Sports News

Winners, losers as UConn, N.C. State reach Final Four

It wasn’t just the teams from the West Coast. Or from the Pacific Time Zone. Or from west of the Rockies.

Nope, the entire western half of the country was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament before the Elite Eight even began — a complete and utter wipeout, the likes of which we have never seen.

As announced on Selection Sunday, the field featured 30 teams from campuses west of the Mississippi River, from Iowa State to Arizona and Grambling to Oregon.

But by the close of the Sweet 16, they were gone. Every last one of them.

It’s the first time in tournament history that no teams west of the Mississippi reached the Elite Eight, according to Stats Perform.

Some were blown out, like Utah State and San Diego State.

Some were a basket or two short, like Texas and Colorado.

And some were eliminated by each other, as when Iowa State bounced Washington State and Creighton sent Oregon packing.

No single factor explains the wipeout, but weakness at the blue-blood level stands atop the list. UCLA and Kansas have combined for 45 appearances in the Elite Eight, but the Bruins didn’t qualify for the NCAAs, and the Jayhawks were bounced in the second round.

Even the light blues were unable to muster lengthy runs: Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the West, bowed out in typical fashion — against a lower seed — while No. 5 Gonzaga lost to top-seeded Purdue.

No. 2 Iowa State lost to No. 3 Illinois in the East, and No. 3 Creighton lost to No. 2 Tennessee in the West.

Injuries also played a role. Houston lost point guard Jamal Shead, its heart and soul and the best guard in the country, to an ankle injury in the first half of what became a close loss to Duke.

Luck was involved, as well. San Diego State, which reached the championship game last year, ran into Connecticut in the Sweet 16. Had they been placed in any other region, the Aztecs might have moved on.

For the schools west of the Rockies, in particular, the collective performance was merely the continuation of an extreme drought. The region hasn’t claimed a national championship since Arizona back in 1997.

Other winners and losers from the second week of the tournament …

Winner: Fresh faces. The Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., will feature the defending champion, Connecticut, and some unfamiliar participants. Purdue reached the big stage for the first time since 1980; N.C. State is appearing for the first time since its miraculous title run in 1983; and Alabama is in the semifinals for the first time. Ever.

Loser: Mountain West. The conference sent six teams to the tournament but failed to perform at an adequate level once again. No league flops as consistently in March as the MW, and even the exception, San Diego State, was sent home with a 30-point loss to UConn. Add the 39-point humiliation handed to Utah State by Purdue and four other early exits, and the collective showing was an embarrassment.

Winner: ACC. Maligned for much of the season and the recipient of just five NCAA bids, the conference sent four teams into the Sweet 16, three into the Elite Eight and one, N.C. State, to the Final Four. Its total record of 12-4 is the best of any conference, and it’s not close. Put another way: The ACC has been so good, we almost forgot Virginia scored 42 points in the First Four.

Loser: Big 12. The conference staked claim to being the best league in the land for five months, sent eight teams into the NCAAs — and then fell on its face, unable to even produce an Elite Eight participant. The disappointing March showing will loom over the Big 12 during the 2024-25 regular season.

Winner: The Hurley family. Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, one of the greatest point guards in NCAA history, won back-to-back national titles as a player with Duke in 1991 and 1992. Now, his younger brother, Danny, is two wins from back-to-back titles as Connecticut’s coach.

Loser: The Pac-12. After a sizzling start that featured all four teams advancing to the second round, the conference collapsed. Arizona’s loss to Clemson in the Sweet 16 left the Pac-12 without an Elite Eight participant for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in the past five tournaments. The stellar showing in 2021 was, it seems, the outlier of outliers.

Winner: N.C. State. Three weeks ago, the floundering Wolfpack was on the outside of the NCAAs — not even a bubble team, in fact. Then coach Kevin Keatts and Co. won five games in five days for the ACC tournament title just to qualify for March Madness. Now, the Pack is headed to the Final Four after taking down Duke. And even better: NCSU’s women’s team also qualified for the Final Four.

Loser: North Carolina. The Tar Heels experienced the ultimate horror show in the Sweet 16, losing as the No. 1 seed (to No. 4 Alabama) as their two biggest rivals, Duke and N.C. State, advanced to the Elite Eight.

Winner: Big men. From Purdue’s 7-foot-4 Zach Edey to UConn’s 7-2 Donovan Clingan to Oregon’s 6-11 N’Faly Dante and even N.C. State’s DJ Burns — he looks to be on the high side of 300 pounds — the centers have flexed their muscle and delivered the goods.

Loser: Blue bloods (both light and bright). UCLA didn’t qualify. Neither did Syracuse, Indiana or Louisville. Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky departed early. Arizona and North Carolina went home midway through, and Duke exited in the Elite Eight. All in all, a poor showing from many of the proudest names in the game.

Winner: Zach Edey. Purdue’s big man averaged 30 points and 16.3 rebounds in four games in the Midwest regional — a run of dominance reminiscent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton during UCLA’s dynasty days.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button