NCAA tournament reset: First weekend wrapup, Sweet 16 preview
Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle were among the biggest stories of the NCAA tournament's first week, and will remain so as the Sweet 16 commences Thursday.
The first week of the NCAA tournament is in the books.
Were there a ton of buzzer-beaters? Nope, but there was plenty to talk about.
History was made when Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga disappointed again -- and the dream remains alive for a team to follow VCU's blueprint from the First Four to the Final Four. There are three teams from the Sunshine State still alive, and the potential of an all-Big Ten Final Four is also still a possibility.
It's time to take a look at what happened -- and what's on tap for the Sweet 16:
OPENING WEEKEND STORYLINES
Gulf Coast History: Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA history to advance to the Sweet 16. The Eagles pulled off the upset over second-seeded Georgetown and then took care of No. 7 San Diego State in convincing fashion. Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield was best-known for his marriage to a former Maxim model entering the tourney, but now he's become the hottest coach in America.
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Zags go down: Gonzaga had a nice easy road to make its first-ever appearance in the Final Four, but the Zags got a scare from No. 16 Southern and then bowed out against ninth-seeded Wichita State. Mark Few's team secured a No. 1 seed due to its dominance in the WCC and a perfect 5-0 mark against the Big 12, but became the first No. 1 seed to fall.
Bye bye, Ben: Ben Howland faced Tubby Smith in a loser-go-home matchup. UCLA lost to Minnesota and Howland was officially fired on Sunday night after a decade in Westwood and three Final Four appearances. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero decided that the Howland Era had run its course, and continuous on-air criticism from former UCLA star Bill Walton certainly didn't help his case.
Exploring: La Salle got the final at-large spot in the entire field, was the 49th overall seed on the committee's list of 68, and is now in the Sweet 16 after three victories. Dr. John Giannini's team had to beat Boise State in the First Four, then knocked off No. 4 Kansas State and then took care of Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss in the Round of 32.
Wild, Wild West: The West region was the weakest of the four and all hell has broken loose in that grouping. No. 1 Gonzaga is gone, No. 3 New Mexico was knocked out, No. 4 Kansas State is home and No. 5 Wisconsin was upset. Second-seeded Ohio State faces No. 6Arizona and No. 9 Wichita State will play No. 13 La Salle in the other Sweet 16 matchup. Yes, that means one of Wichita or La Salle will play with a Final Four berth on the line.
Elites advance: Gonzaga is the lone No. 1 seed to fall thus far. Louisville, the top overall seed in the event, advanced. Indiana and Kansas also won their first two games.
Shaka, Brad head home: VCU's Shaka Smart and the Rams got destroyed by Michigan while his partner in stardom, Butler's Brad Stevens, was knocked out in a close contest against Marquette. These two coaches are expected to be the top two targets of UCLA (and probably every other high-major school with an opening).
Historic Harvard: Tommy Amaker's Crimson were supposed to win their first-ever NCAA tournament game next season (or last season), not this year. Remember, this group lost arguably its two best players, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, prior to the start of the season due to an academic scandal that involved more than 125 students. Harvard barely won the Ivy League, but shocked the nation when it took down No. 3 New Mexico.
Big-time shots: Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Victor Oladipo (Indiana) are considered the two elite perimeter defenders in the country, but both saved their Big Ten teams on Sunday with 3-pointers in the waning seconds of the game. Craft struggled with decision-making and his shot, but drilled a huge trifecta to beat Iowa State while Oladipo canned a wide-open shot from beyond the arc to help his Indiana Hoosiers escape with a victory over Khalif Wyatt and Temple.
Dixon staying put: There were some close to Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon who thought he was gone, headed back home to the west coast and USC. Instead, just prior to an appearance on CBS as a guest analyst, the school put out a release that Dixon had inked a 10-year extension to remain with the Panthers through 2023. Call me shocked.
Georgetown's latest March fall: John Thompson III was our national coach of the year, but that was prior to the NCAA tournament. If we voted again, it would probably be Marquette's Buzz Williams. The Hoyas went down yet again to a double-digit seed, the fifth straight time that's happened. Georgetown lost to No. 10 Davidson in the round of 32 in 2008, lost to No. 14 Ohio in the first round in 2010, fell to No. 11 VCU in the round of 64 in 2011, went down to No. 11 N.C. State in the round of 32 last season and this year it was against 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
Swan song for McDermott?: Did Creighton's Doug McDermott play his final game in a Bluejays uniform? We'll know in the next few weeks. McDermott & Co. came up short against the Duke Blue Devils, and he struggled in what might have been his final game. He was 4-of-16 from the field, and it would be sad if that was his last college basketball performance.
SWEET 16 SETUP
Best matchup: Duke vs. Michigan State in the Sweet 16? C'mon, seriously. This matchup features arguably the two best active coaches in the country, Coach K and Tom Izzo. Krzyzewski has four national titles and is the all-time winningest coach in D-I history while Izzo has gone to a half-dozen Final Fours and won a national title in 2000.
Heavy hitters: Indiana will meet Syracuse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The Hoosiers will go in as the favorites, but the 'Cuse seems to have their swagger back after a strong Big East tourney and wins over Montana and Cal in the first two games of the NCAA tournament.
Coolest story: Florida Gulf Coast -- Imagine what Dave Balza is thinking right now. Balza was Andy Enfield's predecessor with the Eagles. He was the only coach in the history of the program until he was fired two years ago and replaced by Enfield. Now Gulf Coast has gone from the Division II ranks to the Sweet 16 in just six years.
Tightest bond: Sean Miller and Thad Matta. Miller was on Matta's staff at Xavier for a few years and now the two coaches will meet in the Sweet 16 when No. 5 Arizona plays No. 2 Ohio State in Los Angeles. It'll be interesting to see whether Wildcats guard Mark Lyons can handle the constant defensive pressure from Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft.
Most impressive: Michigan. The nation's best point guard, Trey Burke, struggled in a win over South Dakota State and also had seven turnovers against VCU. However, John Beilein's team pulled away from Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits and then pummeled Shaka Smart and VCU. Freshman Mitch McGary was dominant against VCU and Tim Hardaway Jr. did a nice job handling the Rams' pressure.
Never would have thought: Wichita State will play La Salle with an Elite Eight berth on the line. A month or so ago, both teams appeared headed to the NIT. Now one will be a step away from the Final Four. Gregg Marshall's Shockers lost most of their team from a year ago and the Explorers were picked in the bottom half of the A-10.
Buzzing again: Everyone shook their head in disbelief when Buzz Williams was given the Marquette job five years ago after Tom Crean left for Indiana. Williams has taken the program to five straight NCAA tourney berths and three consecutive Sweet 16's. This one, though, is the most impressive since he doesn't possess a single future NBA guy on the roster.
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