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