(PhatzRadio Sports / NCAA / AP) — The Sweet 16 field is set. Here’s what went down Sunday and what lies ahead.
Some big upsets and some big almost-upsets
Duke, a team many considered the most impressive collection of talent we’ve since 2014-15 Kentucky, fell to South Carolina, which had the 136th-ranked offense coming into the tournament. The Gamecocks, averaging 17 points above their season average in two tournament games, are headed to their first Sweet 16 in school history.
The Duke stunner and Louisville’s loss to Michigan shows how tough it can be for No. 2 seeds. Only once in the last 21 years have all four No. 2 seeds made it to the Sweet 16. Moritz Wagner led the sizzling Wolverines, winners of seven in a row, with 26 points. Michigan has a Sweet 16 date with…
Midwest No. 3 Oregon survived a Rhode Island upset bid with a 7-0 run to close the game. Tyler Dorsey had 27 points, including a dagger 3 to dispose of the Rams for good.
The Ducks weren’t the only team that needed a late-game spurt to down a feisty underdog. After overcoming a 17-point deficit, Arkansas had North Carolina on the ropes for most of the second half, but a 12-0 run saved the Tar Heels’ season. Kentucky-Wichita State went down to the wire, too, with the Wildcats blocking the Shockers’ game-tying 3 attempt as time expired.
One lonely ACC team remains
The ACC has had, um, better NCAA tournaments. Of the nine schools that received bids, North Carolina is the only one that advances to the second weekend. Small sample size, sure, but it’s hard to characterize March as anything other than a failure for the most prestigious league in the country. The ACC went 1-5 in the Round of 32.
This down year for Big Ten basketball just might end on an up note in the NCAA Tournament.
Eighth-seeded Wisconsin took out No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in a second-round game Saturday, and No. 7 Michigan ousted No. 2 Louisville on Sunday. In between, No. 4 Purdue defeated No. 5 Iowa State.
None of the Big Ten’s seven tournament teams were seeded higher than a No. 4. Now it has three teams in regional semifinals, matching last year’s total, and would have had a fourth if No. 9 Michigan State had been able to upset No. 1 Kansas.
The Pac-12, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 also had three teams in the Sweet 16.
The Big Ten went into the tournament No. 4 in conference RPI behind the ACC, Big 12 and Big East.
“You guys seem to get a theme, whether it’s good or bad. Tell them to go play Michigan,” Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters in Milwaukee after his team’s win over the Cyclones . “People that don’t think our league is any good, tell them to go play Wisconsin. They’re not an eighth seed. I don’t understand that. You don’t understand basketball if you put Wisconsin as the eighth seed. Wisconsin is one of the toughest teams in the country, period.”
Michigan’s 73-69 upset of Louisville exemplifies the role reversals between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten this postseason.
The ACC led all conferences with nine bids and was billed as the clear-cut pick as the top league in the nation. But only one team, conference heavyweight North Carolina, made the Sweet 16. Duke lost to South Carolina on Sunday night, several hours after Louisville was bounced by Michigan.
The ACC had four regional finalists last season, including Final Four participants North Carolina and Syracuse. The ACC also sent three teams to the regional finals in 2015, with Duke winning the national title.
The Big Ten had rosters filled with youth and no dominant team. The conference owned two of the worst nonconference losses in the country — Indiana losing at home to IPFW and Ohio State losing at home to Florida Atlantic.
Purdue has been consistent, other than a bad loss at Nebraska in January. Wisconsin lost five of its last seven in the regular season and was beaten handily by Michigan in the conference tournament championship game. Michigan lost six of 10 in Big Ten play before rolling off wins in 12 of its last 14.
All that played a part in the lower seedings for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re all going to be judged a lot on what happens in November, December,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in Indianapolis after his team’s win over Louisville . “We had a tremendous league last year with a lot of turnover. Guys going pro, great seniors in the league. We had some injuries to some players as well. So you get judged by that. I thought we had a pretty good record, actually, as a league, but it didn’t measure up.”
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, who scored the go-ahead basket with 11 seconds left against Villanova, dismissed ranking systems and analytics. He said he and his fellow seniors learned from players who came before them, guys who made it to Final Fours in 2014 and ’15.
“The thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire,” Hayes said. “They can’t put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that’s the things that we have. The things that we’ve grown with. We’ve seen the older guys, they’ve had that.”
Keep in mind, the league’s nine bids were the most of any conference. The Big East and Big Ten tied for second with seven apiece.
We have a stellar crop of Sweet 16 matchups
The Big Ten: not quite what we thought it was
Well dang, Big Ten. Didn’t see this coming.
Three B1G squads are headed to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin ousted the defending champs. Michigan looks unbeatable. Purdue took out Iowa State, one of the hottest teams in the country. Even Michigan State and Northwestern put forth valiant efforts against juggernauts. What looked like a mediocre league coming into the dance is proving to be anything but.
So, why the recent surge? NCAA.com’s Mike LoPresti searches for answers.
A long way from Taylor University
In 2014, Chris Holtmann was named interim head coach at Butler. He’s since reached three NCAA tournaments and gone 4-2 in the Big Dance. His Bulldogs are Sweet 16-bound for the first time since Brad Stevens roamed the sidelines.
Butler is rather hard to classify, as Lopresti details; too powerful to be a mid-major but not quite thrown in with the biggest fish. Read up on how Holtmann filled a legend’s shoes.
Mark your calendar
Sweet 16 begins: Thursday
Elite Eight begins: Saturday
Final Four in Phoenix: April 1-3