MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Miracles rarely unfold twice in one spontaneous, seven-second burst.

Miracles often stand alone. Miracles tend to reserve their own plots in history.

Miracles aren’t matched or nullified by a fringe, former top-100 recruit who surrendered a game-tying bucket with the Final Four at stake on the previous play.

That’s why North Carolina’s Luke Maye (5.5 PPG) took three deep breaths while he sat in his chair at the postgame dais, drenched in sweat and swagger, searching to decipher the furious finish to his team’s 75-73 victory over Kentucky in the Elite Eight on Sunday at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee.

He had the perplexed gaze of a man wondering how he sank the game-winning shot with 0.3 seconds on the clock -- after Malik Monk flushed a game-tying 3-pointer over his fingertips with 7.2 seconds to play -- and established a new career high (17 points) for the second time in 48 hours while North Carolina advanced to the Final Four one year after Villanova’s Kris Jenkins shattered its dreams in the title game.

Yeah, the Tar Heels are back in the national semifinals.

But ... how?

“I just shot it, and luckily, it went in,” said Maye, who scored a previous career high of 16 points against Butler in the Sweet 16. “It was a great feeling. I thank my teammates so much and my coach for putting me in that situation. Just very blessed to have this opportunity.”

Yes, North Carolina secured a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday and a favorable path back to the Final Four -- the team’s motivation for the 2016-17 season. Yes, many expected the Tar Heels to reach the last stage in Glendale, Arizona.

But who knew it would be this hard?

Before the game started Sunday, a Memphis police officer guiding the coach bus downtown crashed his motorcycle as he tried to stop traffic. He did not suffer serious injuries, but the program’s superstitious supporters on social media asked if the incident portended doom.

Then Joel Berry II suffered a sprained ankle in the first half. After the game, Roy Williams revealed that Berry had sprained the other ankle in Saturday’s practice.

“He’s a tough little nut,” Williams said after the game. “He’s out there with both feet not feeling real good.”

Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson had each picked up two fouls before the break. During the second half, the Tar Heels lost their five-point halftime edge after Monk, Bam Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox returned to their normal roles following reduced minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.

AP Photo/Mark HumphreyUNC is back in the Final Four, where it'll answer questions about Luke Maye's miracle shot in Memphis, not just the one that ended the Heels' 2015-16 season.

With nearly five minutes to play, UNC's plan to avenge last season’s loss in the national title game centered on the team’s response to its five-point deficit, 64-59, after a timeout.

“At the timeout, I didn't like the look on their face, so I started yelling at them, but I was trying to yell positive messages,” Williams said.

A Pinson runner and a Justin Jackson floater off a spin kicked off a late rally -- with the help of a suppressive zone -- that led North Carolina into a familiar scare.

The Tar Heels had launched a similar comeback in a second-round win over Arkansas. But their 17-7 run against Villanova in last season’s title game preceded the dagger by Jenkins at the buzzer.

Plus, a few months ago, Monk hit a 3-pointer from the corner to seal Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina in a Las Vegas showdown in a similar scenario, albeit without the same stakes.

Over the past year, the Tar Heels had been blessed by miracles and cursed by them too. On Saturday, Monk pump-faked against Maye and tossed a game-tying 3-pointer into the rim at FedEx Forum before Maye maneuvered through the frenzy and streaked down the floor, where Pinson found him on the left wing for the game winner.

After the game, Berry stood in a circle of cameras and touted his team’s toughness. Kennedy Meeks, with the net around his neck, stared into the nosebleeds and smiled. Williams, all giggly and happy, marveled from the edge of the celebration.

“It feels great,” Meeks said. “We put ourselves in the right position to take it and move forward, and I feel like the seniors did a great job leading this team this whole year. And we’re not done yet. We gotta go next week and finish out the rest of the business. ... No matter how we did it, we did it, and we got it done.”

The conclusion to the 2015-16 season fed the team’s mission in the offseason. And the way the Tar Heels lost mattered.

Last year, Marcus Paige hit a game-tying shot with six seconds to play in the title game. Then Jenkins happened.

“You know, last year was a heartbreaker, to say the least,” Williams said. “And to have someone like Marcus make that kind of shot ... I even told Michael Jordan after the game, I said, ‘If we'd have gotten it into overtime, your shot to beat Georgetown would not have been the most famous shot in basketball history at North Carolina any longer.’”

To Berry, Maye’s shot Sunday not only helped the Tar Heels advance to another opportunity to win the national title but also answered a question about this program.

“Every time we come into each and every season, that’s the big question: Are we tough enough?” Berry said. “To be able to win the last two games like we did, that just goes to show the toughness and the experience we have. Like [assistant coach Steve Robinson] said: There’s gonna be stressful moments in the game, but we’ve gotta just come together [and] fight through it.”

They fought through it.

And now they’re back in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, where they’ll answer questions about the miracle shot in Memphis -- not just the one that ended their season a year ago in Houston.videovideo

Memphis, Tenn. -- In Luke Maye's high school recruiting photos, the Huntersville, North Carolina, native looks like he could have played a great role for a Power 5 school seeking a sturdy tight end.

He does not look like the North Carolina hero who scored a career-high 17 points in Sunday’s 75-73 Elite Eight win over Kentucky at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, 48 hours after establishing his previous career high of 16 points against Butler in the Sweet 16.

But there he was, fidgeting on the bench in the second half, somehow competing for minutes on a North Carolina team one year removed from its national title loss to Villanova.

He doesn’t look the part. He’s 6-foot-8, 235 pounds and a box of glazed donuts. He doesn’t jump like the other athletes on the UNC roster. He doesn’t move like them. He can’t soar the way they do.

With just seconds remaining Sunday, however, coach Roy Williams needed a hero. And Maye answered.

The Tar Heels had turned a 64-59 deficit into a 71-64 advantage with a 12-0 run. Then Kentucky hit a trio of 3-pointers to tie the game.

Malik Monk's deep, game-tying shot hit the net with 7.2 seconds to play. But Maye streaked down the floor, hustled to a spot on the left wing, planted one foot inside the arc and extended his reign as North Carolina’s most surprising performer of the NCAA tournament when he hit a shot with 0.3 seconds to play.

Monk, who scored 12 points, walked down the court after Maye connected on that shot and yelled a four-letter expletive so many Kentucky fans probably screamed in unison.

But another four-letter word will stick with Kentucky fans for a long time: Luke.

“Thank you so much,” Williams said to fans after the game. “We get to keep playing.”

The Tar Heels will return to the Final Four one year after Villanova’s Kris Jenkins broke their hearts with a late dagger because Maye waited for the right moment to have the game of his life.videovideo

Only 657 out of 18,797,085 2017 NCAA tournament brackets correctly picked North Carolina, Oregon, Gonzaga and South Carolina as the Final Four teams -- 0.003 percent.

North Carolina was a Final Four pick on 43 percent of brackets.

  • Championship game: 26.5 percent
  • Win the national title: 15.2 percent

Kentucky was picked to reach the Final Four in 21.7 percent of brackets.

  • Championship game: 13.5 percent
  • Win the national title: 7.3 percent

North Carolina will face Oregon, a matchup selected in 4.5 percent of brackets. Of that group, 72.6 percent have the Tar Heels advancing.video

AP Photo/James Crisp
We continue our recruit and return series with the Kentucky Wildcats, whose season ended Sunday with a loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight. Here is a look at what the 2017-18 season could hold: Possible 2017-18 starting five: G: Quade Green (freshman) G: Isaiah Briscoe G: Hamidou Diallo (redshirt freshman) F: Wenyen Gabriel C: Isaac Humphries

Only 2,099 brackets out of 18,797,085 total brackets predicted South Carolina, Oregon and Gonzaga to make the Final Four. That’s 0.01 percent.

  • South Carolina was picked to reach the Final Four in 0.6 percent of brackets
  • Championship game: 0.25 percent
  • Win the national title: 0.13 percent

A mere 0.1 percent of brackets had South Carolina facing Gonzaga in the Final Four, and 35.8 percent of that group has the Gamecocks advancing

Florida was picked to reach the Final Four in 3.5 percent of brackets.

  • Championship game: 1.6 percent
  • Win the national title: 0.7 percent

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NEW YORK -- There is one thing meaner and nastier in college basketball than South Carolina coach Frank Martin's withering stare.

It's his team. And the Gamecocks are about to bring all that angry energy to the Final Four.

Until this March, the Gamecocks hadn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1973, but they continued their improbable run Sunday, topping Florida 77-70 to earn a national semifinal date with Gonzaga.

Backed by a legion of fans who brought their Southern charm mixed with their team's snarl to New York City, the Gamecocks did to the Gators what they've done to everyone in this NCAA tournament -- wear them down.

Sindarius Thornwell did the rest. The SEC Player of the Year, little known outside of his league three weeks ago, continued his run to tournament star, scoring 26 points to take his home-state school to a pinnacle that many couldn't have envisioned.

The Gators shot 58 percent on 3-pointers in the first half but went 0-for-12 in the second, faced with an extended zone. Martin's adjustment turned out to be a masterful piece of coaching that changed the game.

Some fans might not love the Gamecocks' grit, but to Martin and the South Carolina faithful, it is a thing of pure beauty -- beautifully ugly -- and worthy of the Final Four.video

Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsMike White will bring in a top-10 class that has two ESPN 100 prospects in the frontcourt.
We continue our recruit and return series with the Florida Gators, whose season ended Sunday with a loss to South Carolina in the Elite Eight. Here is a look at what the 2017-18 season could hold: Possible 2017-18 starting five: G: Chris Chiozza G: KeVaughn Allen F: Devin Robinson F: Kevarrius Hayes C: John Egbunu Who is lost: Kasey Hill entered the program when Billy Donovan was at the helm. Hill was a five-star point guard who came in as part of a highly touted duo with Chris Walker. Although Walker didn’t pan out, Hill improved as his career progressed. He was one of the fastest players in the country with the ball in his hands and could get to the rim at will. Former Charleston graduate transfer Canyon Barry, a big wing scorer who could shoot from the perimeter, was exactly what Mike White needed this past season. Barry took about half the shots in 2016-17 that he did at Charleston, but he fit perfectly. Justin Leon was a nice weapon due to his size and ability to make shots from 3, and he backed up the frontcourt players. Who is added: Despite losing top-35 prospect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to Kentucky, Florida is bringing in the No. 10 recruiting class in the country, filled with four four-star prospects. The frontcourt will be bolstered by ESPN 100 prospects Isaiah Stokes and Chase Johnson. Stokes, the younger brother of former Tennessee star Jarnell, is a big and strong body who can score in the low post but is also more skilled than his size would indicate. He can shoot it too. Johnson is a good offensive player who has toughness and will score at the rim, from the perimeter or off the dribble. On the perimeter, ESPN 100 DeAundre Ballard comes from Atlanta and has great length. He can score in the half court but is also athletic and can play in transition. Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) product Michael Okauru rounds out the class. Two players sat out this past season as well: Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson and forward Dontay Bassett. Hudson averaged 8.0 points as a sophomore for the Hokies and will push for a starting job, while Bassett missed the entire season with a stress fracture in his right foot. What it means for next season: White had one of the best teams in the country this past season, and most of those pieces return. Former ESPN 100 prospect KeVaughn Allen led the team in scoring, and he’ll be back. He shot 40 percent from 3-point range but can handle the ball and also slash to the basket. Backcourt partner Chris Chiozza is quick with the ball in his hands and will step in seamlessly for Hill. Chiozza is a better shooter too. Devin Robinson hit a career high in points and rebounds as a junior, and it still feels like he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. Down low, former South Florida transfer John Egbunu was an excellent defensive presence until he got injured in February. He is expected back healthy next season -- but White got great minutes out of sophomore Kevarrius Hayes while Egbunu was sidelined. Redshirt freshman Keith Stone also played well late in the season. Trending: Up. White did one of the best coaching jobs of anyone in 2016-17, so how does he follow that? A top-10 recruiting class joining a veteran rotation that won 25-plus games usually results in a good season. Some of the doubts about the post-Billy Donovan era are dissipating.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey had his back turned, the single cord of a net dangling from the back of his Final Four hat, when the hands belonging to Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller gripped him by the shoulders.

“Do you have any left? Do you have any left?” Miller excitedly screeched.

Dorsey, who had hit six of his 10 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, shook his head, smiled and answered with a fulfilling, “No.”

During Oregon’s shootaround -- before its 74-60 win over Kansas on Saturday night vaulted the Ducks into the Final Four -- Miller held court with several players, including Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell, who had approached Miller just to talk.

“He said you have to lay all out every game,” Brooks said. “Every game is your last in this. He gave a lot of us advice, and we went out there and took it.”

AP Photo/Charlie RiedelBefore getting up close to cut down the net, Tyler Dorsey had filled the basket with big shots from long range.

The Ducks’ star trio shined brightest, even as Kansas’ Frank Mason III -- the favorite to capture the Wooden Award as national player of the year -- did all he could to prompt one more Jayhawks rally.

“Jordan Bell was unbelievable on the defensive end tonight; he got a couple of blocks early, and I thought it really put a thought in their mind,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “Tyler hit some big 3s, especially the two right before the half and the one when it got to 66-60. And Dillon Brooks just gives us a lot of passion. He played extremely hard. He gave us some big buckets.”

Miller’s words were actually just a reminder. The Ducks learned their lesson last season.

Altman said during the 2016 NCAA tournament, after Oregon beat Duke in the Sweet 16, “We didn’t have the edge” against Oklahoma -- and the Ducks were eliminated in the Elite Eight.

The Ducks had plenty of edge against the Jayhawks.

“I feel like they were the more aggressive team,” said Kansas forward Landen Lucas, who had considered going to Oregon, where his father, Richard, played. “They did the small things that helped their team win, and they had some players that made some great plays.”

The great plays started with Bell’s defense.

Some thought the loss of Oregon’s leading shot-blocker, Chris Boucher, would be too much to overcome, but Bell has maintained the Ducks' status of having the top shot-blocking percentage in the nation.

“I think I controlled the game on the defensive end,” Bell said. “The main goal was to try to stop their quick offense.”

The 6-foot-9 junior forward set a school record with eight blocked shots. Altman said the first 10 minutes of the game, in particular, were big, as Bell established his presence in the paint.

“That was an amazing defensive effort,” Dorsey said. “To be honest, I think he’s the best player in the country when it comes to blocking shots, and he changed so many shots.”

While Bell altered shots, Dorsey was taking and making the biggest ones en route to a game-high 27 points.

In the first half, the Ducks led by just five points when Dorsey made back-to-back 3-pointers -- one that bounced high in the air before coming straight down into the net and another that banked in at the buzzer.

In the second half, with Kansas mounting a furious comeback that chipped an 18-point deficit down to six, Dorsey hit a dagger 3 as the shot clock was about to expire. No single shot was more effective in silencing the partisan Kansas crowd of 18,643.

Altman said the focus with which Oregon played actually started after it survived Michigan 69-68 in the Sweet 16.

“I was real happy when I came in after the Michigan win and we weren’t celebrating,” Altman said. “We were focusing on we have one more game. I think maybe the experience of a year ago helped us.”

Plagued by foul trouble against Oklahoma in the Elite Eight game last year, Brooks scored only seven points before fouling out. Dorsey shot just 3-of-10 in that contest.

Brooks, who had 17 points against Kansas on Saturday, said the memory of watching Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield walk around with the regional trophy remained seared in his mind. Brooks can finally let that go now.

“I seen Buddy Hield hold this [trophy] last year, I was crushed, I was crying my eyes out,” Brooks said. “... We move on the Final Four and try to do what we wanted to do last year and win a championship. Two more games.”

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The five men most responsible for the most important victory in Gonzaga basketball history sat at a table to answer questions Saturday evening, wearing identical T-shirts and hats.

One was born in Los Angeles, another in Memphis, two in small towns in Oregon and another in Torun, Poland. One player is a graduate transfer who sacrificed minutes and touches along with personal and academic comfort. Two of the players sat out a season in the search for something more. Another, a 7-foot-1, bearded, Polish-born center, left behind his family and country to see just how far basketball could take him, and he found the answer 5,000 miles from his home.

They flanked a coach who could have chased other jobs and chased players like these, but saw the grass was already green. He built a plucky, mid-major underdog into a program capable of accomplishing something like what it achieved Saturday.

"They all took a leap of faith," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That's what it was. A leap of faith. ... And that's a powerful responsibility you have to take on."

Few, Przemek Karnowski, Nigel Williams-Goss, Jonathan Williams, Jordan Mathews and the rest of a unique Gonzaga Bulldogs team delivered on its collective pact.

For the first time, Gonzaga is going to the Final Four.

"We had a plan for ourselves," Williams-Goss said. "We believed from day one, when we all stepped foot on this campus, that we could go to Phoenix."

It is hard to underplay the historic meaning of that accomplishment, even in the wake of this program's remarkable 18-year climb up the college basketball ladder.

The West Coast Conference last sent a team to the Final Four in 1957. Less than two decades ago, Gonzaga's trip to the Elite Eight was a pure Cinderella tale. In the late 1990s, some faculty at the small, financially strapped Jesuit college advocated a withdrawal from Division I sports altogether. Schools like Gonzaga, in conferences like the WCC, aren't supposed to go to the Final Four. Outliers are rare.

Yet all of that pales in comparison to the sheer, remarkable reality of this team, and two days in San Jose helped to crystallize that beyond a doubt. It is the best, most dominant team in college basketball, utterly unlike any other the school has ever produced. It is deeper, more talented, more balanced, less flawed, and long since convinced that this is where their journey together would take them.

Gonzaga celebratesKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsGonzaga players celebrate after their 36th victory of the season sent them to the school's first Final Four.

Thursday night's 61-59 victory over West Virginia required a deep and talented backcourt, enough ball handlers to survive the full "Press Virginia" onslaught and the foul trouble it created for Williams-Goss. Above all, though, it required a defense good enough to out-guard, if only narrowly, one of the nation's best.

Gonzaga happens to be the best defensive team in the country.

On Saturday, in an 83-59 Elite Eight victory over Xavier, Gonzaga didn't need to be the nation's best defense. In the first half, it could settle for being a borderline unstoppable offense, one built around Karnowski's incredible post passing, Williams' nonstop spring, savvy understanding of how best to break down Xavier's tricky zone looks and, above all, loads of perimeter shooting.

The Musketeers scored a respectable 39 points in 35 trips in the first half. They went into the locker room down 10.

In the second half, for good measure, Gonzaga decided to reassume its true defensive form and promptly demoralized the Musketeers, who scored 20 points in the final 20 minutes.

In 2013, Gonzaga's first top-seeded team faced an undue amount of scrutiny over its No. 1 placement in the bracket and an unfair smattering of "but what if they played in the ACC?" doubt. That Kelly Olynyk-led group ranked among the nation's best on offense and was unlucky to face an insanely hot, Final Four-bound Wichita State team in a brutal second-round matchup. But that Gonzaga team finished 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency, outside the range of basically every other national champion of the past 15 seasons. In 2015, the No. 2-seeded Zags were better on the defensive end than many realized at the time, but they nonetheless were at their best on the offensive end (and unable to fully hide brilliant scorer Kyle Wiltjer from matchup exploitation on the other end).

This Gonzaga team has none of those concerns. This Gonzaga team doesn't need to play its ideal game on the offensive end to win. It doesn't need any one thing to go right, no matter what, for it to get the job done. It doesn't need to hide players. It doesn't worry about foul trouble. (Karnowski and freshman lottery-pick prospect Zach Collins both had four fouls Saturday night; Few just rotated them out.) This team will always guard well -- and on the rare occasions when it doesn't, it can shoot you off the floor anyway.

"Everybody was asking me, 'Is this your best team,' in November," Few said. "Its not fair. It's not fair in December, it's not fair in January.

"But they're 36-1, going to a Final Four. So, absolutely, it is."

Shortly after the news conference ended, Few remarked, not for the first time, that the NCAA tournament is a "crapshoot," that matchups and good breaks are every bit as important as how good teams actually are. And he's right. Maybe Gonzaga caught its break when West Virginia failed to get a shot in its final possession Thursday night; maybe it caught its break playing an 11-seed in the Elite Eight.

Or maybe it caught its break five years ago, when Karnowski -- now the winningest player in college basketball history -- got on a cross-world flight to Spokane. Maybe it caught its breaks when Karnowski's recovery from a debilitating back injury last season turned into a medical hardship eligibility waiver last spring. Maybe it caught its break when Williams-Goss and Williams and then Mathews decided that above all, they wanted to win. Maybe it caught its break as Few proved, over and over through the past two decades, that all of this was possible at a one-time Cinderella story in the mid-major WCC. Maybe so.

"It's hard," Few said. "It's hard to get where we are."

Whatever confluence of breaks brought these players and this coach to the same table wearing the same gear, the result was undeniable. Gonzaga is so good, what it accomplished Saturday felt less like a defining milestone than one more step on the journey the Bulldogs, all of them, are taking together.videovideo

videoMEMPHIS -- They all giggled in unison.

Five Kentucky Wildcats, including three freshmen who will likely turn pro after this season, sat perched along a dais at FedEx Forum, all smirking and shaking their heads when coach John Calipari mentioned former Kentucky standout Devin Booker and his 70-point outing for the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

"Miss Veronica, Devin Booker's mom, hit me [up] last night, and we went back and forth, and she even mentioned, 'I think Devin being your sixth man helped him, and it's driving him,'" Calipari told reporters at the FedEx Forum on Saturday, a day before Kentucky gets set to face North Carolina in the Elite Eight. "He was the sixth man. He scored 70. He scored 70. And he wasn't even a starter here because he accepted that you have to do this together."

Booker's wild Friday night against the Boston Celtics exemplified the power of Calipari's controversial one-and-done machine, one so potent that Booker and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns averaged less than 22 minutes per game in 2014-15, their lone season at the collegiate level.

Malik MonkStephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY SportsKentucky freshman Malik Monk sank a go-ahead 3-pointer with 19 seconds left back in December against North Carolina, giving the Wildcats a win in Las Vegas.

Calipari's waves of freshman talent changed the structure of college basketball after the NBA introduced its age limit in 2006 (players must be 19 and a year removed from their high school graduating class to enter the league). But North Carolina's Roy Williams, who won national titles with the Tar Heels in 2005 and 2009, doesn't rely on freshman talent. Since 2006, only one player -- Brandan Wright (2006) -- has left North Carolina after one season under Williams. Calipari has lost 18 one-and-done prospects at Kentucky since he accepted the job in 2009.

That's why the theme of Sunday's rematch from December, which Kentucky won 103-100, goes beyond the stats and analytics and includes a persistent question with repercussions beyond this matchup and season: Does the one-and-done model work best?

"With this, it's disrupting," Calipari said. "It's not the norm. It's not what it's supposed to be."

No matter the outcome on Sunday, proponents of Calipari's annual youth movement will cite his squad's run to a third Elite Eight -- and a possible third Final Four -- in the past four seasons as proof of its value. And the critics of Calipari's methods will cite a loss as more evidence freshman talent rarely ends the season snipping the nets after a national-title victory.

The latter will also point to those who failed in their quests to win big with one-and-done stars. Both Johnny Jones and Lorenzo Romar were recently fired after they missed the NCAA tournament with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz leading the rosters at LSU and Washington, respectively.

The young Kentucky players involved in Sunday's rematch recognize the scrutiny attached to their youth-talent combos.

"Everybody thought we were going to lose [the first game] because they were veterans and we were the younger team, and we just came out, fought, played together and just played Kentucky basketball, and we came out to win," Wildcats sophomore Isaiah Briscoe said.

Williams has created a monster with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley -- who could turn pro after his freshman season -- dominating the paint for a team ranked first in offensive rebounding rate all season. A veteran backcourt of Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson helped the Tar Heels eliminate Butler in the Sweet 16. North Carolina's top four scorers are upperclassmen.

Three freshmen (Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox) and Briscoe -- all underclassmen -- lead the Wildcats in minutes this season. In the team's win over UCLA in the Sweet 16, Fox penetrated and sliced through Steve Alford's defense on his way to 39 points. Monk added 21 points. Adebayo recorded a double-double in a second-round win over Wichita State.

Multiple Tar Heels could return next season for another run. But Monk, Adebayo and Fox will all follow their predecessors and bolt for the NBA after the NCAA tournament.

So what's worth highlighting in conversations about Kentucky's youth versus North Carolina's experience and one-and-done stars versus veterans?

Well, Calipari tends to recruit NBA-ready players more physically and athletically mature than their peers. Other coaches chase the same players, however, as they attempt to assemble each incoming class, just not at the same clip as Calipari, who has a roster ranked 340th in experience, per KenPom.com.

"Yeah, there's a difference: He got them, and I didn't," Williams told reporters on Saturday. "I recruit the same guys. I recruited Bam for a long time. I just thought he was great. I went in to see Malik. De'Aaron, we tried to recruit him early but didn't think we were getting there. Jayson Tatum. I recruited Jayson Tatum for three years as hard as I could. That's the only difference, is they got them and we didn't. We've got to try to figure out a way to compete with them and go from there."

After the teams' first meeting in Las Vegas, arguably the best game of the regular season, Sunday's Kentucky-North Carolina rematch was never desperate for additional hype.

Monk's game-winning 3 from the corner -- Calipari told him to drive -- punctuated the fury of the evening.

But Adebayo fouled out after just 19 minutes of action. And Theo Pinson didn't play due to injury.

Plus, the teams played in December, which South Carolina, Florida, Xavier and the other surprises of the NCAA tournament will tell you was more than a lifetime ago.

Kentucky, win or lose, will continue to fuel the drama surrounding Calipari's system.

One group of critics anticipates a Kentucky loss and another chance to attack the one-and-done culture. And if the Wildcats win again, their supporters will point to Kentucky's third trip to the Final Four since 2014 to tout the potential of the one-and-done phenomenon, while the next set of wunderkinds will join Booker at the next level.

"For me, I'm not worried about that," Fox said. "We're still playing basketball, so I'm not thinking about leaving. If things go as planned, we still have three games left, so that's not in my mind right now."

No. 3 Oregon defeated No. 1 Kansas 74-60 in the Elite Eight on Saturday night. Here’s what it means for Tournament Challenge:

Oregon was picked to make the Final Four in 11 percent of brackets.

  • Championship game: 3.5 percent.
  • Win the national title: 1.6 percent.

Kansas was picked to make the Final Four in 48.8 percent of brackets.

  • Championship game: 22.6 percent.
  • Win the national title: 11.01 percent.

The Ducks will play either North Carolina or Kentucky.

  • 4.5 percent of brackets predicted a Final Four matchup of Oregon-UNC.
  • Of that group, 27 percent have the Ducks advancing.
  • 2.4 percent of brackets predicted a Final Four matchup of Oregon-Kentucky.
  • Of that group, 31 percent have the Ducks advancing.

Only 3.8 percent of brackets had both Oregon and Gonzaga in the Final Four (720,971 out of 18,797,085).

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas, stuck in scramble mode and desperately trying to rally, got out on a fast break, and a kick ahead to Landen Lucas appeared to be set for an easy layup.

Then came Jordan Bell.

The 6-foot-9 junior forward blocked Lucas’ attempt, and when Devonte' Graham recovered the loose ball, he took a shot from four feet and came up about one foot short, intimidated by Bell’s presence. Bell blocked eight shots, a school NCAA tournament game record.

Oregon’s defense made it that kind of night for the Jayhawks, and the Ducks advanced to their first Final Four in 77 years with a 74-60 win in the Midwest Regional final.

Kansas had scored more than 90 points in each of its three NCAA tournament games. But the Ducks held the Jayhawks to a season-low total by using a mix of zone and man-to-man and watching them shoot just 1-of-15 from 3-point range in the second half.

Graham had made at least one 3-pointer in 22 straight games, going back to an 0-for-3 performance against UNLV on Dec. 22. Graham had made at least four 3s in each tournament game, one of only four players to ever achieve that, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On Saturday, he went 0-for-6.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III scored a team-high 21 points but needed 20 attempts to get there.

Now the Ducks will take their defense to Glendale, Arizona, and their first Final Four appearance since winning the inaugural NCAA tournament in 1939.videovideo

We continue our recruit and return series with the Kansas Jayhawks, whose season ended Saturday with a loss to Oregon in the Elite Eight. A look at what the 2017-18 season could hold: Possible 2017-18 starting five G: Devonte' Graham G: Malik Newman (transfer) G: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk F: Billy Preston (freshman) C: Udoka Azubuike

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NEW YORK -- Let’s start with the truth.

This was not supposed to happen, or at least, this is not what anybody expected to happen, and plenty of people didn’t want it to happen.

We were supposed to be setting up for the defending national champion versus the name-brand team in college hoops, with streams of Philly commuter fans versus New York grads and carpetbagger fans, sharp-dressed coach versus Hall of Famer, Villanova versus Duke, epic showdown in Madison Square Garden, the toughest ticket in the NCAA tournament.

Yuge, in the parlance of the day.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSindarius Thornwell said that being in the underdog role has helped seventh-seeded South Carolina play "free and fun" during its NCAA tournament run.

Instead? Well, we have a typically good would-be football game during basketball season, unlikely Florida versus improbable South Carolina to finish an East Regional that devolved into the "well, somebody has to go to the Final Four" division.

A fair assessment? Of course not. The fourth-seeded Gators did not sashay here any more than the seventh-seeded Gamecocks waltzed. Florida dispatched Virginia and Wisconsin. South Carolina, of course, ousted those blue-blooded Blue Devils and Baylor. Both teams earned their shots at the national semifinals and are here on merit, not smoke and mirrors.

Still, no one saw this coming -- not even the people in Vegas who see everything coming. One month ago, oddsmakers set Florida as a 30-1 shot to win the national title and South Carolina an even less likely 100-1. After Selection Sunday, the Gators were still a 10-1 long-shot to win the East Regional; the Gamecocks remained a mere afterthought at 25-1.

Now, on the doorstep of the Final Four, still no one is buying. Florida has the fifth-best odds of the eight remaining teams, at 13-2, and South Carolina is sixth at 15-1 (Oregon and Xavier are getting the least love).

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure no one was expecting either of us to be here,” South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier said. “They expected them to lose early. They definitely expected us to lose early. But we’re here.”

Both teams have been sounding the gong of disrespect for two weeks now: Mike White is reminding his Florida team that plenty of people picked the Gators as the first upset of the tourney, likely losers to East Tennessee State. South Carolina is well-aware that people anticipated the Gamecocks would roll over against Duke.

“I’ve been telling everybody we’re the underdogs,” Florida’s Devin Robinson said. “Everybody always looks over us as a program and as a team.”

“We don’t feel like it’s pressure because we’re still getting picked against,” South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell said. “We’re still going in as the underdog. And so when you go in as the underdog, you don’t have any expectations on anything. We’re just playing free and fun.”

How do you excavate the chip on your shoulder when your opponent is doing the same? If everyone is an underdog, is anyone an underdog?

“If that’s a bullet in the chamber, why not use it?” White said. “Even if it’s [0.001] percent of the motivational factor to help you prepare for these guys. So we used some of that, some of the film, some of the newspaper headlines, what have you, in those first couple, but not in this past one. Not against Wisconsin, and obviously not [Sunday]. We’re kind of beyond that.”

They are, and they aren’t. At this point, motivation shouldn’t be an issue -- 40 minutes from the Final Four should be enough -- but this is uncharted territory for both teams. The improbability of this matchup extends beyond the seeding and regular-season finishes; it goes directly to the roster.

Three people on the two benches have appeared in an Elite Eight game. Florida’s Kasey Hill was a freshman on the Gators’ team in 2014, and he played 15 minutes and scored two points. South Carolina coach Frank Martin and associate head coach Matt Figger partnered to take Kansas State to the regional final in 2010.

As much as coaches and players preach their one-game-at-a-time mantra, there is a gravitas to this game. By the time the Gamecocks and Gators take the floor, 345 teams will have been eliminated from national championship contention. Martin insists that isn't a problem for his players, that a team that has embraced this tournament as a new start won’t be prisoners of the moment.

“These guys didn’t hide when we couldn’t be the chairs you’re sitting on,” Martin said. “They’re definitely not going to hide now that they have confidence that we're a good team.”

Florida might have a harder time with that. The Gators beat Wisconsin on an after-midnight buzzer-beater that led to late bedtimes and lots of text messages. White had one command when the team finally returned to the hotel: Turn off your phones.

But escaping the pinging call of friends and family is a lot easier than quieting the adrenaline. Robinson said he was up until somewhere near 5 a.m., and Hill struggled to tuck in by 3. Chris Chiozza, the hero shot-maker, was still trying to reply to the more than 200 messages that greeted him after the game.

“We have a saying on our locker room door that it's the last thing our guys see heading out to practice every day, that you are not promised tomorrow, and that's it,” White said. “I mean, it's a great opportunity against South Carolina. We'll go back and celebrate the wins and mourn the losses and go back and watch Chris' shot a million times in the spring. But right now, it's about the Gamecocks.”

It’s about the Gamecocks and the Gators, perhaps stunningly so to many people. And that, of course, is what makes this tournament the beautiful, occasionally maddening and always surprising thing that it is.

Two teams have spent two weeks ruining brackets and spoiling parties, riding the call of the underdog all the way to the brink of the Final Four.

“Who’s the real underdog? I don’t know,” Thornwell said. “I guess we’ll see.”

No. 1 seed Gonzaga defeated No. 11 seed Xavier on Saturday night to win the West Regional in San Jose, California. Here’s what it means for Tournament Challenge.

  • Gonzaga was picked to make the Final Four in 35 percent of brackets.
  • National championship: 15 percent
  • Winning the national title: 8 percent

Xavier was picked to make the Final Four in 0.9 percent of brackets.

The Bulldogs will face the East Regional champ, either No. 4 seed Florida or No. 7 seed South Carolina.

  • 1.1 percent of brackets have Gonzaga facing Florida. Of that group, 63 percent have Bulldogs moving on.
  • 0.1 percent of brackets have Gonzaga facing South Carolina. Of that group, 64 percent have Bulldogs moving on.

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