Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joined me this morning to discuss the insanity that was the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
We’re kicking off our preview coverage of the Sweet 16 today with a list of the 16 things you need to know to get primed for the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
If you’re not ready to let the first weekend go, trust me, I hear you.
And when you’re ready to move on, continue reading here.
1. For the first time since 2012 and for just the second time since 2009, all four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16. In 2015, it was Villanova that lost. In 2014, it was undefeated Wichita State that lost to Kentucky. In 2013, Gonzaga lost in the second round to … Wichita State.
All four No. 1 seeds advanced, even if: A) No. 1 seed Oregon isn’t favored to get to the Final Four out of the West Region (No. 2 Oklahoma and Buddy Hield is) and B) The favorite in the Midwest Region was No. 2 Michigan State … until they lost to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State. So that’s good for No. 1 Virginia, I guess, especially when you consider that, in each of the last two seasons, the Wahoos were knocked out by a lower-seeded Michigan State.
2. For all that talk about how wild and crazy and unpredictable the NCAA tournament is with these upsets no ever, ever, EVER saw coming, you might be surprised to find out that 14 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16 are from the Power 5 conferences.
And that the other two programs are Villanova and Gonzaga.
And that of those 16 teams, 12 of them were in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 and that three more were considered but left just on the outside. The only team that didn’t get votes in our preseason top 25 was Syracuse, one of the fifteen best programs in college basketball.
3. Six of the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament are from the ACC, as Pitt is the only member of the conference that failed to make it out of the first weekend. The Panthers couldn’t even make it out of the first round. But is that proof that the ACC if the best conference in college basketball?
Maybe. Remember, the ACC is doing this while Louisville, who is one of the top three or four teams in the league, is watching from home.
But it’s also fair to mention that the conference currently has just a single win over a team that’s ranked higher than a No. 9 seed, and that came when Syracuse picked off a depleted No. 7 Dayton. Virginia and North Carolina both beat a No. 16 and a No. 9 seed. Miami and Notre Dame both beat a No. 11 and a No. 14 seed. Duke beat a No. 12 and a No. 13 seed. Syracuse got to the Sweet 16 with a win over a No. 15 seed.
So good for them for winning. But just how good are those wins?
4. The Pac-12 was no where near as impressive, as four of the six teams in the conference lost in the first round and Utah was picked off in the second round. Every one of the Pac-12 teams that have lost so far have lost to a team that was seeded below them: No. 3 Utah lost to No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 4 Cal lost to No. 13 Hawai’iNo. 6 Arizona lost to No. 11 Wichita State, No. 7 Oregon State lost to No. 10 VCU and No. 8 USC lost to No. 9 Providence.
And if No. 1 Oregon does not make the Final Four, the Pac-12 will go 6-for-6 in getting “upset”.
5. Here’s the full conference breakdown:
Big 12: 3
Big Ten: 3
Big East: 1
6. Exactly half of the coaches left in the Sweet 16 have reached a Final Four. They are:
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): 12 Final Fours
Roy Williams (North Carolina): 7 Final Fours
Jim Boeheim (Syracuse): 4 Final Fours
Bill Self (Kansas): 2 Final Fours
Tom Crean (Indiana): 1 Final Four
Lon Kruger (Oklahoma): 1 Final Four
Jim Larrañaga (Miami): 1 Final Four
Jay Wright (Villanova): 1 Final Four
7. There are just two double-digit seeds remaining in the NCAA tournament and they just so happen to be matched up in the Sweet 16, meaning that we are guaranteed to have a double-digit seed playing for the right to get to the Final Four.
One of them is No. 10 Syracuse, who was arguably the worst at-large team ever to be included in the field. And please, don’t be the guy that says the Orange justified their inclusion with these two wins. By all means, enjoy this run, but it doesn’t “prove” the committee right anymore than getting drunk in a bar “proves” you’re 21 if you got in with a fake ID.
The other was No. 11 Gonzaga, who made as big of a turnaround this season as Indiana and Wisconsin. It’s ironic when you think about it. The Zags were a No. 1 seed in 2013. They were a No. 2 seed with two four-year starters in the back court last season. And this year, playing with a front line that has no depth thanks to the injury to Przemek Karnowski, may be their best chance to get to a Final Four since Adam Morrison and company blew that 17-point lead to UCLA in 2006.
8. Buddy Hield once again looked like the Buddy Hield of January. He averaged 31.5 points in Oklahoma’s two wins, including a 29-point second half — where he scored 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points in the last 15 minutes — of a win over No. 10 VCU. That’s damn impressive, and it makes him the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award.
But does that make him the National Player of the Year? That award is typically given for regular season performance, which is why we already named Denzel Valentine the NBCSports.com National Player of the Year.
9. No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana is going to be the most hyped Sweet 16 game on the schedule. That’s what happens when you have two bluebloods squaring off. That’s what happens when Marcus Page and Brice Johnson will take on Yogi Ferrell and Thomas Bryant. That’s what happens when Roy Williams is chasing his third (and final?) national title while Tom Crean is trying to get these Hoosiers over the Sweet 16 hump.
It’s going to get all the buzz that North Carolina-Kentucky would have gotten.
But it’s not going to be the best game of the Sweet 16 …
10. … because No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Duke is going to be. We all should know about good Oregon is at this point in the season. And we all should know about the limitations on this Duke team. But here’s the thing about that matchup: Oregon’s strengths play right into Duke’s hands.
There are two fatal flaws on this Duke team. They have no interior depth and get obliterated on the offensive glass, which is why they lost to North Carolina at home in the regular season finale and part of why they lost to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament. They also struggle to handle pressure because their point guard play is suspect, which is why Yale nearly finished off a 27 point comeback against them in the second round.
But Oregon does neither of those things. They spread the floor, they play small and they try to attack mismatches. That plays into Duke’s hands, and if you’re into the idea of betting on talent when two teams play similar styles, you bet on Duke here. Because Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram will be the two best players on the floor.
11. And if Duke wins, that only increases the likelihood that we end up with an all-ACC Final Four. It would still be a longshot to happen — North Carolina and Virginia are the favorites to make it out of their respective regions, while Duke would need to beat Oregon and Oklahoma/Texas A&M while Miami needs to find a way to get past Villanova and Kansas/Maryland — but it’s not often that we get to the Sweet 16 and something like that is realistic.
12. But we could also see three Big 12 teams get into the Final Four. Kansas and Oklahoma are probably the favorites in their region, and if Iowa State can pick off Virginia, they can certainly beat Syracuse or Gonzaga
13. That said, I’m betting on there being Big 12 rematch and an ACC rematch for the right to play for a national title. In other words, this is what my Final Four looks like right now:
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Virginia
14. And in the end, that’s what you want out of a Final Four. You want the powerhouse programs and the name-brands. You want the teams with the massive fan bases that are spread across the country, or at the very least the crazy fan bases that are willing to spend crazy amounts of money to fly into a city to see their team have a chance to win a national title.
With the Final Four in Houston, you better believe that Kansas and Oklahoma fans would be able to make that trip and you better believe that North Carolina fans are going to show up. That leaves Virginia, whose fans outnumbered UNC fans at the ACC title game last week.
15. If you asked me now, my pick to win the title would be Bill Self and Kansas knocking off North Carolina and the man Self replaced at Kansas, Roy Williams.
16. Vegas agrees. Here are the favorites to win the title, according to Westgate:
North Carolina 7/2
Texas A&M 20/1
Iowa State 20/1
Miami (FL) 25/1
Notre Dame 50/1
Was this the greatest first weekend in the history of the NCAA tournament?
If it wasn’t, it was damn close. We had eight game-winning (or losing!) shots in the final seconds, three of which were true buzzer-beaters — which is already tied for an NCAA tournament record. We had the greatest collapse in the history of college basketball. We had the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.
It may get better than that, but not by much.
Here are the 13 craziest moments from the first weekend of the Big Dance.
13. Hawai’i taking advantage of the dumpster fire that was Cal
The Rainbows convincingly beat a No. 4 Cal team that was as talented as anyone in the country but was dealing with the fallout of a star player with a broken hand and an assistant coach whose sexual harassment scandal may have torpedoed the program. I can’t decide whether or not the win or the scandal is crazier. We need to take a minute to appreciate the job that Eran Ganot did with Hawai’i this season. With a postseason ban looming, this may be the last time in a while that the ‘Bows are going to be this good.
12. Adam Woodbury’s tip-in/foul
Iowa fans may hate me for this, but I don’t care. Adam Woodbury got away with a push-off that sent the Hawkeyes to the second round. It was hardly the only horrible call officials made this weekend, it was just the only one that truly decided the outcome of a game. Call the foul like they should have and Temple would have been shooting free throws.
Making this shot all the more wild was the fact that Iowa blew a late lead and fouled a three-point shooter with a couple of ticks left, the free throws forcing overtime.
11. Indiana’s defense (…?) leading them to win over Kentucky
Considering where the Hoosiers were when I wrote this piece on their humiliating defensive performance against Duke, I NEVER would have predicted that they would A) win the Big Ten regular season title, B) get to the Sweet 16, and C) do so by totally shutting down what was the nation’s most efficient offense.
In fact, if you told me that this is what would happen, I would have told you to stop drinking.
10. Taurean Waller-Prince owning an idiot reporter
9. The horridly-beautiful ending to Providence-USC
Missed free throws, terrible shot selection, bone-headed mistakes. The final minute of No. 8 USC’s loss to No. 9 Providence was not covered in glory. But it ended with Ed Cooley calling a beautiful BLOB — something Providence had practiced, because they did not use a time out — to get a layup to win the game:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2016
8. The near-epic comebacks by Wichita State and Yale
The second day of the NCAA tournament began in thrilling fashion. In the last game we’ll ever see Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet play at this level, the Shockers erased a 27-6 deficit and took the lead in the second half before eventually succumbing to Angel Rodriguez going full Angel Rodriguez.
It was an incredible game, but very nearly topped by Yale, who trimmed a 27-point first half deficit to three points. And if that isn’t impressive enough, the Elis left the court at the Dunkin Donuts Center feeling as if they let one slip away. They had chances to win that game that they blew.
7. Stephen F. Austin’s Cinderella run ending thanks to … Rex Pflueger?
Stephen F. Austin was set to become a national brand much the way that FGCU went from ‘Who?’ to #DunkCity in a matter of 80 minutes. The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks — who were led by Thomas Walkup, the most lumberjack-looking basketball player in the history of basketball — had manhandled a very good West Virginia team in their opener and held a five point lead on No. 6 Notre Dame with just over a minute left in the game.
Then Rex Pflueger happened. To make matter all the more March, Pflueger’s game-winning tip-in was his first basket since the regular season finale on March 5th.
6. Cincinnati’s buzzer-beater that wasn’t
You really have to feel for Cincinnati. They lost in the AAC tournament on a 65-foot heave that came a split-second before the final buzzer sounded. And they lost in the NCAA tournament — after erasing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes — when Octavius Ellis couldn’t quite get this game-tying dunk off in time. Torture:
5. Bronson Koenig going full buzzer-beater
Koenig hit a pair of threes in the final 12 seconds on Sunday to send No. 7 Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, an astonishing accomplishment when you consider where they were just two months ago. This was the shot that sent No. 2 Xavier back to Cincinnati. I love how Koenig disappears into the bench before the shot even goes in:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2016
4. Arkansas-Little Rock erases a 13-point lead in three minutes thanks to Josh Hagins
Little Rock is not a pressing team, but they threw on a press in the final three-plus minutes to erase a 13-point Purdue lead their first round game against the Boilermakers on Thursday. Hagins was the star of the show, finishing with a career-high 31 points (on his birthday!!!), which included this shot to force overtime:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2016
3. Paul Jesperson’s half-court heave
To think it was just two days ago that Northern Iowa was the happiest team in college basketball. Because they had just advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament on one of the craziest shots you’ll ever see in the tournament:
As far as I know, that’s only the second game-winning NCAA tournament shot that can from beyond half court. U.S. Reed hit one in 1981 for Louisville.
2. Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee State
I will go to my grave arguing this: Michigan State suffered the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history on Friday. The Spartans are one of now just eight No. 2 seeds to have ever lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and as I detailed out here, they are the only one of those No. 2 seeds to have been considered the favorite — favorite, popular pick, whatever; they were the team the majority of the experts picked to win it all — for the national title.
1. Northern Iowa’s historic meltdown
No one knows the full-swing of March emotions like Northern Iowa does. This one, however, is going to hurt, Panther fans: You just set an NCAA record for the worst collapse in the history of the sport. Not the history of the NCAA tournament, mind you. The history of college basketball. I do not envy that.
So if you know a Panther fan, please buy them a cup of coffee and give them a hug. They need it this morning. And if you’d like to relive the epic choke-job, you can do so right here, in a video condensed to a beautiful 2:15. (NFSW in Cedar Falls.)
Only March could make Jesperson’s half-court heave a sidenote to their tournament run.
BEST FINISH OF THE DAY: No. 7 Wisconsin 66, No. 2 Xavier 63
Bronson Koenig is now shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc in the final five minutes of regulation of overtime thanks to a pair of threes that he hit in the final 12 seconds — including this ridiculous, Steph Curry-esque triple at the buzzer — to send the Badgers into the Sweet 16.
The shot itself was ridiculous. But if you don’t know the story of Wisconsin from this season, you don’t understand just how big it was.
THIS ONE MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER, THOUGH: No. 3 Texas A&M 92, No. 11 Northern Iowa 88 2OT
This was an all-timer. The Panthers blew a 12-point lead in 34 seconds. Four turnovers in less than 20 seconds. It is quite literally not believable. But it happened. I promise you it did. I have the video right here.
AND YOU PROBABLY FORGOT BY NOW, BUT … : You can make a very strong case that No. 6 Notre Dame’s 76-75 win over No. 14 Stephen F. Austin was the most exciting game of the tournament from start until finish. Not only was the end exciting — I mean, just watch this game-winner — but there was a high-level of basketball being played throughout.
UPDATED 2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET
HEY, LOOK WHO’S IN THE SWEET 16!: No. 10 Syracuse
The Orange advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament after picking off No. 15 Middle Tennessee State in convincing fashion on Sunday, something that Michigan State — who was one of the favorites to win it all entering the start of the tournament — could not do.
THESE FAVORITES ADVANCED
Thursday, March 24
7:10 p.m., CBS, Louisville
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 3 Miami (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)
7:37 p.m., TBS, Anaheim
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Texas A&M (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)
9:40 p.m., CBS, Louisville
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Maryland (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)
10:07 p.m., TBS, Anaheim
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Duke (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)
Friday, March 25
7:10 p.m., CBS, Chicago
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Iowa State (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson)
7:27 p.m., TBS, Philadelphia
No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wisconsin (Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson)
9:40 p.m., CBS, Chicago
No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Gonzaga (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Lewis Johnson)
9:57 p.m., TBS, Philadelphia
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana (Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson)
If you are a Northern Iowa fan, do not watch this.
If you know a Northern Iowa fan, please go give them a hug. They need it. Because they lost to Texas A&M after leading by 12 points with 34 seconds left.
That’s an NCAA record, tournament or not.
Here is that collapse, condensed into two minutes:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2016