Mazurek: The SEC won March Madness
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, March 30, 2017
As with every year, the NCAA tournament offers a number of compelling storylines, because how can there not be compelling content to write about with 68 teams duking it out for the title of champion — well Duke isn’t duking it out because it lost, but you get my point.
And this year, it’s been no different. With the committee’s atrocious seeding discrepancies, South Carolina’s quasi-home court advantage and the lack of Cinderella teams and coaching speculation, there truly is a lot to talk about.
Yet there is one aspect of this year’s tournament that has received very one-dimensional attention from the media: The relative strength of individual conferences. Yes, the ACC did poorly and the SEC did well by the numbers, but there’s more to each conference than that.
From very early on in the tournament, it became popular to bash the ACC for having a poor showing in the Big Dance this year, and for good reason. The ACC has long been regarded as the best conference in college basketball by far in the past few seasons, after the dissolution of the Big East. The ACC at often boasted six or seven teams in the top-25 rankings and had nine teams make the tournament field — the most from any conference — and it could very easily have been 10 after Syracuse got the short end of the straw.
But a lot of the ACC disparaging is overblown. Did the ACC have a bad NCAA tournament? Yes. Could you call it an awful showing even, considering only one of the nine teams made it past the first weekend? Also yes. But is the ACC still undoubtedly the best conference in the country? Still yes and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
Normally known as Kentucky plus others, the SEC turned out a respectable five tournament teams. Kentucky had a solid Elite Eight showing, but the big surprise of the entire field this year has been South Carolina who stormed past Duke, Baylor and fellow SEC school Florida. And none of those games were that close. That’s certainly impressive for a team no one thought had any real shot of beating Duke, if they even made it past the first round.
Besides South Carolina, Arkansas won a game and took No. 1-seed North Carolina the full 40 minutes, and Florida crept into the Elite Eight thanks to some late heroics in Madison Square Garden. The lone blot on the SEC tournament record was Vanderbilt, who lost to Northwestern in the first found after committing a foul while leading in the final seconds of the game. The SEC was the big winner this March, but Kentucky’s dominance in the conference during the regular season should make it hard for consistent contenders to emerge.
There was a lot of hype coming from out West this year and the committee put three PAC-12 teams as top-three seeds: Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. With three solid title contenders, the PAC-12’s results are mixed at best. Yes, Oregon made the Final Four and looked really good beating Kansas, but UCLA and Arizona have not pulled their weight. For what seems like the billionth time, a highly-seeded Arizona squad was upset before it could get to the Final Four, and this year was no different as Xavier took down Sean Miller’s squad in the Sweet 16.
Add in an OK run by UCLA to the mix. The Bruins avoided early upsets, but they didn’t play particularly inspired basketball against Kentucky either. No. 11 seed USC won a game as well, but those were the only four teams to make the tournament. Overall, the PAC-12’s March has been so-so, as neither UCLA nor Arizona could break through with Oregon.
First off, the Big-Ten was wronged by the committee. Big time. The committee gave tournament and regular season runner-up Wisconsin a No. 8 seed, while giving regular season champions Purdue a No. 4 slot, even though they lost in the first round of the conference tournament. Minnesota at a No. 5 seed was also too high of a placing and it made the Gophers’ loss to Middle Tennessee State seem worse than it was.
But thank goodness for Michigan and Wisconsin. The Wolverines continued their magical run into the Sweet 16 and the Badgers and Boilermakers joined them, with Wisconsin knocking off No. 1 overall seed Villanova. And while not one advanced to the Elite Eight, the Big-Ten proved the NCAA screwed up its seeding and that’s a success in and of itself.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.