I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Thirty-three TO26 teams entered the greatest weekend in sports, and just two — Xavier and Ohio — survived to make it to the second weekend. This is the weakest showing for non-BCS teams since 2005, when only Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Utah made it to the Sweet Sixteen (where they were dispatched by Illinois and Kentucky, respectively). But that’s not to say that it wasn’t an exciting first weekend for the TO26. Indeed, Friday was a historic day, as not just one, but two #15 seeds notched wins. It was mad, it was March, and it was why we — especially those of us who relish the mid-major game as much as the high-major one — love college hoops.
Below, we take a look at how those 15 seed upsets confounded us and and how they didn’t, the likelihood that Xavier and Ohio will continue to carry the TO26 banner into deeper rounds, and reflect on the surprising and not so surprising first round losses suffered by some of the best TO26 teams.
Can the TO26 makes its mark on the regional final or — gasp — the Final Four?
Ohio — For the second time in three years, D.J. Cooper has taken the NCAA Tournament by storm, scoring 40 points in two wins. More generally, the Bobcats are a young, athletic, and dangerous team with a surprisingly high talent level for a MAC squad. Their #13 seed reflects a bit of trouble that they had in the middle of the season, but this team is playing better than that, almost as well as the ’06 George Mason and ’11 VCU teams did when they stormed the Final Four with a #11 seed.
Still, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t give them great odds against a North Carolina squad that tends to dominate inside. But for those of you who just returned to civilization from a one-week absence, be advised that these are not normal circumstances. Kendall Marshall’s likely absence (or limited ability, at the least) may leave UNC vulnerable to Ohio’s turnover-generating defense and without the ability to run its vaunted transition offense. If the Bobcats can rattle the Tar Heels and UNC is unable to push the ball effectively, this could be a real contest. And after that, who knows? Kansas, with its effective interior game, would be a real challenge, but NC State would be eminently beatable. It is not inconceivable that the Bobcats could become the first team with a seed higher than 11 to land in the Final Four.