NCAA Tournament- Sweet Sixteen Conference Breakdown
It’s been a couple days since the Round of 32. The dust has settled, and a little under a quarter of the field of 68 still remain. Teams have gone home. Careers have ended. And yet, 16 teams are still alive. Let’s check back in on the six power conferences and see how they stack up.
Tournament Teams (4)- Duke, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State
Remaining Tournament Teams (2)- Duke, Miami
Verdict- A lot of question marks remain for the conference after a second round that didn’t go exactly as planned. North Carolina blew an 11-point lead against rival Kansas in what amounted to a home game for the Jayhawks. The Lawrence, Kansas campus lies just minutes from Kansas City and the very vocal, and very partisan crowd, let the overmatched and undersized UNC team know it. North Carolina simply didn’t have the strength inside to maintain their lead once Kansas got back on track. Yet, despite an early exit, the most painful part of the season for Tar Heel fans begins now- who stays and who goes? The decisions of sophomores James Michael McAdoo, PJ Hairston, and junior Reggie Bullock, could very well determine whether the team takes a step forward, or backward next year. Since none of the players are seen as first-round locks, most experts, Coach Roy Williams included, see a much stronger and more veteran Tar Heel team taking the court next year.
But what North Carolina has to gain, Duke and Miami have to lose. How far can these veteran teams go before their seasons end and they lose the leadership of players like Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Kenny Kadji? Both senior-laden teams put together solid, yet unimpressive wins over inferior opponents. They face tougher competition in the Sweet Sixteen in a strong Michigan State team (Duke), and a Marquette team that keeps on winning even when it shouldn’t. News of out Coral Gables today is not encouraging for the Hurricanes, who will be missing floor-swallowing big-man Reggie Johnson, who had a procedure done and did not travel with the team. How they can adjust without him will say a lot about their chances to move on.
Tournament Teams (5)- Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas
Remaining Tournament Teams (1)- Kansas
Verdict- As usual, Kansas continues to carry the banner for the Big 12 Conference. After an impressive comeback win over North Carolina, the Jayhawks move on to face the best team that Michigan has had since the Fab Five of the early nineties. A team, that ironically, none of the current players would remember. Needless to say, Kansas has their work cut out for them to match the energy of Michigan’s Trey Burke. But don’t count out Bill Self’s team just yet. It isn’t easy to win a national championship, or 300 games at one school, but as of Sunday, Self has done both. The x-factor will be how the Jayhawks can handle being away from the home environment that the early rounds in Kansas City gave them.
Tournament Teams (8)- Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Villanova, Georgetown, Syracuse, Marquette
Remaining Tournament Teams (3)- Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette
Verdict- Marquette survived again and future ACC members Louisville and Syracuse moved on. That seems to be the story of the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the Big East. But how many times can the Golden Eagles escape elimination? To put things in perspective, Marquette, a seminal tournament team, and the collegiate home of Dwyane Wade, has won both of their tournament games by a total of 3 points. The (regular) Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast have won their first two round games by a total of 20 points in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. If the Miami Hurricanes are able to play to their full potential this weekend, except to see the Golden Eagles packing their bags when the final buzzer sounds. As for Louisville, a favorable matchup with a surprising Oregon team should leave them on-guard, but confident for another appearance in the Elite Eight. Syracuse must contain Cody Zeller, the “Big Handsome,” and Victor Oladipo if they want to move past the Hoosiers.
Tournament Teams (7)- Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois
Remaining Tournament Teams (4)- Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana
Verdict- The Big Ten currently leads all BCS conferences with 57% of its eligible teams still alive in the Big Dance (compared to 50% for the ACC, 20% for the Big 12, 37.5% for the Big East, 40% for the Pac-12 and 33% for the SEC). Yet, slowly, but surely, their dominance has chipped away. Difficult matchups with top teams Duke (#2 seed), Kansas (#1 seed) and Syracuse (#4 seed- should have been seeded above Marquette) make the performance of the conference in the Sweet Sixteen a crucial part in determining whether the league is a contender, or over-hyped pretender. Ohio State also can’t look past an Arizona team that will come out strong after rolling-over inferior opposition. The most interesting development to come out of the Midwest? The firing of Minnesota Coach Tubby Smith. While, Smith never got the job done like he did during his championship-winning tenure at Kentucky, it’s certainly curious to wonder whether the Golden Gophers think they can bring someone better to the great white north. The firing of Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech, a perennial bubble coach, led to numerous transfers, and a plummet in the standings at the worst possible time. Will Minnesota bounce back, or fall down?
Tournament Teams (5)- Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, California, Colorado
Remaining Tournament Teams (2)- Oregon, Arizona
Verdict- The Confidential’s prediction of the firing of Ben Howland became prophetic when his departure from UCLA was announced earlier this week. While the change wasn’t surprising (there have been strange rumblings surrounding the program for years), the rejections by VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stephens for the head coaching position, may have come as a shock to Bruins fans. As Oregon continues to overachieve, and Arizona faces its first truly tough matchup of the tournament, the news out of Westwood remains the most compelling. Will current NC State coach Mark Gottfried, who has numerous UCLA ties, make his way across the country next season? Only he knows. But if current juniors CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown follow through with rumored plans to enter the NBA Draft, and UCLA offers Gottfried the job, you can bet that he won’t be wearing red again anytime soon.
Tournament Teams (3) – Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida, Kentucky
Remaining Tournament Teams (1)- Florida
Verdict- In the end, Ole Miss’ surprising season came to an end at the hand of another unexpected tournament team, First Four survivor La Salle. Marshall Henderson did his best to keep the Rebels alive, but it wasn’t enough, as Florida became the only SEC team remaining at the end of the Round of 32. The Gators face an interesting in-state matchup with tournament darling, Florida Gulf Coast, who has cruised through the first two rounds after making the field for the first time. While they have the firepower to move on to the Elite Eight, the Gators have to remember that this Eagles team beat another in-state rival, fellow Sweet Sixteen team, Miami, earlier this season. Can Florida save the reputation of the conference, in a way that a floundering Kentucky team could not? Or will it just be another stop in a surprising run by everyone’s new favorite Cinderella.
While the excitement of the first four days has ended, and games cannot be found on TV all-day everyday anymore, intriguing third round matchups create an exciting and potentially unpredictable Sweet Sixteen. It is almost impossible to predict who will be left standing after this weekend, and after all, who would want to? With this year, it’s just more fun to go along for the ride.