50 Things We Learned in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IApril 9, 2013

50 Things We Learned in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

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    Peyton Siva ended his career on a high note as his Louisville Cardinals were crowned champions of the 2013 NCAA tournament. With another year of March Madness in the books, it's time to look back and see what this year's Big Dance showed us about this season and about the near future of college hoops.

    One of the most remarkable storylines of the tourney revolved around Wichita State's unexpected trip to the Final Four. Many such underdogs of the past have faded back into obscurity the next season, but the Shockers return too much talent to disappear a year after their postseason heroics.

    Read on for more on Wichita State and the rest of the teams, players, coaches and trends on display in this year's edition of the NCAA tournament.

Even the Best Defenses Need Some Help from the Offense

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    As in the 2012-13 regular season, this year’s tournament featured some epic offensive meltdowns. Marquette’s horrendous 39-point effort against Syracuse in the Elite Eight was only the worst of many disastrous scoring nights.

    Riding a punishing defense is all well and good, but if you can’t count on even a vaguely respectable offensive showing, eventually it’s going to come back to bite you.

Florida Gulf Coast Will Be Back

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    15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast became the darlings of the tournament after an historic trip to the Sweet 16.

    Even with coach Andy Enfield leaving for USC, the Eagles have enough outstanding players coming back that you’ll see them in your bracket again next year.

    Emotional leader Sherwood Brown is gone, but PG Brett Comer and high-flying forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight will all return with a year of valuable postseason experience.

ACC Realignment Will Help Duke and North Carolina

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    Both Duke and UNC found themselves in a familiar position this March. Just as they had in the regular season against Virginia (and in plenty of postseasons past), both Tobacco Road powers fell to lockdown defenses (Louisville and Kansas, respectively).

    After years of getting minimal practice against defense-first powerhouses, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will be much better prepared for the postseason now that Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame are bringing their physical lineups to the ACC.

Landing in the First Four Isn’t All Bad

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    The First Four has only been in existence three years, and three times, teams have advanced to the Sweet 16 from the play-in round.

    Considering that the at-large squads making those runs (including La Salle this year) are supposed to be among the worst in the field, 3-for-3 is a remarkable start.

    Even the 16th seeds in the First Four have something to be happy about, as it gives those otherwise-doomed squads a chance to play and win a March Madness game.

Post-Up Scorers Are Getting Less Relevant Every Year

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    As more teams go to (and win with) four-guard lineups, the significance of having a classic Tim Duncan-type scoring machine down low diminishes all the time.

    Jack Cooley scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting against Iowa State, and his Notre Dame team still lost by 18 to the Cyclones’ three-point snipers.

    Moreover, Kelly Olynyk (the nation’s best interior scorer) saw his top-seeded Zags get toppled in the round of 32 by another collection of hot-shooting guards from Wichita State.

The Selection Committee Needs to Rethink the Pac-12

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    For the second year in a row, the Pac-12’s reception on Selection Sunday raised a lot of eyebrows.

    A year after regular-season champ Washington was an unprecedented no-show in the brackets, three of the league’s five tournament teams got double-digit seeds and none landed higher than sixth.

    After Oregon and Arizona turned their subpar seeds into Sweet 16 trips and even 12th-seeded Cal won a game, it’s time for the West Coast’s power league to get some respect next March.

Memphis Will Be the Only Happy American Athletic Conference Member

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    Following another year of marauding through a dreadful Conference USA, Memphis managed only a No. 6 seed for the tournament.

    That position translated into a third-round exit against third-seeded Michigan State, the third straight time that the Tigers have failed to reach the Sweet 16.

    While the ex-Big East teams in the new AAC will be facing a far weaker position with the selection committee, Memphis will finally get a chance to play in a conference with other tournament-worthy teams and (maybe) get some respect again.

The Mountain West Is Not Ready for Prime Time

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    The MWC got a lot of hype for finishing the season as the No. 1 conference in the RPI rankings. What it didn’t get was the postseason success to back up that hype.

    Of the conference’s five teams in the field of 68, three lost their opening games (including New Mexico's humiliating defeat by Harvard), and none made it out of the round of 32.

Keep an Eye on Ryan Arcidiacono for Big East Player of the Year

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    Granting that North Carolina wasn’t the scariest defense, Villanova still put up impressive offensive numbers in its second-round loss to the Tar Heels. More importantly, all the top scoring weapons from that Wildcats squad are back for 2013-14.

    With so many offensive options, PG Ryan Arcidiacono could be in for a huge season in a Big East with few returning stars.

The Big 12 Was Overrated

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    Half of the members of the 10-team Big 12 landed spots in the Big Dance, including Kansas as a No. 1 seed, Kansas State at No. 4 and Oklahoma State at No. 5. Only the Jayhawks and 10th-seeded Iowa State even made it out of the round of 64.

    KU was reasonable enough as a No. 1, but it’s not too far-fetched to say that all four of the conference’s other representatives were over-seeded this March.

Parity Does Not Equal Close Games

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    A major theme of the 2012-13 season was the extent to which any team could lose (even to severe underdogs) on any given night. In spite of that wide-open playing field, this year’s Big Dance was surprisingly low on close games.

    Ohio State by itself provided two of the tourney’s five buzzer-beaters, and only 11 of 32 second-round games were decided by fewer than 10 points.

Star Freshmen Are Not the Solution to Everything

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    With apologies to national runner-up Michigan, the 2013 tournament went a long way toward dispelling the myth of the invincible one-and-done freshman.

    Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) both played great games only to see their teams exit in the round of 64.

    Having elite first-year players is a great thing, but it won’t turn every team into Kentucky’s 2012 national champs.

Some Years, There Just Aren’t Four Deserving No. 1 Seeds

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    Being a No. 1 seed carries a definite mystique, not least because it’s the only seed that has never lost in the round of 64. However, just because there are four teams at the top of the bracket doesn’t mean they all deserve to get treated like No. 1s.

    Gonzaga’s early exit this year was the most obvious flop, but only top overall seed Louisville played with the authority of a No. 1 among this year’s underwhelming crop.

Steve Alford Is in for a Fun Season

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    New head coaches don’t normally have anything resembling the weapons that Steve Alford inherits at UCLA. Even if Shabazz Muhammad jumps to the NBA, everyone else from the sixth-seeded Bruins—except for PG Larry Drew II—is back.

    That includes rising-star forward Kyle Anderson, high-scoring Jordan Adams (who missed the tournament with a foot injury) and defensive standout Norman Powell (five steals in the second-round loss to Minnesota).

The New-Look Atlantic 10 Is Still a Work in Progress

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    The expanded Atlantic 10 had as good a season as any in conference history, with three teams spending multiple weeks each in the Top 25. When it came to backing that success up in the postseason, though, the A-10 fizzled.

    Of the league's five representatives, only La Salle even made it as far as the Sweet 16, and St. Louis and VCU both suffered blowout third-round defeats.

The 16th Seed That Can Beat a No. 1 Is Coming, and Probably Soon

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    It used to be that 16th seeds were lucky not to lose by 20 points. This year, both Western Kentucky and Southern stayed within single digits of their respective top-seeded foes.

    The difference between a 1-vs.-16 and a 2-vs.-15 game (where upsets are starting to become almost expected) is very slim, so don’t be surprised if some top seed gets eliminated in the round of 64 as soon as the next five years.

Anthony Bennett Made a Smart Move by Leaving UNLV

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    UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett is off to the NBA, and he couldn’t have picked a better time. A season in which the Rebels offense frequently hung by a thread wrapped up with an ugly loss to 12th-seeded Cal.

    Now, PG Anthony Marshall and backup Justin Hawkins are both graduating, leaving UNLV with minimal ballhandling and likely hanging a talented frontcourt out to dry.

Ridiculous Conference Records Say Very Little About the Team

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    Montana’s 19-1 mark, Middle Tennessee State’s 19-1 and Gonzaga’s 16-0 were among the gaudiest conference records in this season’s tournament. You may notice that those teams combined for one Big Dance win.

    Although dominant teams will occasionally post meaningful 15-1 or 16-2 records in league action, more often than not, those kinds of numbers just mean that the rest of the conference was too weak to put up a fight.

Kansas Doesn’t Have to Start from Scratch

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    In the extremely likely event that Ben McLemore jumps to the NBA, Kansas will have an all-new starting five next season. For a team undergoing that kind of turnover, though, the Jayhawks have a couple of very nice pieces to build around.

    Up front, Perry Ellis is back after notching eight points and five boards off the bench in the Sweet 16 loss to Michigan, while standout reserve Naadir Tharpe (seven assists against the Wolverines) will lead the backcourt.

Opening-Weekend Sites Can Have a Major Impact

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    Since the introduction of the pod system for allocating second- and third-round hosting sites, an increasing number of teams with relatively low seeds have wound up with the benefit of de facto home games.

    This year, both third-seeded Michigan State and fourth-seeded Michigan won a pair of early-round blowouts in front of a friendly Auburn Hills crowd.

    Most strikingly, 12th-seeded California got to play in San Jose, where it took down UNLV and nearly upset Final Four-bound Syracuse.

Leadership Doesn’t Have to Come from Seniors

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    Peyton Siva and Malcolm Armstead deserve plenty of credit for their respective teams’ Final Four runs, but this year’s tournament also highlighted the ability of younger players to take on the leadership mantle.

    Most obviously, of course, sophomore PGs Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams excelled in taking their squads to the other half of the Final Four.

    Of course, even Louisville (Russ Smith) and Wichita State (Cleanthony Early) had younger stars carrying them for long stretches, as juniors Aaron Craft and Victor Oladipo did for their respective teams.

Richard Pitino Has His Work Cut out for Him at Minnesota

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    A two-game stint in the NCAA tournament provided a capsule view of everything that went wrong for Minnesota this season.

    Tubby Smith’s team had the talent to wallop undermanned UCLA, but also the inconsistency to go out two days later and get thumped by Florida.

    Now that Richard Pitino is taking over the Gophers’ reins, he’ll get the unenviable task of trying to mold mercurial guards Andre and Austin Hollins into winners without the help of graduated stars Rodney Williams Jr. and Trevor Mbakwe.

Trey Burke Got All Those Player of the Year Awards for a Reason

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    Michigan's Trey Burke swept the national Player of the Year trophies, and his postseason performance justified those choices.

    Even with an off night in a national semifinal win over Syracuse, Burke was sensational in March—never more so than in stunning top-seeded Kansas with a 30-foot game-tying buzzer-beater.

    Even in the title game, with his teammates struggling to get good looks, Burke racked up a game-high 24 points to keep the Wolverines in it until the bitter end.

Next Year’s SEC Is Ripe for Kentucky’s Picking

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    Only three SEC teams even made the field of 68, and of those, only Florida made it out of the opening weekend. More importantly, all three are in line for some huge graduation losses.

    With Missouri (Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers), Ole Miss (Reginald Buckner, Murphy Holloway) and Florida (Kenny Boynton, Patric Young) all losing key contributors, Kentucky and its six incoming McDonald’s All-Americans looks like a great pick for next year’s conference crown.

Future-NBA Talent Isn’t a Bad Thing, but It’s Not Required for Success

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    Obviously, national runner-up Michigan is loaded with NBA prospects, but the rest of this season’s Final Four squads aren’t exactly built for the pro spotlight. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams could easily be the only pro success story from any of the other three teams.

    Indeed, among likely NBA lottery picks not on Syracuse or Michigan, nobody made it past the Sweet 16 (where Ben McLemore and Cody Zeller were eliminated).

The Balance of Power in the MVC Just Shifted Seismically

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    The Missouri Valley Conference has been reliably cyclical, with a variety of teams spending a few seasons at the top before getting displaced. That pattern just got thrown out the window by current frontrunners Wichita State and Creighton.

    The Blue Jays are leaving for the Big East at the same time that the Shockers get a huge publicity (and recruiting) boost from a surprise Final Four trip, meaning that Wichita State might not get dethroned for many, many years.

Scottie Wilbekin Was Badly Underrated

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    Florida’s offense was up and down over the course of four tournament games, but the one constant was PG Scottie Wilbekin.

    Even when the Gators were getting walloped by Michigan, Wilbekin dished out seven assists to push his tourney average to five per game.

    The junior standout also turned in several double-digit scoring nights and played some outstanding defense, recording four steals against a Wolverines team that rarely turns the ball over.

Ohio State Could Be a Dark-Horse Title Contender Next Season

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    With Deshaun Thomas off to the NBA, it may seem an odd time to build up the Buckeyes. However, Thomas should be the only major loss for a team that appeared to be coming into its own in the postseason behind always-brilliant Aaron Craft.

    With Craft’s clutch heroics joined by postseason scoring standouts Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State’s shaky offense could actually improve in Thomas’ absence.

Spike Albrecht Just Wrote His Name in the History Books

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    Michigan reserve guard Spike Albrecht averaged 7.6 minutes and 1.8 points per game this season. He also came within a few shots of winning the national title for the Wolverines.

    Tossed into the title-game crucible by Trey Burke’s foul trouble, Albrecht shot 6-for-9 from the field to score 17 of Michigan’s 76 points in a hard-fought loss.

The New Big East Will Start off with More Bark Than Bite

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    The revamped Big East has plenty of big names in its ranks, with Creighton and Butler joining the likes of Georgetown and Marquette. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of NCAA tournament success to build on.

    Only the Golden Eagles made it past the round of 32 among next year's Big East teams, and even they lose three senior starters from what was already a hit-or-miss offense.

Arizona Is a Point Guard Away from Being a Scary, Scary Team

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    Two overpowering wins in a Sweet 16 run showcased Arizona’s young talent up front, with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley racking up rebounds.

    Versatile SG Nick Johnson also turned in some fine performances, including 12 points and five assists against dangerous Belmont.

    Now the Wildcats just need to find a genuine point guard to replace graduating Mark Lyons and they’ll have all the pieces for a huge 2013-14.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Offensive Rebounding

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    Carl Hall and Wichita State put on a rebounding clinic in their Final Four run, and the Shockers weren’t the only team to reap major benefits on the offensive glass.

    Long-armed Syracuse, too, loaded up on second-chance points in its own trip to the national semis.

    Even Michigan, hardly a prototype for out-muscling opponents under the boards, would have been eliminated in short order without Mitch McGary’s sensational offensive rebounding work.

Shane Larkin Is in Line to Be Next Year’s Erick Green

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    Having accomplished pretty much everything else in his first year as a starter, Shane Larkin capped his sophomore campaign by playing a sensational NCAA tournament.

    Larkin averaged 13.7 points and six assists per game as the only Miami player who turned in three March Madness games worth cheering about.

    Unfortunately, with his Hurricanes team disappearing around him thanks to mass graduation losses, Larkin could easily find himself emulating conference rival Erick Green, who put up jaw-dropping numbers for hapless Virginia Tech this season.

Mike Brey Still Hasn’t Learned How to Handle the Postseason

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    Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey has guided the Irish to seven consecutive 20-win seasons. It’s a pity so few of those wins have come in March Madness.

    When 10th-seeded Iowa State bounced Brey’s Irish in the second round, it marked the third time in four years that Brey had exited the Big Dance without a win (and he only won one game in 2011).

Temple Is Headed for a Precipitous Fall

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    Overshadowed all year by more prominent A-10 rivals, Temple actually had a very strong season. However, the ninth-seeded Owls’ well-earned win over N.C. State and hard-fought loss to top-seeded Indiana will now make 2013-14 even more painful.

    Senior-heavy Temple returns only two players who appeared in this year’s tournament, and Anthony Lee and Will Cummings combined for 16 points in two games.

Vander Blue Is Finally Living Up to His Billing

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    After two nondescript seasons, Vander Blue has blossomed into the kind of scorer Marquette fans hoped for from their team's top 2010 recruit.

    Marquette's 2012-13 scoring leader closed the season with a bang, even when his teammates didn’t always provide much help.

    Blue poured in 18.3 points per game in the tournament, highlighted by a 29-point outburst against Butler and by 14 points (of the team’s 39) in the Elite Eight loss to Syracuse.

Gonzaga Is in a No-Win Situation for 2013-14

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    No matter how many games the Zags win next season, it won’t be enough. A 32-3 finish gave Mark Few’s boys their first-ever top seed, only to see Wichita State spoil the party in the round of 32.

    The Bulldogs’ chances of a prime seed next March are made even worse by the likelihood that next year’s WCC will be the worst in years, thanks to NCAA sanctions against St. Mary’s.

Yogi Ferrell Has a Lot of Growing Up to Do

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    Indiana averaged 80 points a game in 2012-13, but only 54 over its last two NCAA tournament games. The biggest problem for the Hoosiers was a pair of awful performances from freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell.

    Ferrell totaled zero points, four assists and seven turnovers over those last two contests, including the turnover-plagued loss to Syracuse that eliminated top-seeded IU.

La Salle Has a Good Shot to Win a Conference Title Next Year

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    Even with Ramon Galloway graduating, La Salle brings back more talent than the rest of the Atlantic 10. Tournament hero Tyrone Garland, who laid in the game-winner against Ole Miss, will be a major factor in a loaded backcourt.

    Just as important, Jerrell Wright (the Explorers’ lone big man) returns after torching fourth-seeded Kansas State for 21 points and eight rebounds.

Luke Hancock Turned out to Be the Biggest Transfer of the Year

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    High-profile transfers were among the biggest storylines of 2012-13. Although Mark Lyons and Will Clyburn had their postseason moments, none put on an NCAA tournament show to match Luke Hancock’s.

    The Louisville forward had back-to-back 20-point games in the Final Four to save Louisville's national title run, an effort capped by becoming the first non-Russ-Smith Cardinal to lead the team in scoring in the tourney.

You’ll Regret Picking Oklahoma State in Next Year’s Bracket, Too

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    For all Oklahoma State’s backcourt talent, the Cowboys were doomed by their lackluster big men. Philip Jurick, Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy managed a grand total of 10 points in a decisive second-round defeat against Oregon.

    Now, Jurick is graduating and the pickings will get even slimmer unless juco transfer Gary Gaskins turns out to be a lot better than expected.

Trey Burke Is Now the Biggest Early-Entry Decision of the Offseason

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    Last spring, Trey Burke passed up NBA riches for a shot at a national title with the talent-rich Wolverines. Having come up one game short of his goal, will Burke stay in college another year?

    If the consensus player of the year does stick around, a Michigan-Louisville title-game rematch is far from an implausible outcome.

Oklahoma Won’t Be Anywhere Near the Field of 68 Next Season

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    Generously seeded at No. 10, Oklahoma didn’t put up much of a fight in a 70-55 loss to San Diego State. That’s not a good sign for a team losing its three best offensive players.

    With Romero Osby (22 points against the Aztecs) and company graduating, even coach Lon Kruger won’t be able to save the Sooners next year.

Few Teams Will Change More in the Offseason Than Wisconsin

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    Although the Badgers are replacing their entire starting frontcourt, that’s not even the biggest difference to expect in next year’s team. For once, Wisconsin’s offense may give opponents more to fear than its fabled D.

    Bo Ryan’s returnees include Sam Dekker (who led the team in scoring against Ole Miss), point guard Traevon Jackson (four assists despite Wisconsin’s 46 total points) and three-point gunner Ben Brust.

Don’t Sleep on Iona Next March

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    Iona star Lamont Jones is graduating, but the scorers who had his back on an off night against Ohio State are not. Foremost among them is right-hand man Sean Armand, who had 17 points, six boards, four assists and three steals against the Buckeyes.

    Rebounding machine David Laury also returns after an impressive showing—14 points, eight boards and five assists—against Ohio State’s physical forwards.

Russ Smith Will Be a Favorite for Next Year's Wooden Award

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    Acrobatic guard Russ Smith did most of the heavy lifting during Louisville's national title push. The 6'1" sophomore averaged 22.3 points per game in NCAA tournament action and also notched eight steals against North Carolina A&T.

    Already a semifinalist for Player of the Year honors this season, the high-scoring Smith is well positioned to make it to the podium next spring.

The Middle Tennessee State Debate Shouldn’t Be an Issue Next March

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    The Blue Raiders were the most controversial team in the First Four because of their lack of top-quality opponents, but next year it won’t much matter who they play.

    MTSU is losing too much talent from its NCAA tournament squad to return to next year’s field of 68.

    Five seniors are leaving from the nine-man rotation, and guard Tweety Knight will think he taw a puddy tat after trying to win without star brother Marcos.

Wichita State Isn’t Just Going to Fade Back into Obscurity

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    Final Four Cinderella teams rarely manage to build on their success the next year. The Shockers, though, bring back many of the core players who carried them past Gonzaga and Ohio State.

    Scoring leader Cleanthony Early returns up front, while three-point gunners Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet (not to mention defensive stopper Tekele Cotton) are back on the perimeter.

The Big Ten Really Deserved Eight Spots in the Field of 68

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    No conference had more representation in this year’s Big Dance than the Big Ten.

    It would have been easy to question whether seventh-seeded Illinois or 11th-seeded Minnesota really belonged as at-large inclusions, but the conference showed that its extraordinary regular season was no fluke.

    Seven of eight Big Ten teams won at least one game (including the Illini and Gophers), four made the Sweet 16 and Michigan—the third-place finisher in the regular season—came within a couple of baskets of winning it all.

Louisville Is an Immediate Frontrunner for Back-to-Back National Titles

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    Kevin Ware may have missed out on playing in the national title game, but it probably wasn't his last chance.

    The Louisville forward will be back next season along with all but one of his title-winning teammates (barring an unlikely NBA jump from an underclassman).

    Even with Peyton Siva graduating, it's tough to see these Cardinals falling off by much after a magnificent postseason run and two straight Final Four trips.