One thing that is always fun to look at during the NCAA Tournament is how well each conference is performing. Teams should obviously be seen as individuals, but at the end of the day they do represent a certain conference’s reputation. Most of the major conferences this year have performed similarly: getting some teams through to the third round, while having others lose in disappointing fashion. There were two that stand out above the rest as clear winners and one that has not come close to its expectations.
SEC: Teams Remaining (3 of 3)-
Everyone knows that this was an extremely down year for the Southeastern Conference, but maybe not quite as down as we all thought. The only teams that made the field originally were the Florida Gators, Kentucky Wildcats, and Tennessee Volunteers. All three still remain in the round of 32.
The biggest surprise of the trio has to be Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s team is clearly a force to be reckoned with after beating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the First Four and the Massachusetts Minutemen handily in the Second Round. A favorable draw also awaits the Vols in Bob Hoffman’s Mercer Bears.
Kentucky also has a solid win under their belt after beating the Kansas State Wildcats. Freshman standout Julius Randle played fantastic by logging 19 points and 15 rebounds in his first NCAA Tournament game. In the third round it will be a much anticipated meeting with the Wichita State Shockers. Kentucky provides the marquee program that the Shockers’ doubters have been waiting to see them play all year.
Finally, Florida took care of business as expected against the Albany Great Danes in the round of 64. Now the Gators meet the Pittsburgh Panthers who looked extremely formidable in their second round win. The Gators will be favored, but Billy Donovan was furious with how his team played against Albany. The coach clearly showed that he believes his team has to be better in order to go to the Final Four.
For all of the critics the SEC had going into the postseason, to have all three teams in the round of 32 is pretty impressive. What would be even more eye opening is if all three make it to the second weekend in their respective regions.
PAC-12: Teams Remaining (4 of 6)-
Every year the PAC-12 teams seem to fly under the radar going into the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it is because of the east coast bias, the ESPN bias, or people just think the teams are never that good. Time after time; however, the conference proves its worth when it matters.
Four out of the six teams playing in the second round moved on to the weekend games. These four teams are the Arizona Wildcats, UCLA Bruins, Oregon Ducks, and Stanford Cardinal. The only two that lost were the Colorado Buffaloes and Arizona State Sun Devils. The Buffaloes got their doors blown off by Pittsburgh, but were expected to lose without their best player Spencer Dinwiddie. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils went down in heart breaking fashion courtesy of the Texas Longhorns.
What makes the PAC-12 winners thus far is that the teams expected to win did so and a minor upset was also scored. Arizona and UCLA each were clear cut favorites and even if the end scores were closer than they would have liked, the name of the game is survive and advance. Arizona now has to deal with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA has the Cinderella Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks up next.
Meanwhile, one of the most impressive performances in the round of 64 was by the Oregon Ducks. Dana Altman’s squad dominated the BYU Cougars by winning 87 to 68 and look forward to a matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers. Even though Oregon will be the underdog, their second round win proves that they can play with just about anybody when they are on top of their game.
The minor upset for the PAC-12 was Stanford over the New Mexico Lobos. Johnny Dawkins was on the hot seat before the season started and now his team is in the round of 32 getting ready to play Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks. Even though the conference has been perfect, it has been able to avoid the madness through the first two rounds.
A-10: Teams Remaining (2 of 6)-
The Atlantic 10 was lauded this year for still being able to get six teams into the Big Dance after losing the Butler Bulldogs and Xavier Musketeers. While people thought the A-10 was a viable conference going into the tournament, they haven’t been showing it thus far.
Things got off to a great start as the Dayton Flyers upset the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first game of the day on Thursday. As Dayton was the last of the conference’s teams to get into the field, things were looking extremely promising. The good start was short lived though as things went downhill after that.
Jim Crew’s Saint Louis Billikens are the only other team to advance from the second round, and they needed a collapse by the NC State Wolfpack to make it happen. The Billikens trailed by six with 1:03 remaining, but managed to send the game to overtime. Led by Rob Loe’s 22 points they were able to outlast the Wolfpack in overtime winning be three.
A win is a win and Saint Louis will not be complaining, but it did not do much in way of proving the conference’s worth. Combining that with the losses of the VCU Rams, UMass Minutemen, Saint Joseph’s Hawks, and George Washington Colonials, the A-10 may have been extremely overvalued headed into the tournament.
This is why it is more important for a conference to have teams performing well in the tournament rather than just receiving bids. The SEC got half the number of bids as the A-10, but have more teams remaining in the round of 32. Keep in mind that a lot can still happen and the tournament is still young; the true winners and losers are yet to be decided.