North Carolina and Villanova are two programs that anyone would list as the most prominent in college basketball over the last decade. Yet, it's been seven years since either team was in the Final Four, a drought that ended for both Jay Wright and Roy Williams this weekend.
The Wildcats will face Oklahoma in the early game next Saturday in the Final Four in Houston, while North Carolina will play Syracuse, the first No. 10 seed and fourth double-digit seed to win in the Elite Eight since tournament expansion, in the late game. While four No. 1 seeds made the Elite Eight, it took three losses before we saw a top seed win over the weekend.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday's action:
1. North Carolina's Final Four drought is over
North Carolina's 88-74 win against Notre Dame ends the third-longest Final Four drought in program history since 1957 and the second-longest Final Four drought of Roy Williams' career.
It doesn't seem that long ago that Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough were cutting down the nets in Detroit in 2009, but that stretch without a Final Four bid stood out in the modern history of UNC basketball. Seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson have been household names all season, but they themselves have said that, prior to winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the ACC, no one on this team has "won anything." Now everyone on this team has something that Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson missed out on with a trip to the game's biggest stage.
2. Virginia's collapse against Syracuse will be tough to swallow on Sunday
Tony Bennett said that there will be joy in the morning once the team can reflect on how far this veteran group has taken the program, but in the moment the disappointment weighs heavy on Virginia's fan base.
Holding a double-digit lead in the second half, it looked like it would only need a classic second half of Virginia's defense and ball-control offense to earn a spot in the program's first Final Four since 1984. But Syracuse got a couple of quick points thanks to pressure defense and Malachi Richardson heated up with 21 of his game-high 23 points in the second half of the stunning 68-62 win against No. 1-seed Virginia.
3. Brice Johnson is playing at an All-American level
North Carolina big man Brice Johnson seems to bring both frustration and elation to Roy Williams, but no one can doubt his production throughout this season and especially here in the East regional games. Johnson (25 points,, 12 rebounds) has 20+ points and 10+ rebounds in three straight games and 23 double-double's on the season.
4. Don't let Syracuse hang around, because Malachi Richardson will make you pay
Syracuse wouldn't come back from a 16-point if not for Malachi Richardson's aggressiveness on offense. Richardson has been unstoppable in spurts this season, but only in spurts. Thankfully for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, one of those spurts came in the biggest game of the year, at least to date.
North Carolina has two wins against Syracuse this season, but Malachi Richardson finished both games with four fouls and didn't have nearly the offensive impact that he's had in the second half against Virginia. If Syracuse is going to knock off North Carolina to continue this magical run, there's a good chance Richardson will be a big reason why.
5. Get ready for a two-part discussion looking ahead to North Carolina-Syracuse
NCAA president Mark Emmert's already started his media tour, indicating that a conclusion to North Carolina's ongoing investigation/case is coming soon and defending the association while program's that have been recently under fire succeed in March Madness.
Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban in 2015 and received sanctions from the NCAA that included a nine-game suspension for Jim Boeheim this season -- a detail that was mentioned by the selection committee as a reason to give the Orange a second-look as an at-large selection. North Carolina basketball hasn't received any punishment from the NCAA, but it's academic scandal gives plenty of off-court talking points to Saturday's on-court matchup.