Perhaps it's fitting that in the first season with a 68-team field, one of the final four at-large selections for the field has moved on to the Sweet 16.
It's a Sweet 16, by the way, that includes as many teams from the Mountain West – two – as from the Big East.
d Virginia Commonwealth was one of the last four at-large selections and had to participate in a play-in game to secure a No. 11 seed in the Southwest Region. Sunday, the Rams moved on to the Sweet 16 by steamrolling another major-conference opponent. The Rams beat the Pac-10's USC in a play-in game, downed the Big East's Georgetown in the second round, then clubbed the Big Ten's Purdue in a third-round game.
The Big East received 11 NCAA bids, but just two conference teams remain alive – and they both advanced by beating league rivals. Saturday, Connecticut moved on by beating Cincinnati.
The 11 bids was a tourney record for one conference, and nine of the 11 teams received seeds of No. 6 or better. But four league teams lost their first tourney game and five more were ousted in their second game.
To make matters more embarrassing for the Big East, six of the nine league teams that have been ousted lost to teams seeded at least five spots worse – No. 4 Louisville lost to a team seeded nine spots worse, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Syracuse lost to teams seeded eight spots worse, No. 1 Pittsburgh lost to a team seeded seven spots worse and No. 6 Georgetown and No. 6 St. John's lost to teams seeded five spots worse.
Pitt is the only No. 1 team that has been eliminated and Notre Dame is the only No. 2 that is gone. Two No. 3 seeds and two No. 4 seeds remain alive.
It's the first Sweet 16 with two No. 11 seeds since 1985. The last No. 11 to advance to the Elite Eight was George Mason in 2006. Mason, like VCU, is a Colonial Athletic Association program. And Mason, of course, made it to the Final Four.
There are four double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, with No. 10 Florida State and No. 12 Richmond joining the two No. 11 seeds. That's the number of double-digit seeds in the past two Sweet 16s combined.
Only one No. 12 seed – Missouri in 2002 – has reached the Elite Eight. That season, Missouri beat a No. 8 seed in the Sweet 16. This season, Richmond plays a No. 1 seed in Kansas.
The ACC – which received just four bids – has the most teams still alive with three (FSU, Duke and North Carolina). The Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West and SEC each have two, while the Atlantic 10, Big 12, Colonial, Horizon and Pac-10 have one each.
The Big East's two Sweet 16 teams this season give the league 33 since the 2000s began, the most of any league. Second is the Big 12 with 26, followed by the ACC and Big Ten (24 each), the Pac-10 (22) and the SEC (21).
This is the 22nd tournament in a row where an at-large team from a non-“Big Six” league has made the Sweet 16. There are five non-Big Sixers in the Sweet 16 this season, and two – VCU and BYU – were at-large selections. This is the sixth season in the past eight that at least four non-Big Six teams have reached the Sweet 16.
Southeast Region in New Orleans (All times Eastern)
No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, 9:57 p.m., TBS: Neither team is flashy and both win with toughness, defense and timely 3-point shooting. There are two intriguing player matchups: Wisconsin G Jordan Taylor vs. Butler G Shelvin Mack and Wisconsin F Jon Leuer vs. Butler F Matt Howard.
West Region in Anaheim
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 Connecticut, 7:15 p.m., CBS: The Aztecs are the latest team that will try to slow UConn's Kemba Walker. San Diego State's frontcourt will be able to hold its own, but can the Aztecs' backcourt hold up?
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona, 9:45 p.m., CBS: Arizona certainly has the athletes to run with the Blue Devils, but the Wildcats' defensive intensity sometimes wanes and that can't happen against Duke. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, will continue to try to re-integrate Kyrie Irving into the lineup.
East Region in Newark, N.J.
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette, 7:15 p.m., CBS: Marquette played lockdown defense in getting past Xavier and Syracuse. Next up for the Golden Eagles is an athletic Tar Heels group that wants an up-tempo affair. One positive for Marquette: UNC's defense frequently is quite lax.
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, 9:45 p.m., CBS: A young Wildcats team will be the latest to try to stop the Buckeyes' juggernaut. There will be numerous high-level freshmen on the floor. Can UK stymie Jared Sullinger? And can Ohio State slow Brandon Knight?
Southwest Region in San Antonio
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond, 7:27 p.m., TBS: Richmond will try to continue its surprising run when it takes on the Jayhawks. Richmond's frontcourt held up against a big Vanderbilt team in its first game and Kenneth Faried, the nation's leading rebounder, in its second. But KU's frontcourt is a whole different matter.
No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 VCU, 9:57 p.m., TBS: OK, raise your hand if you had one of these teams in the Elite Eight. … Hey, put your hand down, liar. Anyway, both have played lockdown defense in getting this far, so the question in this one: Can either team find consistent offensive success?
- Big East