It is, as usual, a chalk city tournament, with some adjustments.
Much has always been made of the Cinderella aspect of the first weekend of the three-week long NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The thrill of victory for lower seeded teams, the agony of defeat for the top seeds who knew on Valentine's Day they would still be playing on the Ides of March.
But by Monday morning, after the field was pared from 68 to 64 to 32 to 16, the trend was again clear. The Power 5 (six if you include the Big East) Conferences overwhelmed the survivor pool. If there is a surprise--a genuine head scratcher--for many college basketball fans it was the collapse of the Atlantic Coast Conference,which went from 9 teams to one survivor.
Who saw that coming?
What we have among the survivors is Power 6 conference parity- Big 12 three teams (Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia),Pac-12 three teams (UCLA, Arizona, Oregon), SEC three teams (Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina),and the Big Ten three teams (Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin). The Big East has two teams (Butler and Xavier) and the ACC has only North Carolina. Outside of the Power 6--there is only Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference.
Oh, there are Cinderella stories if you want to throw in Xavier and Butler or Michigan, which has come out of the Big Ten pack and may be playing as well as anyone in the country. If you throw in the bench skills of Coach John Belein you have a dangerous opponent for Oregon to handle this weekend. But considering the way the Big Ten appeared to stumble during the regular season, both Purdue and Wisconsin would also be surprise winners, Purdue more than Wisconsin.
In the Big East, with defending national champion Villlanova gone, either Butler or Xavier loom as major underdogs. Butler must beat North Carolina and Xavier must beat Arizona.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
In the SEC, South Carolina, which pulled off one of the more unexpected upsets of the weekend by knocking off No. 2 seed Duke, would be a major surprise, although beating Baylor would not stun most fans. Beating North Carolina would be a shocker.
Gonzaga, which has lost only once this season and is the No. 1 seed in the West, still has not overwhelmed anyone in the tournament, and must prove it can beat a Top 4 team at crunch time in an elimination situation. And someone is going to be gone before the weekend when No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 UCLA stage their rematch in a South Regional semifinal game in Memphis.
The bottom line here is that you could make an argument for as many as eight teams--Gonzaga, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, North Carolina, Kentucky,Wisconsin or Kansas--as national champion. NO ONE really jumps out at you, which means we have parity in a 16-team tournament.
Is that good for college basketball? Or should there be one team that stands above all the others and fights off the challengers?
It has been a fun tournament thus far and should get better this weekend.[/membership]