Big Ten rides NCAA Tournament surge with 3 teams in Sweet 16

This down year for Big Ten basketball just might end on an up note in the NCAA Tournament.

Eighth-seeded Wisconsin took out No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in a second-round game Saturday, and No. 7 Michigan ousted No. 2 Louisville on Sunday. In between, No. 4 Purdue defeated No. 5 Iowa State.

None of the Big Ten's seven tournament teams were seeded higher than a No. 4. Now it has three teams in regional semifinals, matching last year's total, and would have had a fourth if No. 9 Michigan State had been able to upset No. 1 Kansas.

The Pac-12, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 also had three teams in the Sweet 16.

The Big Ten went into the tournament No. 4 in conference RPI behind the ACC, Big 12 and Big East.

"You guys seem to get a theme, whether it's good or bad. Tell them to go play Michigan," Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters in Milwaukee after his team's win over the Cyclones . "People that don't think our league is any good, tell them to go play Wisconsin. They're not an eighth seed. I don't understand that. You don't understand basketball if you put Wisconsin as the eighth seed. Wisconsin is one of the toughest teams in the country, period."

Michigan's 73-69 upset of Louisville exemplifies the role reversals between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten this postseason.

The ACC led all conferences with nine bids and was billed as the clear-cut pick as the top league in the nation. But only one team, conference heavyweight North Carolina, made the Sweet 16. Duke lost to South Carolina on Sunday night, several hours after Louisville was bounced by Michigan.

The ACC had four regional finalists last season, including Final Four participants North Carolina and Syracuse. The ACC also sent three teams to the regional finals in 2015, with Duke winning the national title.

The Big Ten had rosters filled with youth and no dominant team. The conference owned two of the worst nonconference losses in the country — Indiana losing at home to IPFW and Ohio State losing at home to Florida Atlantic.

Purdue has been consistent, other than a bad loss at Nebraska in January. Wisconsin lost five of its last seven in the regular season and was beaten handily by Michigan in the conference tournament championship game. Michigan lost six of 10 in Big Ten play before rolling off wins in 12 of its last 14.

All that played a part in the lower seedings for the NCAA Tournament.

"We're all going to be judged a lot on what happens in November, December," Michigan coach John Beilein said in Indianapolis after his team's win over Louisville . "We had a tremendous league last year with a lot of turnover. Guys going pro, great seniors in the league. We had some injuries to some players as well. So you get judged by that. I thought we had a pretty good record, actually, as a league, but it didn't measure up."

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes, who scored the go-ahead basket with 11 seconds left against Villanova, dismissed ranking systems and analytics. He said he and his fellow seniors learned from players who came before them, guys who made it to Final Fours in 2014 and '15.

"The thing is with all those algorithms, they can't calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire," Hayes said. "They can't put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that's the things that we have. The things that we've grown with. We've seen the older guys, they've had that."

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report.


Tipping Off: On to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament

By JIM O'CONNELL ,  AP Basketball Writer
 
It's on to the weekend that many consider the defining mark of a season. Reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and a season is a success. Two wins from the Final Four and all the weekday games are in prime time.

"I just told everybody, just wait," Michigan's John Beilein, one of three coaches taking a Big Ten team to the round of 16, said of the conference's early struggles. "The level of coaching in this league, the resources in this league, the level of talent in this league, it will come to the top at the end of the year."

The regionals start Thursday and are in New York City (East), Memphis (South), San Jose, California, (West) and Kansas City, Missouri (Midwest).

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CONFERENCE CALL: The Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Pac-12 will all have three teams in the Sweet 16. The Pac-12's run is the most impressive considering it had four teams in the field of 68. Now, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA are all still alive in the one-and-done tournament.

The SEC had three of five advance while the Big 12 had six teams in the field and the Big Ten had seven.

The conference that had the toughest early rounds was the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina is the only remaining team from the nine that started the tournament. The ACC went from having 19 percent of the entire field to having 6.3 percent of the Sweet 16.

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SEED THOUGHTS: The No. 4 seeds all advanced to the Sweet 16, the only line that didn't lose a team. Florida, Purdue, West Virginia and Butler were the four No. 4 seeds that moved on.

The No. 1 line and the No. 3 both had three teams move on while the No. 2 and No. 7 had two each.

The only double-digit seed still playing is No. 11 Xavier, which faces No. 2 Arizona in the West Regional semifinals.

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ALL WET: This tournament has started a new postgame tradition, spraying everybody with water in the locker room. Few coaches have escaped the wet form of congratulations.

Michigan coach John Beilein arrived for his postgame news conference having been through the water treatment.

"A little damp right now, but our guys, we started a tradition of taking a shower, I guess, without going into the shower after good wins," he said. "It's not stopping."

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NO DUKE: One of the more stunning losses by an ACC team was Duke, which lost 88-81 to South Carolina. Coach Mike Krzyzewski explained what happened in his locker room after the game.

"I told them I love these guys. I'm proud of them. I'm disappointed that we didn't win tonight. But at the end of the season I want my guys to either be crying because we've lost or crying because we've just won," he said. "And it shows that if you're not doing one of those, that means you never really became a team. It was never really that important. And for these guys, they were a really good team. This is one of the most proud teams for me."

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TOUGH SELL: Whether it's as a No. 1 seed in 2014 or as a 10 seed this year, it seems Wichita State can't get the credit they deserve as a successful program.

"How many years do we have to do this to make people respect our program? I don't know. That's up to you guys," coach Gregg Marshall told reporters after his 10th-seeded Shockers lost 65-62 to Kentucky on Sunday. It was a rematch of the 2014 game when eighth-seeded Kentucky ended top-seeded Wichita State's perfect season in the second round. "I know that we have the heart of a champion."

"This will just be more fuel for us. ... It really doesn't matter what other people think, to be honest. It matters what we think. And we can't change people's perception of our program. We can't change people's perception of the Missouri Valley Conference or the talent level. It's more important that we know what we're about, and we sleep really well at night knowing what we have and what we continue to prove and what we continue to do as a program."

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ANY WIN: Gonzaga's Nigel-Williams-Goss explains how teams feel who won two games to advance to the regional semifinals.

"It's survive, advance and move on," he said. "We'll take the win whether it's pretty, ugly. Can you go back and get better? Sure. That's what you have to do because the competition is going to get better."

"We have a motto, let's be better next week than we were last weekend, and I think that's going to stay consistent," he said.

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BIG REMATCH: Back on Dec. 3, Kentucky and UCLA met in Lexington. Just over three months later, the two will meet in Memphis in the South Regional's Sweet 16.

When they met the first time, UCLA was ranked 11th in the country and the Wildcats were No. 1.

UCLA won 97-92, its second win over Kentucky in as many years.

It was the Bruins' first-ever visit to storied Rupp Arena — where the Wildcats had won 42 straight coming in and 89 percent overall. It was the most points scored against a Kentucky team coached by John Calipari. It was UCLA's 12th win over a No. 1 team, one behind North Carolina on the all-time list.

"It's a very, very good basketball team," UCLA coach Steve Alford said of Kentucky. "I think they're better now in March than they were when we played them in December and I think we're better than what we were in December as well. Makes for a great matchup."


NCAA Tournament picks up steam just before Sweet 16

By JOHN MARSHALL ,  AP Basketball Writer
 
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The first three days of this year's NCAA Tournament lacked the drama and multitude of upsets the previous few tournaments had, more March Meh-ness than madness.

A scintillating Sunday of games jolted the tournament to life like a triple shot of espresso.

The madness is back in March.

North Carolina, the South Region No. 1 seed, had the most frenetic finish , blowing a 17-point lead and then scoring the game's final 12 points to hold off Arkansas. South Carolina, the No. 7 seed in the East, had the biggest takedown, knocking off No. 2 Duke 88-81 in what was essentially a home game in Greenville.

"This is a new platform," Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. "It's the first time in the history of our university that we're going to the Sweet 16."

Kentucky had its hands full until the end against Wichita State, needing two blocked 3-pointers in the final minute to beat the Shockers 65-62.

Oregon trailed most of the second half against spunky Rhode Island in the Midwest Region before scoring the final 7 points to beat the No. 11 seed Rams 75-72 . Baylor had a late spurt to beat Southern California in a taut game and UCLA kicked its offense in high gear after a sluggish first half tobeat Cincinnati .

Even the 20-point win by Kansas over Michigan State was filled with highlight-reel plays.

"It was a fast-paced game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "The pace was faster than the final score indicated even in number of points."

Before Sunday, the bracket had been like a deflated balloon compared to previous iterations.

Last year's tournament was filled with upsets, buzzer beaters and spectacular individual performances. And that was just the first round. The dance ended in glorious fashion with Villanova's Kris Jenkins splashing a walk-off 3-pointer for the national title.

The highlights from the first three days of this year's tournament: The top overall seed going down in the second round and a player mistakenly fouling in the closing seconds when his team was up, not down.

Villanova, the defending national champion and the top overall seed, lost 65-62 to No. 8 seed Wisconsin. The Badgers play in the Big Ten and are headed to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season, so it wasn't exactly a David-and-Goliath scenario.

The other what-just-happened moment came in the first-round game between Northwestern and Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City.

That's where Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inexplicably grabbed Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh on purpose despite his team leading by 1. His mistake — he thought they were down 1 — sent McIntosh to the free throw line for the go-ahead points with 14.6 seconds left.Vanderbilt lost 68-66 .

"An honest mistake," Northwestern coach Chris Collins called it. "You feel bad for players. He was tremendous today. Certainly, I was surprised."

Northwestern's magical run to its first NCAA Tournament in 113 years as a program ended in the next round, when the Wildcats put together a furious rally, only to come up short against No. 1 West seed Gonzaga.

As for upsets, Middle Tennessee had a decent one, knocking off Minnesota as a No. 12 seed, but then the Blue Raiders did it last year against Sparty — so why not expect it again?

Three No. 11 seeds got through the first round with upsets over No. 6 seeds, but two are out of the bracket already. Only Xavier, which beat Maryland and Florida State, is through to the Sweet 16.

Besides, 11-over-6 upsets are not really much of a surprise. No. 6 seeds have a winning record against the 11s once in the last eight years.

The buzzer beaters came down to a miss and a make that didn't matter.

Princeton's Devin Cannady had the miss, an open 3-pointer against Notre Dame. Oklahoma State had the make in a 1-point loss to Michigan, which didn't matter to anyone except for gamblers, as the 3 meant the Cowboys ended up covering the spread.

The best shot of March Madness so far? Destiny Slocum's 70-foot heave for Maryland that looked like a soccer throw-in.

Sunday restored the drama-filled aura of March Madness, giving perhaps a springboard for the rest of the bracket.

Butler's Blue III is still in the tournament, so there's that. And it's safe to say what comes next is unexpected — by most, at least.

According to ESPN, just 18 of the 18.8 million brackets filled out on its website correctly predicted the entire Sweet 16. For some reason, that seems high.