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What we learned from the 2016 NCAA Tournament

1. The ACC is still the conference to beat in March

All year, no matter the sport, there is always debate amongst both fans and analysts on which conference is the best. This year many suggested that the Big 12 was the best conference because the Big 10 was top heavy and ACC’s depth was also breaking down. During the tournament, the ACC flexed its muscles and dominated.

The ACC tied a tournament record by having six teams advance to the Sweet 16 and later broke a record by having four teams in the Elite Eight, per sbnation.com. Their success even continued to the Final Four where Syracuse, a 10-seed and major cinderella story in the tournament, faced off against the only 1-seed left standing, UNC. In the end, UNC beat Syracuse and came up three points short of Villanova in the National Championship game, ending the ACC’s incredible tournament run.

2. Mid-major schools can hold their own

Every year come Selection Sunday, we see analysts and pundits alike ask the same question the committee is: “How many mid-majors qualify for the tournament?”

A mid-major is a school outside of the classic Power Five and Big East conferences. Of the 32 mid-majors that made the tourney, 12 made it past the first round, including UConn, St. Joe’s and Middle Tennessee. Outside of the 15 and 16-seeds, the mid-majors that lost only did so by an average 8.1 points. For the most part these mid-majors held their own and played competitive games against teams that had more talent and experience than a lot of them.

Mid-majors were able to take down some of the best teams in the nation including Michigan State, West Virginia, California and Arizona. While no mid-major made it past the second round this year, their ability to keep it close and even beat perennial CBB powerhouses should help increase the chance of more mid-majors appearing in next year’s tourney.  

3. This tournament was more about better play than raw talent

It is often said that basketball is a game of streaks, both in game and over the course of a season. In game teams go through times when they seem to hit every shot they attempt and other times when they seemingly can’t buy a basket. Likewise, over the course of a season, a team goes through times where it can win games with ease and other times where it can’t beat even the weakest of opponents.

Middle Tennessee played arguably the best game in school history against Michigan State and pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time. Michigan State was predicted to beat  Middle Tennessee handily, but lost in part because of Middle Tennessee’s shooting hot streak. Villanova, after losing the Big East to Seton Hall, had one of the most impressive shooting streaks in March Madness history. Villanova rode this streak all the way to the National Title game.

4. Upperclassmen are just as important to teams as freshmen superstars

For the past few seasons, NCAA has seen its fair share of freshmen phenoms. From Jahlil Okafor and Andrew Wiggins to Anthony Davis, the NCAA has seen a lot of great talent leave after one season for the NBA. With this large influx of one-and-done, many upper tier schools, like Kentucky and Duke, began to scramble for this kind of talent in hopes that those players would push their program to new heights. This talent rush has had mixed results with some teams winning national titles and others going home in the Round of 32. That wasn’t the case this year.

The top freshman in the country, Ben Simmons of LSU, didn’t even make the tourney this year. While the second best freshman, Brandon Ingram of Duke, made it to the Elite 8, the overall team wasn’t as impressive as it had been in years past. All of the dominant teams that made the tournament – Villanova, Kansas, Oklahoma, UNC, Michigan State – were all led by upperclassmen if not senior leadership.

It was this deviation from the norm that made this tournament feel special and for many of the teams mentioned, it helped them throughout the entire postseason. The two teams that met in the National Title game both had excellent senior players, like Marcus Paige and Ryan Arcidiacono. Kris Jenkins, the player who hit the game winning shot for Villanova, was a senior.

We’ll have to wait for next year’s tourney to see if this year’s trend continues but it was definitely an interesting storyline to follow this tournament.

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