March Madness: Five key takeaways from mens NCAA Tournaments wild first weekend – USA TODAY

The early March Madness dust has settled and 16 teams are left after a wild first weekend of the men’s NCAA Tournament that eliminated 52 teams, including the defending champion and two No. 2 seeds.

Whether it was mid-major teams ascending into roles as giant killers, double-digit ex-bubble teams busting brackets or down-to-the-wire classics like North Carolina-Baylor or Duke-Michigan State, there was no shortage of highlight reels to add to the One Shining Moment montage that’ll air April 4 after the national championship.

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WINNERS, LOSERS:From Sunday’s NCAA Tournament games

As we exhale from the first weekend and prep for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, here are five key takeaways:

The Big Ten and SEC have tanked

Selection Sunday saw the Big Ten earn nine NCAA Tournament bids – the most of any conference – and the SEC had four teams with top-3 seeds expected to make Final Four pushes. Suffice it to say both leagues have greatly underachieved in March Madness.

The only Big Ten teams still standing are Purdue and Michigan, which was hardly expected. No. 3 Wisconsin got upset by Iowa State, No. 4 Illinois bowed out vs. Houston and No. 7s Michigan State and Ohio State fell short vs. Duke and Villanova, respectively. Factor that with Iowa and Indiana’s first-round losses and Rutgers’ loss in the First Four, and that makes the Big Ten 9-7 in this tournament. 

Jabari Smith of the Auburn Tigers reacts in the second half against the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 20, 2022 in Greenville, South Carolina.

The SEC, meanwhile, was top heavy with Kentucky and Auburn No. 2 seeds and Tennessee the top No. 3 seed after winning the league tournament. The Wildcats got shocked by Saint Peter’s in the first round and both Tennessee and Auburn lost to lesser opponents in No. 11 Michigan and No. 10 Miami, respectively, to punctuate an underachieving tourney for the SEC, too. No. 4 seed Arkansas is the only SEC team still standing, with No. 6 LSU and No. 6 Alabama also bowing out in the first round with upset losses to No. 11 seeds Iowa State and Notre Dame.

Duke isn’t letting Coach K retire yet 

The Blue Devils (30-6) finally played to their potential in a second-round matchup vs. a Michigan State team that gave them all they could handle. Duke’s Sweet 16-clinching win over the Spartans came after a series of disappointments that included a loss in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and a poor ACC tournament showing that ended in a 15-point loss to Virginia Tech in the final. 

Now the pressure can lessen for a talented group to establish its identity as a great team in its own right instead of the team that has to win to send off Coach K right. But will that pressure decrease? Associate head coach Jon Scheyer has been saying all season that emotions can bolster this team just as much as they can sink this group. It’s been positive emotion as of late. We saw Paolo Banchero playing with fire and his teammates rallying around him vs. Michigan State. And moving Jeremy Roach to the starting lineup at point guard was a smart Krzyzewski adjustment heading into these games, giving this team the playmaking it was missing in crunch time. Can Duke win the whole thing? One thing Coach K noted after that memorable North Carolina loss was the Blue Devils had to play “hungry.” In other words, they have to play within themselves and not to keep a 75-year-old coach’s swan song going. 

Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) high-fives forward Wendell Moore Jr. (0) in the game against the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Saint Peter’s is a must-watch Cinderella

For the second year in a row, we have a No. 15 seed in the Sweet 16 and it’s only the third time in NCAA Tournament history that’s ever happened (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and Oral Roberts last year are the others). Saint Peter’s shattered the hearts of Kentuckians, first with a thrilling first-round upset of No. 2 Kentucky and then a second-round upset of No. 8 Murray State. Coach Shaheen Holloway gets the most out of his team defensively and there’s been just enough weaponry on offense, from Daryl Banks III’s fiery playmaking to Doug Edert’s clutch shot-making. This team plays with a unique poise to execute in high-pressure situations, which could be the key ingredient in making history against Purdue on Thursday in the East Regional. 

St. Peter's Peacocks guard Daryl Banks III (5) and guard Doug Edert (25) celebrate a pay in the second half against the Murray State Racers during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Ex-bubble teams have busted brackets

In late February, No. 10-seeded Miami (Fla.), No. 11 Iowa State and No. 11 Michigan were hanging on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Heck, the Wolverines barely squeezed into the field of 68 as one of the last teams on Selection Sunday. But here these double-digit seeds are still dancing. It speaks to how important it is just to get into the tournament because matchups can be favorable, top-seeded teams can play poorly and literally anything can happen.

Looking at Michigan’s path to the second weekend, the Wolverines got a winnable first-round matchup vs. Colorado State and then met Tennessee on a terrible shooting day. Granted, they had something to do with it but the fact is these mid-level teams can play up or morph into an elite team as the tournament goes on. That’s the case with these three teams. Don’t be surprised if one of them is still standing in New Orleans. Winning momentum – especially when unexpected as it has been here – is perhaps the most important ingredient for a March Madness team.

Blue-bloods are back, sort of

After a disastrous year that saw Duke and Kentucky miss the NCAA Tournament altogether and Kansas and North Carolina bow out in the first weekend, the blue-bloods of the sport are having a much better March this year. That is, except for Kentucky. Duke, North Carolina and Kansas have all had resurgent seasons, while UCLA is returning after being the lone blue-blood last year when reaching the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. Factor in Villanova (a national champ in 2016 and 2018) and we’ve got five blue-blooded teams in the Sweet 16 – all with solid shots at reaching the Elite Eight. The UNC vs. UCLA matchup in the East Region will be must-watch because both teams have evolved under their blue-collar coaches, Hubert Davis with the Tar Heels and Mick Cronin with the Bruins and . 

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson