Sunday’s NCAA tournament definitely provided a jolt of electricity into this year’s March Madness, which prior to that was missing a bit of the same buzz as last season.
Duke’s nail-biting 77-76 win over UCF in the Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall game lived up to the hype and then some. Iowa’s comeback down 25 points to force overtime in a loss to Tennessee was an unexpected treat for even the casual college hoops fan.
Still, this is setting up to be a Final Four that will be lacking a feel-good, easy-to-root-for underdog story like last year with Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago. Sorry, Minneapolis, Cinderella won’t be coming to your ball this spring.
Fourteen teams in the Sweet 16 are from Power Five conferences, including the who’s who list of Final Four contenders such as Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State and Kentucky.
The advancing teams look like this seed-wise: 1, 2, 3, 4 in the East, 1, 2, 3, 4 in the West, 1, 2, 3, 5 in the Midwest and 1, 2, 3, 12 in the South. The lowest seed still remaining is 12-seed Oregon, which defeated the last of the true Cinderellas in 13-seed UC Irvine late last night to reach the Sweet 16. Oregon won the Pac-12 conference tournament in dominant fashion over regular season champion Washington to get an automatic bid. The Ducks, who blew out Wisconsin in the second round, aren’t exactly the new kids on the block, though, having made the 2016 Final Four in Phoenix. They were the preseason Pac-12 favorite when high-profile recruit Bol Bol was healthy, but he suffered a season-ending foot injury.
The West Coast Conference hasn’t won the national title since Bill Russell’s San Francisco teams in the 1950s, but Gonzaga’s obviously not an underdog as a No. 1 seed in the West.
Houston is a No. 3 seed in the Midwest, but the Cougars are from the American Athletic Conference. They technically are still carrying the torch for non-Power Five programs. But even if Kelvin Sampson’s team makes it to Minneapolis, this Final Four will have a different narrative than last year.