What a weekend! The bottom line is teams 20 through 70 are all the same, it just depends on who is playing where and who is hot and who is not. Had the NCAA put St. Mary’s, San Diego State or Monmouth in the field and left out Tulsa, Vanderbilt or Michigan there could have been more or other upsets. Should those teams have all made it? It is a very tough call as you have to take out teams to place others in, but one thing to remember is all teams had a chance to play in by winning a conference tournament. I just wish conference regular season championships would be given more consideration, especially those that dominate a league. But now it is on to the Sweet 16 where the heavyweights are in place, with a dozen teams from the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
I am picking Kansas to win it all as it makes it to the second weekend for the first time since 2013. The Jayhawks haven’t lost since Jan. 25 at Iowa State, when they were just 5-3 in league play and many people thought the end was near for its Big 12 title streak. In the 16-game winning streak that’s followed, KU has nine double-digit wins. Perry Ellis is averaging 16.9 points per game. Here is a reminder to all those thinking about transferring after one year…he averaged 13.6 minutes and 5.8 points in his freshman year. It is great to see patience pay off. Maryland could pose a challenge, as the Terps are making their first Sweet 16 since 2003, a stat I found hard to believe.
Way out West
Out West, with all due respect to Lon Kruger and his fantastic Oklahoma team, I think it is time for the Pac-12 to break through and get a team in the Final Four for the first time since UCLA in 2008. Dana Altman has his Ducks on a 10-game winning streak and don’t overlook the fact Oregon has gone 16-2 since mid-January. Altman’s seven-man rotation is flexible and has a good mix of experience and length. Dillon Brooks is on a roll and I like the fact Oregon’s top three scorers all shoot above 70 percent from the free throw line. I’ve been talking about the Ducks for months now, so I’m not jumping ship now. Having said that, the Sooners have Buddy Hield and Buddy has been terrific. If seeds hold, Saturday’s Oregon-Oklahoma game is must-see-TV for sure.
East by Northeast
In the East, I don’t think Wisconsin can get the game ugly enough to get to Final Four for a third straight season, but Greg Gard has done an amazing job. Notre Dame probably doesn’t play enough defense, and while I love everything Indiana has done this year and truly appreciate all that Tom Crean has accomplished, UNC is just too talented and playing too well. I give UNC a small edge over Indiana, but it will be a great game. Mark it down.
Sweet Home Chicago
A double-digit seed will be in the Elite Eight in the Midwest, and maybe Tony Bennett and Virginia can pull off a trip to the Final Four without playing a seed higher than four on the way. But you can throw the seeds out. If the Cavaliers get past Iowa State, Bennett will either need to beat a Hall of Fame coach in Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim or arguably the best current coach never to reach the Final Four in Mark Few of Gonzaga. However, the Cyclones are lurking first and anyone who played the Big 12 schedule and is still standing can’t be overlooked. I think the winner of Iowa State-Virginia is off to Houston.
So there you have it: Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia – all the top seeds, but since we know that rarely happens let’s call Oklahoma and Iowa State as my next teams in.
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.