Live by the 3, die by the 3


LITTLE ROCK — Using a cheat sheet and monitoring the score updates across the top of the TV screen was the way to watch the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

When a game was close with a few minutes to go, the stations to remember were 1011 (CBS), 1109 (TNT), 1112 (TBS), and 1164 (TRU). Never compelled to watch any of the first 40 games from tip to end, I circled Kansas vs. Stanford and Wichita State vs. Kentucky on Sunday — the former because I wondered whether my pick to win it all could survive the first weekend without 7-foot freshman Joel Embiid and the latter to see if Kentucky could make threes when needed.

The answers were no and yes.

Settling up following an 8:38 a.m. tee time required some long division and the first thing I saw from the Kansas game was a montage of the Jayhawks’ Andrew Wiggins missing three shots from in close and an open three and the note that he had two points with less than eight minutes to play. Knowing that, I was surprised Stanford’s lead was only 44-37.

A couple of late threes made it closer than necessary.

Put on hold during completion of a weekly chore, the Kentucky game was a spectacular display of long-range shooting. A team that shot 32 percent from three-point range during the year, including 3-of-11 in the second loss to Arkansas, Kentucky made 8-of-18 threes. Wichita State was 10-of-21 from long distance.

On fast forward, it felt like each and every one of the threes in the second half was a needed response to something that happened at the other end of the court.

The Shockers didn’t lose because they lacked close-game experience to prepare them for the final minutes against Kentucky. They lost because the team that started the season No. 1 scored two more points.

The immediate question is how will Kentucky shoot from outside against Louisville on Friday. Often, hot shooting does not carry over to the next game.

Knowing how Arkansas threes at California late Monday night would provide a solid clue to how the Razorbacks fared in the second round of the NIT. Somewhere between the 0-of-25 compiled by St. Louis and Syracuse in NCAA Tournament losses and Michigan’s 14 threes would get the job done. Was Anthlon Bell 1-of-5 as he was against Alabama and South Carolina or 13-of-18 as he was in the games on either side of those two outings?

Making some threes is necessary against a good opponent. No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 3 seed Duke missed a total of 42 threes in their losses. Winner Baylor made 11-of-18; loser Creighton 5-of-24.

Other observations from the first four days of the tournament:

• All three SEC’s teams are still playing, but I’m not sure that validates the entire conference. Only Tennessee is a surprise and the Vols got help from Mercer, which outshot Duke by 20 percentage points. After all, Florida is the No. 1 overall seed and Kentucky has exceptional talent.

• Clutch players sometimes miss at the end. See Ohio State’s Aaron Craft vs. Dayton, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, and Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet.

• Of the three No. 1 seeds still around, Florida has the easiest path to the Final Four.

• Even those who revel in losses of long-time powers Duke and North Carolina must admit that Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams exuded class. Krzyzewski went to the Mercer locker room to congratulate the winners and Williams went out of his way to make certain the officials were not blamed for the Tar Heels’ failure to get a timeout.

• Dayton guard Vee Sanford explained how his coach told him to go to the basket for the winning layup against Ohio State and then added my favorite quote: “At the end of the day, it’s the same game whether you’re playing in the backyard or the NCAA Tournament.”

Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.