In theory the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament belongs to the underdogs… while the second weekend belongs to the favorites.  Tell that to VCU and Butler in 2011…or George Mason in 2006.  As the Sweet 16 gets underway plenty of thoughts after the first weekend dust settles…

FGCU!– I think somebody shouted that at me once.  Or maybe it was graffiti on a bathroom stall.  All we know is the Eagles have become a media darling after disposing of Georgetown and San Diego State while doing a highly annoying victory dance.  Their coach is a millionaire married to a Maxim model–and he romanced her over Taco Bell while proposing with a Krispy Kreme donut.  What’s not to like?

Hoyas Hex?  Once again, an early upset.  Instead of focusing on potential matchups in the elite eight the Georgetown faithful get the face-slap of a long offseason with questions surrounding how they can follow up dominant regular seasons with miserable Marches.  Almost reminds me of Arizona’s Lute Olson getting grief after multiple early exits…until the Wildcats won the 1997 NCAA Tournament and reached 7 sweet sixteens in 10 years.  JT3 and staff will figure this one out.

Alma Mater Update– somehow the Orange are back at the site of their biggest loss of the season… with thoughts of their most heartbreaking defeat in school history.  Syracuse is in the Sweet Sixteen thanks to a difficult to digest zone and an offense that’s woken up all of a sudden.  Hard to believe they scored just 39 points less than three weeks ago at the Verizon Center… and harder to believe it’s been 26 years since Keith Smart hit the shot that broke Orange Nation’s heart in the NCAA Championship Game.  If only Derrick Coleman hits both ends of that one-and-one…

Sorting out the field– 11 of the top 16 seeds remain in play… three double digit seeds alive.  Oregon proves those on the committee wrong by following up its Pac 12 Tournament run with two straight wins– while LaSalle justifies its inclusion as one of the last at large teams in the field by playing its way to this weekend.  And we know all about Florida Gulf Coast.

This isn’t a democracy, its a representative republic– one thing I love is the annual tug of war between lower tier conferences that demand they get more than one bid when it’s not justified…and the name leagues that demand 75% of their schools get bids.  There’s always the happy medium that we reach more often than not;  but it’s never good enough for the analysts who want to do away with automatic bids or over-representation of the power conferences.  Do I think this year’s field needed the 5th place team from the Mountain West or the Atlantic 10?  (granted, there were 16 schools in the league this winter)–maybe not.  But do I want sub-500 schools from the ACC and Big Ten earning extra opportunities to prove what they couldn’t over two months of regular season play?  Until the schools in the major conferences agree to play home-and-home with their little brothers instead of buying home games to pad their record, lets continue to reward schools from the mid-major conferences with at-large berths…but let’s not put more than 50% of the Mountain West in the tournament again.

Coaching Carousel– UCLA and Minnesota make changes… while Shaka Smart stays put.  It’s more than just a big fish/small pond thing… Smart has a supportive administration and can win consistently with athletes he’s used to recruiting.  At either “Power Conference” school, he’d be out of his current region and dealing with administrations that just let go coaches who led their respective teams into the NCAA Tournament.  Oh my–isn’t the grass green in Richmond?

Conference Shuffle–  George Mason leaves the CAA for the Atlantic 10… a crumbling CAA that is.  A sad finish to a league that enjoyed an upstart era with departing and former members Old Dominion, George Mason and VCU delivering memorable March moments.  But fear not– there are lower leagues that the CAA can swipe schools from.  The weak are the meat that the strong do eat.

NIT– Maryland moves on to the Final Four thanks to a 58-57 win over Alabama… and although they’ll face Iowa minus guard Seth Allen, coach Mark Turgeon’s team has put together a run to build upon for next season.

Maryland Womens Window–  the Terps advance to Saturday’s Bridgeport Regional thanks to a 74-49 rout of Michigan State.  Can a thin lineup avenge an early season loss to UConn?  Ball security will be one key as the Terps turned the ball over 26 times to the Huskies in December.

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