The NCAA Tournament was in full swing this past week with games starting on Tuesday and ending on Sunday.
The field comprised of 68 different college basketball teams all had the goal of getting to the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. However, some of the favorites to cut down the nets in Glendale did not survive the first weekend.
The First Four, the tournament’s traditional first games that cut the field down to 64, is the official beginning of the Big Dance. The First Four saw the Demon Deacons fall to Kansas State and University of Southern California come back to erase a 17-point deficit against Providence. Mount St. Mary’s and UC Davis also advanced.
Officially called the second round, the games played on Thursday and Friday usually provide fans with monster upsets. This year, brackets were spared as the majority of the higher seeds prevailed. All teams seeded 1-4 won for the first time since 2007.
Middle Tennessee State, a 12-seed, was the highest seed to win, but were 1.5-point favorites in Las Vegas right before tip-off. Similarly, 11-seeds Xavier and Rhode Island defeated 6-seeds Maryland and Creighton respectively, but ESPN’s BPI, the networks unique power index, favored both Xavier and Rhode Island.
The biggest upset belonged to Southern Cal, who used their momentum from Wednesday to beat SMU, who was a popular pre-tournament pick to make a deep run. In their first NCAA Tournament appearance, Northwestern was able to squeak-out a win against Vanderbilt, 68-66.The lack of major upsets created some spectacular matchups for the weekend slate.
The Round of 32 provided the craziness that comes along with every March Madness. Defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova could not handle the post players of 8-seed Wisconsin.
Perhaps the hottest team in America, the 7-seed Michigan Wolverines, knocked-off the 2-seed Louisville Cardinals in a rematch of the 2013 national championship.
Continuing their Cinderella run, Xavier destroyed 3-seed Florida State, 91-66. South Carolina, a 7-seed was able to take advantage of playing in Greenville, SC and sent 2-seed Duke packing.
Even though the rest of the favorites were victorious, most of the Round of 32 games were close and high-quality contests. It took a massive effort from the Oregon Ducks to claw back and defeat Rhode Island. Gonzaga had to hold-off Northwestern and took advantage of a blown goaltending call.
Kentucky was challenged by 10-seed Wichita State, who has the major gripe about their seeding. Florida, Baylor, West Virginia, Arizona, UCLA, UNC, Butler, Purdue and Kansas join the others in the Sweet 16.
The headlines from the weekend focused on the poor performance by the ACC, the perceived best league in college basketball. The league dominated the AP and Coaches Poll throughout the season and were supposed to be a major factor in the tournament.
Nine teams from the ACC made the NCAA Tournament, and now, only UNC remains. Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame and Miami all lost by double-digits. Louisville and Duke were supposed to validate the strength of the conference but lost to lower seeds.
Although the league may still be the deepest, the league’s parity displays that each team in the conference was vulnerable in some capacity.
Oppositely, the Big Ten and the SEC, the two leagues considered the weakest before the Big Dance, both have three teams in the Sweet 16. Big Ten conference tournament champion, Michigan might be the team of destiny as they have not lost a game since their plane incident.
Wisconsin is a team full of veterans who have played in Final Fours and might be the favorite in the East Region.
Florida dominated Virginia and looks to be playing their best basketball of the season. Playing the underdog card, South Carolina still feels like they have something to prove after their Duke victory.
The conferences with legitimate claims to be considered the best in the country are the Big 12 and Pac-12. The Big 12 has three teams left including Kansas, now the odds-on favorite to win the championship. In addition, West Virginia has been particularly impressive this postseason with their ability to turnover and speed-up their opponents.
The Pac-12 is 8-1 in the NCAA Tournament as Southern Cal is the only team eliminated from the league. Arizona, UCLA and Oregon all appear threats to win their region and reach Glendale.
Butler and Xavier will represent the Big East, while Gonzaga is the only team continuing from the West Coast Conference.
The tournament’s popularity in general seems to be trending upwards. CBS claims this has been the most watched NCAA Tournament in 24 years. With plenty of storylines and big name programs left, the ratings will most likely continue to be large. The Big Dance resumes Thursday with the Sweet 16, and by Sunday night, the Final Four will be determined.
Knowing the history of this tournament, do not be surprised to see more madness in the weeks to come.