Five things we learned from the first week of the NCAA Tournament

We’ve gone from 68, to 64, down to 32 and now at 16. Before we look ahead at the Sweet 16 starting on Thursday and Friday, let’s take a look back and see what we’ve learned from the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Duke’s bench could cost them a national championship

Even before the tournament began, the Duke Blue Devils were among the small group of favorites to win it all. The first two games proved that as good as Duke is, their lack of bench production could cost them a shot at the national title.

If you’ve been paying attention to the Blue Devils, this has been a season-long problem. Now that we’re hitting a critical stage of the season, the biggest issue isn’t Zion Williamson’s shoes but who beyond their starting five can score.

In the last five games, the Blue Devils have averaged 6.4 points from their bench.

ACC quarterfinal vs. Syracuse: eight points from three players in a combined 33 minutes of play.

ACC semifinal vs. North Carolina: six points from four players in a combined 47 minutes of play.

ACC final vs. Florida State: zero points from three players in a combined 21 minutes of play.

NCAA 1st round vs. NDSU: 15 points from six players in a combined 65 minutes of play.

NCAA 2nd round vs. UCF: three points from two players in a combined 24 minutes of play.

Duke may get forward Jack White back this week. White missed the first weekend of the tournament with a bum hamstring. If White can’t go and the Blue Devils have struggles from the bench, we can count out Coach K cutting down the nets in Minneapolis.

The committee got it right

It’s not often that I’ll applaud the NCAA’s selection committee but this is the rare case to celebrate the job they’ve done. It’s hard to rank 68 teams then seed them into four regions without making any egregious errors. Now you could make an argument a team could’ve been seeded higher or lower but that’s an argument you can have every year.

When all was said and done, the overall seed matchups for the Sweet 16 are pretty even with Oregon being the only true outlier.

Which brings up the next point….

Chalk = Must-see games

All day Sunday, as North Carolina, Virginia and Texas Tech took care of business, you could hear the cries of how “bad” chalk is and all the top seeds are winning.

Well, last time I checked... that’s that top seeds are supposed to do. Yes, we all love to see that school from a random mid-to-low level conference surprise the nation and be 80 minutes from a Final Four as they enter the Sweet 16.

There’s nothing wrong with more established powers and teams from power conferences playing against each other, either. Plus, if you ask an executive at Turner or CBS Sports, they’d prefer this schedule over having to show a game wiht the plucky little underdog.

Thursday (all times PST)

4:09 CBS: Florida State - Gonzaga (rematch of 2018’s Sweet 16 matchup, won by FSU)

4:29 TBS: Purdue - Tennessee

6:39 CBS: Texas Tech - Michigan

6:59 TBS: Oregon - Virginia


4:09 CBS: LSU - Michigan State

4:29 TBS: Auburn - North Carolina

6:39 CBS: Virginia Tech - Duke (rematch of regular season matchup won by Virginia Tech)

6:59 TBS: Houston - Kentucky

When you add in the prospect of Kentucky vs. North Carolina and Duke vs. Michigan State regional finals on that Sunday, then you should be thanking the basketball gods for giving us chalk.

Big time players make big time plays

While names like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were grabbing headlines coming into the tournament, we still saw some guys make big plays and carry their teams into the second weekend or come inches away from doing so. Two that stand out to me are Purdue’s Carsen Edwards who scored 42 points to knockout reigning national champ Villanova and Central Florida’s Aubrey Dawkins who almost knocked out heavily favored Duke.

Dawkins potentially raised his draft stock with a 32-point performance that included five 3-pointers. With just seconds left, his attempted tip-in rolled off the rim and fell short to help Duke preserve a 77-76 win.

The Pac-12 is still standing

Everyone made fun of Pac-12 basketball a lot this year. Few experts gave them a chance of making an impact in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Oregon won the league’s automatic bid and Washington and Arizona State also got in, but little was expected of the three. After the first weekend, all three teams had won at least once and Oregon even advanced to the Sweet 16. A 4-2 record for the Pac-12 is not too shabby.

Consider the Pac-12 has the same number of Sweet 16 teams (one) as the Big 12, which sent five teams into the field of 68.

Maybe the people in bracket pools were onto something. While experts were making snarky remarks about the Pac-12 schools the Ducks were the most popular low-seed to reach the Sweet 16.