Sean Pendergast

NCAA March Madness: Four Thoughts on the Elite Eight

Chris Beard gets Texas Tech to their first Final Four in school history.
Chris Beard gets Texas Tech to their first Final Four in school history. Screen grab from YouTube
The first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament was, quite frankly, pretty boring, with virtually no buzzer beaters or last second plays to decide games, and even fewer Cinderella stories. The Sweet Sixteen this weekend consisted of all four 1-seeds, all four 2-seeds, all four 3-seeds, two 4-seeds, a 5-seed, and one random 12-seed (What's up, Oregon?) That's a LOT of chalk!

Fortunately, the upside to having a very boring, results-to-form first weekend of March Madness is that the second weekend matchups, the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight, are fairly juicy. So while we're left with a Final Four that probably very few people would have predicted, the way that we got there, especially Saturday's and Sunday's games, was highly entertaining.

The Final Four next weekend will have two first-time-in-the-history-of-the-program participants in Texas Tech and Auburn, one that hasn't seen a Final Four since 1984 in Virginia, and Michigan State, who's been to eight Final Fours now under Tom Izzo. Not too shabby, and I have some thoughts on the weekend that was, and the coming weeks that will be.

Here we go....

CBS has to be slightly pissed about how Sunday played out
Heading into Sunday, the Final Four already had penciled in Texas Tech and Virginia in the Final Four, based on their wins on Saturday, the Virginia win including an improbable buzzer beater to get to overtime against Purdue. Texas Tech and Virginia are nice programs, but with Duke and Kentucky both playing on Sunday, CBS, who carries the Final Four next weekend, had to be rooting for both blue blood programs to come through. Instead, Auburn knocked off Kentucky, and Duke finally got bit in the ass by their lack of focus, which was an issue throughout the tournament in wins over UCF and Virginia Tech. Somehow, Coach K managed to parlay three of the top eight players in June's NBA Draft into two near losses and one actual loss, with no Final Four appearance. The big loser will be whoever is paid at CBS based on television ratings for the Final Four.

Kelvin Sampson's future at U of H appears to be very much up in the air
The Coogs put up a good fight against Kentucky on Friday night, leading 58-55 late, before giving up a 7-0 run at the end of the game to lose 62-58. It was a hell of a season, easily the best in Houston since 1984, but unfortunately the biggest Cougar storyline in Kansas City over the weekend was the future of head coach Kelvin Sampson. Reportedly, the University of Arkansas (and former U of H AD Hunter Yurachek) is coming after Sampson hard. Tilman Fertitta, president of the U of H Board of Regents (and the functional "owner" of U of H athletics), was very transparent in his comments to Mark Berman of FOX 26 — the school has made Sampson a fair offer, and it's up to him now....
This pending decision by Sampson probably deserves its own post, but suffice it to say, if winning at a high level, a championship level, is important, Sampson can do that at Houston, possibly more easily than if he were at Arkansas.

Bruce Pearl ran the gauntlet these past two weeks
A few years ago, Pearl was ousted from basketball, having been fired from the University of Tennessee for (a) having a recruit and his family over to his house for a barbecue (TRIVIA: The recruit was former Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft.), an NCAA violation, and (b) lying about it to the school and the NCAA and asking Craft's father to do the same. It took Pearl a few years to get back into coaching, but since arriving at Auburn in 2014, he's steadily built the Tigers into a solid program, and this tournament has shot his stock back through the roof. To get to the Final Four, Pearl's Tigers had to beat Kansas, North Carolins, and Kentucky. All you need to do is add Duke to those schools, and you'd have the "blue blood" Mount Rushmore for college hoops. Making the feat even more impressive was winning the regional final with top player Chuma Okeke on the bench with a torn ACL.

Texas Tech has to feel pretty good about their chances
This is a pretty damn good Final Four for head coaches, with Izzo, Pearl, Tony Bennett, and Chris Beard of Texas Tech, who is the hottest head coaching commodity in the sport (yes, including Kelvin Sampson). The Red Raiders have too feel pretty good about their chances, with one of the top five defenses in the country and a future lottery pick in Jarrett Culver. I'm sure Beard's future will be a story this week, as UCLA and Alabama have both been mentioned as possible landing spots. Some Longhorns might be ready to pull the trigger on Shaka Smart, too....

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast