey went to a different domain. If it wasn’t clear before, Edey will win his second straight Wooden Award. He deserves it.

What it means for Purdue: The Boilermakers might be the only team that has a chance to disrupt the momentum UConn and beat the Huskies, who’ve been unstoppable for weeks. The possibility of Edey facing Donovan Clingan could be one of the greatest matchups between a pair of big men in a long time. Purdue’s 3-point shooting also gives it a chance to extend UConn’s defense and put more pressure on the Huskies to defend Edey one-on-one. While the Huskies have looked unbeatable at times, if the Boilermakers can reach the national title game, they’ll have a chance.

What it means for Tennessee: The game and the season confirmed one thing: Rick Barnes is a helluva coach. As he was recruiting Knecht from Northern Colorado, Barnes and his staff told him that he would have a chance to go on a deep run and play at the next level. They delivered on that promise. Barnes just lost to the Wooden Award winner, who had a career performance. There is nothing to be ashamed of with this Tennessee team that will continue to mold talent and play in the top tier of college basketball in the years ahead with Barnes on the sidelines. — Myron Medcalf



Donovan Clingan’s epic sequence has Bill Murray hyped

Bill Murray celebrates after UConn’s Donovan Clingan rejects Quincy Guerrier with a thunderous block and follows it up with a posterizing dunk on the other end.

Can anyone score at the rim on Donovan Clingan and UConn? Clingan’s performance — especially defensively — Saturday was otherworldly, one of the most dominant showings we’ve seen all season. It became evident very quickly that Illinois was going to struggle scoring in the paint. The Illini missed eight of their first 10 layups, with Clingan blocking three shots in the first half and altering several others. Illinois shot just 25% inside the arc. In Clingan’s first 17 minutes on the floor, Illinois scored four points. Perhaps the Illini should have opted to shoot more jumpers instead of driving at Clingan so often, but Terrence Shannon Jr. struggled to make shots and Coleman Hawkins couldn’t get going from the perimeter. Here’s the stat of the night: Illinois went 0-for-19 on field goal attempts contested by Clingan, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

What the win means for UConn: It’s going to take an awfully impressive performance to make UConn sweat in a game, let alone beat the Huskies. Illinois played as well as it could defensively for the first half and still lost by 25. UConn is simply playing with so much confidence at this point, it’s difficult to come up with a way for the Huskies to lose. The signs were there early on Saturday: UConn missed its first 10 3s and only shot 3-for-17 from behind the arc, Tristen Newton didn’t make a field goal, Stephon Castle scored just two points, Illinois battled with the Huskies on the glass — and again, UConn still won by 25.

What the loss means for Illinois: Illinois simply ran into a buzzsaw in the second half against UConn, but the Illini potentially established how they want to look moving forward under Brad Underwood. They made a tweak midway through the season, becoming more of a five-out team with spacing and shooting. It turned Illinois into the nation’s second-best offense entering Saturday’s game. Even though Shannon, Marcus Domask and Quincy Guerrier are out of eligibility and Hawkins said after the loss that his Illinois career is likely over, it gives Underwood a blueprint for how he wants to attack the portal and the recruiting trail to build his roster moving forward. — Jeff Borzello



Alabama reaches first Final Four in program history

The Alabama Crimson Tide advance to their first Final Four by defeating Clemson 89-82.

Can Alabama beat UConn? After the Tide took down both North Carolina and Clemson in Los Angeles, all eyes turn to what they can do to stop the tournament’s seemingly unstoppable force. The Huskies trounced Illinois on Saturday with a 30-0 run, further cementing their status as the favorites to win it all for the second year in a row. How will Alabama keep up? If the Tide have showed us anything, it’s that they can get hot from beyond the arc and beat anyone with their shooting. Mark Sears will once again be key for Nate Oats’ team as it tries to craft an upset bid, but it will likely be up to the defense — which stifled Clemson in the second half — to be able to hang with another elite offense in UConn. The odds are not in the Tide’s favor, but so far that hasn’t stopped them.

What the win means for Alabama: Everybody knows Alabama is and will always be a football school, but the program’s first trip to the Final Four will be one to remember for a long time. What Oats has been building in Tuscaloosa has finally come to fruition. His eighth tournament win in four years is more tournament wins than Alabama has had over the past 26 years. And even though last season featured a 31-win team that stopped short of an Elite Eight, the lessons and experience gained in 2023 seem to be paying off now.

What the loss means for Clemson: Just over two months ago, the Tigers had lost three games in a row in conference play, finishing a stretch where they lost seven of 12. Any thoughts of making a deep tournament run seemed far from realistic. And yet Brad Brownell’s team was able to do just that, beating both No. 3 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Arizona in the process. The season stopped short of program history, but it was still the first time Clemson made the Elite Eight since 1980. That’s no small feat. — Paolo Uggetti