Sweet 16 chalk, upsets, ACC shines, SEC flops
Sweet 16 chalk, upsets, ACC shines, SEC flops

One weekend, two to go.

The opening salvo in this year’s NCAA Men’s Tournament ended with many of the best teams in the bracket still alive as we turn the corner to the Sweet 16. While there were plenty of upsets, the opening weekend was defined by powerful performances from many national favorites , led by No. 1 Connecticut and Purdue.

Then there’s SEC postseason buzz. The conference entered the tournament with huge expectations, but only two teams remained from the eight that started. On the other end of the spectrum are the ACC and Big East, which will have a combined seven teams in the Sweet 16.

Here’s a look at the biggest stories from the first two rounds before the tournament resumes Thursday with the East and West region semifinals:

Many disorders (as expected)

According to the NCAA, a tournament upset occurs when the winning team is seeded at least five ranks below the loser. By that definition, there have been at least 10 upsets in 15 tournaments since the group expanded to 64 teams, with a high of 14 upsets (2021 and 2022) and a low of just three (2007).

There have been seven in the first two rounds of this year’s tournament, all coming in the first round:

  • No. 13 Yale 78, No. 4 Auburn 76 (East Region)
  • No. 11 Duquesne 71, No. 6 Brigham Young 67 (East)
  • No. 12 James Madison 72, No. 5 Wisconsin 61 (South)
  • No. 11 North Carolina State 80, No. 6 Texas Tech 67 (South)
  • No. 14 Oakland 80, No. 3 Kentucky 76 (South)
  • No. 11 Oregon 87, No. 6 South Carolina 73 (Midwest)
  • No. 12 Grand Canyon 75, No. 5 St. Mary’s 66 (West)

Overall, 13 teams have won as lower seeds in the first two rounds.

It’s still a very chalky Sweet 16

With a total of 53 seeds, not far off the tournament low of 49 seeded in 2009 and 2019, this year’s Sweet 16 ranks among the deepest in recent tournament history. This also contrasts with the last three tournaments, when the combined number of seeds was 78 (2023), 86 (2022) and 94 (2021). Both the East and West regions have their No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5 seeds in the Sweet 16, with UConn, Iowa State, Illinois and San Diego State in the East, and Purdue, Tennessee, Creighton and Gonzaga in the West. The Sweet 16 has only one seed in double figures, No. 11 North Carolina State, for the first time since 2015 and just the second time since 2008.

A rare collection of top seeds

All four No. 1 seeds are in the Sweet 16, which is rarer than you might think. It’s happened just four times in the last 14 tournaments: 2012 (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse and UNC), 2016 (Kansas, Oregon, UNC and Virginia), 2019 (Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia and UNC ) and now in 2024 (UConn, Purdue, Houston and UNC).

Having all four No. 1 seeds in the Elite Eight is also out of the norm. This has happened only seven times since the rankings began in 1979: in 1987, 1993, 2001, 2007-9 and 2016. Only once have all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four . That happened in 2008 with UCLA, UNC, Memphis and national champion Kansas. There have been three No. 1 seeds in the Final Four three different times, in 1997, 1999 and 2015.

What’s even more unusual is having eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Sweet 16. This is just the fifth time this has happened, joining 1989, 1995, 2009 and 2019.

ACC shines

It was an epically successful tournament for the ACC. The conference is 8-1 overall and has four teams in the Sweet 16 in UNC, No. 4 Duke, No. 7 Clemson and NC State. The lone ACC loss came to No. 10 Virginia in the play-in round, giving the league a perfect record in the first and second rounds. The four Sweet 16 bids are the most for the ACC since 2019 and come after just one last March and a combined six in the last three tournaments. In addition, all three of the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wolfpack are in the Sweet 16 for just the third time, joining 2005 and 2015.

Purdue is turning the page on Fairleigh Dickinson

Purdue left nothing to chance after last year’s almost unprecedented loss to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. After a bit of a slow start against No. 16 Grambling, the Boilermakers outscored the Tigers 42-23 in the second half to turn a nine-point halftime lead into a 78-50 loss. It wasn’t even that close in the second leg against No. 8 Utah State: Purdue shot 55.9 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from deep in a 106-67 win. After pulling a disappearing act last year, senior center Zach Edey recorded the first 30-point, 20-rebound tournament game in 29 years against Grambling and had 23 points and 14 rebounds against the Aggies.

A warm and cold last hurray for the Pac-12

First, the good: Pac-12 teams are off to a 5-0 start in the playoffs and first rounds, with wins from Oregon, No. 2 Arizona (No. 15 Long Beach State), No. 7 Washington State (No. 10 Drake), No. 10 Colorado (No. 10 Boise State and No. 7 Florida). Now the bad: Every Pac-12 team except Arizona was swept in the second round, with the Ducks falling from No. 3 Creighton in double overtime, the Cougars lost to No. 2 Iowa State and the Buffaloes lost to No. 2 Marquette. The conference will cease to exist in its current form after this academic year, meaning the storied Pac-12 will only continue to play men’s basketball until Arizona advances this month.

Big fail by the SEC

On the other hand, there’s the tournament bellyflop overseen by the SEC. The conference had eight teams in the bracket, tied for the most in the country, but five emerged as higher seeds in the first round: Kentucky, Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi. Texas A&M defeated Nebraska in the first round, but was swept in overtime in the second round by Houston. That leaves only Tennessee and Alabama remaining in the Sweet 16. The SEC is 5-6 overall after winning nine tournament games last year.

A rough year is finally over for Kansas

Bill Self admitted after the Jayhawks’ second-round loss to Gonzaga (89-68) that he’s been thinking about next season “for the last month.” Who can blame him? It’s been a miserable year for Kansas, which barely managed to sneak up to No. 4 after losing eight games in Big 12 play, the program’s most in a season since Self arrived in 2003. The Jayhawks were fortunate to get past No. 13 Samford in first round (92-89) before being booted in the second half by the Bulldogs.

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