The wild ride is over and the tournament can now settle in. The four craziest days in sports concluded this evening and the field of 64 has been rapidly pared to 16. The Big Ten has held its own so far in the tournament. No major breakthroughs, but we've held steady. The conference went 4-3 in Thursday and Friday's opening round. Illinois lost as a #5 seed, but Wisconsin won as a #12 to balance it out. Minnesota had a tough draw to Texas and went out. Michigan State won its gimme game as a #2 seed, and Purdue won as a #5. Michigan surprised a lot of people by beating Clemson, a #10 taking out a #7. Ohio State's double-overtime loss to Siena was the main disappointment, but overall the conference had the higher seed in four of the seven games and won precisely that many.
The second round saw the league outperform expectations. Purdue beat Washington, and Michigan State again held serve in beating USC. The Boilers and Spartans, the co-favorites back in November, are the only two left standing. Given that the seedings favored only MSU to survive this weekend, this has to be considered a success, albeit a modest one.
The bracket has been very chalk. 14 of the 16 teams favored to get to the Sweet 16 are there. Purdue, as a #5 seed, hardly qualifies as a major shock. Only #12-seed Arizona is really a surprise based on the seedings, and even here, this was a trendy upset pick, given the Wildcats' strong history and early season success this year. I still stand by my belief (one almost universally shared, it seemed) that 'Zona did not belong in the tournament. They went 9-9 in a very mediocre league and the fact they managed to beat Utah and Cleveland State on a neutral floor does not change that.
My own bracket has survived major challenges, as my Final Four is still intact, and only Arizona State is missing from my final eight. But I've suffered death by a thousand cuts in other ways. I had a near miss on an upset pick of Utah State over Marquette, along with Northern Iowa over Purdue. I took fliers on Michigan and Arizona State to survive the weekend and they didn't. In the end, I hit ten of the Sweet 16, which is just like a 10-6 record in the NFL. Not bad, but nothing earth-shattering. Picking against teams that got hot during conference tournament weekend is normally reliable, but not this year. Purdue's come up big. USC beat Boston College, and Syracuse is still around.
Here's a brief recap of the last four days, region by region, with a special emphasis on Big Ten teams.
Pitt got a scare on both days, but managed to survive. Wisconsin made a spirited run at joining the Panthers in Boston next weekend. Jason Bohannon hit four three-pointers to lead an upset of Florida State on Friday night in overtime, 61-59. But he went cold on Sunday, along with the rest of the team, as they shot 28 percent against Xavier. Trevon Hughes scored 17 and Marcus Landry hung up 18 points and 10 rebounds. But the Musketeers advanced.
Duke made the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. They survived a scare from Texas. The Devils likely would have lost had this decision gone to overtime, given Kyle Singler had fouled out, but they were able to get a couple key shots and pull out a 74-69. The Longhorns had previously eliminated Minnesota by hitting 11-of-20 from treyland and overcoming a strong 19-point game from Lawrence Westbrook.
Villanova's the fourth team to make the regionals. I made the one hour drive to Philly to watch the Saturday games there and 'Nova absolutely dismantled UCLA for the home crowd. Should be a great game when they face off with Duke come Thursday.
North Carolina got Ty Lawson back against LSU and advanced. They will play Gonzaga, who escaped Western Kentucky on a buzzer-beater. Illinois wasn't so lucky in the first round. They lost to the Hilltoppers 76-72. Illinois lost the fight on the boards 35-28 and center Mike Tisdale got only one rebound. Trent Meacham was heroic in defeat, scoring 24 points.
Syracuse moved on with a win over Arizona State, and Michigan's season ended against Oklahoma. UM beat Clemson in the opener. Manny Harris popped in 23 and strong three-point shooting enabled the Wolverines to overcome a big rebounding deficit. But there was no answer for Blake Griffin on Saturday, as the Sooner star delivered a sizzling 33-point, 17-rebound performance.
It was a gut-wrencher for Ohio State, as two huge three-point shots helped Siena rip the heart out of Buckeye Nation. Evan Turner was splendid as always with 25 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. But all five Siena starters were in double-digits, while Turner had precious little help. As a result, the Saints got the crack at Louisville and gave the top-seeded Cards a tough run before faltering today. Louisville draws Arizona in the Sweet 16.
Michigan State advanced out of their pod. They had a slow start against Robert Morris, but recovered before things got too hairy. Then they beat USC today behind 18 points from Travis Walton. Goran Suton hauled in 27 rebounds over the course of the weekend. The Spartans try and derail defending national champion Kansas when this region arrives in Indianapolis.
UConn was the other team I saw in person in Philly, as they easily rolled over Texas A&M. They now await Purdue. The Boilermakers won two tough games by prevailing at the line. They outscored Northern Iowa by seven at the stripe and won by five. Against Washington the margins were five and two respectively. E'Twaun Moore led the way with 17 in the first game and JaJuan Johnson starred with 22 in the second.
This bracket's other game is the one section of the field where no Big Ten team was involved. Missouri beat Marquette to advance, while Memphis destroyed Maryland.