NCAA Tournament 2011: 8 Things We Learned from the Sweet 16

Bill CodyCorrespondent IIIMarch 26, 2011

NCAA Tournament 2011: 8 Things We Learned from the Sweet 16

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    WASHINGTON - MARCH 19:  The Connecticut Huskies mascot performs during their game against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Verizon Center on March 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Car
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    We are four games from the Final Four, with the Elite Eight games set to tip off today and tomorrow. The Elite Eight has much to live up to, as the Sweet 16 featured big upsets and two overtime games. Aside from North Carolina and Kansas' blowout victories, none of the other six games were decided by more than seven points.

    Here are eight things we learned from the Sweet 16.

8. The Mid-majors Are Here To Stay

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    On second thought. Commonwealth does belong!
    On second thought. Commonwealth does belong!Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Not only did Butler and VCU make the Elite Eight, but Florida needed overtime to knock out BYU while San Diego State had UConn on the ropes late in the second half before Kemba Walker took over with his play and acting.  

    We all know the reasons why mid-majors are succeeding: They have kids who stay for four years while many of the top powers now rent players for a single season. Still, no one really expected the mid-majors to do as well as they have to this point.

7. Butler Has Replaced Gonzaga As the Nation's Premier Bulldogs and Mid-major

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 24:  Andrew Smith #44 of the Butler Bulldogs goes up against Keaton Nankivil #52 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Southeast regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 24, 2011 in New Orle
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    One year after taking Duke to the buzzer in the championship game, Butler is threatening to make its second straight Final Four appearance. Even if the Bulldogs aren't able to get by Florida, they still went further than most "experts" predicted, and one round further than the higher-seeded Dukies.

6. Parity Has Come to College Basketball

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes brings the ball up court against DeAndre Liggins #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on Mar
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    With seven different conferences represented in the Elite Eight, it's quite clear that parity is the name of the game. Even more surprising is that the only conference with two teams left in the tourney is the SEC, which many felt was having a down year. Also, if Kentucky didn't pull off a major upset over prohibitive favorite Ohio State, there would have been eight different conferences in the Elite Eight. 

5. East Coast Bias Is Real

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    MILWAUKEE - MARCH 3: ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps gives life commentary before the game between the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Pittsburgh Panthers on March 3, 2007 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Dan
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's very obvious that the two best teams in the Pac-10 were every bit as good or better than the teams in the ACC. How do we know this? Because North Carolina needed some very questionable calls to slip past the University of Washington in the third round and Arizona pounded Duke on Thursday. Yet, Duke got a one seed and the Tar Heels got a two, while Washington and Arizona had to settle for seven and five seeds, respectively.

    I'll address the Big East fiasco later.

4. The Big East Is the Most Overrated Conference in America

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  Jae Crowder #32 of the Marquette Golden Eagles reacts after a play against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in N
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Let's face it. Even if Connecticut wins it all (and it might the way Kemba Walker is playing), there is still no way the Big East deserved 11 teams in the tourney. Most of the teams looked pathetic during the tournament, and both Connecticut and Marquette made it to the Sweet 16 by knocking off Big East teams in the third round. Marquette looked like a high school team against North Carolina. Pathetic.

3. The Pac-10 Is Only the Second Most Underrated Conference in America

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    ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 24:  Derrick Williams #23 of the Arizona Wildcats dunks the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during the west regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 24, 2011 in Anaheim, California.
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    At one point in the season, pundits were questioning whether the Pac-10 deserved more than one team in the NCAA tournament. The Pac-10 ultimately got four teams, but USC was forced to play a first-round game against VCU.

    The other three Pac-10 teams in the NCAA tournament all won their second-round games, but both UCLA and Washington lost tough third-round games after being given low seeds by the selection committee.

    Washington in particular played a great game against North Carolina, but came up short during a frantic finish that featured several tough calls against each team down the stretch. But after Arizona's shellacking of one-seed Duke and UNC's pounding of Marquette, it's pretty obvious the Pac-10 got screwed by its low seeds. 

2. The SEC Is the Most Underrated Conference

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 24:  Patric Young #4 and Vernon Macklin #32 of the Florida Gators celebrate durig their 83 to 74 win over the Brigham Young Cougars during the Southeast regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at New Orleans Arena on
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Considering the way the tournament has gone so far, I won't make any predictions, but it is very possible that the SEC will get two teams through to the Final Four after being the only team to get two into the Elite Eight. Then again, Butler may get by Florida, and UNC-Kentucky has to be considered a toss-up. 

    But it doesn't matter at this point. The SEC was a better league than it was given credit for, and its play in the postseason has shown it. Georgia lost a tough game to Washington, and Alabama, who should have received one of those 11 spots given to the Big East, is still alive in the NIT.

    The only team that may have laid an egg was Vanderbilt, but even the Commodores played a close game before losing to Richmond, which ended up making the Sweet 16.

1. Anyone Can Win It All

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 25:  Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks and Marcus Morris look on during the southwest regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Alamodome against the Richmond Spiders on March 25, 2011 in San Antonio, T
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Obviously, the pundits will still be touting Kansas as the team to beat after the way the Jayhawks pounded Richmond. But was that win any more impressive than Carolina's manhandling of Marquette or Arizona's methodical beatdown of Duke? More impressive than Kentucky's upset of Ohio State? Is there anyone who wants to bet against Butler after this year and last year? Or bet against Kemba Walker? 

    All I know is that this may be the best Elite Eight we've had in years, with storylines galore and a lot of basketball still left to play. Enjoy.