If you witnessed the action from the first weekend of March Madness, it’s easy to understand that this might be the most entertaining tournament in the history of the event, to this point at least. Round one saw a countless number of upsets (13 to be exact), double-overtime games, huge comebacks, and — of course — buzzer beaters. In the next round, much of the same happened as teams battled for a spot in the Sweet 16. To say the least, this year’s Big Dance has been anything but predictable.
Something that has been predictable, however, is the success of the one-seed teams. All four teams on the top managed to escape the madness of the first weekend and advance to the Sweet 16. Some looked better than others, but the fact that these teams survived in the midst of such wild rounds is a testament to their strength. Can the best in the tournament roll toward the Final Four in Houston with two more wins, though?
Even though the Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers, and Oregon Ducks will all play next weekend, we think that none of these top seeds will survive the weekend (which would be a rare occurrence). Here’s why each team will falter at the hands of expectation.
Why Oregon won’t make it to Houston
By many measures, the Ducks have had their best season in school history in 2015-16 (sure, they won the national title way back in 1939, but still). A 30-win season, a Pac-12 regular season and tournament championship, and now a trip to the Sweet 16 has the team flying high. Oregon had a nice showing against a hot — even if overmatched — Holy Cross team in round one before showing some grit in winning a close one against Saint Joe’s on Sunday.
Nothing about the Ducks’ first two games indicates that they can’t reach the Final Four for the second time in school history. However, their competition is about to get a lot more difficult. In the Sweet 16, Oregon will have to deal with Duke and their high-powered offense. The ACC is 12-1 in the tournament so far and has six teams in the Sweet 16, so obviously the conference is doing something right (the Pac-12, conversely, has only Oregon playing in the second weekend of the tournament).
If the Ducks can find a way past the defending national champions, they will have to deal with either Texas A&M or Oklahoma, two top-10 teams in terms of talent. Seeing what Saint Joe’s did to Oregon, one of these strong teams will likely get the best of them and end the Ducks’ dream season.
The case against Virginia
Is this the season that the Cavaliers finally get into the Final Four? Over the past couple seasons, few teams have been as successful during the regular season as Virginia, but once in the tournament, the Cavs always fall short. Their Sweet 16 berth this season (after a walkover against Hampton and a battle against Butler in round two) marks their second in three seasons, but the highly-ranked Cavaliers are expected to make it to Houston and potentially cut down the nets this time around.
Something about them is unappealing, however. In reality, Virginia’s opponent(s) this weekend should be relatively easy to deal with. Iowa State in the Sweet 16 isn’t the most imposing obstacle and if they get past the Cyclones, the Cavs will match up with a double-digit seed in either Syracuse or Gonzaga.
The problem for Virginia, though, is the fact that they rely on scoring mainly from Malcolm Brogdon — who can get it done — and great defense to win games. Both of those things have been working for much of the season, but all it takes is one bad game (which often happens to them) to end their season at this time of year. It’s bound to occur this weekend.
No Final Four for Kansas?
For many people in the basketball world, the Kansas Jayhawks are the best team in the nation. Their 32-4, they’ve won 16 games in a row, they won the regular season and tournament titles in one of the best conference in the game, and they have a tremendous tradition of excellence. In the Jayhawks first two games this tournament season, they did nothing to hurt their case for a 15th Final Four appearance.
They destroyed Austin Peay and handled a tournament-tested UConn team in round two, ensuring their spot in the Sweet 16. As a whole, there’s a lot to love about this team. One thing that isn’t so spectacular about Kansas is their recent history in the Big Dance. They haven’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since their national runner-up season of 2012. In the last two seasons prior to this one, they got bounced in the first weekend.
Now, with upperclassmen on their roster in Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, and Frank Mason, those shortcomings have to be in the back of their minds. Take into account that Kansas has to deal with a preseason top-five team in Maryland in the Sweet 16 and then either Miami or Villanova in the Elite 8, and it’s not crazy to expect the Jayhawks to come up short once again.
North Carolina’s season falls short
North Carolina has one of the most decorated basketball histories in the country with 18 Final Fours, five national titles, and a countless number of ACC titles. While that’s true, the Tar Heels haven’t advanced past the Elite 8 since their 2009 championship run. This season is supposed to be the one where UNC reclaims its rightful place atop the basketball world, but looking at their performances in the first two rounds of the tournament, it seems unlikely that they’ll make it past the Sweet 16.
Florida Gulf Coast, a 16-seed, was only down by one point at halftime in the Tar Heels’ first game before UNC broke the game open. Providence, a nine-seed also gave them all they could handle in round two for much of that game. Now, as the competition gets tougher, North Carolina could be in serious trouble. Indiana awaits in the Sweet 16, fresh off a momentum-building win over Kentucky. The Hoosiers can shoot and defend, which will keep that game close.
If UNC survives that one, either conference rival Notre Dame or battle tested Wisconsin will meet them in the Elite 8. In a tournament full of upsets and surprises, the Tar Heels might be the most vulnerable to falling short of the Final Four. With how wild this season has been, it would only be fitting if all of these top seeds were sent packing at some point this weekend.