The Big East was a bust. The Jimmer lived up to the hype. There are plenty of 10s, 11s and 12s left in the bracket, along with a handful of talented freshmen and a few familiar faces from Tobacco Road.
The second week of the NCAA tournament will be sprinkled with the typical blend of favorites and underdogs, the familiar and the obscure, with a notable lack of Big East flavor in that mix.
The conference that placed a record 11 teams into the 64-team field ended up with only two among the last 16.
“The Big East is overrated and after Notre Dame loses tonight, it’s just going to be another feather in my cap,” said opinionated analyst Charles Barkley, a few minutes before the second-seeded Irish took the court against No. 10 Florida State.
Notre Dame lost 71-57.
Joining FSU among the double digits were a pair of No. 11 seeds, Marquette and Virginia Commonwealth.
Marquette defeated Big East rival Syracuse to set up a meeting with North Carolina. VCU will play Florida State in the first 10 vs. 11 matchup in tournament history.
There was a 12 seed, Richmond — a program that made its name pulling upsets in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is at it once again. The Spiders will be the underdogs once again when they play the Jayhawks.
“It’s not as much the seeds. It’s players,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Speaking of players, it’s hard to take your eyes off Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young. He’s the nation’s top scorer and he scored 66 points over two games to lead the Cougars to the regional semifinals for the first time in 30 years.
“It was very important,” Fredette said after BYU defeated Gonzaga on Saturday to move on. “It was one of my goals coming into this season. I wanted to get to the second weekend and so did this team, so it’s extremely important.”
Third-seeded BYU will play No. 2 seed Florida in the Southeast regional. It’s a rematch of their first-round game last year, won 99-92 by BYU.
In the other Southeast game, it will be No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin. The Bulldogs beat the biggest Big East bust, top-seeded Pittsburgh, and are still in line to reprise their magical run to the national final last year.
Butler coach Brad Stevens said he spoke with point guard Ronald Nored, a key component in last year’s success.
He “came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve played in 10 NCAA games and nobody has ever picked us to win,’” Stevens said.
Such is life in America’s biggest office pool.
Led by freshman center Jared Sullinger, Ohio State was one of three top-seeded teams to advance. In the East region game opposite Carolina-Marquette, the Buckeyes will play No. 4 Kentucky, coached by John Calipari, who is trying to join Rick Pitino as only the second coach to lead three programs to the Final Four. The Wildcats are young, led by three freshman: Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
“If the choice is talent or experience, I’m taking talent,” Calipari said. “Then, you can blame me for us not winning. But I’m taking talent. That’s just how I’ve been throughout my career.”
Duke has a good blend of talent and experience in its quest for a repeat. The Blue Devils, the top seed in the West, will play No. 5 Arizona, back in the tournament after missing one season following a record stretch of 25 straight appearances. Sean Miller now roams the sideline that Lute Olson used to own and has the Wildcats into the second weekend for the fifth time in the past decade.
The other West game pits No. 3 Connecticut against No. 2 San Diego State — one program with tons of history against another with virtually none.
UConn showed no ill effects from its five-game-in-five-night run to the Big East Conference championship. Jim Calhoun’s Huskies won their two games by an average of 20, including a 69-58 victory over conference rival Cincinnati.
San Diego State is coached by Steve Fisher, he of Fab Five fame with Michigan a few decades back. His new program won its first two NCAA tournament games this weekend. The Aztecs and BYU gave the Mountain West the same number of teams in the final 16 as the Big East.
“To finally achieve this goal, it feels special,” guard D.J. Gay said. “Not just for this team, but for the city of San Diego. This is a place that we haven’t been before. But to finally reach it, it feels amazing.”