Well, the first weekend of the tournament is over. While Philadelphia was nice, especially after getting a reasonably priced hotel near the arena, I probably should've headed down to Miami for it. Four of the six games at the FU Center were completely uncompetitive, meaning I headed for the exits early during two of the three sessions to head to bars to watch the other games available at the time. Three years after witnessing about a thousand typos on announcements shown at the 2006 Final Four, the NCAA still needs an editor, as they spelled Wilt Chamberlain's name wrong on one of their audience participation (FAIL) games shown during breaks. They also need to amp up the music just a hair, as the pregame music played in the arena sounded like Lithium/Lucy on XM, only without any ONIONS! (Though, I must say I was pleased to hear Sloan in an American arena, if only for a fleeting moment).
So after spending the past two days trying to rebound from four days of basketball bliss, catching up at the office, I return this evening ready to look back. To do this, I'll take a look at some of the great and not-so-great performances of the first two rounds. And since this site is focused on the selection and seeding process, we'll look at things in this way. Who played above their heads? Who was a disappointment?
The Protected Seeds (Seeds 1 through 4)
Considering that only two teams seeded below line 4 are in the Sweet 16, I think this group accounted for themselves almost exactly as they were supposed to. These 16 teams managed to go 29-2 during the first weekend. The two losses were by four seeds Wake Forest, who went from a number 1 ranking to being dumped out unceremoniously in round one, begging for mercy from yet another Horizon League tournament opponent, and Washington, who didn't take advantage of the quasi-homecourt advantage they had in Portland and lost to Purdue, a team that had a case to be here.
While Oklahoma, Syracuse, and Villanova made strong cases for why they can claim the title in less than two weeks, the four one seeds will have a lot to say about that. UConn has quieted the debate about their position on the top line by being the most impressive team in the tournament so far. The other three one seeds have all been pushed, Louisville by Siena in round two, North Carolina by LSU at the same stage, and Pitt (who I'm calling the Iron City-Drinking Surrender Monkeys until further notice) in both rounds. Memphis's case for inclusion took a severe hit with the struggle they had with Cal State-Northridge in round one and the arena-wide gasps that ensued.
The Above Average (Seeds 5 and 6)
This group didn't do quite so well, as the aforementioned Boilermakers are the only team left of the eight. They were the only five seed to survive the dreaded 5/12 matchup this year. Florida State. Illinois, and Utah all fell victim to the annual tradition. The six seeds were luckier to start, with only West Virginia falling victim to an 11 seed (though UCLA and Marquette came very close). But only the Golden Eagles managed to put up a major fight in round two. Three six seeds made the Regional round in 2005, since then only West Virginia in 2006 and Vanderbilt in 2007 have made it that far.
The Meaty Middle (Seeds 7 through 10)
Since there can be so much shuffling between these four seed lines, it's often hard to get a grasp of who the real favorites in 7/10 and 8/9 games are. This year was no different, as the 8/9 games were an even split and the 10 seed won their opener three out of four times. BYU was the loser in the only 8/9 game decided by double-digits, but that game could have been far different had Texas A&M not been hotter than sun at the start of the game. Obviously, none of the eight victors managed to go any further, but Siena, Oklahoma State, USC, and Texas pushed their higher seeded opponents further than many had expected.
Featuring "The Last Ones In" (Seeds 11 through 12)
The last two at-larges, Arizona and Wisconsin, managed to win their openers, and the Wildcats are on their way to a Regional in Indy. Does this mean they were more deserving than the teams in the First Four Out group? Not necessarily. I firmly believe that, especially in years like this, there are at least three or four teams who are left out who can win a game or two in the tournament. Saint Mary's, with a now healthy Patty Mills and Penn State are two who immediately jump to my mind. Dayton, the only at-large on the 11 line also did a great job by knocking out a West Virginia team who's usually good for at least one tourney win.
Results for the five automatic qualifiers in this group were a bit disappointing. Western Kentucky was the only one to register a victory, becoming the first team to win two years in a row as a 12 seed. (And they nearly became the first team to make it to a Regional two years in a row as a 12.) But of the other four conference winners, Temple was the only team to not really threaten (despite the 9-point margin). 11 seeds Utah State and VCU pushed their sixth-seeded opponents to the very end, while 12 seed Northern Iowa staged a furious comeback against Purdue that wasn't enough in the end.
The Automatic Qualifiers (Seeds 13 through 16)
Only one of these 16 teams managed to pick up a victory, with Cleveland State ensuring Wake Forest never schedules another Horizon League opponent again, but so many of these teams disproved their seed lines during their losses, especially the 14-16 seeds.
How much closer would American-Villanova been had it been played anywhere other than the Wildcats' part-time home court? That matchup became a foul shooting contest at the end, something Nova will win 99 out of 100 times. North Dakota State had the homecourt advantage in Minneapolis, with busloads of fans making the trip from Fargo and other parts of the Peace Garden State, all infected with Bison Fever. Yet, they didn't have an answer for Cole Aldrich and couldn't create enough turnovers to pull off the upset.
Cal State-Northridge, a team I and many others had pegged as a 16, proved they weren't deserving of that fate by giving Memphis a major scare. And of the teams who did fit on the final line, Chattanooga and Radford certainly played the expected role, but Opening Round winner Morehead State gave Louisville a battle for a bit more than a half and ETSU, who should've probably been higher, gave the ICDSMs a battle for 37 minutes in the city where I feel a #1 will one day fall.
Sweet Sixteen picks tomorrow evening.