Forty-eight schools have been eliminated from this year’s version of March Madness. We are down to the Sweet 16. We will be down to four schools come Sunday night.
It has not been a tournament for upsets. The Sweet 16 consists of four No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, four No. 3 seeds and two No. 4 seeds. Auburn (five seed) and Oregon (12 seed) are the other two teams left. For the record, their combined record in March is 18-0 which makes them the two hottest teams in college basketball.
Fans should be thrilled that the top seeds have survived. This leads us with better games. Here are some of my takeaways from the first two rounds.
I would not overlook Florida State. Head coach Leonard Hamilton has been at school since 2002 and he likely has his best team in front of him this season. The Seminoles took care of Vermont in the first round before blowing out Murray State in the second round. Florida State is in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row, after making an Elite Eight run last season. At 29-7 overall and 13-5 in the ACC, this is a truly dangerous team. After losing four of their first five ACC games, the Seminoles went on a roll. They won 14 of their next 15 games, and have now won 16 of 18 dating back to January 20.
Let me switch to an individual player. Most of the nation was introduced to Ja Morant last weekend. The introduction went well. The sophomore guard had a triple-double, with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists as his Murray State squad upset Marquette, 83-64. The Racers ran into the before-mentioned Florida State in round two and saw their tournament end with a 90-62 loss to Florida State. Morant did not disappoint against the Seminoles. He scored 28 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists. Next up for Morant is the NBA. He will be a lottery pick and could climb up to the No. 2 selection.
The Virginia program blew a big sigh of relief last Friday. This team needed this past weekend. Badly. After becoming the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed last year, a failure in the first two games of this year’s tournament would have been devastating to Cavaliers’ program. They survived and advanced, but it wasn’t easy. The Cavaliers trailed 16-seed Gardner-Webb by 14 points in the first half of their opening-round matchup, but woke up after the break. They won going away, 71-56. The Cavs also got a solid 63-51 win over Oklahoma in the second round.
Zion Williamson of Duke, to no surprise, has been the best player in the tournament. In an opening round win over North Dakota State, Williamson had 25 points (on 12-of-16 shooting from the field), with three rebounds and a steal in 30 minutes. In a thrilling 77-76 second round win over UCF, Williamson finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a steal in 40 minutes. Williamson will almost surely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and he showed why over the weekend. The tournament was made for guys like Zion to put on a show and take their game to another level. Look for him to continue his domination.
Of the major conferences, the Big 10 and the SEC are having nice tournaments. Conversely, the Pac-12 continues to struggle. They got three teams in the tournament, and wound up with one in the Sweet 16. It was an awful showing for the conference. It saw Arizona State get hammered by Buffalo, 91-74. Washington won the conference regular season title going away, but was absolutely hammered by North Carolina, 81-59, in the second round. Oregon, the lone bright spot for the conference, is still dancing after an unexpected run as a 12-seed. The Ducks will face a No. 1 seed in Virginia in the Sweet 16. Hoops out West may be on the downswing as last year was even worse as the Pac-12 went 0-3.
Personally, my bracket is faring quite well. I have 15 of the Sweet 16 members, all of my Elite 8, and my Final 4 still alive.
As I previously stated, there will be plenty of exciting and close games remaining. The favorites have been winning and now the field is evenly matched.