Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, March 21, 2016 at 7:00 AM
It was well understood that PARITY was going to loom very large over the 2016 NCAA Tournament heading into last week’s early action. Looks like too many fans and pundits took that to mean that superpowers like Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia were going to be in trouble. Hey, those teams closed the season very well! Turned out that it was many of the non-champs from major conferences who were going to be nailed by the relative flatness of the college basketball landscape this season.
Let’s start in the Big 10…
*Regular season runner-up Michigan State didn’t look anything like a #2 seed from start to finish in their stunning loss to #15 seed Middle Tennessee. It was one of the biggest upsets in Dance history with a 16-point spread (not the biggest ever though, as we have seen 20-point dogs cash). Too many (including the computers) fell in love with “the best” that Sparty could bring to the table. Easy to forget this team lost twice to Iowa, and even lost a home game as big favorites to Nebraska. That close win over Purdue in the Big 10 championship game turned out to be a false indicator for BOTH teams! The Big 10 just wasn’t very good this year.
*Purdue was nothing special in an overtime loss to Arkansas-Little Rock. Sure, the Boilermakers suffered some bad luck late in regulation. But…this game wasn’t supposed to go down to the wire in the first place!
*Iowa was lucky to survive borderline Dance team Temple in overtime in the first round, then got absolutely obliterated in the second round by Villanova. They trailed by 30 points in the first half! That just made Michigan State look even worse.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Big 10, with Indiana’s win over Kentucky being a clear highlight. Still, most of the teams who were supposed to go deep couldn’t even get out of the starting gates.
Similar story in the Big 12…
*Baylor lost in the first session to Yale, even though they were supposed to have learned a lesson from losing their opener last year to Georgia State. Didn’t help that Charles Barkley said in pre-game that Baylor would crush the Ivy League underdog.
*West Virginia was a popular darkhorse choice to go the distance as a #3 seed given their strong run in the league this year. They lost by double digits to Stephen F. Austin!
*Texas supposedly “bought” dance magic when they hired Shaka Smart to be their head coach. Northern Iowa enjoyed the magical ending with a halfcourt buzzer shot to pull the stunner.
*Texas Tech was outclassed by generic Butler.
Kansas is through to the Sweet 16, continuing their stellar late-season form. Iowa State is too thanks to catching Little Rock in a letdown spot. Great things can still happen for the league...but it’s harder to see the Big 12 as “a great league” any more.
Of course…the biggest disasters were in the Pac 12…
*Arizona was supposed to be the most dangerous league team in the tournament. They couldn’t get past tired Wichita State in the first round.
*Utah was a popular darkhorse pick at #3 in the media, despite questionable computer numbers. They didn’t impress vs. Fresno State before getting throttled by Gonzaga.
*California had some bad injury luck through the week, but still didn’t play with much fire in its loss to underdog Hawaii.
*USC had an ugly nailbiter with Providence (who was then crushed by North Carolina). The Trojans forget to protect the basket in the final second and got sent packing.
*Oregon State was a surprisingly big 4-point underdog to VCU as a #7 seed facing a #10. They played even worse than the market expected.
*Colorado was also an underdog as a superior seed in its opener, and also didn’t cover its loss to Connecticut.
The stage was set for this when the committee did such a bad job of seeding the middle of the brackets. But, parity across the land was a big issue too. There’s just not much relevant difference in a 40-minute showdown between…say…the third place teams in the major conferences and the best teams in the smaller conferences.
What will this mean in the Sweet 16 and beyond. The tough task now is determining which powers might look mortal in their coming matchups. North Carolina’s in great form…but Indiana can play with anybody. Virginia isn’t going to terrify Iowa State. Will we continue to see parity scramble the brackets? Or, will the elites continue their elevated level of performances?
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