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Men’s March Madness 2024 – Elite Eight tournament takeaways

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One half of the Final Four is set.

Alabama rallied from an early 13-point deficit to defeat Clemson. The Crimson Tide are going to their first Final Four in program history.

Nate Oats’ team will play overall No. 1 seed UConn in one national semifinal. The Huskies advanced easily against Illinois to reach their second consecutive Final Four as they try to defend their 2023 title.

As for the second half of the field, Sunday will tip off with the Midwest Regional final between top seed Purdue and No. 2 seed Tennessee. The Elite Eight will conclude with an ACC flavor in the South. Duke will try to advance to its 18th Final Four against surprising No. 11 seed NC State.

Here’s what we learned from Saturday’s games. And this is how we reseeded the Elite Eight.

Can anyone score at the rim on Donovan Clingan and UConn? Clingan’s performance — especially defensively — on Saturday was otherworldly, one of the most dominant showings we’ve seen all season. It became evident very quickly that Illinois was going to struggle scoring in the paint. The Illini missed eight of their first 10 layups, with Clingan blocking three shots in the first half and altering several others. Illinois shot just 25% inside the arc. In Clingan’s first 17 minutes on the floor, Illinois scored four points. Perhaps the Illini should have opted to shoot more jumpers instead of driving at Clingan so often, but Terrence Shannon Jr. really struggled to make shots, and Coleman Hawkins couldn’t get going from the perimeter. Here’s the stat of the night: Illinois went 0-for-19 on field goal attempts contested by Clingan, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

What the win means for UConn: It’s going to take an awfully impressive performance to make UConn sweat in a game, let alone beat the Huskies. Illinois played as well as it could defensively for the first half and still lost by 25. UConn is simply playing with so much confidence at this point, it’s difficult to come up with a way for the Huskies to lose. The signs were there early on Saturday: UConn missed its first 10 3s and only shot 3-for-17 from behind the arc, Tristen Newton didn’t make a field goal, Stephon Castle scored just two points, Illinois battled with the Huskies on the glass — and again, UConn still won by 25.

What the loss means for Illinois: Illinois simply ran into a buzz saw in the second half against UConn, but the Illini potentially established how they want to look moving forward under Brad Underwood. They made a tweak midway through the season, becoming more of a five-out team with spacing and shooting. It turned Illinois into the nation’s second-best offense entering Saturday’s game. Even though Shannon, Marcus Domask and Quincy Guerrier are out of eligibility and Hawkins said after the loss that his Illinois career is likely over, it gives Underwood a blueprint for how he wants to attack the portal and the recruiting trail to build his roster moving forward. — Jeff Borzello

Can Alabama beat UConn? After the Tide took down both North Carolina and Clemson in Los Angeles, all eyes turn to what they can do to stop the tournament’s seemingly unstoppable force. The Huskies trounced Illinois on Saturday with a 30-0 run, further cementing their status as the favorites to win it all for the second year in a row. How will Alabama keep up? If the Tide have showed us anything, it’s that they can get hot from beyond the arc and beat anyone with their shooting. Mark Sears will once again be key for Nate Oats’ team as it tries to craft an upset bid, but it will likely be up to the defense — which stifled Clemson in the second half — to be able to hang with another elite offense in UConn. The odds are not in the Tide’s favor, but so far that hasn’t stopped them.

What the win means for Alabama: Everybody knows Alabama is and will always be a football school, but the program’s first trip to the Final Four will be one to remember for a long time. What Oats has been building in Tuscaloosa has finally come to fruition. His eighth tournament win in four years is more tournament wins than Alabama has had over the past 26 years. And even though last season featured a 31-win team that stopped short of an Elite Eight, the lessons and experience gained in 2023 seem to be paying off now.

What the loss means for Clemson: Just over two months ago, the Tigers had lost three games in a row in conference play, finishing a stretch where they lost seven of 12. Any thoughts of making a deep tournament run seemed far from realistic. And yet Brad Brownell’s team was able to do just that, beating both No. 3 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Arizona in the process. The season stopped short of program history, but it was still the first time Clemson made the Elite Eight since 1980. That’s no small feat. — Paolo Uggetti

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