The first weekend came and went without any monstrous upsets or shocking buzzer-beaters. If there is a Cinderella, it's 12th-seeded Oregon, an athletic Pac-12 team that doesn't fit the typical profile.
So far, this is not the year of the underdog, but it's been a big year for Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, who validated himself after he was let go by the Texas Longhorns. On a smaller scale, it was a big day for UNC's Luke Maye and Duke's Zion Williamson, and a tough one for UCF's Tacko Fall and the Buffalo Bulls.
The Sweet 16 is now set, and though the first two rounds left something to be desired in the way of drama, there may be a payoff coming next weekend.
Winner: Rick Barnes
Tennessee has looked like a Final Four team all season, and the way it stomped Iowa, blew a giant lead and then composed itself to win 83-77 in overtime was just the latest example.
That much is obvious. Just below the surface, though, is a season of major validation for Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes. In 2015, Texas fired Barnes and replaced him with the hottest coaching name of the time, Shaka Smart. Barnes won 402 games (and lost 180) at Texas and took the Longhorns to 16 NCAA tournaments in 17 years, with five Sweet 16 appearances and a Final Four in 2003.
The read on Barnes at the time was that he had stalled out at Texas, and that Texas had stalled out on him. The program seemed to have settled into a plateau at around 20-24 wins per season and an opening-weekend loss.
After two rough seasons at Tennessee, Barnes was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2018, and in 2019, he has one of the fastest, most talented teams in the country. The Volunteers are both mature and aggressive, and if you love college basketball, it's hard not to look ahead to a potential Final Four showdown with SEC rival Kentucky.
Texas, on the other hand, didn't make the tournament, and Smart is on thin ice.
Isn't there supposed to be some madness associated with this tournament?
Buffalo, UCF, Liberty and UC Irvine all took losses on Sunday, effectively ending the Cinderella aspect of the 2019 NCAA tournament.
This has not been a particularly wild NCAA tournament. It hasn't even been all that interesting, save for Iowa's failed comeback, UCF's failed upset and a couple other mild surprises. The most compelling underdog narrative probably belongs to Oregon, a Pac-12 team that wound up with a No. 12 seed.
But unless the Ducks win a couple more games, we won't be seeing any Cinderella teams this year.
As is, every team seeded Nos. 1-4, save for Kansas and Kansas State, is in the Sweet 16.
Winner: Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa put on the gutsiest performance of the tournament Sunday. The 10th-seeded Hawkeyes were subject to some scorn just for being invited to the tournament, and a first-round win over Cincinnati didn't do much to change anybody's mind.
Iowa was down 25 in the first half to No. 2 Tennessee. At halftime, analyst Wally Szczerbiak speculated the early start time might be affecting Iowa, but Charles Barkley suggested this would be a beatdown no matter when it was played.
And yet it wasn't.
Iowa outscored Tennessee 43-22 in the second half to take the Vols to overtime on the back of an endless series of steals, loose balls, offensive rebounds and clutch shots. In overtime, it was Tennessee that made the shots, and so it's Tennessee that advances.
Technically Iowa goes home a loser, but only technically.
Loser: Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo ran into a good major-conference team and got waxed.
The Bulls had a terrific season. They beat Bowling Green; they beat Central Michigan (twice); they even beat Akron (three times).
But the NCAA tournament, unfortunately, has great teams in it, and that's where Buffalo's season went off track. The Bulls hadn't seen much of that this year. They beat a West Virginia team that finished last in the Big 12. They beat Syracuse, who got bounced in the first round of the tournament. They also got blown out by Marquette and lost two MAC games, and somehow that added up to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Texas Tech, a No. 3 seed from a middling major conference, made fast work of the best team in the MAC, beating the Bulls 78-58.
Winner: Luke Maye
When Luke Maye committed to North Carolina, he didn't know whether he'd even have a scholarship, much less get to play.
He was given a scholarship right before his freshman season, and on Sunday in the NCAA tournament, he had 20 points and 14 rebounds in an 81-59 win over Washington to lead North Carolina to the Sweet 16.
Maye has been that guy for North Carolina all year. He's the team's third-highest scorer at 14.8 points per game, but he leads the team in rebounding (10.5) and is capable of going all the way off at any moment.
He had 30 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Duke, 17 and 20 at Boston College and 31 and 12 against NC State. Maye isn't North Carolina's best NBA prospect by a long shot, but it's hard to imagine the Tar Heels getting this far without him.
Loser: The Big Ten
The Big Ten had a good start to the NCAA tournament, but things leveled out on Sunday, with Iowa and Ohio State both losing.
This leaves three Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16, which is good. The ACC has five, and the SEC has four, but three is still respectable. Sunday wasn't a good day for the conference as a whole, though.
Iowa got down by 25 before making an amazing (but ultimately unsuccessful) comeback against Tennessee, while Ohio State suffered a 15-point loss to Houston.
What started off looking like a dominant performance by the Big Ten has come back down to earth.
Winner: Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson has been everything Duke could have possibly imagined, which doesn't happen a lot. Usually the hype exceeds the reality. But with Williamson, it's different. He always makes a play.
And he did it again on Sunday, willing himself to the rim and drawing a fifth foul on UCF's Tacko Fall while making a layup. With the help of a putback layup by RJ Barrett, Williamson was able to lead Duke to a victory over ninth-seeded UCF.
Williamson never dunked on Fall—though he tried once or twice—but he had 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, a performance that would be astonishing for almost any freshman who has ever played college basketball but is something in the range of expected from Williamson.
The buildup to this game had a lot do with Williamson and Fall, the 7'6" UCF center who declared he would not allow Williamson to dunk on him, per Andy Katz of NCAA.com. He kept that promise and played a great game of his own, but the world learned that not even the 7'6", 310-pound Fall was a physical match for Williamson.
Loser: UC Irvine
If you're a No. 13 seed like UC Irvine, you can't ask for much more than facing a 12th-seeded team in the second round.
Yes, this was a No. 12 seed from a major conference. But that major conference was the Pac-12, so that wasn't exactly a deal-breaker.
It's not that UC Irvine should have beaten Oregon, it's just that it was a huge missed opportunity. This tournament doesn't have any real Cinderella stories now. UC Irvine, playing in the last game of the second round, was literally the last chance.
The Anteaters played a good game, pushing Oregon well into the second half. But in the end, they just couldn't score against Oregon's athletic front line and couldn't stop the Ducks' dunks, either.
Winner: Virginia Cavaliers
No team had more hanging over its head as the NCAA tournament began than Virginia. The Cavaliers made history last season by being the first No. 1 seed ever to lose a first-round game.
You couldn't help but wonder how another top-seeded Virginia team would handle all that. Through two rounds, you can't say it's gone great, but making it to the second weekend was what Virginia needed to put last year behind it. The Cavaliers didn't exactly blow their opponents out in either the first or second round, but they're in the Sweet 16, and that's all that matters.
Let it be said: Virginia did not choke this year.
Loser: Tacko Fall
UCF's Tacko Fall played a fine game, all things considered. He had 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks against top-seeded Duke. And his team took the Blue Devils to the brink.
When Fall was in the game, he was excellent. But he only played 25 minutes and was limited by foul trouble in both halves, and in a one-point game with the season on the line, that wasn't quite enough.
The country was eager to see a meeting at the rim between the 7'6" Fall and Duke's Zion Williamson, who will likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft. There were a few, and Fall won most of them. But with the game on the line, Williamson was able to draw a foul on Fall, his fifth of the game. RJ Barrett rebounded Williamson's missed free throw to give Duke the win, and Fall could only watch from the bench.