Written by: Will Rymer (@PopeWolfgang)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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Like every year, March provides all who watch the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with heartwarming stories, upsets that are met with either grief or awestruck wonder, and the inevitable drama that unfolds in most games that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s time to sit back and assess what has transpired in the first weekend and maybe how to keep your bracket intact a bit longer next year.
Every year there is the search for a Cinderella team that defies all odds and makes a deep run into the tournament, upsetting some of the top seeds. Many people want to make Georgia State that team, but the shoe simply doesn't fit. While there is a unique father-son dynamic and the return of Kevin Ware who suffered a gruesome injury in the tournament with Louisville, their run simply wasn't long enough. Most people’s New Year resolutions last longer than Georgia State did in the tournament, so it simply won’t work.
How the conferences performed is also something interesting to note. The ACC was stellar and so was the PAC-12. The ACC has further solidified it's place as the premier basketball conference, but the PAC-12 has also put together a near perfect record in the first two rounds. While the PAC-12 seemed to benefit from some fortuitous match-ups, they have put on an impressive display. With the only loss coming from Oregon who was bested by top seed Wisconsin, this should be a conference to watch for in the future.
The SEC has shown just what this year has been all about for them. Outside of Kentucky, SEC teams combined for one win against Wofford. This kind of performance is an anomaly, because the conference generally performs well as a whole. This year is all about Kentucky though, and nobody has been able to stop them. With the rest of the nation enlisted, only time will tell if the dream of a perfect season will finally come to a close. The Big-10 has made sure nobody forgets about them. In a “down” year for the conference, teams seem to be faring relatively well.
The Big-12 was highly touted coming in to the tournament, but a pair of upsets by fourteen seeds ended any hope of conference dominance. With Kansas losing the matchup against in-state foe Wichita State, West Virginia and Oklahoma are somewhat surprisingly the only teams left in the field. The Big East showed exactly what it's current state of affairs is: several top thirty teams and no real national contender. Xavier’s run to the Sweet 16 has come off the back of two victories over double digit seeds. Facing off against Arizona will finally provide a test to see what they are made of, and it almost certainly will result in another Elite 8 berth for Arizona.
Brackets? While it was unforeseen by most that a searing hot Iowa State team would lose in the first round, there are trends to keep in mind the next time you’re tempted to pick Villanova.
Ride the hot team: Remember Kemba Walker? He led an average team to a conference and national championship. How a team performs at the end of a season is usually indicative of what they will do in the tournament. We’re dealing with trends and not iron law, so Iowa State might be a team you’ll just have to bite the bullet on. Virginia would have been a success story for this trend. An injured player is struggling in his return? Bet against them.
Coaches make substantial differences: Traditional Big-10 powers have excellent coaches. Tom Izzo has a way of milking the most out of his team, and this claim is evident by the consistency of quality runs in the tournament by the Spartans. Ohio State is another quality team and did well to win their first game. The second round matchup was a tough draw which brought an end to their tournament. Wisconsin looks poised to make a deep run and possibly trouble Kentucky. Bo Ryan is another excellent coach whose teams had a history of not living up to expectations until their recent Final Four appearance.
Most importantly, do not bet against greatness: Great individuals can be contained, but teams with great players who value the success of the team above their own are not to be messed with. Kentucky is such a team. The depth Kentucky has makes it nearly impossible for someone to not buy into the system. Duke and Wisconsin have similar mentalities and are still dancing. Villanova doesn't have a player that can consistently take over a game. Virginia’s stifling defense wasn't enough against a Spartan team who had a superior game plan. Nobody was able to take over the game for the Cavaliers, and they paid the price
Final Four predictions from the remainder of the field?
Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan State, and Duke.