By Andrew Kahn
To measure the unpredictability of this year’s NCAA Tournament, consider two items that didn’t make this column: Gonzaga, a 32-win team on a 15-game win streak, didn’t survive the first weekend, and Harvard, a 14 seed, won its first ever Tournament game, knocking off New Mexico, the best team in a very competitive Mountain West. The following are the highlights from the four wildest days on the sports calendar—flagrant foul graphic not included.
It’s easy to go back to Florida Gulf Coast’s 12-point win over Miami on Nov. 13 and wonder why you didn’t consider the Eagles in your bracket. But remember, this team didn’t even win its conference, losing to Lipscomb (twice) and East Tennessee State. On top of that, FGCU was given a 15 seed—only five times had a 15 seed won an NCAA Tournament game. None of that matters now, as the Eagles, out of the Atlantic Sun, are the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. They did so by dominating the second half against both Georgetown and San Diego State, while unleashing several highlight-reel dunks. The state of Florida is well represented in the Sweet 16, as the University of Florida and Miami also advanced.
The Big Ten was the best conference in college hoops this season, and while a single-elimination tournament is not the best way to prove that, the league has risen to the occasion. Four teams—Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan—are in the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes survived the first weekend for the fourth straight year, as Aaron Craft’s three with .5 seconds left against Iowa State was the closest thing to a buzzer beater so far. Indiana also needed some big plays down the stretch to beat Temple. The two Michigan schools dominated the opening rounds but will be underdogs on Friday. Minnesota, an 11 seed, and Illinois, both won their openers, while Wisconsin was the only Big Ten team that didn’t win a game.
Slighted on Selection Sunday, the Pac 12 can be proud of its performance in the Big Dance. While it hasn’t had the success of the Big Ten, Oregon, a 12 seed, and Arizona, a 6, are both still alive; Cal also won a game as a 12 seed. It wasn’t all sunny for the conference: Colorado and UCLA both lost in the first round, and the Bruins’ early exit led to Ben Howland’s firing.
In every season of its three-year history, a team has gone from the “First Four” to the Sweet 16. La Salle is the latest example; the 13 seed Explorers handled Boise State on Wednesday and then beat Kansas State and Ole Miss, each by two points. La Salle wasn’t a popular pick entering the Tournament. It appeared the Explorers may have peaked in January when they beat Butler and VCU in consecutive games. Since those wins, they hadn’t beaten any of the Atlantic 10’s Tournament teams and lost in the first round of the conference tourney. Tyrone Garland’s difficult layup with 2 seconds left gave them the win over Ole Miss. Ninth-seeded Wichita State awaits in the Sweet 16.
Last year’s NCAA Tournament didn’t include any buzzer beaters and featured just one overtime period. Given the craziness of this year’s regular season, many expected Big Dance drama. While there have been a lot of unexpected outcomes, there hasn’t been a true buzzer beater or any overtime periods. Among the missed shots at the buzzer that would have changed an outcome or forced overtime: St. Mary’s vs. Memphis; Kansas State and Ole Miss vs. La Salle; and Butler vs. Marquette.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.