USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach recaps the action from Friday at the NCAA tournament, where the top seeds continued to take care of business.
USA TODAY Sports
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Huge, knock-your-socks-off upsets were not on the menu here.
And everyone knew that; that’s what you get when you have a No. 1 seed (North Carolina) and a No. 2 seed (Duke) at the same first-weekend site. Not only do you expect to see two blowouts when those teams play the No. 16 and 15 seeds, respectively, but 8-9 and 7-10 matchups aren’t exactly breeding grounds for Cinderellas.
But what’s been rather surprising — and disappointing to those who love underdogs — is that there haven’t been true Cinderellas elsewhere, either.
Heading into the round of 32, there is just one true mid-major remaining: Middle Tennessee State, a No. 12 seed that was favored to (and then did) pull off its first-round upset of No. 5 Minnesota. Sure, you have Rhode Island out of the Atlantic 10, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s out of the West Coast Conference and Wichita State out of the Missouri Valley. But no one in their right mind would call any of those teams mid-majors — not akin to Belmont, Monmouth or any of the actual little guys in one-bid leagues.
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There will be plenty of hot takes and think pieces on the lack of Cinderellas in this particular NCAA tournament. But what’s important to remember here is context, which is three-fold.
First, the lack of major upsets means that the higher-seeded teams were seeded high for a reason; they were expected to win. It’s unreasonable to point to No. 10 seed Wichita State beating No. 7 Dayton — we see 10-7 upsets all the time — as an example of something egregious. There is never that much separation between teams on those seed lines.
Second, some really good mid-major teams did make the Round of 64; a lot of them simply got really tough matchups. Vermont, which entered the NCAA tournament with the nation’s longest active winning streak, ran into the double-double machine that is Caleb Swanigan. Iona drew Oregon. Princeton played a similar version of itself — Notre Dame — with way more talented athletes. The list goes on and on. Matchups always matter.
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And finally, don’t forget one of conference realignment’s lasting effects: That multiple strong mid-major programs moved up to better, even stronger conferences. Butler’s no longer in the Horizon League. VCU isn’t in the Colonial Athletic Association. Creighton left the Valley.
So while it’s disappointing that there aren’t more mid-major at-large options — and scheduling within the prism of RPI is undoubtedly a challenge for the Monmouths and Belmonts of the world — you can’t ignore that some of the ones we got used to seeing as NCAA tournament darlings are now part of the establishment, so to speak.
So, yes, it’s too bad there won’t be a Florida Gulf Coast this year, and we won’t get to find out where Mercer is based. But a direct result of the high seeds holding serve early means one thing is certain: The second-round matchups are going to be fantastic. And that’s worth tuning in for.
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