Published January 13, 2015
With the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the books, there are quite a things that have become apparent.
The most prominent story line is the 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles' unlikely run to the Sweet 16. FGCU came into the tourney as a huge underdog against Georgetown despite its win over Miami-Florida during the regular season. The Eagles turned into a highlight factory against the Hoyas as Chase Fieler's breathtaking alley-oop slam served as the exclamation point on a stunning upset. Lightning struck twice for FGCU, as it once again picked up a double-digit decision on Sunday with an 81-71 win over San Diego State to become the first 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16.
What does FCGU's spectacular weekend prove? One thing for sure. The conference tournaments can be a good thing and reward a deserving squad that didn't win the regular season title. A lot of times the conference tournament system will be criticized when a team (such as Middle Tennessee in 2012) dominates the regular season only to be upset in the playoffs.
The Eagles finished second in the Atlantic Sun by one-game and had they not had a chance to punch their ticket in the conference tourney, would have been lucky to receive an invite to the NIT. They split their regular season series with Mercer and their loss to the Bears came in an overtime game on the road. FGCU definitely deserved another shot and took full advantage. Now, it will be the favorite team of everyone in America whose school is no longer alive.
Not to take anything away from the Eagles' run, but they also took part in showing the Mountain West Conference was overrated this season. San Diego State was the last team from the league to be knocked out, giving it a 2-5 performance as a whole. Colorado State managed to advance to the second round also by defeating Missouri, 84-72, but it was sent home on Saturday after being routed by 26 points by Louisville. SDSU looked great on Friday, as it downed Oklahoma by 15 points, but its triumph was also short lived as previously noted.
Boise State failed to make it past La Salle, another Cinderella, in the play- in round. UNLV and New Mexico were both upset by California and Harvard, respectively, in second round action.
While the Mountain West schools were disappointing, the Big Ten confirmed the popular belief that it is the best basketball conference in the land. The Big Ten makes up 25 percent of the Sweet 16 as Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan are still dancing.
MSU was very impressive in the third round as it coasted to a 22-point win over Memphis. Michigan also made a strong impression with a 25-point victory over Shaka Smart's VCU Rams. Indiana and Ohio State had a little more difficulty. The Hoosiers endured Temple's best shot and overcame a three-point halftime deficit to defeat the Owls by six points. Ohio State needed a buzzer- beater by Aaron Craft to get past Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State Cyclones.
Three teams from the league were eliminated. Wisconsin was upset by Ole Miss in the second round while Minnesota and Illinois had their 2012-13 seasons end on Sunday evening.
As for Craft, he serves as the fourth item on the list to coincide with his jersey number. The Buckeyes' point guard has proven to be much more than just a lock-down defender. He has averaged 11.7 ppg over the course of Ohio State's 10-game winning streak. The junior guard can turn it on when he needs to. He poured in 20 points against Michigan State during the Big Ten Tournament and his game-winner at the buzzer on Sunday gave him 18 points for the contest.
Craft is a perfect complimentary player to Deshaun Thomas. It was clear over the weekend that a one-man offense is tough to win with in March. Ole Miss heavily relied on the gun-slinging Marshall Henderson throughout its journey to the NCAA Tournament. Henderson stepped it up to help the Rebels get past Wisconsin in the second round and also had 21 on Sunday against La Salle, but the Explorers still prevailed from the thriller with a two-point win.
Doug McDermott served a similar role for Creighton, which managed to get by Cincinnati in the second round before it was derailed by Duke on Sunday.
When time is ticking down in a close game, it is very difficult to guard a squad that has multiple options on the offensive end. La Salle proved that on Sunday as it went to its third-leading scorer, Tyrone Garland, for the game- winning shot which he nicknamed "The Southwest Philly Floater". Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, who finished with 23 and 19 points, respectively, were closely guarded, which opened up the lane for the speedy Garland to seal the deal.
Duke easily prevailed in its Sunday night bout with the Bluejays as Rasheed Sulaimon pumped in 21 points. Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee also reached double-figures to lift the Blue Devils to the win despite an 0-of-5 showing by senior forward Ryan Kelly.
As many brackets get tossed in the recycling bin, it is safe to say there is no such thing as an expert opinion when it comes to predicting March Madness. At this time of the year, it is better to be lucky than good. But one thing is for sure, Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle will have the nation's attention when they take the floor for the respective Sweet 16 matchups.