NCAA Tourney’s biggest winners and losers

March 25, 2013 – 12:47 am by Hickey

Sherwood Brown

Sixteen teams remain in this year’s NCAA tournament, which means we’ve had plenty of winners and losers over the course of the first two rounds. But who has won or lost the most?

Here’s a region-by-region look at the best and worst the tournament has had to offer so far.

EAST

Biggest Winner: Marquette.

The Golden Eagles were toast against Davidson in the first round. Then they somehow hit three straight 3-pointers down the stretch after starting the game 2-for-14 from outside.

Even that wasn’t going to be enough until the 14th-seeded Wildcats chucked a half-court pass out-of-bounds in the waning seconds to give Marquette the ball and a shot at the win, which Vander Blue made way too easily in the lane for the 59-58 win.

Marquette nearly returned the horrible pass out-of-bounds favor to Butler in the second round, but the Bulldogs looked that gift horse in the mouth by launching one of the single-worst buzzer beating attempts ever witnessed as Andrew Smith’s one-handed 3 attempt for the win looked more fit for a shot put competition.

Biggest Loser: Fans of the underdog (and UNLV).

They got their moment in the sun in every other bracket, but fans of the plucky underdog didn’t get much in the East, where the only upset of the first two rounds came in the form of 12-seed Cal beating No. 5 UNLV just 45 minutes from its Berkeley campus — not exactly a case of rewarding the better team.

WEST

Biggest Winner: LaSalle

As was the case for VCU two years ago, getting placed in the play-in game is working wonders for one of the final at-large teams in the tournament field.

The Explorers beat Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss and now will have a shot at the Elite Eight if it can beat 9-seed Wichita State.

Biggest Losers: Steve Alford and Gonzaga

In future brackets, pick Alford-coached teams and the Zags at your own risk.

Just as he did at Iowa in 2006, Alford took a team into the tournament as a 3-seed and didn’t even get out of the first round. His New Mexico team was a trendy Final Four pick, but everyone making that pick seems to have forgotten that The Pit is one of the greatest home-court advantages in college basketball. The Lobos were clearly not the same team away from those comfortable environs against Harvard. And now they are stuck with Alford after inking him to a 10-year extension the night before the tourney.

Gonzaga is also turning into a perennial tournament disappointment after becoming America’s original mid-major darling more than a decade ago. The Bulldogs finally earned a No. 1 seed, but struggled to get past No. 16 Southern before getting bounced by a tougher Wichita State team.

MIDWEST

Biggest Winner: Louisville

No one in America is looking hotter than the Cardinals right now after a pair of blowout wins. It’s as simple as that. This is the team to beat.

Biggest Loser: Whoever seeded Oregon

Some of you would probably vote for Ram Boy, but that’s just mean.

Somehow the Pac-12 tournament champion, ranked 25th in the final AP poll, was only good enough to draw a 12th seed in the NCAA tournament.

The only teams to get screwed over more than the Ducks were opponents Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, both of whom ended up playing a team far better than they deserved to face in the first or second rounds. Seriously, Oregon got the same seed as Akron? Whose idea was that?

SOUTH

Biggest Winner: Florida Gulf Coast

Five years ago, I covered Florida Gulf Coast’s first-ever game against a Big East opponent and led it thusly:

“Florida Gulf Coast spent the Martin Luther King holiday in Chicago searching for the landmark win of the program’s short Division I history.”

They didn’t get it that night, losing to DePaul 92-60. Fast forward to the present and FGCU has more than cleared the 32-point gap that separated it from the Blue Demons. (Chances are that score would be reversed).

It’s not just that the Eagles are the first 15-seed to ever advance to the Sweet 16 — it’s how they are doing it. FGCU is putting fun back into a sport that is getting duller each season thanks to early exiting stars and a proliferation of Bo Ryan bore-us-to-death half-court offensive sets.

They run the floor, they dunk, they dance around, they shake hands with the TV crews after games — everything these guys do is fun.

And get this — the only reason FGCU is D-I is because the Division II Sunshine State Conference didn’t want them when the school was attempting to transition from the NAIA level. How do you like them apples, Rollins College?

Biggest Loser: Ben Howland

For a moment Akron looked like it would be the runaway biggest loser in the tournament field after getting blown out by VCU due to its starting point guard being in jail on drug trafficking charges and two other starters having the flu on game day.

But Howland, who was fired after 10 years in Westwood, takes the cake by becoming the first coach that made this year’s tournament to lose his job.

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