NCAA men's tournament winners, losers: Tennessee, Arkansas in Sweet 16, but no Duke, Kansas
There’s no substitute for the first weekend of the tournament: Upsets, Cinderellas you’ve never heard of and four screens going at once because you can’t miss the end of any game.
And we’ve still got one day of the chaos to go.
Saturday saw a variety of shockers, including Rick Barnes strolling into the Sweet 16 and defending champion Kansas making an early exit from the postseason. You’ve gotta feel for Bill Self, who had surgery last week and never made it to the sideline for his team’s two NCAA Tournament games.
Meanwhile, Princeton – yes, Princeton, home of the Tigers – is in the Sweet 16. We’re as surprised as anyone, but also impressed.
The best news of all is that this is only the first weekend of the tournament. We’ve still got two weeks left of the madness.
Long criticized for underachieving in the NCAA Tournament, the Tennessee head coach, in his eighth season, is playing into the second weekend after a 65-52 win over fifth-seeded Duke. This is the second time Barnes has reached the Sweet 16 with the Volunteers and the eighth time overall; it might even be his most impressive tournament run given point guard Zakai Zeigler’s season-ending knee injury. Barnes is the second coach in program history to make multiple Sweet 16 trips, joining Bruce Pearl.
San Diego State
The No. 5 Aztecs had a national audience to themselves as the first game Saturday afternoon and delivered an eye-opening performance against No. 13 Furman. SDSU led by 14 points at halftime and by as many as 26 points in the second half in a 75-52 win to send the program into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014 and third time overall. With No. 2 Arizona and No. 4 Virginia already jettisoned from the South Region, the Aztecs are a serious threat for the Final Four.
The Hogs are in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year after stunning No. 1 seed Kansas, 72-71, a win Arkansas coach Eric Musselman celebrated by ripping off his shirt and jumping up on the scorer’s table (we cannot unsee it). Now they’ll aim for their third consecutive Elite 8 when they match up with the winner of St. Mary’s-UConn next weekend. The defending champs surely missed Self, who continued to recover from surgery. But credit Arkansas, which found a way to win despite shooting just 20% from long distance in the game and having three players foul out.
What a weekend for the Tigers.
First the men, a No. 15 seed, upset second-seeded Arizona 59-55 in the opening round. Then the women came from behind to win a thrilling 10-7 game over N.C. State by drilling a 3 with 4.7 seconds to play.
That win made it the first time in Ivy League history that a men’s and women’s team advanced to the second round – how cool for the teams to come from the same school. To continue the history-making weekend, the men followed it up with a 78-63 thumping of seventh-seeded Missouri. In a battle of Tigers, Princeton absolutely dominated the boards, winning the rebounding battle 44-30.
It had all opened up for the Blue Devils, who entered the second round on a tear — winning nine in a row to end the regular season, including the ACC Tournament, and then dominating No. 12 Oral Roberts in the first round — and seemed to get a huge break with No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson’s upset of No. 1 Purdue. Instead, Duke will leave in the second round for the first time since 2017 after failing to find an answer for Tennessee’s physical defense and clutch 3-point shooting. There are still positives to take from Jon Scheyer’s debut season, but this loss will sting all offseason.
The NCAA men’s selection committee
We’re not saying we think this is an easy job, or that we want the job. Selecting the 68 teams for the tournament and seeding them is a daunting task. And it’s probably harder in a season like 2022-23, where there was no real separation at the top.
That being said, the committee isn’t looking so hot right about now, with two 1 seeds (Purdue and Kansas) out before the Sweet 16, a 15 seed (Princeton) in to the second weekend after beating a 2 (Arizona) and dismantling a 7 (Missouri). Upsets are great, but we can’t help but feel that the committee missed the mark on more than one team.
Follow Lindsay Schnell on Twitter @Lindsay_Schnell