NCAA Tournament

Power conferences take back tournament

Blair Kerkhoff
Blair Kerkhoff

About the time Norfolk State fell behind by 20 about nine minutes into Sunday’s against Florida, the NCAA Tournament offered up another truism.

Upsets flavor the openers, but in most years — and 2012 is one of them — power conferences reach the Sweet 16.

After a wild round of 64 that produced nine double-digit seed winners and some mid- and low-major stunners — like Norfolk State over Missouri — the round of 32 belonged to the big (budget) boys.

Omaha was ground zero for the trend. Not only were the Gators from the Southeastern Conference chomping Norfolk, but the hometown school, Creighton, couldn’t keep up North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C.

Also, Michigan State handled Saint Louis, Indiana survived Virginia Commonwealth, Louisville defeated New Mexico and Ohio State beat Gonzaga.

Ohio of the Mid-American Conference bucked the trend when it defeated South Florida of the Big East. But adding it up, only two non-majors reached the Sweet 16 — Xavier, which got past Lehigh, and the Bobcats.

A year ago, five schools from non-power leagues got this far, and for the first time since the bracket swelled to 64 in 1985 two made the Final Four — VCU and Butler. The Bulldogs were the champion of basketball’s middle class, playing for the national championship for the second straight year.

And throughout Friday, it appeared that where this tournament was headed.

When two No. 15 seeds won, the tournament had its underdog moment. Xavier taking down Notre Dame and Ohio defeating Michigan helped shred brackets.

But after the carnage, look what remains: 10 of the top 16 seeds. Chances are if you didn’t have Mizzou or Duke marching through to the Final Four your bracket hit some turbulence but found smooth air by the weekend’s end.

And the tournament is left with some delicious matchups.

Kentucky-Indiana gave us one of the best games and finishes of the regular season with the Hoosiers’ Christian Watford throwing in a three-pointer at the buzzer for the one-point triumph. The teams play an encore in Atlanta on Friday.

If Baylor gets past Xavier and Kentucky wins, perhaps the two most athletic teams will play for the regional title.

In the East, Wisconsin’s patient attack will test Syracuse’s zone. Ohio State, a preseason national championship favorite of many, looks to be back on track after a shaky few weeks late in the regular season.

The West features Florida’s three-point bombardiers taking aim on Marquette and Big East player of the year Jae Crowder.

The Midwest in St. Louis is where form didn’t hold. Top-seeded North Carolina pushed through, along with the 13th seeded Ohio and No. 11 North Carolina State.

And even the Tar Heels’ bid for a national championship was weakened by the wrist fracture to point guard Kendall Marshall. North Carolina didn’t announce Marshall’s status for the regional.

But North Carolina will be favored to advance to the what looks to be shaping up as a power conference Final Four.