Saturday's Top 10 matchups not only offered a chance at some of the most exciting basketball we've seen this season, but also the opportunity to answer a few questions. In the ACC, North Carolina had soared before facing rival Duke and then lost at Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils are stacked with a projected lottery pick (Kyle Filipowski) and a fleet of five-star prospects, but Jon Scheyer's squad hadn't beaten many elite teams in preparation for the Tar Heels. Which team would prove something on Saturday?
Houston was on a five-game winning streak. But could they stop Kansas if the Jayhawks got hot in Allen Fieldhouse? Would Johnny FurphyWill the breakthrough continue for Kansas? Could Dalton Knecht Add another major achievement to his quest Zach Edey and the Wooden Award? And would Kentucky actually play defense?
By the end of Saturday night we had some answers.
ESPN's Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and Joe Lunardi watched the three big top-10 matches and reflect on them.
Filipowski and Ingram will be nervous in the duel between Duke and UNC
Tempers run high as Duke and North Carolina try to get their teammates up from the floor.
Medcalf: Hubert Davis is not afraid to praise Harrison Ingram (21 points, 5-for-9 from the 3-point line, 13 rebounds, 4 steals), the Stanford transfer, for his poise, impact and leadership. On Saturday he played like the third star of a team with national title ambitions. With RJ Davis (5 of 14) struggled, Ingram put together one of the most impressive all-around performances of the weekend and reinforced the idea that the Tar Heels could make their second Final Four run in three years. For all Ingram did on offense, he also disrupted a group that turned Duke (5 of 19 from the 3-point line) into a subpar 3-point shooting team (the Blue Devils had one on 39 percent of their shots hits scored). from outside the arc coming into play). With Armando Bacot and Davis, the Tar Heels have two truly elite talents. But Ingram's best game of the year came in the biggest game of the year. And that's a promising sign for Davis' rotation and Ingram's future contributions to a team with national title dreams.
Borzello: Armando Bacot has taken a backseat to RJ Davis offensively this season, which is admirable in some ways, but Hubert Davis was vocal earlier this week about Bacot's need to get back to the level of performance he had early in his career, so that Carolina could reach this full potential. After averaging 6.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in his last three games, Bacot looked like his dominant self against Duke. He finished the game with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Carolina made a concerted effort to give him touches in good places in the post, and Bacot was able to get to work early and often. He was also active on offense and rarely forced tackles when Duke could use him on the block as a double player. Davis has been arguably the best guard in the country this season, but Bacot gives Carolina a physicality and post presence that few teams can match in interior defense. When he plays like he did tonight, it adds a different dimension to the Tar Heels' offense.
Joe Lunardi's Bracket Impact: North Carolina emphatically confirmed its status as the No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels remain atop the projected group at fourth place, but took a big step toward the ACC's first seed in five years. Perhaps more importantly, it now looks very likely that Carolina will open its NCAA Tournament run – regardless of placement in neighboring Charlotte. This tremendous in-state advantage has been used frequently by ACC teams over the years. Duke, on the other hand, continues to live in the 3/4 seed range, but could obviously improve this with a win in the teams' rematch next month.
Kansas fans go wild after this Kevin McCullar Jr. sequence
Kevin McCullar Jr. gets a steal and goes all out for a huge slam to put Kansas within 15 points of Houston.
Myron Medcalf: During its five-game winning streak before Saturday's loss to Kansas, Houston had been a dangerous defensive team, holding its opponents inside the 3-point line to a margin of 44 percent. But the downside of this success was also worth considering: the Cougars had gone cold. During those five games, Houston was a sub-.300 team and was 44 percent from inside the 3-point line on offense. The loss to the Jayhawks, who made 78 percent of their two-point shots, ended with a 16-40 (40 percent) record. Kansas made nearly 70 percent of its field goal attempts. The best defensive team in America couldn't stop Bill Self's squad. But even they couldn't keep up with this offensive barrage. And that was quietly a subplot for this Houston team. Can Houston win it all? That will depend on his ability to not only defend but also keep up with a strong team.
Jeff Borzello: Kansas was underperforming on offense Saturday, but it has continued to improve Johnny Furphy as a legitimate offensive option that takes the Jayhawks to another level on that end of the floor. All season long, Bill Self talked about the need to find a reliable fifth player to go along with his four veteran anchors – Hunter Dickinson, Kevin McCullar Jr., KJ Adams and Dajuan Harris Jr. At other times, Elmarko Jackson, Nicholas Timberlake And Jamari McDowell Everyone improved, but no one did consistently until Furphy was added to the lineup in mid-January. He has scored in double figures in six straight games and had 17 points and eight rebounds while hitting three 3-pointers against Houston on Saturday. The freshman from Australia is 6-foot-1, shoots 44.4 percent from 3-point range and is a finisher in transition. His ability to stretch the floor and block some of the heat from Dickinson and McCullar Jr. makes Kansas much more difficult to defend.
Lunardi's Bracket Impact: Even with a loss, Houston remains a solid No. 1 team on our team. A single loss at Phog Allen Field House won't significantly improve the Cougars' performance. They came into this game ranked first in NET, BPI, and KenPom, as well as second in our Strength of Record (SOR) metric. For Kansas, this was an optimal first step back to a possible No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks will most likely be a second-seed when we update the full list on Tuesday, but the top spot is well within reach for a program that has lived in the one-seed neighborhood for virtually the entirety of Bill Self's tenure.
Vescovi blows the Kentucky fans a kiss after the 3rd
Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi knocks down the three-pointer and blows a kiss to the Kentucky crowd.
Medcalf: Kentucky's talent can't overcome its defensive problems. That's a challenge that could lead to another early exit in March. Days after the loss to Florida – the Gators recorded 118 points per 100 possessions – Kentucky gave up 103 points to Tennessee in a loss. Kentucky has multiple projected first-round picks in 2024, according to ESPN's latest mock draft. But that talent can't erase history: No team with an adjusted defensive efficiency below 75 has ever won a national title. The Wildcats ranked 76th in adjusted defensive efficiency before Saturday's home loss at Tennessee. They have given up 85 or more points in seven games this season. Rob Dillingham (35 points against the Vols) and his teammates put up big numbers, but the Wildcats simply don't have the statistical makeup of a Final Four team due to their defensive issues. How bad are they? Four teams ranked under 100 on KenPom have posted wins against the same UNC-Wilmington team (50 percent clip inside the arc) that defeated Kentucky on Dec. 2 at Rupp Arena. That's not a problem for John Calipari's team. It's a crisis.
Borzello: The story for Tennessee in recent weeks has been Dalton Knecht, Dalton Knecht, Dalton Knecht. The transfer from Northern Colorado has been one of the best players in college basketball all season, but in the last five games he has taken his game to new levels, averaging just under 32 points per game over that span. On Saturday in Lexington, however, Knecht cooled off and finished with 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting. But the Volunteers showed they can win without him putting in a monster performance. Zakai Zeigler showed top-notch playmaking skills with 26 points and 13 assists Josiah Jordan James went for 26 points. The team shot 12 of 30 from 3-point range and also scored 42 points in the paint. Knecht is the reason Tennessee has a dramatically improved offense this season – and he'll likely be the catalyst if the Vols go on a deep run in March – but scoring 103 points on the road at Kentucky without Knecht out, is a great sign for Rick Barnes' team.
Lunardi's Bracket Impact: Tennessee made a decisive case for the No. 1 seed by racing past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Vols' win passed every possible “eye test” and gave us five teams with legitimate elite profiles. The knee-jerk reaction after Saturday would be to drop Houston and move Tennessee up, but that would be the wrong impulse and what the committee would do in similar circumstances is unlikely. The Cougars still have the numbers and wins needed to finish behind only Purdue and UConn, leaving UNC and UT in last place. The Tar Heels' slight lead is bolstered by a pre-conference win over the Vols. Kentucky, meanwhile, missed a chance to get back into the top four, losing for the third time in four starts.