Archived Story

How the conferences did in the Big Dance

Published 9:50am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

I was wrong.

The Big 12 Conference didn’t do as well in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as I had predicted. The conference had the top RPI rating in the country, with the Big Ten as second best, which means Big 12 was the toughest conference, plus they beat up on teams from other conferences. Naturally, one would assume they would dominate in the tournament. The 10-team conference had seven teams make the tournament.

But upsets abounded. Oklahoma State and star guard Marcus Smart played poorly against Gonzaga in the first round (which the NCAA now calls the second round because of the four play-in games, but fans still call it the first round). Oklahoma underestimated North Dakota State and also lost in the first round. Both the Zags and the Bison went on to lose in the second round.

Kansas State lost in the first round, too, but it was against a mighty opponent, Kentucky. The Wildcats on Sunday knocked off undefeated Wichita State to reach the Sweet 16.

Texas managed to beat a feisty Arizona State squad at the buzzer in the first round, then failed to show up against Michigan. Kansas beat Eastern Kentucky in the first round but on Sunday lost to Stanford as a result of shooting woes.

At least two Big 12 teams showed up to play and reached the Sweet 16. They were the ones in the Big 12 title game. Baylor feasted on teams from Nebraska. The Bears sent Nebraska packing in the first round, then Creighton in the second. On Thursday, Baylor takes on Wisconsin.

The Big 12 champions, my Iowa State Cyclones — there was no way I could write a column about anything else this week — beat North Carolina Central in the first round but lost one of its three best players, Georges Niang, to a broken foot. Still, the team defeated North Carolina on Sunday with stellar play from guard DeAndre Kane. With time running out, he drove to the basket and lifted a shot over defenders that went in. The Tar Heels didn’t have time to get a shot off, and they go home. Now Iowa State plays Connecticut — also called UConn — on Friday.

So how did the other conferences do?

Six Big Ten teams were invited to the Big Dance, and the conference had three teams make the Sweet 16: Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

The Southeastern Conference was weak this year. It was seventh in terms of RPI, behind even the Atlantic 10. Yet Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee crashed the Sweet 16 party. Tennessee can thank Mercer for ousting Duke in the first round. I’m thinking that Michigan Wolverines on Friday will dine on Tennessee Volunteers.

The fabled ACC — Atlantic Coast Conference — was fifth in the RPI rankings. It had five in the tourney. Only Louisville and Virginia remain. The Big East Conference was fourth in the RPI. Zero Big East teams are in the Sweet 16. Not so big anymore, is it?

The Pac-12 Conference was third in the RPI ranking. It, too, has three teams in the Sweet 16: Arizona, UCLA and Stanford, after having six in the tourney. The Thursday matchup between 10-seed Stanford and 11-seed Dayton should be exciting. How often do two double-digit seeds meet in the Round of 16?

Dayton is the sole representative left from the Atlantic 10 Conference, sixth for RPI and with six teams in the tourney. UConn is the only representative of the American Athletic Conference, eighth for RPI and five teams in the tourney. And that leaves us with San Diego State, the only team left from the Mountain West Conference. It had two teams in the Big Dance and was 10th for RPI.

I’ll be a nervous wreck during the Cyclones game Friday, but I will cheer mightily. I am a loyal son forever true to ISU.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.