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Arizona guard Nick Johnson gestures after making a three-point basket against Gonzaga during the second half of a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Kragthorpe: Sixteen sweet thoughts about the NCAA Tournament
Men’s basketball » NBA Lottery’s big names are gone, but plenty of fun, intrigue remains
First Published Mar 24 2014 09:43 am • Last Updated Mar 25 2014 04:15 pm

Sixteen sweet, semi-sweet and bittersweet observations at this stage of the NCAA Tournament:

• For fans of the Utah Jazz, some of the fun is gone after the first weekend. With the team tied for the NBA’s fourth-worst record, entering Monday’s play, the May 20 draft lottery is the subject of much anticipation.

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The likes of Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart made the tournament more interesting from a Jazz fan’s perspective. Now, only Randle remains. If you’re thinking that the poor performances of Wiggins and Parker will lower them to the Jazz’s likely draft spot, don’t bet on that, either. NBA teams won’t overreact to their tournament showings.

• It has been a crazy, entertaining tournament. Yet amid all of the upsets, the power conferences are well represented in the Sweet 16. The Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and Big Ten all have three teams in play. The Big 12 has two teams and the Atlantic Coast Conference has one. That leaves four middle-tier schools, as judged by football: Louisville, Connecticut, San Diego State and Dayton — and Louisville is moving to the ACC.

• By seeding, the Sweet 16 is not as far off-kilter as you might imagine, either. The remaining field includes 10 top-four seeds, with three No. 1s and two No. 2s. It is unusual to have three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, however, which evokes the statement I always make and then forget on Selection Sunday: There’s just no sense in worrying so much about seeding.

• The Miller brothers are college basketball’s version of the Harbaughs. Archie Miler assisted his brother, Sean, for two seasons at Arizona, and now he has Dayton in the Sweet 16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats also will play Thursday, but the teams are in different regions. Imagine what the world might be like, if Arizona had hired former Utah coach Jim Boylen in 2009, instead of Sean Miller.

• The Pac-12 is enjoying a basketball resurgence. No. 10 seed Stanford’s upset of Kansas in the round of 32 was a breakthrough for the conference, as the Cardinal joined Arizona and UCLA in the Sweet 16. There’s a chance Stanford and UCLA will meet in the Elite Eight. The Pac-12 went 4-2 in the round of 64, and Oregon battled No. 2 seed Wisconsin to the wire in the next round. Colorado produced by far the worst showing, losing badly to Pittsburgh.

• Utah will have some reflected glory as a result of the Pac-12’s performance — and so will Weber State and BYU. The Utes went 1-5 against Sweet 16 teams. They split with UCLA, took Arizona into overtime at home and lost by one point at Stanford, in addition to playing competitively at Arizona before being crushed in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. Weber State never threatened to beat Arizona, but deserves credit for extending a No. 1 seed in a nine-point game.

BYU can point to a regular-season win at Stanford and Utah State can claim an overtime loss to San Diego State, although the Aggies lost badly to SDSU in the Mountain West quarterfinals.

• Utah schools have gone three years without a victory in the round of 64, since BYU reached the Sweet 16 with Jimmer Fredette in 2011. So who will be the next team to win a game at that stage? My odds: Utah 2-1, BYU 3-1, Weber State 100-1, Utah State 200-1, Southern Utah 1,000-1. Delon Wright’s return for his senior season gives Utah a decent shot at a tournament win next March, and BYU will have a chance as well, if Kyle Collinsworth recovers sufficiently from his knee injury.


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• By losing to Oregon, BYU extended to 28 its record of NCAA appearances without making the Final Four. Missouri’s absence from the field kept the Tigers at 25. There’s a dubious element to this record, but it’s mostly a compliment to a program’s consistency.

• Gonzaga now has appeared in 16 consecutive tournaments (17 in all) without reaching the Final Four. The Bulldogs have lost in the round of 32 for five years in a row, and were overwhelmed by Arizona. Gonzaga’s year-after-year level of performance is remarkable, but there’s obviously a ceiling.

• Here’s the almost-annual mention that Florida’s Billy Donovan was cut twice by the Jazz before launching his coaching career. Donovan has built an amazing program, winning two national championships and contending for another title this year as a No. 1 seed. The Gators will meet UCLA in the Sweet 16.

• Extending the First Four format beyond No. 16 seeds is a good invention, and No. 11 Tennessee is taking advantage of its opportunity. The Volunteers had to beat Iowa in overtime just to reach the round of 64, and then they knocked off Massachusetts and Mercer to reach the Sweet 16. Remember the Vols, the next time a team complains about having to play in Dayton, Ohio.

• San Diego State coach Steve Fisher deserves praise for his second Sweet 16 appearance in four years. Malcolm Thomas, now a Jazz forward, was part of the 2011 team that advanced to this stage, and now the Aztecs are back, facing Arizona on Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.

• North Dakota State’s 2013-14 athletic year has produced all anyone could want from a Football Championship Subdivision school. The Bison won a third straight FCS title in January (after beating Kansas State in a season opener) and then knocked off Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.

• Becoming attached to Wichita State was easy, after the Shockers played their first two NCAA games at EnergySolutions Arena last March on the way to the Final Four. So it was disappointing to watch WSU lose to Kentucky on Sunday, even though it was a riveting, highly entertaining game. Harvard’s upset of Cincinnati brought back some memories as well, after the Crimson knocked off New Mexico at ESA last year.

• Baylor’s 30-point win over Creighton in the round of 32 was stunning, as the Bears ended the career of Creighton’s Doug McDermott. The outside shooting of Baylor’s Brady Heslip was reminiscent of his great game in Provo in December 2011, when Baylor edged BYU 86-83. Heslip scored 18 points that day, as did Matt Carlino in his BYU debut.

• A year after current Jazz guard Trey Burke led Michigan to the national championship game, the No. 2-seeded Wolverines have a great chance to get back to the Final Four. They play No. 7 Texas in the Sweet 16, then would draw the winner of No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt



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