Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 4, 2017

Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament

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    North Carolina won its sixth national championship.
    North Carolina won its sixth national championship.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    One year after being denied a title by a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater, the North Carolina Tar Heels are your 2017 national champions.

    Heck, Jenkins was even there behind the bench to cheer them to victory in a season-ending game with almost as many fouls called (44) as made field goals (46).

    "They kind of won ugly throughout this tournament, but they did what they had to do, showing mental toughness in these games," said Grant Hill during Monday night's telecast on CBS.

    As a result, North Carolina is obviously the biggest winner of the 2017 NCAA tournament, but it isn't the only one. In fact, there were a ton of winners and losers over the course of the past 67 games, and we've highlighted the biggest ones here.

    From individual players to teams, seed lines, officials and grumpy news reporters, we hit on a little bit of everything from the past three weeks to help you relive the tournament.

    Without any further ado, how about a little bit of love for a couple of guys from No. 16 seeds?

Winner: Junior Robinson and Chima Moneke

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    Because of the First Four, people got a chance to meet Chima Moneke.
    Because of the First Four, people got a chance to meet Chima Moneke.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Without fail, people complain about the First Four every year. Either they argue the games don't matterthat the tournament actually begins Thursday instead of Tuesdayor that it's not fair to force four teams to play their way into the round of 64 after already earning their auto bid into the tournament.

    Let's be real, though: Without the First Four, no one would have heard of Junior Robinson or Chima Moneke.

    The former was the 5'5" star of Mount St. Mary's who scored a game-high 23 points in our opening dose of the 2017 NCAA tournament. The shortest player in Division I basketball this season, Robinson was larger than life in a one-point win over New Orleans.

    The latter was the 6'6" double-double machine from UC Davis who captured our hearts as a man from Nigeria who has not seen his parents since 2009. In the First Four win over NC Central, Moneke led all players in both points and rebounds, finishing with 18 and 12, respectively.

    Had those guys gone straight into their blowout losses to Kansas and Villanova, not a word would have been said about them. Case in point: Unless you're a North Carolina or Texas Southern fan, you probably didn't watch a single second of that game and didn't get to know anyone from that Tigers team.

    Mount St. Mary's and UC Davis were never going to vie for a title, but at least their stars got a few hours in the national spotlight.

Loser: Providence Friars

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    Providence was on the wrong end of a huge comeback.
    Providence was on the wrong end of a huge comeback.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The rise of Providence has been fun to watch over the past few years.

    After spending the better part of a decade in the bottom half of the Big East standings, Ed Cooley has taken the Friars to four consecutive NCAA tournaments. The fourth trip might have been the most impressive of all, as no one expected this team to be in the running for an at-large bid after losing leading scorers Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil from last season.

    But Cooley was unable to protect Providence from the comeback machine known as the USC Trojans.

    USC entered the tournament with 24 wins, rallying from a deficit of at least nine points in 13 of those games. It was as if the Trojans weren't comfortable until they were playing from behind—like Hulk Hogan needing to take enough of a beating before he could unleash his "Hulkamania" super strength.

    Even though we had watched USC do it so many times during the regular season, no one believed the Trojans could battle back from a 17-point second-half deficit in the NCAA tournament.

    Until they did.

    Providence got a dead-ball rebound with 11:45 remaining in the second half and did not get another one until there was 5:24 left on the clock. The Trojans scored on nine consecutive possessions, turning a 10-point deficit into a three-point lead they did not relinquish.

    Turnover-forcing defense had been the biggest strength for the Friars during the regular season, but there was no stopping USC during that rally.

Winner: Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova

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    It was a breakout tournament for Villanova's star of the future.
    It was a breakout tournament for Villanova's star of the future.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    To say the least, the 2017 NCAA tournament did not go according to plan for Villanova.

    The Wildcats struggled to get anything going in the first half of their first game against Mount St. Mary's and couldn't even survive the opening weekend before getting eliminated by Wisconsin. The star of last year's national championship game, Kris Jenkins, could not buy a bucket in either game. Josh Hart and Darryl Reynolds both floundered in the opener due to foul trouble. Mikal Bridges had one of the worst games of his career against the Badgers.

    The one bright spot was Donte DiVincenzo.

    The redshirt freshmanby the time his college career's over, he'll be the new Perry Ellisgot his first career double-double (21 points and 13 rebounds) against Mount St. Mary's. He came off the bench for another 15 points, six rebounds and three steals in the loss to Wisconsin. DiVincenzo shot 6-of-8 (75 percent) from three-point range while the rest of the team went a combined 5-of-25 (20 percent).

    With Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds all graduating, it was a given that this sixth man would be moving into the starting lineup next season. But based on what he showed us during Villanova's brief stay in the tournament, DiVincenzo could be the star of this team for several years to come.

Loser: No. 6 Seeds

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    Melo Trimble and Maryland were unable to escape the curse of the No. 6 seed.
    Melo Trimble and Maryland were unable to escape the curse of the No. 6 seed.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Conventional wisdom for more than a decade has been that you need to pick at least one No. 12 seed to knock off a No. 5 seed, but it has gotten to the point where No. 11 seeds fare better in the NCAA tournament than No. 6 seeds.

    From 2011-16, the No. 11 seeds went 13-11 in the first round. 2013 was the only year thus far in this decade that the "better" teams won more games than the ones that just barely got into the tournament. And the balance of power shifted even further in the lower seeds' favor this year.

    Cincinnati held serve against Kansas State, but both Creighton and Maryland lost by double-digit margins to Rhode Island and Xavier, respectively. The only close game of the bunch was SMU vs. USC, with the Trojans pulling off their second come-from-behind win in the tournament.

    The Bearcats didn't do much to carry the flag for the No. 6 seeds in the following round, either, giving up 79 points in a loss to UCLA.

    Factor in Xavier's run to the Elite Eight, and the No. 11 seeds (excluding the First Four games) won a combined five games as opposed to just one win for the No. 6 seeds.

    This is hardly a new phenomenon. The only No. 6 seed to reach the Elite Eight in the past seven years was Notre Dame last seasonand the Fighting Irish needed a last-second bucket to survive against No. 14 Stephen F. Austin. During that same time, three No. 11 seeds have played in a regional final, including VCU reaching the Final Four in 2011.

    Keep all that in mind next year before you talk yourself into a couple of No. 6 seeds reaching the second weekend.

Winner: Wisconsin and Florida Buzzer-Beaters

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    Chris Chiozza's running leaner put Florida in the Elite Eight.
    Chris Chiozza's running leaner put Florida in the Elite Eight.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    No matter how deep into the bracket we get before it happens, March Madness doesn't officially begin until the first successful buzzer-beater.

    There were plenty of failed attempts along the way.

    New Orleans blew an opportunity at the end of the first game of the First Four. Princeton missed a would-be game-winner at the buzzer against Notre Dame in the first game of the first round. SMU lost by one to USC when Shake Milton's last-second floater came up short. Vanderbilt blew a chance to beat Northwestern. Wichita State and Rhode Island both had multiple shots at the end of their second-round games. Michigan, Arizona and West Virginia all failed to get the job done in the Sweet 16.

    But, finally, in the last game of the Sweet 16, we were gifted two successful buzzer-beaters in the same game.

    It started when Wisconsin's Zak Showalter deftly stepped through two defenders, jumped over the three-point line and drained a game-tying triplebefore flashing a "discount double check" to Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Had Wisconsin won the game, that easily would have been one of the three greatest moments of the entire tournament.

    Chris Chiozza and Florida had other ideas in overtime. After Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes sank a pair of clutch free throws to give the Badgers a two-point lead, Chiozza went the length of the floor in four seconds, floated over the three-point line and nailed the type of off-balance game-winner that makes this the greatest postseason sporting event ever created.

Loser: The Mandate to Foul When Leading

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    Gonzaga was one of several teams to win despite not fouling when it probably should have.
    Gonzaga was one of several teams to win despite not fouling when it probably should have.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    When time is running out and you're clinging to a slim lead, there are two situations in which it's generally accepted that you should foul: A) When you have fouls to give before putting the opponent at the free-throw line, and B) When leading by three and trying to avoid a game-tying three-pointer.

    (The second option has been discussed so often for so long that the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective conducted a study in 2010, concluding it doesn't actually make any verifiable statistical difference. But most coaches now practiceand most analysts now preachit's better to foul up three and take your chances the opposing team won't make the first free throw, miss the second, get the offensive rebound and sink a game-winning three-pointer.)

    Multiple times in the tournament, though, options A and B were ignored to the benefit of the leading team.

    It started in the First Four when N.C. Central missed a pair of three-point attempts down by three in the closing seconds. Then, in the second round, Kentucky took a three-point lead with 11 seconds remaining and was able to block Wichita State's would-be attempt to tie the game rather than giving the foul. And in the Sweet 16, Gonzaga led West Virginia by three, only to watch the Mountaineers jack up two awful three-point attempts before letting the clock run out on their season.

    Oregon violated each cardinal rule in consecutive games. First, the Ducks allowed Rhode Island's E.C. Matthews to attempt a game-tying three with six seconds left in their second-round game and were fortunate that he missed. Then, in the Sweet 16, they still had multiple fouls to give with a one-point lead and just a few seconds remaining on the clock. Rather than fouling, they let Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. get a wide-open look at a step-back jumper that missed.

    As far as getting away with strange decisions regarding fouls is concerned, Oregon might be the luckiest Final Four team ever.

    The two times the not-fouling strategy appeared to have burned a team, they managed to win on buzzer-beaters anyway. As detailed on the previous slide, Florida prevailed in overtime after opting not to foul Wisconsin when up three with two seconds remaining. Two nights later, North Carolina decided not to foul Kentucky's Malik Monk on his game-tying three, but Luke Maye hit the game winner at the other end for the Tar Heels.

Winner: Indiana and Archie Miller

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    Archie Miller was just about the best possible hire for Indiana.
    Archie Miller was just about the best possible hire for Indiana.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Technically, Indiana wasn't part of the NCAA tournament. In fact, the Hoosiers were barely even a part of the NIT, as they got smoked by Georgia Tech in their opener. But for the first two weeks of the Big Dance, we probably spent more time talking about this program than any in the field.

    That's because Indiana announced it had relieved Tom Crean of his head coaching duties right as the first game of the first round was beginning. Thenceforth, it was all anyone wanted to talk about: Where will Crean end up, and who will replace him?

    We still don't have an answer to the first half of the question, but we found out a few hours before the start of the Elite Eight that former Dayton head coach Archie Miller will be the man at Assembly Hall for the foreseeable future.

    By all accounts, the decision was a home run. He should be a great fit at Indiana where—if everyone comes back rather than declaring for the NBA drafthe could be set up to immediately lead the Hoosiers to a deep tournament run.

    At least for Miller's sake, let's hope that's the case. Indiana has one of the most fickle fanbases in the country. They were singing Crean's praises when he led them to the 2016 Sweet 16 but were screaming for his head less than a year later.

    At least when that time comes, Archie can talk to his brother, Sean, about what it's like to have the fans turn on you. Arizona's head coach has won 124 games over the last four yearsmore than 347 of the other D-I programsyet some of the fans in Tucson have inexplicably begun to question whether he's the right man for the job.

Loser: Curmudgeons in Postgame Press Conferences

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    Frank Martin had a great March, both during and after games.
    Frank Martin had a great March, both during and after games.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Writing on a deadline is not easy.

    It's an adrenaline rush for most in the biz. There are few better feelings in life than the satisfaction of finishing a column, and needing to do so within 30 minutes of an incredible sporting event only ups the ante. However, it's a delicate situation where any inconveniencebe it a malfunctioning tape recorder, a slow-loading website or simply a distracting neighborcan push you over the edge from good pressure to full-blown panic.

    Thus, to an extent, I can understand where David Caraviello and Dennis Dodd were coming from when they were frustrated by the SI for Kids reporter (Max Bonnstetter) who asked Frank Martin a question that went viral. The whole exchange only took about 45 seconds, but that's precious time for a beat reporter desperately trying to work in a "Talk about" demand.

    Still, what in the world were they hoping to accomplish by publicly expressing that frustration?

    In what deluded section of their minds did they think anyone would jump on board with their elitist opinion about a kid's right to experience a dream job? Did they really think anyone would commiserate in the plight of the poor, salaried sports reporters getting free food, reimbursed travel and court-side seats?

    Too many people in this industry have forgotten that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who would quit their jobs in half a heartbeat to write about sports. If Caraviello and Dodd needed to feel anything negative about the whole situation, it should have been shame that an eight-year-old with zero years of experience asked one of the best postgame presser questions of this decade.

    Rodger Sherman of The Ringerwho was in that postgame press conferencetweeted when the opinions of those curmudgeons started floating around the web, "Every time I cover sports, I think about how cool a job I have and how lucky I am that I have it, and I need you to yell at me if that ever stops."

    Ditto.

Winner: Southeastern Conference

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    Florida helped the SEC make a statement.
    Florida helped the SEC make a statement.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    For a while, there was no telling which conference would get the token spot as one of the winners of the tournament.

    The Big Ten got out to a nice start, sending three teams to the Sweet 16, despite only getting one team on the top four seed lines (No. 4 Purdue). For most of the season, we blathered on about this being a down year for the Big Ten, but it had quite the laugh when it was tied for the most teams to survive the NCAA tournament's opening weekend. However, not one of those three teams reached the Elite Eight.

    The Pac-12 has one heck of a case, too. Through two rounds, the Conference of Champions was 8-1 with three teams that looked like threats to vie for a national championship. But Arizona, Oregon and UCLA had been title candidates for months, so it was no surprise to see them reach the regional semifinals. If anything, it was a bit shocking that only one of them made it into the Elite Eight, particularly with Arizona losing to No. 11 Xavier.

    After ruling those two conferences out, the SEC is the clear winner.

    No. 2 Kentucky reaching the Elite Eight was no surprise, but No. 4 Florida was, considering it lost three of its last four games heading into the dance. And No. 7 South Carolina reaching the Final Four was one of the biggest surprises in tournament history. Throw in No. 8 Arkansas darn near upsetting North Carolina in the second round, and the SEC clearly came to play this March.

Loser: ACC

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    The ACC's performance in the NCAA tournament was a head-scratcher.
    The ACC's performance in the NCAA tournament was a head-scratcher.Lance King/Getty Images

    For all the comparisons made between the 2010-11 Big East and 2016-17 ACC, did anyone bother to point out before this year's tournament just how poorly the Big East fared in March 2011?

    That league sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament, but four of them failed to survive the first round, and only two got out of the first weekend. No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Syracuse all lost in the second round, leaving No. 3 Connecticut and No. 11 Marquettewhich knocked out Syracuseas the only teams in the Sweet 16. But because the Huskies went on to win it all, the Big East's early struggles slipped our collective mind.

    The ACC put on one heck of an encore, though, crashing and burning after months of being heralded as possibly the greatest conference ever assembled.

    No. 8 Miami, No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 11 Wake Forest each lost its opening game while looking like it had never played defense before. But the real carnage came in the second round. No. 3 Florida State, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 5 Virginia each got blown out by a double-digit margin, and No. 2 seeds Duke and Louisville lost to No. 7 seeds South Carolina and Michigan, respectively.

    The ink on our brackets had barely dried before eight of the ACC's nine teams were sent packing.

    Regular-season champion and No. 1 seed North Carolina did everything in its power to save the conference's name, but it's hard to believe the almighty ACC struggled this much after sending four teams to the 2016 Elite Eight.

Winner: Xavier Musketeers

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    Trevon Bluiett carried Xavier to three victories.
    Trevon Bluiett carried Xavier to three victories.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    As far as upsets are concerned, the first two rounds of the 2017 NCAA tournament were bland. We've already mentioned three of the No. 11 seeds beating No. 6 seeds, but that was about it. No. 12 Middle Tennessee was the lowest-seeded team to win a first-round game, and 15 of the teams in the Sweet 16 were seeded No. 8 or better.

    The one exception to the rule was Xavier.

    Ranked No. 7 in the preseason AP Top 25, the Musketeers darn near played themselves out of the tournament before Selection Sunday. Over the final nine weeks, they went 3-11 against teams that made the dance, including six consecutive losses near the end of the regular season. It's only because they scheduled so well in nonconference play that they were able to survive that meltdown and sneak in as a No. 11 seed.

    But they peaked at the right moment.

    Trevon Bluiett averaged 25.0 points in the process of upsetting No. 6 Maryland, No. 3 Florida State and No. 2 Arizona to reach the Elite Eight. Sean O'Mara and Kaiser Gates were outstanding off the bench. And for the first time since long before losing Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL, the Musketeers were engaged on defense and avoided turnovers on offense.

    It was the sixth time in the last 10 years that Xavier at least made it to the Sweet 16, and it became the sixth double-digit seed in the last 12 years to reach the Elite Eight.

Loser: Officiating

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    Officiating seems to be a talking point every year.
    Officiating seems to be a talking point every year.Associated Press

    Officiating in the second half of the national championship game was an atrocity, but it wasn't much better in the earlier rounds.

    Nobody's perfect, but college basketball referees seem to get things right about as often as your local meteorologist. And there were quite a few instances in the NCAA tournament in which poor officiating altered the outcome of the game.

    In the first-round game between Seton Hall and Arkansas, the Pirates were down by one with 24 seconds remaining and trying to foul to extend the game. First, the refs missed a blatant travel by Arkansas. Then, they compounded the error by whistling Desi Rodriguez for a flagrant foul for a harmless push. Arkansas made three out of four free throws on that possession, effectively ending the game.

    The following round, Arkansas was on the wrong end of one of the most bizarre no-calls of all time. North Carolina led by one with 46 seconds remaining. Joel Berry drove to the lane with the shot clock winding down. He was met by a defender who grabbed at the ball for what possibly could have been called a tie-up.

    Berry then took three steps before crashing into another defender while heaving the ball toward the basket. It should have been traveling. It could have been a block or charge. The only thing it shouldn't have been was a Kennedy Meeks putback layup with no whistles.

    There were also several physical games involving South Carolina or West Virginia in which those teams committed fouls on so many possessions that the officials unofficially instituted a "no blood, no foul" policy. This was especially true in the second half of South Carolina's Elite Eight win over Florida.

    "If they're stronger than you and they're allowed to play more physical, there's not much you can do," Florida's Chris Chiozza told B/R's Jordan Brenner after the game. "We tried to use our speed, we got around them, and then we get to the rim and there's three guys coming and swinging for the ball. It's on the refs to give us a foul at the rim when we get there, or they say it's not a foul. They didn't call any in the second half, and that's pretty much how it went down the stretch."

    Worst of all, though, was when the officials missed a goaltending call late in the second-round game between Gonzaga and Northwestern. Zach Collins put his hand through the rim to block a Northwestern shot attempt, after which Northwestern head coach Chris Collins went ballistic. The shot should have brought NW back to within three. Instead, after the technical foul, Gonzaga led by seven, and that was that.

    The best refs are the ones you barely notice, but the officials in the NCAA tournament repeatedly put themselves in the spotlight with questionable decisions.

Winner: Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern finally made the NCAA tournament and won a game.
    Northwestern finally made the NCAA tournament and won a game.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Despite the aforementioned officiating gaffe that may have robbed Northwestern of a chance to reach the Sweet 16, this will still go down as the greatest season in program history.

    As you may have heard a few thousand times over the past decade, Northwestern had never been to the NCAA tournament before. In fact, the Wildcats hadn't come all that close, failing to win more than 20 games in a season prior to going 24-12 this year.

    But they finally got into the tournament and even won a game.

    No. 8 Northwestern knocked out Vanderbilt in one of the most entertaining games of the first round. The Wildcats had a 15-point lead in the final 15 minutes before giving it all away. After watching the Commodores shoot their way back into the game, Northwestern managed to hang on to win the type of nail-biter it had become infamous for losing in recent years.

    In the second round, the Wildcats gave Gonzaga more than it bargained for, scoring 53 second-half points against the nation's most efficient defense.

    Those of us watching the game on television could have done with significantly fewer camera shots of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the "Crying Northwestern Kid," but it was good to watch this program go nose-to-nose with a title contender. As long as Chris Collins remains the head coach, good things should continue to come Northwestern's way.

Loser: Devonte Graham's Final (?) Game

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    Will Devonte' Graham leave on a sour note?
    Will Devonte' Graham leave on a sour note?Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Amid all the fuss over guys like Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, Devonte' Graham quietly became an indispensable weapon for the Kansas Jayhawks. A secondary point guard with great on-ball defense and a lethal three-point jumper, Graham has been a star who just so happened to be obscured by brighter ones.

    Through the first three games of the tournament, Graham was in the running for MVP of the Jayhawks. He was averaging 20.0 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals while shooting 59.1 percent from three-point range. Everyone looked good as Kansas won those games by an average margin of 30 points, but Graham was one of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks entered the Elite Eight as the clear favorite to win the national championship.

    Unfortunately, he became the biggest reason they failed to reach the Final Four.

    Both Graham and Jackson were held scoreless in the first half against Oregon, but Jackson eventually turned things around and finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Graham never got into a rhythm, though, and played 38 of the worst minutes of his career. He was 0-of-6 from three-point range and air-balled his only two-point attempt of the game. He had just two assists and failed to record a steal for the first time in more than six weeks.

    If he decides to forgo his senior year and enter the NBA draft, that one poor performance won't likely have any effect on his perceived role as a three-and-D guy. But if it was his final game in a Kansas jersey, it wasn't much of a swansong performance.

Winner: Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

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    A lot of people finally found out about Sindarius Thornwell.
    A lot of people finally found out about Sindarius Thornwell.Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    From 1975 to 2016, South Carolina only played in four NCAA tournament games, losing each one of them. But this March, the Gamecocks won four games and reached their first Final Four in school history.

    They owe it all to Sindarius Thornwell.

    Three weeks ago, few casual fans had ever heard of the 2017 SEC Player of the Year. But there's a good chance the popularity of the name "Sindarius" is going to increase exponentially in the Palmetto State over the course of the next nine months.

    Thornwell scored at least 24 points in each of South Carolina's first four games, jump-starting an offense that had been missing in action for the entire 2016-17 season. It was more than just the points, though. Thornwell was also one of the best individual defenders all year, recording at least one steal in every game since mid-November. He was also South Carolina's primary source of rebounds.

    A lot of players enhanced their NBA draft stock in the NCAA tournament, but perhaps none more than Thornwell.

    De'Aaron Fox's 39-point game against UCLA might have been worth a couple million dollars. Same goes for the big game Zach Collins had in the Final Four against South Carolina. But those guys simply improved draft position. Thornwell's run in the tournament propelled him from a guy on nobody's draft board to a potential first-rounder.

Loser: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Minnesota was on the wrong end of one of the only first-round upsets
    Minnesota was on the wrong end of one of the only first-round upsetsMorry Gash/Associated Press

    By and large, the first round of the NCAA tournament was devoid of upsets. Every team on the top four seed lines won its opener, and only three of those 16 games were decided by a single-digit marginnone closer than six points. Even three of the No. 5 seeds were able to avert disaster against those pesky No. 12 seeds.

    The one exception to the rule was Minnesota, which lost in the first round to Middle Tennessee.

    The Golden Gophers had the most radical turnaround from last season. They went from 8-23 to 24-10, increasing their winning percentage from 25.8 to 70.6. No other team made a jump of 40.0 percent or more, but they went up 44.8 percent.

    It wasn't enough to win a game in the NCAA tournament, though.

    Defense was Minnesota's calling card all season long. It ranked second in the nation in block percentage and had one of the best defensive effective field-goal percentages. However, you wouldn't know it from the ease with which MTSU was able to score.

    No matter who the Blue Raiders faced in the first round, they were going to be a popular pick. They entered the tournament with a 30-4 record and arguably deserved much better than the No. 12 seed they were given. In that regard, it was poor luck of the draw for the Golden Gophers.

    But they'll be back for redemption next year. As long as Minnesota doesn't lose any transfers, you can take it to the bank that this team will have a preseason AP ranking of No. 23 or better for the first time in more than two decades. Perhaps this early exit will help prepare the Golden Gophers for a deep run in 2018.

Winner: Offenses in Michigan vs. Oklahoma State

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    Michigan's postseason run included a fantastic game against Oklahoma State
    Michigan's postseason run included a fantastic game against Oklahoma StateMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Defense was the story of the 2017 NCAA tournament. There were 11 games in which the winning team failed to score 70 points, and there was only one game in which the losing team scored more than 83.

    That one mutually high-scoring game sure was a lot of fun, though, wasn't it?

    In the first game of the first Friday of the tournament, Michigan and Oklahoma State went back and forth with incredible offense. The Cowboys shot 54.7 percent and dominated the Wolverines in rebound margin, but the latter shot 16-of-29 from three-point range while committing just four turnovers to escape with a 92-91 win.

    Both starting point guards were phenomenal. Derrick Walton Jr. and Jawun Evans had a combined 49 points, 23 assists and 12 rebounds. In total, nine players scored in double figures, and all 12 guys who logged at least 10 minutes had an O-rating of 110 or better.

    In a nutshell, this game was everything we hoped it would be. Both Michigan and Oklahoma State ranked top-five in adjusted offensive efficiency, but neither one had been great on defense. Once they got going after a slow start, it was a bucket-trading bonanza.

    Here's hoping the selection committee gives us more first-round pairings like that in the future. Everyone loves to root for upsets on the first two days of the tournament, but it was fun to sit back and enjoy an old-fashioned shootout.

Loser: Ending of Oregon vs. North Carolina

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    Oregon was unable to capitalize on North Carolina's poor end-game execution
    Oregon was unable to capitalize on North Carolina's poor end-game executionDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    In a perfect world, teams that reach the Final Four would be playing their best in April. Both Gonzaga and South Carolina were hot heading into the national semifinals and delivered a fun game with more offense than anyone was expecting.

    Oregon vs. North Carolina was another story.

    A couple of guys brought their A-games. Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks both shone brightly for the Tar Heels, while Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell did all they could to keep the Ducks in the game. But neither team shot well from the field, and things got especially ugly in the final six minutes.

    North Carolina's Joel Berry II made a three-pointer with 5:55 remaining. For the rest of the game, the Tar Heels missed all five of their field-goal attempts, committed four fouls and two turnovers, and shot 6-of-13 from the free-throw line, including missing all four attempts in the final six seconds.

    The Ducks were unable to take advantage, allowing North Carolina to grab not one but two offensive rebounds of missed free throws at the end of the game.

    Berry and Isaiah Hicks went a combined 3-of-26 from the field. Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey weren't much better at 5-of-22. The failed boxout is the moment we'll remember, but it was a sloppy game by both teams from start to finish.

Winner: Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Losing in the title game hurts now, but Gonzaga has a lot to smile about.
    Losing in the title game hurts now, but Gonzaga has a lot to smile about.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    They might not feel like winners at the moment, but the Bulldogs made it deeper into the NCAA tournament than ever before in school history.

    It wasn't the prettiest or easiest road. Gonzaga struggled to score in the first round against South Dakota State. It had trouble defending in the second half of the second-round game against Northwestern. The Sweet 16 game against West Virginia was the rock fight to end all rock fights.

    But the Zags just kept winning.

    In addition to reaching their first Final Four, they made it to their first national championship game before giving North Carolina all it could handle. They weren't quite able to win their first title, but at least they shut up the people who had been saying for the past decade that this former Cinderella would never make it to a national semifinal.

    Individual players on the team were big winners, as well. Przemek Karnowski became a national phenomenon who now might have some sort of future in the NBA. Zach Collins emerged from sixth man to potential one-and-done lottery pick. And Nigel Williams-Goss finally got a chance to show the East Coast why he belonged in the conversation for National Player of the Year.

    This wasn't a one-hit wonder, either. Of all the teams to reach the Final Four, Gonzaga is the one most likely to be back again in 2018.

    Perhaps next April, the Zags will be the ones completing a quest for redemption.

    Advanced statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and KenPom.com.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.