Commentary

Tourney's early winners and losers

Originally Published: March 22, 2011
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Morehead State's Demonte Harper had his hero shot that beat Louisville. So did Temple's Juan Fernandez against Penn State. And Kansas State's Jacob Pullen was the man against Utah State.

But contrary to what the event's theme song says, it takes more than one shining moment for a team to advance far in the NCAA tournament. Which is why those king-for-a-day players are now spectating as the Big Dance streamlines from 68 teams to 16.

There has been enough drama, controversy and unpredictability for even the most casual and jaded fans to be sucked in once again by this event's irresistible allure. And there will be more to come this week, as we whittle the field down again. But before dismissing eight more teams Thursday and Friday, let's sort out the winners and losers to this point:

[+] EnlargeSelf
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe bracket gods are smiling down on Bill Self and top seed Kansas in the Southwest Region.

Winner: Kansas. The bracket gods have smiled on the top-seeded Jayhawks, granting them most-favored-program status by sweeping seeds 2 through 9 out of their path in the Southwest Region. They're joined in San Antonio by the three double-digit dwarves: No. 10 Florida State, No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth and No. 12 Richmond. The combined seeding of the group is 34, tying it for the weakest regional quartet since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The only thing comparable was the 1986 East Region, when No. 1 Duke was joined by No. 12 DePaul, No. 14 Cleveland State and No. 7 Navy. For what it's worth, the Blue Devils won their two games in East Rutherford that year by a combined 28 points. Unless one of the dwarves pulls a George Mason, we'll see Kansas in Houston. The question is whether it will even break a sweat getting there.

Loser: The Big East. A record 11 teams entered the field of 68. Just two remain. It must be mentioned that two of the nine that have been dismissed were beaten by fellow Big East members, but the performance has still been well below expectations. The big culprits: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville, all of which were granted top-four seeds but lost to teams seeded eighth or lower. If Connecticut or Marquette make the Final Four, that will enhance the Big East's body of work for this tourney, but right now that body resembles Terrence Cody's while running the 40 with his shirt off.

Winner: The city of Richmond. Not exactly a perennial basketball mecca, it nevertheless has produced as many Sweet 16 teams as the Big East in VCU and Richmond. One (VCU) was a widely criticized at-large selection, the other (Richmond) might have had to win its conference tournament to make the field. They've both come a long way in a hurry to this historic spot. The Rams are in their first Sweet 16, and the Spiders their first since 1988.

Loser: Basketball IQ. There have been a lot of great plays, but an amazing number of dumb ones as well. From the epic brainlock fouls at the end of Butler-Pittsburgh to the unneeded Texas timeout against Arizona to Venoy Overton's halfcourt shot with three seconds left against North Carolina to many other forehead-slapping gaffes, this tourney has not had many poise Hall of Fame moments.

Winner: The Butler Way. For a team from the Horizon League to prematurely lose the best player in school history and still make consecutive Sweet 16 appearances is phenomenal. Last year was storybook, but backing it up with this run makes it all the more remarkable. Yeah, it took some breaks and kind bounces for Butler to win two games, but the Bulldogs got it done -- including knocking off a No. 1 seed for the second straight year. What a collection of winners Brad Stevens has recruited, and what a culture of winning they have instilled at the small school in Indianapolis.

Loser: Blue II. Butler's live bulldog mascot has been banned from the premises at the Southeast Regional, because tourney administrators say there is not sufficient room for live-animal mascots. Seeing the pooch walk up the steps at Hinkle Fieldhouse with a giant bone in his mouth is one of the better sights in college hoops, and March is not the same without him.

Winner: The power of team. Florida State was supposed to be doomed by the February injury to its best player, Chris Singleton. BYU was supposed to be doomed after the late-season suspension of Brandon Davies. Yet here they both are, in the Sweet 16, and not thanks to any kind of fluke circumstances. The Seminoles beat Texas A&M and then crushed Notre Dame, with Singleton contributing a total of five points and four rebounds to the cause. The Cougars beat Wofford and then demolished Gonzaga without their third-leading scorer and leading rebounder. Kudos to both teams for not letting a personnel loss -- no matter how significant -- end their season.

[+] EnlargeSeth Greenberg
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireAfter watching the first two rounds unfold, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg must be feeling worse than he did on Selection Sunday.

Loser: Seth Greenberg. How do you think the coach the selection committee loves to scorn feels now, watching VCU go from the First Four to the Sweet 16 with a bid that theoretically could have belonged to his Hokies? How do you think he feels watching two lower-profile teams from his state make a run? Never mind, we know how he feels -- even worse today than he did on Selection Sunday.

Winner: The Mountain West Conference, which has two teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time in San Diego State and BYU.

Loser: Bruce Pearl. A couple of days before his Tennessee team played Michigan in its opening game, athletic director Mike Hamilton all but announced on Knoxville radio that Pearl was a goner. Armed with that upbeat information, the Volunteers all but quit on the court in a 30-point loss. Then Pearl was fired Monday. Nice run. Hard to believe that it was only a year ago he was leading Tennessee to its first-ever regional final, and to within seconds of the Final Four.

Winners: Coaches on the rise. Shaka Smart of VCU, Chris Mooney of Richmond, Buzz Williams of Marquette and Dave Rose of BYU all should have either a higher-profile job or a much-enhanced contract by the time this season is over.

Losers: First-time tournament coaches. It's hard to get to the Big Dance, harder still to win once you're there. Coaches making their initial tourney appearance are 4-11, with three of those wins belonging to Smart and the other to UT-San Antonio's Brooks Thompson courtesy of a First Four victory over fellow No. 16 seed Alabama State. Worth noting that more than half of the 16 guys still coaching have been to at least one Final Four.

Winners: Veteran players. Only Kentucky (with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb), Ohio State (Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft) and North Carolina (Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall) are heavily dependent upon freshmen. The stars of this show have, by and large, not been one-and-done guys, but players who have stuck around and steadily improved until they've become the leading men of March.

Loser: Bourbon Street. With BYU among the four teams headed to New Orleans, potential revenues from some of that locale's drinking and entertaining establishments could be down 25 percent.

Winner: The viewing public. You want drama and excitement? This tourney has provided it. Seventeen games have been decided by five points or less. That's two more than last year to this point -- and that tournament was a total thrill ride.

Loser: The state of Tennessee. It went 0-4, with Vanderbilt being upset, Tennessee being an embarrassment and Belmont being a disappointment for not playing more competitively against Wisconsin. Only Memphis, which went down to the wire against Arizona, acquitted itself well.

Winner: The selection committee. Its inclusion of VCU, which earned hoots of derision nationwide, has kind of panned out.

Loser: The selection committee. Poor seeding decision put Oakland in a more difficult round-of-64 pairing than it deserved against Texas. Poor logistical decision put Clemson in a late-night First Four game Tuesday in Dayton and a 12:15 p.m. tipoff Thursday in Tampa. Decisions to include UAB and USC not looking so hot, especially to interested parties in Boulder and Blacksburg.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesHalf of the remaining 16 teams won at least a share of their league title, including Jared Sullinger and Ohio State.

Winner: The regular season. Think that isn't an accurate barometer of how a team will do in the Big Dance? Half of the remaining 16 teams won at least a share of their league title. Thirteen of the 16 finished no worse than third in their conferences. The three that didn't: VCU (fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association); Marquette and Connecticut (tied for ninth in the Big East).

Losers: Coaches with something to prove in this tournament. Jamie Dixon, Rick Barnes and Mike Brey all failed to refute the suspicion that they cannot translate successful seasons into deep runs in the NCAAs. (And how about a dishonorable mention for Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, whose team was taken out by a No. 13 seed last year and a No. 12 this year.)

Winners: Newspapers that cover multiple teams. Not only do we have the Sweet 16 double-dip from Richmond, but neighbors from Wisconsin (Marquette and the Badgers), the Sunshine State (Florida and Florida State) and Tobacco Road (Duke and North Carolina).

Losers: Newspaper budgets. Only the Richmond teams are playing in the same region. Given the dire finances at most papers these days, covering teams in two regions is a burden.

Winners: Scalpers in Newark. With Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State fans converging, prices should be sky high.

Losers: Scalpers in San Antonio. With Louisville and Purdue both losing early, this figures to be a soft ticket. Unless the entire city of Richmond relocates to the RiverWalk.

Winner: NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams, for being accessible, understandable and accountable to the public on major officiating questions throughout the tournament.

Loser: John Adams, for having to be on-air so often because of so many sketchy calls.

Winner: NAPA. Seriously, aren't we all singing "NAPA Know How" by now? It's been the unofficial song of March.

Losers: Us. For having the mystifyingly catchy "NAPA Know How" stuck in our brains.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.