For all of the crazy upsets during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament – and there were plenty of them – the Sweet 16 is mostly chalk and bluebloods.
Why is that?
“It is a lot of chalk, isn’t it?” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Syracuse are the only teams outside the top five seeds of a region that are still there.”
Indeed, we’ve got seeds 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the West, seeds 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the South, and all high-major teams in the East and Midwest, plus Gonzaga.
“I guess it says that eventually the cream rises to the top,” Palm said. “And it’s hard to make a Sweet 16 run from a lower seed because those teams, while they might be good, they’re not good consistently. That’s why they’re lower seeds and it’s hard to win two games in three days against much higher quality competition, which is why you don’t see it very often.”
The 11th-seeded Zags will face No. 10 Syracuse on Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET. Gonzaga needed to win the WCC Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, while many analysts felt Syracuse didn’t deserve an at-large bid.
Now they’re squaring off in the Sweet 16.
“It helps that Michigan State wasn’t there like they were supposed to be,” Palm said of Syracuse’s run. “That was a very dramatic game. I just sat there stunned watching Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State the way they did, but Middle Tennessee ran out of gas. They played the game of their lives to beat Michigan State and went back to being Middle Tennessee (Sunday) and just didn’t have any answers for Syracuse.”
Syracuse beat Middle Tennessee, 75-50, this after beating Dayton, 70-51, in the opening round.
“Syracuse did a great job on Dayton (last) Friday,” Palm said. “Their defense played very well in these two games in St. Louis. I think ACC teams see (the 2-3 zone) more often, so they’re probably a little better-equipped to attack it because of the familiarity. You get into these non-conference environments and teams that don’t see you and don’t have a lot of time to prepare for you, I think it’s a little bit different when you’re playing a team like Syracuse.”
Syracuse is one of six ACC teams in the Sweet 16. The others are Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia.
“It’s been a great tournament for the ACC,” Palm said. “I think Syracuse beating Dayton is the only time that it was a lower-seeded team from the ACC that won. So they’re playing to the level of their seed and they are avoiding upsets unlike some of the other leagues, the Pac-12 in particular.”
No. 1 Oregon, which escaped No. 8 St. Joe’s, 69-64, on Sunday, is the only Pac-12 team still standing. The Ducks play No. 4 Duke this Thursday at 10:07 p.m. ET.