5 Things We Learned From the First 2 Rounds of the NCAA Tournament
College basketball fans have spent most of the last week gorging themselves on a buffet of hoops action, as the NCAA tournament field went from 68 to 16. Here’s what we’ve learned:
It Doesn’t Take Long to Bust a Bracket
By the end of the NCAA tournament’s first full day, UAB had knocked off third-seeded Iowa State in the South Region and Georgia State shocked third-seeded Baylor in the West. For all of the upsets that pundits hinted could happen in the first round of the tournament, few saw those two high seeds falling to unproven teams who were fortunate to make the field at all.
The East Region was the most unpredictable. Perennial March giant-killer Dayton knocked out sixth-seeded Providence on Friday, while N.C. State upset Villanova, the region’s top-seed, on Saturday. Then on Sunday, Michigan State shocked second-seeded Virginia. Oklahoma and Louisville completed the region’s Sweet 16 representatives.
Kentucky & Duke Look Unbeatable
OK, we already knew that Kentucky and Duke were great. Still, it would have been easy for both teams to sleepwalk through the early rounds, but neither did.
The top-seeded Wildcats drubbed Hampton and Cincinnati in the Midwest Region and became the first NCAA Division I team to start a season 36-0. Karl Anthony-Towns scored a career-high 21 points against Hampton, and Willie Cauley-Stein’s monster dunk kick-started the rout of the Bearcats.
Meanwhile, Duke’s average margin of victory was 24 points in wins over Robert Morris and San Diego State in the South Region. The Blue Devils shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the two routs, and freshman center Jahlil Okafor scored a combined 47 points in the two games.
If these college basketball powers do meet in the national championship game, it could be the most anticipated final in decades.
The Big 12 Isn’t That Good; The ACC & Pac-12 Are
Remember when everyone said the Big 12 was the best basketball conference this season? Well, Oklahoma and West Virginia were the lone Big 12 teams to survive the NCAA tournament’s first weekend. The conference’s seven teams finished with a combined record of 5-5. Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas left the tourney without a win, while Kansas was bounced by Wichita State in Sunday’s second round.
Conversely, Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 teams did very well. A traditional basketball power conference, the ACC placed five teams in the Sweet 16: Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Louisville and N.C. State. Virginia’s surprising defeat to Michigan State on Sunday represented the conference’s only loss in the tourney thus far, leaving its record at 11-1.
From the Pac-12, Arizona, Utah and UCLA each advanced to the Sweet 16, while Oregon nearly upset top-seeded Wisconsin on Sunday in the West. Even with the Ducks’ loss, the conference’s four teams had a stellar 7-1 showing over the first two rounds.
UCLA & N.C. State Are Lucky (& Good)
Both UCLA and N.C. State have more storied basketball legacies than their recent tournament performances might suggest. Each team lived up to its pedigree in this year’s tournament.
UCLA knocked off sixth-seeded SMU thanks to a fortunate goaltending call in the waning seconds. The call was right, but the shot likely wouldn’t have found the inside of the hoop. The Bruins then blew out UAB in the second round to make the Sweet 16 for the second straight year under coach Steve Alford. Of course, had the Blazers not shocked Iowa State on Thursday, maybe UCLA has a tougher time advancing.
N.C. State seemed headed for another first-round exit on Thursday, trailing LSU for much of the second-half. The inconsistent Wolfpack found its confidence and BeeJay Anya hit a buzzer-beater to steal the win. The ‘Cardiac Pack’ needed more magic on Saturday when they nearly squandered a double-digit lead to top-seeded Villanova. However, they escaped and advanced. Even the staunchest ACC fan couldn’t have predicted N.C. State would be one of the nation’s last 16 teams standing, but they are.
Ratings Are Way Up
Whether it was during a long lunch, after work or over the weekend, you likely watched March Madness. According to an NCAA release, the first three days of the tournament averaged a record-setting 6.5/14 overnight rating/share. Saturday’s games were said to be up 14 percent in comparison to 2014’s games.
With ratings darlings like Kentucky, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Louisville and Duke still alive, more records could be set.