NCAA: Duke Won’t Win & Other Things Learned
Just like that, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been reduced from 68 teams to the Sweet 16. What did we learn in the first round? We’re glad you asked:
Duke Won’t Win
Remember when Duke was the Las Vegas favorite to win this year’s NCAA tournament after running the table in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Brooklyn last weekend? Good times … Not so much this weekend, though.
Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 points, and seventh-seeded South Carolina, a team that hadn’t won in the NCAA tournament since 1973 before Friday, beat the second-seeded Blue Devils, 88-81, in the East Region on Sunday night in Greenville, SC.
The Gamecocks (24-10) outscored turnover-prone Duke, 65-51, in the second half alone. Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 20 points, but he shot just 3-for-10 from three-point land in the game. The Blue Devils certainly had more talent than SC, but that wasn’t enough to get them the win in hostile territory.
Villanova Won’t Repeat
RIP to your bracket… After a fairly predictable first few days of March Madness, defending national champion — and top-overall seed — Villanova lost to eighth-seeded Wisconsin, 65-62, in the East Regional on Saturday. Head coach Jay Wright hinted that the Wildcats weren’t very sharp after their easy first-round victory over Mt. Saint Mary’s, and he was right. Josh Hart led ’Nova with 19 points on Saturday, but he was stripped late with a chance to tie — or win — the game.
Badgers’ star Nigel Hayes scored 19 points, including the game-winning layup with 11.4 seconds left, to give Wisconsin (27-9) a berth in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year. They'll play fourth-seed Florida at Madison Square Garden on Friday. It’s the third time in four years the Badgers have beaten the top overall seed (Kentucky in 2015; Arizona in 2014).
The Pac-12 Was Awesome; The ACC Was Overrated
The Southeastern Conference (Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina), Big-12 (Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia) and Big 10 (Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin) each advanced three teams to the Sweet 16, but the Pac-12 did that too (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon) AND only lost one game as a conference: 11th-seeded USC’s 82-78 defeat to Baylor on Sunday.
Given that the Trojans also won two games before their season-ending loss, the Pac-12 had a stellar 8-1 record after the first weekend. That’s better than the SEC’s 7-2, the Big 12’s 8-3 and the Big 10’s 8-4.
Oh, and the vaunted Atlantic Coast Conference, which had NINE teams make the NCAA field? It was mediocre, going 7-8 as a conference and advancing only top-seeded North Carolina to the Sweet 16. If the Tar Heels can make it back to the Final Four, it might save face for the conference, but the group as a whole seems to have been gratuitously overrated by the selection committee.
It Was Good To Be An 11-Seed/Bad To Be A 6-Seed
While all but six of the top eight seeds in each region advanced to the round of 32, three of the No. 6 seeds didn’t because the 11-seeds came to play.
Trevon Bluiett scored 21 points and Sean O'Mara had 18 as 11th-seeded Xavier dumped overrated Maryland, 76-65, on Thursday in the West Region. The upstart Musketeers (23-13) then drubbed third-seeded Florida State, 91-66, on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16. They play second seed Arizona in San Jose on Thursday.
Paced by sophomore phenom Bennie Boatwright, 11th-seeded USC showed off their comeback skills, rallying from double-digits twice in wins over Providence, 75-71, in the First Four and sixth-seed SMU in the first round of the East Region, 66-65. The Trojans weren’t dominant in either victory, but it was enough to get them to a regional quarterfinal against third-seeded Baylor. The Bears ended USC’s run with a narrow 82-78 win on Sunday.
In the Midwest, 11th-seeded Rhode Island beat sixth-seed Creighton, 84-72, on Friday thanks to a career-high 23 points from Jeff Dowtin. The Rams were a tough out for third-seed Oregon, which needed a clutch three-pointer from Tyler Dorsey with 40 seconds left to beat URI, 75-72, on Sunday and advance to the Sweet 16.
Middle Tennessee State, Wichita State and Michigan State were the only other higher seeds to win in the first two days of the tournament.
Middle Tennessee State Should Join The Big 10
Reggie Upshaw scored 19 points, and 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee State beat fifth-seed Minnesota, 81-72, on Thursday. The Blue Raiders’ upset win was their second in two years over a Big Ten power; they shocked Michigan State in the first round last year.
MTSU (31-4) marched on to the round of 32, where they gave fourth-seeded Butler all they could handle before losing 74-65 to the Bulldogs on Saturday. The Blue Raiders are obviously good enough to be mentioned among the best mid-major programs in the country. Given their success against solid Big 10 teams over the past two years, maybe they should petition to join the league. Not sure their football program is quite ready for that step.