Saturday’s Elite Eight saw two of the greatest coaches in men’s college basketball earn another trip to the Final Four.
The appearance in New Orleans next week will be the fourth time in the national semifinals for Jay Wright of Villanova. Wright and the Wildcats, who beat Houston to punch their ticket, have won the championship in their last two visits.
Joining him will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be there for the record 13th time after passing UCLA’s John Wooden with his team’s defeat of Arkansas. He will finish his amazing career on the sport’s biggest stage.
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 isn’t going to get flustered on the sideline. So when Arkansas cut Duke’s 15-point lead to five with 13 minutes left, Krzyzewski called timeout to settle his team down. Then he went to work and did what great coaches do. He made adjustments.
Coming out of the timeout, a play was run for star Paolo Banchero, who delivered a basket. A score by A.J. Griffin pushed the advantage to nine and Krzyzewski then switched to a zone defense. The change got the Razorbacks out of sync and resulted in several missed possessions. The lead quickly grew back to 15 and order was restored. From there, Duke cruised into its first Final Four since 2015, the last time Coach K won a title.
ELITE EIGHT: Winners and losers from Saturday’s games
It was the second time in successive games Coach K went to a zone that had been used sparingly all season. But that’s part of his greatness, knowing when to push the right buttons and give his team the best chance to win. Clearly, the game has not passed Krzyzewski by and his team looks like the favorite to win it all.
Villanova wins but also suffers potentially big loss
It was a vintage performance for the Wildcats against Houston. They slowed the game to their tempo, played great defense and mixed in some timely shooting to squeeze past the Cougars 50-44. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
The lowlight was an injury to the right leg of guard Justin Moore in the final minute that looked serious. Moore was seen crying on the bench as the team celebrated in the immediate aftermath of the win and was on crutches as players cut down the nets. Wright admitted afterward “it’s probably not good.”
If Moore cannot play next week, it will be a significant blow to Villanova’s title hopes. He not only is the team’s second-leading scorer but also one of the primarily ball-handlers. The Wildcats typically only go six deep, so they’ll be looking to some reserves to pick up the slack and the margin for error will be much slimmer.
Nothing for Houston and Arkansas to hang heads about
The harsh reality of the tournament is that 67 teams will end it with a loss. Where you lose, however, is important. For the Cougars and Razorbacks, who both reached the Elite Eight last year, they again had another great run that they should appreciate. Both teams maximized their talents and that’s all you can ask for.
Houston was hoping to go further after reaching the Final Four in 2021, Despite suffering some key injuries in the middle of the season, the Cougars still managed to take down Big Ten co-champions Illinois and No. 1 seed Arizona before Saturday’s loss that saw them make 1 of their 20 shots from three-point range.
Arkansas rolled to the SEC tournament title and then knocked off Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed in the field, before its loss to Duke. Saturday in the second half there were numerous chances at the rim that just missed that would have kept things close against the Blue Devils. The basket seemed to have a lid on it.
Basketball can be a cruel sport. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall the right way no matter how hard you play. That was the case for both teams and led to their exit.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Three takeaways from Saturday’s Elite Eight games