Trey Burke, a 2013 Wooden Award candidate, is trying to win the Big 10 its first NCAA championship since 2000 (Michigan State).
With the 2013 NCAA tournament field pared down to 16 teams, many conferences have had promising contenders eliminated from the field. So far, four teams, seeded No. 4 or higher, have exited March Madness.
In the wake of this year’s upsets, some conferences emerged as victors. Others proved to be doormats.
To properly evaluate an entire conference as a tournament “winner” or “loser,” that conference must have at least two bids in the Big Dance. It is arguably unfair to assess a conference’s strength on only one team, so the 21 conferences that had only automatic bids will be excluded from discussion (sorry, Florida Gulf Coast).
A conference will be judged as a winner or loser based on the overall play of all teams in the tournament, the number of teams remaining and if expectations for the conference were met.
Atlantic Coast Conference
- Tournament bids: Four (Duke, Miami, UNC and NC State)
- Teams remaining: Two (Duke and Miami)
The ACC has long been one of the best basketball conferences in the nation, but they only had four teams make the tournament in 2013. Virginia and Maryland were both left out and received high seeds in the NIT. The four ACC teams that did receive bids all had very successful regular seasons, though.
Duke was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 for 10 weeks this season, while Miami captured the No. 2 spot in the Week 16 AP poll. UNC and NC State were both in the Top 25 at various points in the season.
The ACC was the victim of some underseeding. While all four No. 1 seeds were top four in the final AP poll for the year, some pundits considered both Miami and Duke to be strong candidates for No. 1 seeds. Ultimately, the seeding didn’t hurt either team, but seeding did affect UNC.
UNC drew a No. 8 seed when their voting position should have made them at least a No. 7.
With a nascent and dangerous small lineup, the Tar Heels easily could have made a run through the tourney. Instead, they drew a matchup with No. 1 seed Kansas (after defeating Villanova) and were vanquished in the third round. UNC depended on quality shooting late in the season, but turned in an abysmal 30 percent shooting performance against the Jayhawks.
NC State had an awful second half of the season in 2013, and that carried into the tournament.
The Wolfpack lost in the second round to the Temple Owls. NC State had no answer for senior guard Khalif Wyatt, who shot only moderately well, but got to the line consistently (14 free-throw attempts).
While Duke and Miami were definitely expected to make it this far, UNC was streaky in a close win over Villanova and looked terrible in the second half against Kansas. NC State’s loss in a toss-up doesn’t help. The conference could go either way, but some poor play pulled them down.
- Tournament bids: Five (St. Louis, VCU, Butler, Temple and La Salle)
- Teams remaining: One (La Salle)
The A-10 has had an intriguing tourney so far. VCU was a popular Final Four sleeper pick, and St. Louis was a definite contender to go to the Sweet 16.
And of course, their lowest seed is the only team remaining.
While expectations were that more teams from the conference would still be dancing at this point in time, the A-10 has still looked good so far.
No. 4 St. Louis and No. 5 VCU defeated their second-round opponents soundly. Neither team had such luck in the next round.
Both squads were solid, so expectations for the Billikens and Shaka Smart’s Rams were probably on target. Unfortunately, they both drew teams that are incredibly talented.
The Oregon Ducks were massively underseeded at No. 12 (they finished 25th in the final AP poll), and Michigan has elite talent. In that context, third-round losses for both teams are understandable, though disappointing.
The more disappointing part is the fashion in which both teams lost. VCU was decimated by 25 points, while St. Louis was crushed by 17. If the A-10 was only being judged on its top two seeds, they would be a massive disappointment.
Fortunately, the lower seeds pulled their weight.
Every single Atlantic Ten team in the tournament won in the second round. That fact alone shows that the conference can hold its own in the tourney.
On top of that, Butler and Temple almost knocked off higher seeds Marquette and Indiana, respectively, in the third round. Both teams played well and fell short by single digits.
La Salle is one of the most surprising teams in the tournament this year. They are a fast team that depends on winning the three-point battle. Behind senior guard Ramon Galloway, the Explorers have buoyed the A-10’s resume. After getting by Boise State in the First Four, narrow victories over Kansas State and Ole Miss sent them to the Sweet 16.
Unfortunately, a resume that is good overall was marred by unmet expectations. St. Louis and VCU underperformed, and even with La Salle’s thrilling wins, the conference didn’t end up where it should have. This decision is also close, but they would have needed one more team in the Sweet 16 to be true winners.
- Tournament bids: Eight (Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Cincinnati)
- Teams remaining: Three (Louisville, Marquette and Syracuse)
The Big East had the most bids of any conference, and they had four teams seeded No. 4 or higher. The lowest seed they had was Cincinnati at No. 10.
With such a large group of quality teams, having only three left is a definite disappointment.
Louisville is the top overall seed in the tournament, and thus obviously, the class of the Big East. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals rolled through the second and third rounds, even against a tough rebounding team in Colorado State. They are a projected contender to win the whole tournament, and their performances, so far, are in line with that expectation.
Georgetown’s loss to Florida Gulf Coast is an obvious disappointment. They looked frustrated and panicked toward the end of the game, and composure is of the utmost importance in the tournament.
Otto Porter Jr. put up a double-double, despite not shooting well. The Hoyas shot 37.5 percent from the field as a team. They should have been an Elite Eight team, since the bottom half of the South region was not particularly strong.
Marquette has played two close games so far, but managed to survive Davidson and Butler to advance to the Sweet 16. Syracuse eviscerated Montana before defeating California by single digits. With the exception of one game, the Golden Eagles and the Orange have played down to competition. Both teams shot lower than their season average for shooting percentage in those three games.
So while Louisville looks as good as expected, the Big East's next three seeds ranged from massively disappointing to barely meeting expectations.
To make matters worse, every other Big East team lost in the second round.
Notre Dame was destroyed by a good Iowa State squad. Pittsburgh wasn’t even close to Wichita State’s level. Villanova exchanged leads with UNC before losing by seven. No. 10 seed Cincinnati played the best of any of these teams, losing to Creighton and Doug McDermott by only four. Each team had a winnable matchup, but each team fell short.
The Big East simply has not looked as strong as it was expected to.
- Tournament bids: Seven (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota)
- Teams remaining: Four (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan)
The Big Ten had more bids than any conference except the Big East, and expectations were high entering the tournament.
Top seed Indiana won both of its games to advance to the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers had some problems disposing of Temple, but Victor Oladipo lifted the Hoosiers at the end. Indiana couldn’t stop Khalif Wyatt from scoring (31 points), but they managed to keep him away from the free-throw line, where the 83.6 percent free-throw shooter has thrived late this season. Wyatt only attempted four free throws in the 58-52 loss to the Hoosiers.
Indiana needs to get its offense scoring closer to the team's season average of 80.0 points per game. A fourth-round matchup with Jim Boeheim’s zone defense will be a real test for the Hoosiers.
The ultra-talented Big Ten has had some great individual performances, so far, in March, many of which helped teams into the Sweet 16.
Aaron Craft’s late-game heroics lifted the Buckeyes over Iowa State. Adreian Payne had a great game for the Spartans against the Memphis Tigers, posting a double-double with five blocks. Payne’s big play inside on offense and defense was arguably more important than Gary Harris’ scoring. Michigan had balanced scoring against VCU, but 6’10” freshman Mitch McGary’s play was key.
Wisconsin fell unexpectedly in the second round, but Minnesota pulled off an upset against UCLA to move to the Round of 32. The Golden Gophers shut down Shabazz Muhammad in the first half, and the Bruins stood no chance after that. Minnesota lost to No. 3 seed Florida in the next round.
The Fighting Illini won their first game against Colorado, and then gave Miami a run for its money in the third round. The game was so close, ESPN reported Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga’s comments that he was “kind of stunned” and “speechless” immediately after the game. Miami is a reasonable pick to win it all, but John Groce's team almost knocked them off.
The Big Ten has been the best conference in the tournament so far. The state of Michigan has been blowing people out of the water, while the Big Ten’s other teams have shown the ability to scrap and hang with anyone in the tournament.
- Tournament bids: Five (Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Oklahoma)
- Teams remaining: One (Kansas)
With five overall bids and three seeded higher than No. 5, having only one team in the Sweet 16 is a disappointment. Kansas State and Oklahoma State were both reasonable projections to still be alive.
The Jayhawks are the only team left from the Big 12, and they haven’t looked very good so far. Kansas struggled against Western Kentucky and played an abysmal first half against the Tar Heels.
Freshman star Ben McLemore has been nonexistent, so far, in the tournament. Kansas is very experienced, though, and Jeff Withey is a ton inside on defense. Withey altered or blocked shot after shot against UNC in the third round. Kansas could still make a Final Four run, but they haven’t impressed and have a tough matchup with Michigan.
Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart had the misfortune of playing Oregon in the second round. Oregon is a Top 25 team with a No.12 seed. Oklahoma State still should have won, but that’s a tough first draw.
Kansas State was one-and-done against La Salle. The Explorers have been impressive, but the Wildcats really should have gone much farther.
Iowa State was a good upset pick over Notre Dame, and the Cyclones met those expectations. They even hung with Ohio State, only losing after a questionable call and a clutch three-pointer.
Oklahoma was easily the weakest team from the Big 12, with only a few quality wins and 11 total losses. The Sooners' elimination was no surprise.
With Kansas’ mediocre play thus far and every other team being eliminated, the Big 12 fell way short in 2013.
- Tournament bids: Two (Creighton and Wichita State)
- Teams remaining: One (Wichita State)
The Missouri Valley has been a pretty decent basketball conference in recent years. This year was no exception, with the mid-major conference earning two bids.
Both teams have done well for themselves.
Creighton had Doug McDermott, one of the best players in the country, but they fell in the third round to serious contender Duke. Creighton shot far below their nation-leading 50.8 field-goal percentage and only scored 50 points against the Blue Devils. They did beat Cincinnati in a close 7-10 matchup, though, which probably puts them on par with expectations.
The Wichita State Shockers, on the other hand, have exceeded expectations.
Wichita State defeated Pittsburgh to set up a matchup with No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
The two primary post players for the Shockers, Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early, are both 6’8”. Bulldogs star Kelly Olynyk is 7’0”. Somehow, Olynyk did not capitalize on the size advantage as much as he should have. Both Hall and Early played admirably in the game.
Wichita State managed to answer Gonzaga every time down the floor, and they shot an even 50 percent from three-point range. The Shockers were outstanding and proved they have a good shot at the Final Four.
- Tournament bids: Five (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State, Colorado State and Boise State)
- Teams remaining: None
With Boise State sneaking into the Big Dance, the Mountain West earned five total tournament berths.
The number of berths makes no difference when every team is out by their second game.
New Mexico earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament, and they were a reasonable sleeper pick for the Final Four.
Then they had to play Ivy League champ Harvard.
New Mexico was too big for Harvard to stop inside, but the Lobos got no production from their guards. Harvard’s balanced attack enabled them to claim victory. The second-round loss was a huge surprise, and really damaged the Mountain West’s resume.
UNLV’s loss to California in the second round didn’t help. Freshman forward Anthony Bennett and the Rebels had no answer for Allen Crabbe and the Golden Bears. Their defeat ended any hope of a Sweet 16 run for the No. 5 seed.
Boise State was out in the First Four, completing the Mountain West’s disappointments.
Colorado State and San Diego State were the two points of pride for the conference.
Colorado State was too big for Frank Haith’s Missouri team, and they claimed a victory to move to the round of 32. Top overall seed Louisville stifled the Rams offense, but getting past the Cardinals was not an expectation.
San Diego State beat an overrated Oklahoma team by doing “nothing spectacular,” according to ESPN. Unfortunately, advancing to the next round seems to be spectacular for a Mountain West team in 2013.
The Aztecs lost to Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast in the next round. The Eagles have been spectacular; throwing down impressive dunks seems to be their specialty.
The best the Mountain West could muster was two second-round victories. Undoubtedly a disappointing tournament for the conference.
Pacific Twelve (Pac-12)
- Tournament bids: Five (Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon and California)
- Teams remaining: Two (Arizona and Oregon)
The Pac-12 received no love when it came to seeding. They came to prove that they deserved much better.
Arizona and UCLA received six seeds, which was exactly where they deserved to be. Colorado’s status as a No. 10 was fine, if not a little high.
Oregon and California, however, were disrespected.
Oregon played a great season, won the Pac-12 tournament and finished inside the AP Top 25. They were then rewarded with a No. 12 seed. It was one of the worst seedings in recent memory.
California was not quite as underrated, but the Golden Bears played a very tough nonconference schedule before going 12-6 in the Pac-12. Even with two bad losses late in the season, their overall resume merited a slightly higher seed.
The Pac-12 went about its business anyway, winning three of their five second-round games.
Arizona destroyed Belmont, and Oregon beat Oklahoma State handily. California had balanced scoring to hold off UNLV, with Allen Crabbe leading the way.
Shabazz Muhammad couldn’t get things going early in UCLA’s loss to Minnesota, and Colorado looked pathetic against Illinois. Colorado was expected to lose, but the upset by the Golden Gophers was a huge disappointment for Muhammad and company.
California lost a tough third-round game to Syracuse, but the Golden Bears exceeded expectations overall.
Arizona and Oregon both met expectations by going to the Sweet 16, and they exceeded them with their play. Every win for the Wildcats and Ducks in the tournament, so far, has been by double digits. Oregon’s recipe has been balanced play, while Arizona has depended on senior guard Mark Lyons.
Even with two Pac-12 teams losing to Big 10 teams, Oregon and Arizona proved the legitimacy of the conference this year.
- Tournament bids: Three (Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss)
- Teams remaining: One (Florida)
Kentucky’s dramatic up-and-down season was sadly one of the highlights of the SEC this year. They ended up on the wrong side of the bubble, though, while Ole Miss was on the right side of it.
Good choice by the selection committee.
Ole Miss knocked off fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the second round behind Marshall Henderson’s 19 points and standard bevy of field-goal attempts. Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.
The unexpected win by Ole Miss boosted a conference that was incredibly weak this year.
No. 9 Missouri lost to Colorado State by double digits in the second round. Veterans Alex Oriakhi and Phil Pressey couldn’t pull out a win because the Rams simply dominated the boards. Colorado State had twice as many rebounds as Missouri, and no Tiger had more than four boards in the game.
It was a disappointing end for a team that was ranked 15th overall in the AP preseason poll, but not a surprising one. Missouri stumbled through the SEC at 11-7 this season.
Florida received a No. 3 seed in the tournament, and they have played up to expectations so far. The Gators dispatched Northwestern State and Minnesota with ease. They’ll need a little more production from Kenny Boynton moving forward, but it seems the SEC has a legitimate Final Four contender in the Gators.
Western Coast Conference
- Tournament bids: Two (Gonzaga and St. Mary’s)
- Teams remaining: None
The WCC had No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 11 St. Mary’s in the tournament. Neither team remains now.
A reasonable expectation was for Gonzaga to make the Sweet 16 at the least, while St. Mary’s was a good pick to beat questionable-bid Middle Tennessee.
St. Mary’s gave Memphis a run for their money after winning in the First Four, while Gonzaga squeaked by Southern University before subsequently losing to Wichita State in the third round.
Which conference has been the best so far in the NCAA tournament?
Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points against the Shockers, but he failed to assert himself late in the game. Kevin Pangos made some clutch three-pointers, but his overall percentage from three was significantly below his season average. Gonzaga played poor perimeter defense, and it hurt the Bulldogs badly.
The WCC was a huge disappointment. Gonzaga did not prove it deserved its spot as a No. 1 seed. St. Mary’s actually performed beyond expectations by almost upsetting the Conference USA champions, but Gonzaga’s embarrassing tournament outweighed its WCC counterpart’s work.
*All statistics and AP poll information provided by ESPN.