Someone Need Saving?

This college basketball season has been a complicated mess. So, why shouldn't the beginning of the NCAA tournament reflect anything different? After getting a sniff of insanity during Thursday's first round (two 11 seeds and two 12 seeds won), all Hell appeared to break loose on Friday. Northern Iowa kept the love going on the 11-line, but the stories were the single 13, 14, and 15 seeds that ruined the majority of prognostications across the country.

Then ... everything turned. The better seeds that showed some love during the first round weren't so kind over the weekend. Smaller numbers kept fighting off the larger ones, subduing the chaos that had occurred during the first 48 hours of action. Sure, this happens most every year. But this year's "Revenge of the Powerhouses" seemed to be more significant. In a season where the top squads had visible and multiple flaws, it seemed as though a touch of madness could send the bracket spiraling out of control.

The residue left over from the first 48 contests of this particular event has left some entities hanging on to tournament life by a thread. No, you're bracket can't be saved. None of our brackets can be saved. They're repaired beyond recognition. But, for some of the teams remaining in the field, there's something that they're trying to salvage.

For Virginia, it's an opportunity to save their credibility as a national contender. Over the last three seasons, the Cavaliers have been one of the best teams that the ACC has offered. The previous two, Tony Bennett's squads were the outright regular season champs. Neither time would that distinction lead to extended NCAA success. They didn't make a Final Four run. Heck, they couldn't even get through to the Regional Finals. In both instances, a roadblock named Michigan State stopped those run cold. It appeared that the Selection Committee primed the Spartans to play the big, bad villain again this time. Going into the Regional Semis, though, MSU laid an egg and opened up the door for the Cavs to finally break through. Can UVA take advantage of it?

For Texas A&M, it's an opportunity to save the SEC from being just Kentucky and the Big Blue Support Band. The Aggies needed to be saved themselves, being down 12 to Northern Iowa with 45 seconds left in regulation. One of the most unreal mental breakdowns in NCAA postseason history gave TA&M enough life to pull out a double-overtime victory. Now, Billy Kennedy's team is the first SEC team to best the Wildcats in the same NCAA tournament since 2008. And, yes, I mean years that Kentucky was in the NCAAs alongside other SEC contemporaries (that excludes the 2009 and 2013 postseasons). For a power league that only received three bids, every step that the Aggies take forward would be a huge boost to the other teams fighting to challenge Kentucky down the road. How long will it continue?

For Gonzaga, it's an opportunity to save the dreams of the Cinderella. The Bulldogs went into this season with a national ranking. However, some untimely losses during the non-conference schedule forced the Zags to rely on the WCC tournament just to get into the NCAAs. Mark Few's squad was talented enough to be on the 5-7 lines of the field. But, after getting their actual seed from the Selection Committee, they've had to boar through red-hot Seton Hall (had won 12 of 14, including the Big East tournament) and Utah (won nine straight before the Pac-12 tourney final) to get to the Regional Semis. Now, thanks to the utter collapse of Northern Iowa (there's no other way to define it), the Bulldogs are the last team left from a conference that is consistently considered a one-bid league. Will this program's lowest seeded team since 2011 become its best?

For Oregon, it's an opportunity to save the reputation of the entire Pac-12. The Conference of Champions have had some recent ups and downs. It didn't seem that long ago that UCLA had a run of three consecutive Final Four appearances. The last of those, however, came in 2008. No conference member has been that far since. In 2010 & 2012, the league could only muster two total bids (one at-large) each year. It's extremely difficult to be that woeful with that many resources at your disposal. This time around, the Selection Committee valued the conference very, very high. Seven teams entered the field with hopes of deep runs, none lower than an 8-seed. Those hopes ended in 40 minutes for five of those squads. Utah couldn't get out of their pod in Denver. That leaves the Ducks as the lone representative of this very proud league. How long will they last?

For Syracuse, it's an opportunity to keep saving face for the Selection Committee. I understand. Each year, the committee gets barbecued for everything just short of their tie and pocket square combination. This year, however, the criticism seemed especially brutal, and, in my opinion, especially accurate. Here are my personal list of grievances:

* Wichita State was massively under-seeded as one of the last in the field.

* Arizona was probably under-seeded as a six seed.

* The Pac-12 was shown a lot of love, with none of the league selections close to the cut line.

* Tulsa made the field ... period.

* Vanderbilt and Syracuse struggled their way into the field, with the Orange safely getting in.

As the first four days of action played out, the committee's decisions kept meeting some harsh truths. Could a couple of bounces have made them look better about the totality of the choices? Yes. But every coin flip appeared to go against them ... save for Syracuse. Now, every step that Jim Boeheim's team advances, it makes the committee look better and better for putting the Orange in. Would a surprise Final Four surge force Joe Castiglione to buy some orange paraphernalia to go along with his stash of crimson-coated clothing?

There are two more weekends to decide an NCAA champ. Someone will save their best for the last moment. Will they save something else in the process?

Leave a Comment

Marketplace

Partners