There were buzzer-beaters and beards, historic wins and never-before-seen losses, and so many upsets early that it was hard to tell, in some cases, which teams were the favorites and which were the underdogs. Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State. Yale beat Baylor. Hawaii beat California. Little Rock beat Purdue. And the story entering the Round of 32 of this NCAA Tournament was the little guys with large and seemingly attainable dreams.
But now look.
All that’s left are big brands.
This Sweet 16 includes six ACC schools, three Big 12 schools, three Big Ten schools, one Big East school, one Pac-12 school, one SEC school … and Gonzaga — meaning the only Sweet 16 team that truly operates outside of the power structure is a WCC school that was a No. 1 seed four years ago, was a No. 2 seed last year, and has been to six Sweet 16s since the turn of the century. In fact, 13 schools in this Sweet 16 also appeared in at least one of the previous three Sweet 16s. And every school in this Sweet 16 entered the season having made the Sweet 16 at least once in the previous 13 years.
So I’m not telling you Cinderella is dead.
I’m just telling you she isn’t around anymore.
And here are 16 additional things you need to know about this Sweet 16:
1. ALL FOUR NO. 1 SEEDS ARE STILL ALIVE
In a season where folks insisted there was no true No. 1, the No. 1 seeds are doing OK. No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 1 seed North Carolina have each won two games by double-digits. And though things were slightly tougher for No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 1 seed Oregon, both also advanced to the Sweet 16. Consequently this is the first time since 2012 that all four No. 1 seeds escaped the opening weekend. And, if you’re wondering, in that season a No. 1 seed (Kentucky) played a No. 2 seed (Kansas) for the title. And the No. 1 seed won.
2. THE ACC IS WELL REPRESENTED
Six schools in this Sweet 16 are ACC members — namely UNC, Virginia, Miami, Duke, Notre Dame and Syracuse. Those teams finished first (UNC), tied for second (Virginia, Miami), tied for fifth (Duke, Notre Dame) and tied for ninth (Syracuse) in the league standings.
To date, the ACC is 12-1 in this NCAA Tournament.
That’s obviously fantastic regardless of the context.
But the context is interesting, and the context is this: the ACC got six schools into the Sweet 16 without anybody having to beat a top-six seed to get there. For North Carolina and Virginia, such was the result of the No. 1 seeds they earned. But the other four schools — Miami, Duke, Notre Dame and Syracuse — avoided top-six seeds on their way to the Sweet 16 thanks to upsets, at least according to the seed line, in their four-team groups.
3. AND NOW SYRACUSE GETS TO PLAY ANOTHER DOUBLE-DIGIT SEED
How about that?
Syracuse seemed on the bubble during Championship Week, when Bracketologists projected the Orange to miss the NCAA Tournament. But, as you know, Jim Boeheim’s team ended up making it. Easily. As a 10 seed. And after beating Dayton in the first round, the Orange got to play a 15 seed (Middle Tennessee) in the second round. And now they get to play an 11 seed (Gonzaga) in the Sweet 16. And is Jim Boeheim living right or what?
4. MARK FEW IS LIVING RIGHT, TOO
Good point. Because, yeah, there’s a flipside to Syracuse’s good fortune, and the flipside is Gonzaga’s good fortune. Because, suddenly, the only thing between Mark Few and his second straight Elite Eight is a win over a Syracuse team that finished 9-9 in the ACC. And even though Syracuse is the 10 seed and Gonzaga is the 11 seed, the Zags opened as 4.5-point favorites. So Mark Few is projected to get within a win over his first Final Four.
5. I PRETTY MUCH HAD THIS PEGGED BACK IN OCTOBER
I can’t tell you how many people with Twitter and Facebook accounts love to insist preseason rankings are meaningless and worth nothing. But I’ve always thought they’re a fairly good indicator of what’s to come, and, believe it or not, this year is a great example. Check this out: of the 16 schools still chasing a national title, 14 were ranked in the preseason Top 25 (and one) back in October. Fourteen! The only exceptions are Syracuse and Texas A&M. So, turns out, this season that so many called unpredictable all season was actually pretty predictable, but I already told you that in another column about a month ago.
6. KENTUCKY IS THE HIGHEST-RANKED PRESEASON TEAM ALREADY GONE
It’s weird that a Sweet 16 dominated by big brands — six of the 10 winningest programs in college basketball history are in this Sweet 16, by the way — is missing Kentucky. But this Sweet 16 is missing Kentucky. The Wildcats are the winningest program in college basketball history, and they were ranked second in the preseason Top 25 (and one). But they lost to Indiana in the Round of 32. And John Calipari’s team is the only team ranked in the top eight of the preseason Top 25 (and one) that failed to make the Sweet 16.
7. EIGHT OF THE SWEET 16 COACHES HAVE PREVIOUSLY MADE THE FINAL FOUR
Here’s the list:
- 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 Larranaga (Miami): 1 Final Four
- Jay Wright (Villanova): 1 Final Four
8. NO. 1 SEED OREGON ISN’T FAVORED TO WIN THE WEST REGION
No. 1 seed North Carolina is favored to win the East. And No. 1 seed Virginia is favored to win the Midwest. And No. 1 seed Kansas is favored to win the South. But, according to oddsmakers, No. 1 seed Oregon is not favored to win the West.
Because No. 2 Oklahoma is favored to win the West.
9. AND THAT’S LARGELY BECAUSE OF BUDDY HIELD
Hield is averaging 31.5 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 45.0 percent from 3-point range through two games in this NCAA Tournament. In other words, the Oklahoma senior has been terrific. He got 36 points in Sunday’s win over VCU.
10. WHICH MIGHT’VE WON HIELD THE WOODEN AWARD
Lots of outlets handout national awards before the NCAA Tournament. But that’s never made much sense because it eliminates the most important games from the equation.
So here at CBS Sports, we wait.
And though the Wooden Award doesn’t wait as long as we wait, it waits longer than most. Ballots are due Monday. And it’s reasonable to assume Hield’s two big games in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament earned him a few more votes — especially considering Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis both lost.
11. NORTH CAROLINA VS. INDIANA IS MASSIVE
The best Sweet 16 game in terms of pitting a big brand against a big brand is Friday night’s showdown between the Tar Heels and Hoosiers. It’s the outright ACC champion vs. the outright Big Ten champion, and two of the 10 winningest programs in college basketball history that have combined to secure 10 national titles. And from a pure basketball perspective, UNC and IU have the nation’s fifth-best and eighth-best offenses, which leads me to …
12. OFFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Ten of the nation’s 12 most-efficient offenses belong to teams still playing in this NCAA Tournament, whereas only six of the nation’s 12 most-efficient defenses belong to teams still playing. In other words, it’s great to be great on both ends of the court. But, it seems, it’s more important to be great on the offensive end of the court.
The best offensive team still playing is Iowa State.
The worst is Wisconsin.
The best defensive team still playing is Virginia.
The worst is Notre Dame.
13. WE COULD HAVE AN ALL-ACC FINAL FOUR
Yes, it’s unlikely. But it is possible and not even that far-fetched. All the ACC needs to pull off this incredible achievement is for North Carolina or Notre Dame to win the East, Virginia or Syracuse to win the Midwest, Duke to win the West, and Miami to win the South.
Do I think it’ll happen?
But I could see it happening.
Either way, here’s what I think will happen:
14. THE FINAL FOUR WILL NOW LIKELY BE …
- Kansas vs. Oklahoma
- North Carolina vs. Virginia
15. THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME WILL NOW LIKELY BE …
- Kansas vs. North Carolina
16. THE NATIONAL CHAMPION WILL NOW LIKELY BE …