Disrespected ACC is the big winner so far in NCAA tourney

The Sweet 16 is set.

And it comes with an unexpected surprise from the ACC. The conference boasts a quarter of the remaining field in the men’s NCAA tournament, sending four teams to the second weekend.

Clemson fended off Baylor and Duke steamrolled James Madison on Sunday night to secure their spots in the final 16. They’ll join No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 11 seed NC State, who both advanced to the Sweet 16 with wins on Saturday. That’s four out of five ACC teams that made the tournament that are still dancing after No. 10 seed Virginia lost in the play-in round.

Dismissed throughout the season as shallow and less competitive than its Big 12, Big Ten and SEC counterparts, the ACC has more teams in the second weekend of the tournament than any other conference.

The Big 12 produced eight NCAA tournament teams and has two in the Sweet 16 — Houston and Iowa State. Same for the SEC, which saw Alabama and Tennessee advance after the league secured eight bids. The conference’s poor showing included another early exit from marquee program Kentucky. It drew ridicule directed at commissioner Greg Sankey, who previously suggested that the SEC and other power conference aren’t fairly represented in the tournament field.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, produced two Sweet 16 teams out of six in the NCAA field. No. 1 seed Purdue and No. 3 Illinois have advanced to the second weekend.

So what does this mean for the ACC that it has outperformed its power-conference counterparts? Did it deserve to place more teams into the tournament? That’s a stretch.

Virginia was one of the worst-performing teams in the tournament. Bubble teams that missed the cut — Pitt and Wake Forest — didn’t make a strong enough case to make the field. But the ACC’s performance reinforces that the metrics used to determine the field aren’t necessarily the best predictors of which conferences are strongest at the top.

The Big East still hasn’t lost

The Big East probably still has the strongest gripe with the selection committee.

After fielding six teams that made cases for the NCAA tournament, only three were announced on Selection Sunday — No. 1 seed UConn, No. 2 seed Marquette and No. 3 seed Creighton. Donovan Clingan and UConn dominated Northwestern for an easy win on Sunday, and Tyler Kolek led Marquette to a narrow win over Colorado to kick off the day.

They’re all still dancing. The Huskies, Golden Eagles and Bluejays are all capable of cutting down the nets in Phoenix. The Huskies remain favorites to do so.

Meanwhile, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence have watched the tournament from home. They, along with other bubble teams, fell victim to a chaotic conference tournament weekend that saw multiple bids stolen by unexpected automatic qualifiers. St. John’s probably belonged in the field. Watching the rest of the Big East’s success from afar surely makes the snubs that much more painful.

Houston survived an overtime thriller to beat Texas A&M and reach the Sweet 16 on Sunday nightHouston survived an overtime thriller to beat Texas A&M and reach the Sweet 16 on Sunday night

Houston survived an overtime thriller to beat Texas A&M and reach the Sweet 16 on Sunday night. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Houston hangs on in OT thriller to reach Sweet 16

It nearly slipped away in the final minutes, but the Cougars are headed to the Sweet 16.

Houston held on late to beat No. 9 Texas A&M 100-95 in overtime in their second-round matchup on Sunday night. That sent the Cougars back to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season. Jamal Shead led the Cougars with 21 points and 10 assists. He had a ridiculous put-back dunk in the second half that left his family shook in the stands.

Houston held a 12-point lead with about two minutes to go, and seemed like it could hang on for an easy win. Yet the Aggies flew back into it and made it a game. They cut it to a single possession with just more than a minute to go, and then Andersson Garcia drilled a wild buzzer-beater to force overtime.

The Cougars, despite having four starters foul out, managed to hang on in overtime to grab the five-point win. That sends them to Dallas, where No. 4 Duke will be waiting for them in the Sweet 16. It wasn’t as dominant as some others in the day, but the Cougars are still just as capable of making it to Phoenix as anyone.

Alabama ends Grand Canyon’s run

Grand Canyon’s run came to a crashing end Sunday night.

The Antelopes, fresh off their first NCAA tournament win on Friday, fell in an incredibly chaotic battle with Alabama. The contest felt much more like a random AAU matchup than an NCAA tournament game.

The Crimson Tide ended the game on a 17-3 push to sneak out of Spokane with a 72-61 win. That gave Alabama its second consecutive Sweet 16 berth, something it hasn’t done in more than two decades.

Much of Grand Canyon’s issues were self-inflicted. Tyon Grant-Foster put up 29 points and had eight rebounds, but he was the only Lope to hit double figures and was the only player to make a 3-pointer. The Lopes went 2-of-20 from behind the arc and they missed 14 free throws as a team.

It took Alabama too long to take advantage, but the Tide got it done in the end. They’ll now take on top-seeded North Carolina in the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles next weekend. In order to pull off that upset, though, they’ll have some work to do to reset in the coming days.

SDSU sets up rematch with UConn

San Diego State had no issue getting past Yale on Sunday night to close out the first weekend of play.

The Aztecs flew to an easy 85-57 win over the Ivy League champs in Spokane, Washington, which punched their second straight ticket to the Sweet 16. They led the entire way and Yale, which stunned Auburn in its opening round game, couldn’t get much of anything going offensively.

The Aztecs will now head to Boston to take on top-seeded UConn in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night, which will provide fans with an early rematch of last season’s national championship game. SDSU will get a perfect chance at revenge after falling by 17 in the title game last spring — which would not only provide them a bit of closure but would also completely open up the rest of the tournament.

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