Joe Lunardi: Sweet 16 thoughts, and the awful taste Kentucky left us with


Sixteen sweet thoughts, observations and hot takes before another incredible weekend of basketball:


No. 1: The selection committee appears to have gotten the top 10 teams in the men’s NCAA tournament exactly right. That’s how far you have to go down the committee’s seed list to find a team (Kentucky) that didn’t make it through the first weekend. All told, 13 of 16 squads on the top four lines of the bracket are still alive. Kentucky and fellow SEC giant Auburn were the early losers, both going out in the first round. The remaining high seeds were 13-1 in the second round, which is genuinely outrageous.


No. 2: All who thought the East Region was the toughest of the four can go to the head of the class. Regional fans in Boston will welcome the East’s 1-2-3-5 seeds to TD Garden, headlined by defending champion UConn. The Midwest Regional in Detroit also features 1-2-3-5 seeds, while the West Region checks in with its 1-2-3-6 seeds. That’s a lot of chalk. Only the South Region bracket, where 11-seed NC State resides, is remotely busted.


No. 3: Allow me a word — several, actually — on the ACC. Fans of the conference consistently — and correctly — countered my season-long description of its decline by insisting the league would be just fine when it mattered most. And, once again, a conference ranking fifth, fifth, seventh and fifth since the pandemic has been more than fine in the NCAA tournament. An 8-1 record through the first weekend can only be commended. Going forward, it remains to be seen if the conference will make the necessary scheduling adjustments to counter the continued weakening that’s coming in the form of Stanford, Cal and SMU. Further, the league’s four Sweet 16 entries have no connection to the pre-tourney résumés of Pittsburgh or Wake Forest. By that logic, Pitt and Wake should be double-dinged by Virginia. Thankfully, it doesn’t work that way.


No. 4: Big East media shills have been even more obnoxious than their ACC counterparts, which is really saying something. UConn, Marquette and Creighton — all seeded to be exactly where they are — have nothing to do with Seton Hall, St. John’s or Providence missing the tournament. The reality is, thanks to the unprecedented volume of bid stealers at the end of Champ Week, we had what amounted to a 31-team at-large pool (instead of 36 or, more accurately, the 34 or 35 spots we’d have with an average number of conference tourney upsets). The Big East would have gotten at least two and maybe three of the slots that vanished. There’s no conspiracy here, just bad math and bad luck. Follow the lead of your classy commissioner and get over it. Sometimes things don’t work out. (Just ask Kent State.)


No. 5: I’m in favor of Matt Painter’s suggested IQ test for college basketball media, but it has nothing to do with Zach Edey. It has to do with tournament selection. You want a certain team in the field? You are required to say — at the same time — who is out! Otherwise, any and all criticism of the committee (or the Bracketology community) is null and void. Penalty: No internet for the month of March.


No. 6: Opening the transfer portal the morning after Selection Sunday wasn’t the dumbest thing I saw last week. Put me in the same camp as Tom Crean and Fran Fraschilla. Declining an NIT bid on account of said portal is even dumber (not to mention highly insulting). Take a look at the bloated number of staff members on a high-major bench. You mean to tell me there aren’t enough assistants to both monitor the portal and prepare for a game? These schools should be embarrassed and penalized in a future postseason.


No. 7: Speaking of “middling” majors, power conference at-large teams that didn’t crack .500 in their respective leagues have gone 3-5 in the NCAA tournament and 12-13 in the NIT, with the latter playing almost entirely at home. Meanwhile, the true mid-majors that received or would have received the most at-large consideration had they needed it — Grand Canyon, James Madison, McNeese and Indiana State — posted an aggregate 4-3 record across both tournaments (including two massive NCAA wins). I point this out not to pile on the likes of Greg Sankey — after all, one of his SEC teams had the gross injustice of being paired with one of the seven natural wonders of the world — but to remind everyone that we consistently overrate one class of team (“middling” majors) at the expense of their true mid-major counterparts.


No. 8: Not at all surprised by the first-round success of: Colorado, James Madison.


No. 9: Even less surprised by the first-round woes of: Florida Atlantic, Mississippi State, McNeese, South Carolina.


No. 10: More surprised by: Clemson, Yale, Duquesne, Dayton, Oakland, Utah State.


No. 11: Dismayed by: Auburn, Saint Mary’s, Charleston, New Mexico, Nebraska, Texas Tech.


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Greenberg: Houston could be in trouble against Duke

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No. 12: A category all their own: NC State (good) and Kentucky (bad).


No. 13: No need to play a Sweet 16-only bracket. My original Final Four of UConn, Houston, Tennessee and Arizona are still alive. So, I’m sticking with my pre-tournament call of UConn over Houston for the title.


No. 14: Can you name the only team so far in this postseason to win multiple true road games? That would be VCU. The Rams have won NIT first- and second-round contests at Villanova and South Florida, respectively. They will now visit Utah on Wednesday in the quarterfinals with a trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse as the prize, and I like their chances. For what it’s worth, the Utes wouldn’t play Utah State when current VCU coach Ryan Odom was the Aggies’ head man.


No. 15: No true buzzer-beaters yet, but we’ve had four overtime games (including the Creighton-Oregon double-overtime classic). There wasn’t a single extra period in the entire first weekend last year.


No. 16: Finally, there will be a full 2025 bracket posted not long after the Final Four. It’s a fool’s errand, to be sure, making me the perfect guy for the job.

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