Sacramento was upset city, as (15) Princeton maneuvered its way into the Sweet Sixteen.
15 seed Princeton stole the show, taking down (2) Arizona and (7) Missouri by a combined 19 points to advance to the second weekend of March Madness. 2 seed UCLA was the other team to reach the Sweet Sixteen, thanks to a blowout win of (15) UNC Asheville and a much closer contest with (7) Northwestern.
Sacramento Region Most Outstanding Player
Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Look, I know that the people probably wanted a Princeton player here, but the Tigers win by having very good team ball. Tosan Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg have both had fantastic tournaments to this point, but Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been nearly unstoppable.
Playing on a loaded Bruins team, Jaquez has clearly put the team on his back in the scoring department. His efficiency as a wing is unmatched, averaging over 20 points per game on nearly 60% from the field. Combine that with his 8 rebounds per game, and Jaquez is the player to watch heading into the Bruins’ Sweet Sixteen game with Gonzaga.
Sacramento Region First Team
- G: Boo Buie, Northwestern – 2 games (20.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.5 RPG)
- G: Amari Bailey, UCLA – 2 games (15.5 PPG, 6.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 57.9 FG%)
- G: Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA – 2 games (20.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 57.6 FG%)
- F: Kobe Brown, Missouri – 2 games (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 57.1 FG%, 55.6 3P%)
- F: Tosan Evbuomwan, Princeton – 2 games (12.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.0 BPG)
#1: The competition of the Sacramento Region may have been the best
This tends to happen when a 15 seed moves on to the Sweet Sixteen. But when you look at all 8 teams who played spent the first weekend in Sacramento, they all put up good cases to move on.
Of course, it starts with UCLA and Princeton, but we shouldn’t look past a Northwestern team that gave the Bruins all they could handle. Missouri also looked good against a talented Utah State team but looked lost against Princeton’s defense. Boise State also played a very underrated great game with Northwestern.
In essence, the team that played the worst in the region, Arizona, was thought of as the toughest team to beat coming into the NCAA Tournament. That speaks to the talent these 8 teams brought to the court on Thursday and Saturday.
#2: UCLA can win the whole thing
The Jaylen Clark injury was a big reason why people were hesitant in picking UCLA to advance very far in their brackets. But through two games, the play of Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, and plenty of others has been impressive to say the least.
But the real difference maker has been Amari Bailey. The freshman was good during the regular season but has been everything as advertised in March Madness. Bailey is averaging roughly 5 more PPG than his regular season average, and like Jaquez, is doing so at an incredibly efficient rate for his position. He’s also passing the ball at a high rate, serving as a nice second fiddle to Tyger Campbell.
If Adem Bona and the UCLA big men can play at a high rate against Drew Timme and Gonzaga, the ceiling might just be a national championship after all.
#3: Boo Buie left it all on the court
One of the best individual tournaments that ended early was by Boo Buie. The Northwestern senior had two fantastic games in two high-level matchups against Boise State and UCLA.
I get the sense that for people who just start watching college basketball in March Madness, Buie was pretty underappreciated. When it comes down to it, Chris Collins’ coaching resume wouldn’t be as commendable as it is if it weren’t for Buie.
Buie does have one year of eligibility left and could come back to Northwestern if he decides to run it back again with the Wildcats. But he also could embark on a professional career. Both choices are good, but from a college basketball perspective, Buie would be on a shortlist of the top players to return if he decides that’s the right option.
Lookahead for UCLA
The UCLA Bruins just made me a lot more nervous about my pick for Gonzaga to win the national championship. Despite being tested by Northwestern – who should not be overlooked – UCLA has a championship identity. They have a senior point guard, multiple go-to scoring options, experience in March Madness, and a coach who has seen it all.
Of course, the Bruins also have a very emotional heavyweight battle with Gonzaga on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. It’s a rematch of a Final Four meeting in 2021, a game that Gonzaga took in overtime, 93-90. A lot of the same players are back and you can bet that UCLA is out for revenge. The storyline is incredible.
Lookahead for Princeton
Princeton’s run to the Sweet Sixteen has been inspiring, and if anything, shows that the selection committee really does undervalue mid-majors. It also shows that no pick in March Madness is a bad pick, because the whole 15 seed upsetting a 2 seed is becoming more common.
This is a Tigers team that much like Saint Peter’s and Oral Roberts, doesn’t fear anyone. They play above-average defense and have enough scoring if the game calls for it. This is not your typical 15 seed. Princeton is legit.
With that being said, Creighton is an offensive superpower. The Bluejays are as potent as any team left in this tournament. While a 15 seed making it to the Elite Eight for a second straight year would be insane, I just can’t see the Tigers pulling off another upset, against a Creighton team that knows exactly what’s coming its way.