There's no such thing as a "moral victory" come March. The NCAA tournament is a single-elimination affair—score just one measly point less than your opponent and you might as well have forfeited. You're going home either way, and there's nothing to build on.
That being said, especially in March, there is such thing as an "immoral victory." You might have survived, and you might have advanced, but enough bad things transpired on the floor to cause concern going forward.
A win is a win is a win. We know this to be true. But not all wins are created equal. Some teams advanced in impressive fashion this weekend, but others survived in spite of their unimpressive form.
Let's take a look at three teams that, while still alive, shouldn't be too excited about their early performances.
No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles
I suppose there are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, Marquette was stuck in a pod with three experienced Giant Killers—one of whom plucked its way to consecutive national championship games—and still managed to emerge victorious. On the other, they also got stuck in a pod with no other high-major teams and still needed last-minute heroics to emerge from two hotly contested affairs.
I prefer the latter.
The accomplishment of beating Brad Stevens' Bulldogs in March, especially in a close game—exactly the kind they've made a habit of winning—cannot be overstated. But this wasn't the same Butler team we've become accustomed to seeing. Without a Gordon Hayward or a Shelvin Mack, they lacked the late-game leadership and aplomb to dominate in the waning minutes. Rotnei Clarke is a decent option, but he's hardly the same as those NCAA legends.
What I saw was a No. 3 seed that should have been ranked closer to No. 5, 6 or 7. They're prone to fits of incompetence on the defensive side of the ball—something evidenced by their 52nd-rated efficiency on KenPom.com—and even their offense has looked shaky on occasion.
Be it Illinois or Miami whom the Eagles face in Washington D.C., the improved competition is sure to be jarring for Marquette. And if they play like they did during the tournament's first weekend, that opponent will likely spell the end of their 2013 campaign.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
Second half against North Carolina notwithstanding, let's call a spade a spade: Kansas did not look the part of a No. 1 seed during opening weekend.
Again, I'll concede approbation where it's deserved. North Carolina is a preposterously talented No. 8 seed, and the magnitude to which Kansas dominated the second half was impressive. But that was one half in four they played at the Spirit Center, and the other three were, in a word, disgusting.
How disgusting, you ask? So disgusting that this, as College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster astutely pointed out, was actually a true statistic:
Rob Dauster @RobDauster
In 60 minutes of tourney basketball, Kansas has 29 turnovers and is 0-12 from three.2013-3-24 22:25:40
From this point forward, they won't be able to advance with such spotty play. Their Sweet 16 opponent, Michigan, embarrassed built-for-March VCU this weekend, while likely Elite Eight opponent Florida (Ken Pomeroy's top-ranked team) was equally impressive.
The Big 12 has already shown poorly in the NCAA tournament, Kansas being their last remaining hope, but also a part of the problem. They'll need to get better quickly, lest the conference bow out in pathetic fashion.
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
The book on Iowa State was relatively simple: They live and die beyond the arc. Stop them and you'll cruise to a victory. Enable them and you could be in for a long afternoon.
So it was certainly discouraging to see the Buckeyes—talent- and veteran-laden on both the court and the sideline—look so hapless in defending their deep shots. They allowed the Cyclones to shoot 48 percent from beyond the arc, knocking in 12 three-pointers on 25 shots, and needed an anomalous hot shooting performance of their own (along with a botched block/charge call) to advance.
But unlike Marquette and Kansas listed before them, there's a silver lining for the Buckeyes moving forward. Their region, in stark contrast to some other disappointing high seeds, won't force them to improve leaps-and-bounds right away. Even an above-average performance should be enough to get by Arizona, and the same can be said about Wichita St., La Salle and Mississippi.
But the way they defended against Iowa St. will not be tenable in the long term, especially with the champion of a loaded Midwest lurking in the Final Four. Which means Thad Matta's got some serious tactical work left ahead of him.