GREENVILLE, S.C. — The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament had no shortage of upsets. And some conferences came out of it major losers. And there were some surprise winners, like the ACC.
Not one of Auburn (2-seed), Kentucky (2-seed) or Tennessee (3-seed) made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s really one of the biggest shockers of the opening weekend as the SEC hoped for massive success for at least one of those three teams, who were all in different regions.
Michigan (11-seed) handed Tennessee an upset loss in the second round on Saturday and Purdue moved on with a win over Texas on Sunday, but the Big Ten has been disappointing yet again. Wisconsin (3-seed), Illinois (4-seed), Iowa (5-seed and Big Ten Tournament Champions), Michigan State (7-seed), Ohio State (7-seed) and Indiana (12-seed) were all bounced on opening weekend.
Meanwhile, how about the ACC? Many believed this was the weakest year for the conference in recent memory, but 8-seed North Carolina pulled off a massive upset over Baylor on Saturday and then No. 10 seed Miami dominated 2-seed Auburn in all phases on Sunday for an upset win. Notre Dame also upset 6-seed Alabama on Friday before losing to 3-seed Texas Tech on Sunday. And Duke was able to pull out a win to move on to the Sweet 16.
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“I think everyone just assumed it was a down year for the ACC because it wasn’t 11 or 12 ACC teams we were talking about in the tournament,” Cooper said on Locked On Today. “It’s not even that they’re winning by skating by their teeth, they are asserting themselves.”
Miami and North Carolina both pulled off massive upsets in the second round. Cooper said UNC’s upset of Baylor in overtime after blowing a massive lead was incredibly impressive for many reasons.
“UNC had Brady Manek get ejected from the game off of an elbow…For Carolina to be up 25, your best player goes out. Caleb Love fouling out, nobody can handle the ball. If you were a Carolina fan, your heart was pumping the entire time because you just knew, Carolina could blow it,” Cooper said.
“Then you look at this Miami team, everyone in the conference has said they’re very tough, they have nothing to lose,” Cooper said. “Every game they play, they’re playing with house money.”
Meanwhile, Duke was able to pull away from Michigan State late with some great play down the stretch. The 2-seed is working hard to get to the Final Four in Coach K’s final season, but Cooper said this team is much more talented than people are giving them respect for.
“At the end of the day, Duke’s a better team, you’re supposed to win these games,” Cooper said. “As much as we want to be like, oh it’s all heart, Duke is absolutely the best team on paper in this country and they should win every game they appear in, so there should be no surprise when they’re able to pull it off.”
How realistic are Duke’s championship hopes? Their region is going to be tough to get out of the rest of the way.
“They absolutely can win a national title, however, they are going to have to play a Texas Tech team that is very gritty, they’re going to be hard nosed, they’re going to play with you every single possession,” Cooper said. “I think for Duke, they’re used to playing these really big name brand teams that everyone can get excited about, but if you have to play a hard nosed, we’re not scared of anybody team, that’s when it can get a little dicey. You’re playing guys who would love nothing more than to beat Duke.”
The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday with some thrilling matchups including Michigan-Villanova, Arkansas-Gonzaga, Duke-Texas Tech and Houston-Arizona.