The final day of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a bittersweet moment in college basketball, as it marks the last day of wall-to-wall action for the season. While the next two weekends will be memorable in their own right as the Big Dance progresses toward its April 4 conclusion in New Orleans, there is nothing quite like the first four days of March Madness.
Thankfully, Sunday constituted an elite sendoff on multiple levels as the upset narratives continued and starpower shined. Then, in the weekend finale, there was an all-time great finish between Arizona and TCU. Among Sunday’s big winners were the remaining double-digit seeds in the Midwest Region, both of whom pulled significant upsets to set up a Sweet 16 matchup with each other.
Those two teams, No. 11 seed Iowa State and No. 10 seed Miami, will play each other on Friday for the chance to dance onward to the Elite Eight. The other double-digit seed in action Sunday was less fortunate, as No. 11 seed Notre Dame folded late in a 59-53 loss to No. 3 seed Texas Tech in West Region action.
Of course, the main attraction Sunday was the showdown between No. 2 seed Duke and No. 7 seed Michigan State, and it delivered in a massive way. A final score of 85-76 in favor of the Blue Devils doesn’t begin to explain how great of a game it was as Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo squared off for the final time.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s action as we bid the opening weekend of the 2022 NCAA Tournament a fond farewell.
Winner: TCU was heroic in defeat
After a back and forth game in Sunday’s final contest, it looked like Arizona found its “time to pull away” mode with 7:52 remaining, when it took a 67-58 lead on No. 9 seed TCU. For a moment, it seemed like the first weekend was going to fade quietly into the night with the No. 1 seed Wildcats winning comfortably, but that’s when the Horned Frogs showed why they are a program that will be going down in school history. TCU used a 12-0 run to take the lead before the game went to overtime. There will be endless debate over whether TCU’s Mike Miles was fouled on the final sequence of regulation, but here is one thing you can’t debate: these Horned Frogs are going down in history even though they wound up losing 85-80 in the extra period.
On their way to a dramatic defeat, the Horned Frogs captured the hearts of anyone who was still awake to watch. The program won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1987 on Friday. Thanks to the efforts of Miles, Eddie Lampkin, Chuck O’Bannon and their teammates, the Horned Frogs came heartbreakingly close to making their first Sweet 16 since 1968 on Sunday. If TCU fans have gotten over the heartbreak of that ending in two weeks, they should check out “One Shining Moment,” because you better believe the Horned Frogs will have a prominent place in the annual video montage of the NCAA Tournament’s best moments.
Winner: Purdue survives upset bid vs. Texas
Texas guard Marcus Carr had 23 points and Andrew Jones added 17 in a closely-contested game down to the wire, but No. 3 seed Purdue held off the Longhorns by pulling away in the final few minutes to win 81-71.
Boilermakers star Jaden Ivey started slow but finished fast with several big shots down the stretch – including a dagger 3-pointer – to help his team seal the win and secure a Sweet 16 berth. Big man Zach Edey had 11 points and 10 boards and after foul trouble found him, Trevion Williams stepped up with a big 22 points off the bench, giving Purdue its first Sweet appearance since 2019.
Winner: Houston in third straight Sweet 16
Houston lost both leading scorer Marcus Sasser and another key piece on offense, Tramon Mark, in a brutal December, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the Cougars program a season after making it to the Final Four. But Kelvin Sampson, as ever, finds a way. With their dominant 68-53 win over Illinois it gave them a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance behind another physical team that crashes the glass with ferocity. They await the winner of No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 9 seed TCU with a seventh Elite Eight appearance in program history within reach.
Loser: Officiating in Illinois-Houston game
The officiating crew in the Houston-Illinois crew made itself the source of endless ridicule by deciding that Illinois freshman RJ Melendez deserved a technical foul for what you’ll see below. Hanging on the rim can be deemed worthy of a technical foul under the rules, yes. But it’s a dated rule that is selectively enforced. So why choose the second half of a close NCAA Tournament game to enforce it? Beyond that, there was nothing close to malicious about Melendez’s dunk. He was going full speed and could have fallen awkwardly if he’d tried to release too soon. College basketball officiating is always the source of endless scrutiny, especially this time of year. Calls like this one do nothing to help.
Winner: Villanova struts in style to Sweet 16
No. 2 seed Villanova struggled out of the gate in its first round game against No. 15 seed Delaware by missing open looks and coming out flat, but that was not the case for Jay Wright’s club Sunday. The Wildcats defeated No. 7 seed Ohio State in a game it led throughout, 71-61, and their standing as the No. 1-ranked team in free-throw shooting percentage paid off down the stretch to close the game out (and to cover the spread). At full strength, this Nova team looks like the most lethal No. 2 seed standing in the field with balance, spurtability and a star to lead the way in Collin Gillespie, who had 20 points and four assists in the win.
Winner: Duke keeps Coach K’s farewell tour alive
Coach K’s career lives to see at least one more game. The Hall of Fame coach led No. 2 seed Duke past No. 7 seed Michigan State on Sunday in an 85-76 thriller, as the Blue Devils, who trailed by five points to the Spartans with 5:10 to play, closed on a 20-6 run to win it.
The win moved Krzyzewski to 13-3 all-time against Tom Izzo and advanced Duke to the Sweet 16 for an incredible 26th time during his illustrious coaching tenure. They’ll head to San Francisco for the next stage of the tournament where they face either Texas Tech, which owns the top-ranked defense in college hoops, or Notre Dame, led by former Krzyzewski assistant coach Mike Brey.
Loser: Auburn falls flat in stunner to Miami
In what was the biggest upset of Sunday’s second round action, No. 10 seed Miami not only beat – but throttled – No. 2 seed Auburn in a convincing 79-61 win to advance to the Sweet 16. Auburn was dreadful in this one. It looked out of sorts early and never found a rhythm. That applied to its stars, too, as potential No. 1 pick Jabari Smith finished 3-of-16 shooting and fellow frontcourt member Walker Kessler took six shots from the floor and made none. As a team they made only five of 26 3-point attempts.
Auburn was a 6.5 point favorite in this one, making the 24.5 point swing tied for the largest among underdog winners in the first weekend of the tournament with Saint Peter’s, which was 18.5 point underdogs to Kentucky in the first round and went on to win 85-79.
Winner: Iowa State’s turnaround under TJ Otzelberger
Iowa State won two games in the 2020-21 season.
It prompted the firing of coach Steve Prohm and the hiring of T.J. Otzelberger, which may have sparked one of the most impressive turnarounds of the last few years in college hoops. That Otzelberger got the Cyclones into the NCAA Tournament this year would have itself been quite the feat, but the 11th-seeded Cyclones are moving into the Sweet 16 after taking down No. 3 seed Wisconsin on Sunday, 54-49.
It’s hard to think of Iowa State as a Cinderella especially after all its recent success, but remember: this team was picked to finish dead last in the Big 12. It was not expected to be here. And it has managed to win as an underdog twice already in this tournament – exactly how Otzelberger and his team have been regarded all season.
Loser: The Big Ten’s big thud
Did you hear that sound? It was the Big Ten hitting the mat after getting the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday. A year after just one of the league’s nine NCAA Tournament teams – Michigan – reached the Sweet 16, the conference stumbled through another poor opening weekend performance. Of the nine Big Ten teams admitted to the tournament, a tally which included three bubble teams, only two are advancing. Among the losers Sunday were No. 3 seed Wisconsin, No. 4 seed Illinois, No. 7 seed Ohio State and No. 7 seed Michigan State. The league’s misery even carried over into the NCAA Women’s Tournament, where No. 2 seed Iowa fell victim to an upset at the hands of No. 10 seed Creighton.
Loser: The SEC stumbled as well
If we’re going to pick on the Big Ten, then the shortcomings of the SEC should be noted as well. Some thought the league deserved to get a seventh team, Texas A&M in to the Big Dance. But of the six who did receive invitations, only one survived the first weekend. That was No. 4 seed Arkansas, which now faces a date with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Gonzaga, next week. Judging a conference by its NCAA Tournament results isn’t foolproof, but for conferences filled with deep-pocketed brand-name squads, poor performance in the postseason is certainly embarrassing.
Winner: Texas Tech shows defensive prowess to the world
Texas Tech only made one of its final 11 shots from the floor but managed to close on a 10-2 run anyway in a 59-53 victory over Notre Dame. That was because of the Red Raiders’ incredible defensive effort. The outcome sends the Red Raiders on to a showdown with No. 2 seed Duke in the West Region semifinals next week and sets up what will be a compelling clash in styles. Duke ranks among the nation’s best offenses, but the Blue Devils haven’t seen anything like TTU’s tenacity on defense. On the flip side, there aren’t many players like Paolo Banchero in the Big 12, and his combination of size and skill will challenge Texas Tech.