By Shannon Ryan
CLEVELAND – Selection Sunday brought record levels of eye-rolling and scoffing.
Columnists complained and analysts agonized about a weaker-than-ever NCAA tournament field that included seven teams with at least 13 losses. The expanded tournament just meant more unworthy teams, the line of thinking went.
Outrage was expressed that the selection committee allowed Virginia Commonwealth entry through one of the “First Four” games, but after No. 11 seed VCU’s upsets against sixth-seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed Purdue, there’s a big ha-ha coming out of Indianapolis as the Rams went from debatable to darlings.
That was just one example of how the tournament prevailed again by producing thriller after thriller in the opening-round games to set up an exquisite mish-mash of powerhouses and midmajors in the Sweet 16. The aspects that prompt millions of college basketball fans to fill out brackets were magnified by the success of teams deemed unworthy before the tournament.
The round of 64 saw six lower-seeded teams knock off a higher seed and produced enough “Shining Moment” highlights to last through both versions of the song.
Eleven games Thursday and Friday were decided by two possessions, including eight games that were decided by just three points or fewer. Through Sunday night, 17 games had been decided within two possessions.
VCU, Marquette, Richmond and Florida State became double-digit seeds booking trips to Sweet 16 destinations.
Marquette’s new fight song might be “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” They’re in the East Region to play No. 2 North Carolina – a narrow winner against Washington – in a bracket that also features No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Kentucky.
San Antonio fans will be the home of the underdogs in the Southwest Region, where No. 12 seed Richmond will play top-seeded Kansas, and 11th-seeded VCU will play 10th-seeded Florida State.
Top-seeded Duke is still alive after squeaking by eighth-seeded Michigan, which was saddled with 13 losses heading into the tournament, to play Arizona. The fifth-seeded Wildcats produced another surprise with a defeat of No. 4 Texas.
Guard Kemba Walker’s legs are holding up and his smile is brightening up CBS and truTV telecasts while leading the Huskies to a meeting with ultra-athletic No. 2 San Diego State in the West Region.
In the so-called third round game – a name the tournament really needs to change back to second round next season – the first No. 1 seed fell when Pittsburgh stumbled against Butler on two killer, yet accurate, foul calls in the final two seconds.
So, eighth-seeded Butler might just be this year’s Butler, having earned a trip to the Sweet 16 in New Orleans against No. 4-seeded Wisconsin, which beat 13th-seeded Belmont and fifth-seeded Kansas State to advance in the Southeast Region.
BYU’s Jimmer Fredette has continued to deliver with 66 points in his first two games of the tournament, beating Wofford and Gonzaga, to advance the No. 3 Cougars to a game against No. 2 Florida.
March Madness got started as Kenneth Faried and No. 13 Morehead State introduced themselves to the nation with a fantastic block and a one-point upset of Louisville in Denver. And who would have predicted Richmond would have to get by Morehead State for a trip to the Sweet 16?
Few would have predicted that third-seeded Connecticut, which was unranked in the preseason, and Marquette, which entered the tournament with 14 losses and a .500 conference record would be the last two Big East teams out of 11 standing.
Ohio State seems like the only top seed that looks like a top seed. The Buckeyes haven’t been rattled yet, beating Texas-San Antonio by 29 points and George Mason by 32 points in Cleveland.
That makes the Buckeyes an aberration in the tournament, which so far has made a trend of tight games and upsets.