March Madness winners and losers: ACC, UConn, Cinderellas led NCAA Tournament highlights

The biggest winner of the NCAA men’s tournament is the team left standing: Connecticut made it two national championships in a row by beating Purdue 75-60.

Despite the loss, this was a memorable season for the Boilermakers. One year ago, Purdue was bounced out of the first round in an historic upset by No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson.

But this wasn’t a tournament to remember for the SEC, the Mountain West and teams such as Kentucky, Auburn and Houston.

With the Huskies’ sixth national championship in the books, here are the biggest winners and losers from this year’s edition of March Madness:



Just when it seemed like the ACC was down, it reminded everyone about its position among the top men’s college basketball conferences.

Aside from Virginia, the other four ACC teams to make the field all advanced to the Sweet 16. Three of them – Clemson, Duke and North Carolina State – made the Elite Eight, and the Wolfpack capped it off with a trip to the Final Four with their breakout star DJ Burns providing some of the great moments of the tournament.

The ACC has been taking punches left and right as the college sports world continues to change and, but it was a successful March for a conference that is among the leaders in college basketball national championships.

North Carolina State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) cuts the net after his team's defeat of Duke at the South Regional championship game of the 2024 NCAA men's tournament at American Airline Center.
North Carolina State forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) cuts the net after his team's defeat of Duke at the South Regional championship game of the 2024 NCAA men's tournament at American Airline Center.


This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill national champion, if such a thing exists. The Huskies are an unforgettable powerhouse who deserve to be placed alongside the best teams in NCAA history. Just like a year ago, every win in this tournament came by a double-digit margin. The closest win during this span was a 13-point victory against Miami in last year’s Final Four. Loaded in the frontcourt but absolutely dominant in the backcourt, the Huskies were the total package. Tristen Newton (20 points) was the top scorer against the Boilermakers but was just one of five or six players on this roster capable of being the best player on the floor.

Zach Edey

Not since Princeton’s Bill Bradley in 1965 has a player so thoroughly dominated competition without winning the national championship. Edey scored 37 points on Monday night and scored 177 points across six games, tied with Bradley for the second most by a player in a single tournament. And this wasn’t even his best performance of the past few weeks; he scored 40 points in Purdue’s win against Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The two-time national player of the year went out with a flourish.

The Big East

Maybe the league should’ve earned more than three bids, huh? UConn won the whole thing. Creighton and Marquette reached the Sweet 16. Overall, these three teams went a combined 10-2 to give the Big East the best winning percentage of any conference with multiple teams in the field.

Mid-major coaches

Taking some liberty in calling Washington State a mid-major with its impending move to the West Coast Conference, there were seven coaches in the tournament that ended up getting promoted to jobs with Power Six conferences. Three came after first-round wins - Mark Byington from James Madison to Vanderbilt, Danny Sprinkle from Utah State to Washington and Kyle Smith from Washington State to Stanford.

Four others were first-round losers − Dusty May from Florida Atlantic to Michigan, Darian DeVries from Drake to West Virginia, Pat Kelsey from College of Charleston to Louisville and Steve Lutz from Western Kentucky to Oklahoma State. Those seven represent more than half the openings among the Power Six this offseason.



The SEC tied the Big 12 for the most teams in the tournament with nine but had just two, Alabama and Tennessee, make any noise beyond the opening weekend. The Crimson Tide’s surprising Final Four appearance helped the league go 8-8 in tournament play, but the SEC had four teams go out in the opening round, including No. 3 Kentucky.


And speaking of the Wildcats: The early exit at the hands of No. 14 Oakland was followed under three weeks later by coach John Calipari’s departure for the same position at Arkansas. Is that really a bad thing? Despite recruiting as well or better than any program in the country, Kentucky hasn’t gotten out of the opening weekend since 2019 and hasn’t made the Final Four since 2015.

Mountain West

Another conference that failed to live up to expectations was the Mountain West, which was billed as the top conference outside the Power Six but went just 4-6 in the tournament. One MWC team, Boise State, lost to Colorado in the play-in game. Three others lost in the first round: New Mexico (Clemson), Nevada (Dayton) and Colorado State (Texas). Utah State beat TCU before getting destroyed by Purdue. The only team from the MWC to make any noise was San Diego State, last year’s national runner-up, which reached the Sweet 16 before losing by 30 points to UConn.

The tournament committee and Virginia

The selection committee was down to its final at-large selection with a dilemma. North Carolina State, Duquesne and Alabama-Birmingham each stole bids by winning their conference tournaments. That left a strong group of teams to choose from – Oklahoma, Seton Hall, Indiana State and Pittsburgh. Instead, it chose Virginia – a team that had lost four of its last seven and managed fewer than 50 points in three of those defeats.

So what did Virginia do with that fortunate opportunity? The Cavaliers got blown away by Colorado State in an ugly 67-42 loss. It didn’t help Seton Hall and Indiana State were two of four teams left out to play in the NIT and both reached the final round, with the Pirates winning a close game.


The first round gave a glimpse of what makes the tournament so great. Eight double-digit seeded teams won in the first round, highlighted by No. 14 seed Oakland and No. 13 seed Yale pulling off upsets against SEC powers.

But after that, there weren't many underdogs stories after that with a relatively chalk rest of the tournament. NC State was the only double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16, but with how hot it was playing heading into the NCAA Tournament, it was far from a completely unexpected run to the Final Four.

Cinderellas are what make the NCAA Tournament the spectacle it is, but no glass slipper would fit this season.

Buzzer-beaters and close games

Another magical part of the tournament is the flair for the dramatic with thrilling endings or buzzer-beating shots. We didn’t get much of those, and most games were actually decided a few minutes before the final buzzer went off.

The most notable late-game shots was Colorado’s KJ Simpson hitting a jumper in the final seconds to beat Florida, and Texas A&M’s Andersson Garcia drilled a 3-pointer in the second round against Houston to force overtime. That was it.

Of the 67 games, 42 games were decided by double-digits, including both Final Four semifinals and the national championship game. Not many nail biters this time around.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness winners and losers include UConn, ACC, Cinderellas