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Kragthorpe: ACC replaces Pac-12 as NCAA Tournament's biggest disappointment

Published March 20, 2017 5:12 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sixteen sweet, semi-sweet and bittersweet sentiments at this stage of the NCAA Tournament:

1. Sending only one of its nine teams beyond the opening weekend, the Atlantic Coast Conference performed even worse than the Pac-12 did last season on a Sweet 16 percentage scale.

The ACC still claims North Carolina as the favorite to win the championship, which is worth something, and the league had six other first-round winners. But the second round was a disaster overall, with No. 2 seed Duke among the notable losers.

2. The ACC showing is a reminder of how disappointing the Pac-12 was in 2016, although the conference bounced back in a big way this year. After going 3-6 on the opening weekend last March with five first-round exits, the Pac-12 leads the country with an 8-1 record — including USC's First Four victory, which counts.

All four of the conference's entrants won first-round games and USC, which lost to Baylor, almost joined Arizona, Oregon and UCLA in the Sweet 16. It is worth noting that only No. 11 USC has outperformed its seeding, but just having those three top-three seeds advance is a major improvement for the Pac-12. And now, No. 2 Arizona (vs. No. 11 Xavier) and No. 3 Oregon (vs. No. 7 Michigan) are the higher seeds in their Sweet 16 games. Only No. 3 UCLA (vs. No. 2 Kentucky) is an underdog.

3. Finishing fourth in the Pac-12, as Utah did, looks a little better now that the top three teams are in the Sweet 16. Utah also played Butler and Xavier in the nonconference schedule, before David Collette and Sedrick Barefield became eligible. The Utes went 0-6 against Sweet 16 teams (losing twice to Oregon), with all but one loss being competitive. Utah was overwhelmed at Oregon, with Kyle Kuzma injured.

4. Olympus graduate Jake Lindsey is the only Utah high school product left in the tournament. A son of Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, Baylor's sophomore guard totaled six points and seven assists in wins over New Mexico State and USC. The No. 3 Bears, the highest-seeded team remaining in the East, will face No. 7 South Carolina on Friday.

5. Lone Peak alumnus Frank Jackson's Duke team was eliminated by South Carolina, preventing him from facing Lindsey. In two tournament games, the freshman guard averaged 14.5 points.

6. The childhood of Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan is not easily summarized, with a significant part of it including homelessness in Salt Lake City. Swanigan can become a big story in the tournament as No. 4 Purdue faces No. 1 Kansas in the Midwest Region. He posted 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a second-round win over Iowa State.

7. The Sweet 16, by conference: The Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC have three teams each, the Big East has two and the West Coast Conference and ACC have one each. Three schools — Gonzaga, Xavier and Butler — don't play scholarship-level football, although Butler fields a team.

8. The Sweet 16 by seed: Three No. 1 seeds remain, along with two No. 2s, three No. 3s, four No. 4s, two No. 7s, one No. 8 and one No. 11. With 12 top-four seeds still playing, this is a stable tournament so far — even with No. 1 Villanova having been ousted in the second round.

9. Gonzaga assistant coach Donny Daniels is in the Sweet 16 for the 10th time. This is his third consecutive visit with the Bulldogs, following four trips with Utah and three with UCLA.

10. Gonzaga will have to beat West Virginia and probably Arizona to reach the school's first Final Four. So the Bulldogs are a long way from winning the championship. But BYU potentially can join a list of six teams that delivered the NCAA champion's only defeat during the regular season. Those one-loss teams (and the schools that beat them) include San Francisco in 1955 (UCLA), Texas Western in 1966 (Seattle), UCLA in 1968 (Houston), UCLA in 1969 (USC), UCLA in 1971 (Notre Dame) and North Carolina State in 1974 (UCLA).

11. With Gonzaga having come to Vivint Smart Home Arena as a No. 1 seed, the discussion of No. 1 vs. No. 16 was revived. The Bulldogs beat South Dakota State by 20 points, contributing to the No. 1 seeds' average margin of 29.7 points in the first round.

12. Gonzaga and Arizona advanced from Salt Lake City, but Northwestern's first NCAA appearance is what made the Vivint games memorable. The Wildcat fans contributed to about a 20-percent attendance increase over 2013, when Gonzaga and Arizona also played here.

13. The Wildcats must figure crazy stuff happens in every NCAA Tournament game. Their tying go-ahead free throws against Vanderbilt stemmed from a miscommunication, with Vandy's Matthew Fisher-Davis believing he was instructed to foul Bryant McIntosh with the Commodores leading by one point Thursday. And then Saturday, Northwestern coach Chris Collins received a technical for protesting a no-call of goaltending, which the NCAA later said should have been called. The net result was a four-point swing in a seven-point loss to Gonzaga.

14. The boy shown repeatedly by the CBS cameras as he reacted emotionally during the game is John Phillips, a son of Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, according to the Chicago Tribune.

15. Gonzaga vs. Arizona could be a classic matchup in the Elite Eight, with history-making opportunities for coaches Mark Few and Sean Miller. And it would ensure one conference with a Utah school as a member of being represented in the Final Four.

16. Having barely missed on my prediction that Weber State would be the only Utah school in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, I'm sticking with what I said in October regarding the 2018 season: Utah, BYU and Utah Valley will be in the field next March. The only qualifier is Kuzma's returning to Utah for his senior season.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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