The Pac-12 has been deprecated as a basketball league in recent years, and the conference was deprived of the opportunity to show its improvement on a national stage in 2020 when the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Monday produced an amazing reality: there will be four Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 and only one team in the Big Ten.
This was solidified during the second-round completion of action when Oregon with the number 7 knocked off Iowa’s number 2. Then number 11 UCLA defeated Abilene Christian to become the third squad of the Pac-12 signed for the regional semi-finals that weekend. USC raised the total to four by defeating Kansas 85-51 in the final game of the second round.
The Big Ten landed nine teams in the 68 field and the Pac-12 only five. Four of the Big Ten’s nine tournament teams were either the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds, while the tallest seed of the Pac-12 was Colorado, which ended up as the No. 5 seed. Ironically, the Buffaloes were the only Pac-12 team to lose in the second round when they dropped a 71-53 decision against Florida State on Monday.
Another surprising element of the Pac-12’s collective stamina in big dance is that Arizona, one of the league’s most famous basketball schools, went through a self-imposed postseason ban this season that made it illegal for the NCAA tournament. But even without the Wildcats, the Pac-12 has proven to be stronger than expected.
The Pac-12, with its 9-1 NCAA tournament record, is a big winner in this NCAA tournament so far, and the Big Ten is an obvious loser. Here are some of the other winners and losers in Tuesday’s promotion.
Winner: Michigan is saving something
Michigan number 1 prevented the day from turning into a total loss for the Big Ten by closing the deal with an 86-78 win over a brave LSU squad. The win ensured the league has a team in the Sweet 16. If there’s one thing the Big Ten really deserves, it’s probably this Wolverines roster. In just his second season running the program, coach Juwan Howard has put together a deep, eclectic roster that has completely exceeded his preseason expectations. The loss of Isaiah Livers could have drained that team. Instead, it turns out to be a resilient bunch playing with confidence and discipline. A showdown with Florida State # 4 is next for this bunch.
Winner: Leonard Hamilton’s legendary status
Speaking of Seminoles, how about what Leonard Hamilton has been doing over the past four seasons? This team is well on its way to their third Sweet 16 in a row, and last year’s roster had more than enough talent to do the same before the NCAA tournament was canceled. It’s never glamorous and there’s rarely a superstar on their rosters that can’t be missed, but Hamilton has a way to get the most out of his squad. The defensive performance on Monday in a 71-53 win over a Colorado team that destroyed Georgetown on Saturday was masterful.
Loser: Alabama’s doubters
Are there still people out there deciphering Alabama’s 3-point heavy style as some stupid operation that doesn’t hold up in a singles elimination tournament? The # 2 Crimson Tide, surviving mostly outside of their defense en route to the SEC tournament title and especially the first round against Iona, proved that their mojo is more than just outside shooting. And Maryland # 10 learned the hard way how deadly Alabama can be when it actually hits outside shots. The Crimson Tide hit 16 of 33 attempts from depth against the Terrapins in a dominant 96-77 win. Next up for the Crimson Tide is a UCLA # 11 game. The Bruins struggled to defend the 3-point line all season long.
Winner: Isaiah Mobley rises
Don’t forget that USC star newbie Evan Mobley is the younger brother of another capable great man who also plays for the Trojans. Big brother Isaac reminded Kansas on Monday when USC finished the action in the second round with an 85-51 against Kansas. The younger Mobley scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half as the Trojans built a 40-21 lead over the Jayhawks. Next up for USC is a Sweet 16 showdown with conference opponents Oregon, whom the Trojans defeated on February 22 at 72:58. Winner: Oregon does it again
Winner: Oregon is doing it again
The ducks have competed in seven NCAA tournaments under coach Dana Altman and now have won at least one game each time. After Monday’s impressive 95-80 win over Iowa, the Altman-led Ducks are on their way to their fifth Sweet 16. This is a transfer-heavy group that gels offensively, and Monday’s offensive explosion was a real eye-opener, what the upper limit for this team could be. Some want an asterisk next to what Oregon achieved in the NCAA tournament as it came out of the first round due VCUs COVID-19 problems. But there was nothing improper about the way Iowa beat up on Monday.
Winner: Historical exhibition for outsiders
This year’s Sweet 16 seeds total 94, the highest in NCAA tournament history. The previous record number of seeds was set at 89 in 1986. On Monday, UCLA joined Seed No. 15 with Seed # 11 Oral RobertsNo. 12 seeds Oregon StateNo. 11 seeds UCLA and No. 11 seeds Syracuse in the Sweet 16, which starts on Saturday.
Losers: Iowa’s NCAA tournament fights continue
This was supposed to be the year for Iowa, but instead it ended in another dose of disappointment with the NCAA for a program that at least set out to make its first sweet 16 since 1999. The Hawkeyes spent 10 weeks making the season in the top 5 of the AP Top 25, and the pain of early exit is only compounded by the fact that it feels like an era is ending. Star center Luka Garza was just as phenomenal as expected this season, but the program’s top scorer to date leaves with no conference title or significant postseason success on an otherwise legendary college resume.
Winner: Gonzagas The perfect season stays alive
Despite an eight-point deficit in the first few minutes against a fiery man Oklahoma Team, # 1 Seed Gonzaga on Monday hit the turbo like only Gonzaga can, advancing to the Sweet 16 with an 87-71 win. Behind a career high 30 points of Drew TimmeThe Bulldogs (28-0) managed to turn their eight-point hole in half into a dozen-point lead and they never gave up from there. It’s a strong win for the program and gives Gonzaga his sixth Sweet 16 appearance in a row. But also one for this historically great team that has now won 27 of its 28 games by a double-digit margin.
Winner: UCLA destroys Abilene Christian
Umm, Texas? Do you want to explain yourself Abilene Christian was one of the best stories of the first round with his and Monday was a reminder of how unlikely that outcome was. UCLA No. 11 Seed roared past Wildcats 67-47 and into Sweet 16. The Bruins’ relatively easy win made Texas dud performance all the more confusing. How did the Big 12 tournament champions, led by a trio of veteran guards, perform so dismally against Abilene Christian?
Winner: Creighton looks good
Few teams have the ability to alternate between excellent and mediocre like Creighton. But a quality version of the number 5 Bluejay showed up in a 72-58 win over number 13 on Monday Ohio. For a team that has been grappling with a massive distraction over the past month related to the controversy over coach Greg McDermott’s admission to admitting a racially insensitive analogy, doing the Sweet 16 is an impressive feat. In fact, it’s the first time Creighton has made it this far under McDermott, who is on season 11 with the program. Next up is the brutal challenge of playing Gonzaga as number 1 of the overall seed in Sweet 16. But depending on which version of this team comes up, it may be able to give the Zags a test.
Ohio striker Ben Vander Plas has likely not been compared to the previous one duke Star Zion Williamson very often in his career, but there was a notable resemblance between the two Mondays. Vander Plas played with mismatched shoes for most of the second half of the Bobcats’ loss to Creighton after his right shoe exploded in a Williamson-esque manner. The way Vander Plas landed on his right foot wasn’t particularly unorthodox, but the sneaker gave way and the Redshirt junior was forced to leave the game and find new footwear.