NCAA Tournament 2014: Winners and Losers from 1st Week of Big Dance
The Sweet 16 is set. The brackets are all busted. The first week of the NCAA tournament is officially in the books.
From Duke's shocking loss to Dayton's heroics, Doug McDermott's tears to Scottie Wilbekin's redemption, the first three rounds of the Big Dance were filled with moments that we won't forget any time soon.
After all the non-stop action over the past few days, let's recap some of the winners and losers from one of the best weeks in sports.
Winner: Archie Miller
It was a great week for Archie Miller, the younger—and often overshadowed—brother of prominent Arizona coach Sean Miller.
Archie's Dayton Flyers upset in-state rival Ohio State in the second round of the tournament, then toppled third-seeded Syracuse in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years.
The 35-year-old Archie, who is 10 years younger than Sean, has been the coach of Dayton for the past three years. In that short time, he has revitalized the basketball program at the small school.
Archie not only kept his team calm on the court, but he also kept his cool during this awkward interview with Greg Gumbel.
Loser: The State of North Carolina
For the first time in 35 years, no school from the state of North Carolina is into the Sweet 16.
Duke was shockingly upset in the second round by No. 14 seed Mercer. Then the North Carolina Tar Heels lost in the last seconds to Iowa State in the third round.
North Carolina State also lost in the second round in a complete meltdown to St. Louis, while N.C. Central, a No. 14 seed in its first NCAA tournament, lost in the second round as well.
Winner: Warren Buffett
Well played, Warren Buffett.
The multi-billionaire got a lot of publicity when he partnered with Quicken Loans and Yahoo for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, which, as it sounds, would reward anyone with a perfect bracket with a cool billion dollars.
Buffett didn't have to sweat it out too long, though. By the end of the Round of 64, all of the brackets in his challenge had already been busted.
Loser: Syracuse Three-Point Shooters
At one point this season, Syracuse was the top-ranked team in the nation and winning multiple nail-biters a week.
But the Orange faded down the stretch and failed to regain their mojo in time for the Big Dance. Boeheim's boys beat No. 14 Western Michigan in their opening game, but fell in the third round to No. 11 Dayton.
In the loss to the Flyers, Syracuse was 0-10 from behind the arc, including the would-be game-winning attempt by Tyler Ennis with only seconds left. If even one of its three-pointers had fallen, 'Cuse might still be dancing.
Winner: The Kentucky-Wichita State Game
What a game.
In a tussle that felt like it belonged in the Final Four instead of the round of 32, eighth-seeded Kentucky ended top-seeded Wichita State's perfect season in a nerve-wracking, back-and-forth, non-stop entertaining 78-76 game.
Kentucky's freshmen finally showed the poise and the talent that earned the Wildcats the preseason No. 1 spot in the rankings, while Wichita State—and especially Cleanthony Early—showed the form that took the Shockers to 35-0 this year.
But at the end of the game, Kentucky's interior presence and bevy of future NBA players were too much for the Shockers, and the clearly under-seeded Wildcats are into the Sweet 16.
Loser: N.C. State's Free-Throw Shooting
In the biggest meltdown of the tournament so far, No. 12 seed N.C. State lost to No. 5 seed St. Louis, 83-80, in overtime.
With only five minutes left in regulation, the Wolfpack had opened up a 14-point lead. They missed 12 free throws the remainder of the way, shooting only 20-37 for the entire game.
"Obviously we're going to always feel like we let one slip away," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried told reporters after the game. State fans and players would likely call that an understatement.
Winner: Mercer's Celebration
Fourteenth-seeded Mercer's upset over No. 3 seed Duke was the story of the second round of the tournament, because, well, it's big news any time Duke loses.
But what really captivated the country was Mercer's celebration. Guard Kevin Canevari did the Nae Nae dance as his teammates surrounded him and cheered. Anthony White Jr. did the robot and stole the show while his coach gave an interview. Their spontaneous bursts of unadulterated happiness were what the NCAA tournament's first week is all about.
Mercer's run ended in the round of 32 to No. 11 seed Tennessee, but its dance moves and bracket destruction will never be forgotten.
Losers: Freshmen Superstars
Duke's Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid from Kansas are projected by most to be the top three picks in the NBA draft this year. None of them had an NCAA tournament to remember.
Parker was held to 14 points in Duke's second-round loss to Mercer, and told reporters afterward that his college basketball career now felt "incomplete." Wiggins only scored four points in the Jayhawks' shocking loss to Stanford in the round of 32. Embiid didn't even get to play in the tournament because of a back injury, though he told reporters after the loss that he would have played in the Sweet 16.
Now we just have to wait and see if these performances—or lack thereof—will affect their draft stock, or if any of the future superstars decide to come back to college for one more shot at NCAA glory.
Winner: The SEC
At the end of the first week of NCAA tournament games, the only conference to still be unbeaten is, improbably, the SEC.
Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky are all still going strong in the Big Dance and have advanced to the Sweet 16, with Tennessee and Kentucky getting in as underdogs.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 also each have three teams in the Sweet 16, while the American Athletic Conference and the Big 12 have a pair each. The ACC has struggled with only Virginia still standing. And all four of the Big East's representatives have already been sent packing, including second-seeded Villanova and third-seeded Creighton.
Losers: The Ennis Brothers
Two Ennis brothers entered the NCAA tournament on teams seeded in the top three, but neither of them will be in the Sweet 16.
Dylan Ennis is a bit-player for No. 2 seed Villanova, which lost in the round of 32 to seventh-seeded Connecticut. Dylan scored two points in the defeat. Dylan's younger brother Tyler is a star point guard for third-seeded Syracuse, which lost to No. 11 seed Dayton in the same arena on the same day.
Another pair of brothers, Andrew Wiggins from Kansas and Nick Wiggins from Wichita State, also both lost in the round of 32.
Winner: Scottie Wilbekin
Scottie Wilbekin was the key to Florida's victory over Pittsburgh in the round of 32, scoring a game-high 21 points and single-handedly preserving the Gators' second-half lead.
It was a great showcase for a player who was suspended twice last year and thought to be too troubled to succeed. But, with the help of his coach and cheerleader Billy Donovan, Wilbekin moved back in with his family and rehabilitated his image and work ethic to become the heart of this gritty Florida team that is favored to win it all.
Donovan spoke very highly of Wilbekin's transformation after the victory over Pitt, per Juliet Macur of The New York Times:
For me, it’s been one of the greatest experiences as a coach going through what he and I have gone through together. People get a chance maybe to see him grow as a player. I got a chance to see him grow as a person.
Loser: Winning Streaks
It was not a good weekend for the two longest winning streaks in the country.
Previously undefeated Wichita State, which was the top seed in the Midwest Region, fell to Kentucky in the round of 32, leaving the Shockers with a bitter 35-1 record to show for their record-setting season.
Stephen F. Austin, whose upset win over No. 5 seed VCU in the second round was its 29th win in a row, also lost in the round of 32 to No. 4 seed UCLA.
The longest winning streak now belongs to Florida, which has now won 28 in a row.
Winner: The Stanford Band
Stanford had a weekend to remember, upsetting both No. 7 seed New Mexico and No. 2 seed Kansas on en route to a surprise berth in the Sweet 16. On the court, the Cardinal's stingy defense has been superb.
Unfortunately for the team, the Stanford band completely stole the show. The sharply dressed musicians are rock stars in this tournament—they've even been subjected to rumors of inappropriate drinking.
The real star, however, is the cowbell player. He might be working harder than anyone else in the NCAA tournament, players included.
All underdogs are fun to root for. Underdogs with awesome bands? Even better.
This wasn't how Doug McDermott's college basketball career was supposed to end.
McDermott, who is fifth on the all-time NCAA scoring list, was held to only 15 points in No. 3 seed Creighton's 30-point loss to sixth-seeded Baylor on Sunday. His father and coach, Greg McDermott, called Doug out of the game with over two minutes remaining. As the crowd gave him an ovation, Doug hugged his father and teammates and let the tears flow.
Both McDermotts will have many happy times in basketball ahead of them, but a blowout loss to a lower-seeded team was a bitter ending to one of the best stories in college basketball this year.
Winners: No. 4 Seeds
Fearsome foursome indeed. The No. 4 seeds are the only group of top seeds who all made it to the Sweet 16.
In the West, No. 4 seed San Diego State made it through the week with wins over No. 13 seed New Mexico State and No. 12 seed North Dakota State. The Aztecs will face top-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16.
In the South, No. 4 seed UCLA continued its great March with wins over 13th-seeded Tulsa and 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin. Next up is the top overall seed, Florida.
The other two No. 4 seeds, Michigan State in the East and Louisville in the Midwest, were both thought to be criminally underseeded before the tournament began. Though they had some tough games in the first week, both are still dancing. Michigan State faces No. 1 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16, while Louisville gets eighth-seeded Kentucky.
Loser: The First Four
Make no mistake about it, the NCAA tournament has been an absolute blast so far. But the one thing that wasn't at all needed? The First Four.
Unless you're a fan or family member of one of the eight teams who played in those two games, it's likely you have a hard time remembering what even happened in those four games that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday night in Dayton. Of the four teams that made it to the Round of 64—what most people consider the real first round—only Tennessee won a game. (The Volunteers are in the Sweet 16.)
The First Four games just can't compare to the intensity to the "real tournament," which begins with a bang on Thursday. It will never happen due to money, but it's time for the NCAA to re-think this concept.