For all the hoopla and hysteria made each March about shockers and mid-majors and never-seen-befores, it never seems to fail that when push comes to shove and we start getting into the brass-tacks portion of the NCAA Tournament, the biggest names from the biggest conferences in college basketball pretty much own center stage.
Oh, we’ll get a Virginia Commonwealth or a George Mason or a Wichita State in the Final Four mix every once in a while, or a Butler going absolutely insane and qualifying for back-to-back national championship game appearances, but, really, truly, when do the underdogs ever rule the day … outside of an early-round upset?
Butler, which, ironically, isn’t even considered an anomaly among the power schools anymore since joining the new Big East two years ago, came closest in 2010 when the Bulldogs dropped the title game to Duke only when Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt desperation shot clanged off the rim to cap a 61-59 Blue Devils’ victory.
But, frankly, that’s starting to get pretty darn blurry in the rearview mirror anymore, and a futile effort against Connecticut a year later in which the Bulldogs were completely overmatched does little to clear it.
So, here we are, about to enter the second week of the sport’s signature event … and nothing has changed.
What about Gonzaga, you say? OK, what about the Zags … they’re seeded 11th in the Midwest Region, square off against 10th-seeded Syracuse Friday night in the Sweet 16’s most intriguing matchup – because neither of the programs are lightweight, and both are NCAA regulars. For heaven’s sake, Gonzaga has been to this thing for 18 straight years now.
It is THE mid-major entity in the entire country, and has been for more than a decade.
It is the PREEMINENT non-major ... that is more “major” than most majors.
In technical terms, yes, Gonzaga, representing the ridiculously underrated West Coast Conference, where Brigham Young and Saint Mary’s also wreak havoc, is the only “no name” still alive. But we’re not exactly talking about an out-of-nowhere Dunk City sensation in Florida Gulf Coast here. We’re talking about an established, well-known, often-televised outfit in the Zags … who, if anything, have been ripped for not doing more damage in the postseason.
But, as the only non-major among the teams remaining, they’re the “little guys” left in this one – with a national player of the year candidate in Kyle Wiltjer and a future lottery pick in Domantas Sabonis on the roster.
All told, the Atlantic Coast Conference has six teams in action this NCAA weekend, the Big 12 and Big 10 three apiece, and the Pac-12, Southeastern and Big East one each.
All four 1-seeds are alive, two 2s, two 3s and two 4s. So, in short, 10 out of 16 expected to reach Week 2, according the NCAA selection committee’s bracket-making, actually have done so.
The “outliers” include two 5s, a 6 and a 7 in Wisconsin which just played in last year’s title game.
Oh, Cinderella, where have you gone …
Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday Night SOUTH REGION Louisville, Ky. (3) Miami vs. (2) Villanova (5) Maryland vs. (1) Kansas WEST REGION Anaheim, Calif. (3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Oklahoma (4) Duke vs. (1) Oregon
Friday Night MIDWEST REGION Chicago, Ill. (4) Iowa State vs. (1) Virginia (11) Gonzaga vs. (10) Syracuse EAST REGION Philadelphia, Pa. (7) Wisconsin vs. (6) Notre Dame (5) Indiana vs. (1) North Carolina
PICKING ’EM FROM HERE
Elite Eight SOUTH REGION Villanova vs. Kansas WEST REGION Oklahoma vs. Duke MIDWEST REGION Virginia vs. Gonzaga EAST REGION Wisconsin vs. North Carolina
Final Four Kansas vs. Oklahoma Gonzaga vs. North Carolina