NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend: Winners and Losers

Travis MillerAnalyst IMarch 23, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - MARCH 20:  Ben Woodside #10 of the North Dakota State Bison looks on against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on March 20, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kansas won 84-74. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Remember the days when it wasn't far-fetched to argue in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference as the best conference in college basketball?

Those days are gone.

Remember when it was trendy to write about how Arizona didn't belong in the NCAA Tournament?

Seems like forever ago.

Remember when it wasn't funny to make fun of Luke Harangody and Notre Dame?

Yeah, me neither.

Conferences, teams, and players emerged as gold mines or complete busts in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament this past weekend. Here are the winners and losers.

Winner: Big Ten

Though only two conference teams remain and three went out in the first round, the Big Ten successfully defended its seven bids and, more importantly, its style of play.

The landmark games for the conference were Michigan beating Clemson and Wisconsin beating Florida State in the first round, and Purdue taking out Washington to advance to the Sweet 16.

ACC/Big Ten challenge? What?

Western Kentucky over Illinois was not an upset, no matter what anyone says, and Tubby Smith's Minnesota squads always fade down the stretch. Shame on you if you had the Gophers dropping Texas.

Ohio State losing to Siena was the only slap in the face to the Big Ten, as the Buckeyes tried to push the Saints around with a very physical game, and oh, how it backfired.

Still, watching the double-overtime game, the Big Ten's physical tendencies really garnered respect from naysayers. No wonder there was a 38-33 game earlier this year.

The conference is 6-5, and with a Michigan State win over Kansas or a Purdue upset of UConn later this week, a .500 tournament showing is locked up.

Loser: Atlantic Coast Conference

Once again, its up to Duke and North Carolina to help the conference save face.

Wake Forest proved to be too young and timid. Boston College was just embarrassed by Southern Cal. The Clemson Tigers forgot to eat their Wheaties Friday morning, and Florida State, the toughest, most physical team in the conference, looked nothing like the team that beat UNC in the ACC Tournament.

While each team excelled in early-season non-conference play, the fast-paced, often defensively-inept nature of ACC play they became accustomed to may have caused a culture shock when they ran into teams which controlled the tempo and snagged momentum.

The Big Ten made the ACC look like a bunch of divas who can't handle being pushed around. Though the ACC is 5-5, Maryland is the only non-Duke/UNC team to win a game.

Duke/UNC: 4-0. Five other ACC teams: 1-5.

Winner: Big East

West Virginia was the only of the seven Big East teams to bow out in the first round.

Marquette was the only of the six remaining conference teams to exit in the second round, and the Golden Eagles didn't go out easy—Dominic James made a surprise comeback, a valiant attempt to destroy my bracket.

The Big East is 11-2 with five teams in the Sweet 16. Syracuse is playing inspired basketball, reminiscent of an impressive run made six years ago by another Jim Boeheim team.

Their zone is either that crushing, or the Sun Devils just are who we thought they were.

Louisville and Pitt had their scares, but are still getting the job done with the game hanging in the balance. Sam Young is going to be one hell of a pro. UConn is good. A.J. Price is very good.

The Big East will send at least three teams to the Elite Eight, and at least two to the Final Four.

Loser: Ben Woodside

It's too bad North Dakota State ran into Kansas in the first round. Had the Bison earned a No. 13 seed, or perhaps drawn Villanova or Missouri instead, Woodside would be this year's Stephen Curry.

It would have been great to watch him for multiple games.

Woodside scored 37 points in one of the best performances of the first round. He played all 40 minutes, and combined with teammate Brett Winkelman for the following line:

  • 80 minutes played
  • 19-for-37 from the floor (rest of team shot 7-for-25)
  • 6-for-10 from three-point range (rest of team shot 4-for-14)
  • 52 of team's 74 points

Doesn't it suck to have teammates?

Winner: Big 12

All year long, the Big 12 has been comprised of one player: Blake Griffin.

Suddenly, all six teams sent dancing from the Big 12 won their first-round games, three of which are sitting pretty in the Sweet 16.

Where the Big 10 is all physicality and defense and the ACC is all offense, the Big 12 seems to be a perfect mix of the two, and it's paying huge dividends this March.

Missouri is flying under the radar as the third seed in a UConn and Memphis-dominated West Regional, and defending champ Kansas has the experience to make some noise in the Midwest, also as a No. 3 seed.

Then there's the most talked about man this season: Blake Griffin.

Oklahoma has the pieces to take on Syracuse, and should the Sooners pass that test, they can give UNC a run as long as Griffin excels in the paint and Austin Johnson and Willie Warren do their thing.

Is the Big 12 crashing the Big East and ACC's party?

Loser: Mid-majors

Arizona is hardly a Cinderella, considering the Wildcats are built to compete and win in March, and have consistent resources to do so.

That being said, there are three mid-major teams in the Sweet 16, none of which (Memphis, Gonzaga, Xavier) are a surprise.

Western Kentucky had the personnel to advance, but ran into Gonzaga, which had the guys to fend off the Hilltoppers in the final minutes.

Virginia Commonwealth was a sexy pick to do damage, but UCLA was a tough draw for them, as the Bruins had the perfect answer for future lottery pick Eric Maynor: Darren Collison.

Siena outlasted Ohio State in the first round and gave Louisville everything it could handle in the second round, but again, an unfortunate draw doomed the Saints. Cleveland State was a great story, but only for one game.

We were spoiled by George Mason in 2006 and Davidson in 2008. There isn't always a Cinderella run, and the inspiring stories of past years make it even tougher to swallow when none of your upset specials pan out.

Winner: Arizona

While St. Mary's and Davidson are set to square off in the NIT, Arizona is going to Indianapolis to take a shot at the Big East champs.

Say what you want about Arizona still not deserving to be there, but the Wildcats were given the chance and cashed in. Then they cashed in again.

Beating Utah and Cleveland State isn't exactly the toughest road, but who they play isn't in their hands. All they can do is go out and beat whoever they're scheduled to play, and that's exactly what they've done.

On the fence: CBS

After ESPN's exceptional production of championship week, the ball was thrown into CBS's court. I'd give their handling of the first two rounds three stars out of five.

The major gaffe that stuck out to me was in the Florida State/Wisconsin game as Jordan Taylor threw up a potential game-winning shot. As time expired, CBS switched back to the Siena/Ohio State game, which still had time left in it.

Another small one was at the beginning of the Siena game, when the graphic came up identifying uniform colors. "Sienna" was wearing green.

There weren't many camera angles for the opening round games. When I was paying close attention, I counted four, maybe five.

The Ohio State/Siena game was the easiest to get sucked into because it was such a great game. Even the VCU/UCLA game didn't grab me, nor did the Purdue/Washington game.

Urgency in the announcers' voices was missing, as were the influential camera angles. Granted, there were a lot of games to cover, so CBS gets a bye for the opening weekend.

If there are not more camera angles and better announcing this coming week, it will be very disappointing.


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