Just a week ago, we started off with 68, and now we are down to 16 teams.
Many a bracket was busted this week, with upsets by Wisconsin over the defending national champion Villanova, South Carolina (making their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 1990s) over national powerhouse Duke, Michigan over 2013 NCAA tournament champion Louisville, and Xavier over #3 seed Florida State (in Orlando, no less).
Also featured amongst the Sweet 16 were close calls from North Carolina (using a 10-0 run over Arkansas to advance), Kentucky (which needed two blocked shots to fend off Wichita State), Baylor (holding off USC), Arizona (holding off Saint Mary’s after trailing in the second half), Gonzaga (holding a lead despite a furious Northwestern comeback), and Oregon (hitting two clutch threes in the final minutes to knock off upset-minded Rhode Island).
If I have learned anything in the past few editions of the NCAA Tournament is that you can’t really predict who will win it all. Several underdog teams (in just the past six years alone)
#8 Butler returning to the National Championship game and becoming the first #8 seed since 2000 to make it to the final four, #11 Virginia Commonwealth (who nobody thought would even make the NCAA tournament) making a run from the inaugural first four to the final four, mid majors San Diego State (with eventual NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard) and BYU (with Chinese Basketball Association superstar Jimmer Fredette), #10 seed Florida State, #11 seed Marquette, and #12 seed Richmond making it to the Sweet 16.
#10 Xavier beating #15 Lehigh, who upset the Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina State making it to the Sweet 16, losing to Kansas by three, #13 Ohio taking UNC to double overtime in the same round, and #15 Norfolk State beating Missouri.
#9 Wichita State making it to their first Final Four, despite playing five against eight late in that contest, #13 La Salle (Philadelphia) making it to the Sweet 16, #14 Harvard upsetting New Mexico, and who could forget #15 Florida Gulf Coast (aka Dunk City) making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen by beating national powerhouse Georgetown and mid-major San Diego State?
#7 UConn needing over time to beat St. Josephs and eventually winning it all, #8 Kentucky upsetting previously undefeated Wichita State and making it to the title game, #10 Stanford making it to the Sweet Sixteen, #11 Tennessee making it to the Sweet Sixteen by beating #14 Mercer, who upset Duke, and #11 Dayton making it to the Elite Eight, upsetting national powerhouses Ohio State and Syracuse.
#14 seeds Georgia State and UAB knocking off Baylor and Iowa State, respectively, #7 Michigan State making it to the Final Four, #8 NC State making it to the Sweet Sixteen, and #11 UCLA (another team nobody thought should have been in the tournament) making it to the Sweet Sixteen.
#11 Northern Iowa beating Texas on a half-court buzzer beater, but blowing a double digit lead with 44 seconds to go, and losing in double overtime, #12 Yale defeating Baylor in their first tournament appearance since 1950, #12 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating Purdue in overtime,#13 Hawai’i making their first tournament appearance since 2003, upsetting California, #14 Stephen F. Austin upsetting West Virginia and coming within one point of making the Sweet 16, #15 Middle Tennessee State upsetting tournament favorite Michigan State, #11 Gonzaga making a run to the Sweet Sixteen, and #10 Syracuse (ANOTHER team people said shouldn’t have been in the tournament) making it all the way to the Final Four.
Of the underdog teams remaining, the likeliest (in my opinion) to make the Elite Eight are #7 Michigan (who has played really well since the Big Ten Tournament), in fact, don’t be surprised to see That Team Up North make the Final Four, and #7 South Carolina. South Carolina’s a great underdog story who played good ball during the season, and scored points in bunches in the second half against Duke.
There’s still a lot of tournament ball left to play over these next couple of weeks. Will there be one (or more) upsets? Or will the big dogs make their move? Play restarts on Thursday evening. Only time will tell…