Half Of The NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Is Chalk And That’s Just Fine

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The “left side” of the 2018 NCAA Tournament bracket is utter chaos. Loyola-Chicago reached the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed after winning three games by four points combined. Kansas State upended Kentucky in stunning (and bizarre) fashion. Michigan needed a high-profile escape against Houston to even reach the second weekend. Finally, Florida State took advantage of an untimely injury to Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie and navigated the field as a No. 9 seed.

In short, storylines abound from the South and West regions, and in some ways, that is what March Madness is all about. However, the East and Midwest regions finished with essentially chalk on Friday evening, and while “boring” from some angles, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, television executives and casual fans are probably thrilled to see top seeds in Villanova, Kansas, Duke and Texas Tech.

Yes, Cinderella stories are exceedingly memorable, and this tournament has them all over the place. In addition to Loyola-Chicago (and Sister Jean), UMBC made history, and No. 13 seeds like Buffalo and Marshall made a dent during the opening hours of the frenzy. At the end of the process, though, fans actually want to see big-name programs in the mix, and television ratings, since the beginning of time, drive that point across.

It could be easily argued that, in fact, a mixture of blue bloods and mid-majors is the best way to go, and even with the possibility of Power 5 schools combining to fill the entire Final Four, that is still in play. As for the East and Midwest regions, though, the best teams simply performed like the best teams.

No. 1 Villanova was pushed to the brink by West Virginia at times, and No. 1 Kansas had to weather a furious storm by an impressive Clemson team in the final moments of their Sweet 16 matchup. Still, the Wildcats and Jayhawks boast NBA-level talent (more so on the Villanova side, admittedly) and recognizable coaches, in addition to simple name recognition that accompanies status in the sport.

As for the non-No. 1 seeds, Duke basically operates as a favorite, to the point where the Blue Devils began the tournament as one of the three teams with the shortest odds to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Coach K’s bunch boasts at least four NBA-bound players, headlined by Marvin Bagley III, and there is absolutely no surprise in the way Duke essentially cruised to the Regional Final.

Texas Tech, who serves as the only vacation from pure chalk, needed to “upset” No. 2 Purdue, but in truth, the Red Raiders were two-point Las Vegas underdogs, and the result felt like the right one after an impressive 40-minute showing. Chris Beard’s team is led by veteran Keenan Evans, and even if the best NBA Draft prospect (Zhaire Smith) is off the radar to some degree, this is a legitimately dangerous squad that could give Villanova all it can handle.

Having top-flight teams playing for the right to reach San Antonio isn’t great in terms of the route to actually reach this point, but somewhere along the way, the NCAA likely loves when the Cinderellas bow out in favor of prominent teams with professional-quality players. Sunday’s matchup between Villanova and Texas Tech will feature a stylistic clash that should be riveting, and the battle between Duke and Kansas frankly speaks for itself.

Saturday’s slate may be interesting in a (much) different way, and chaos in the sports world is tremendous. Sunday will be “calmer” to some extent, but in truth, the quality of play is likely to be higher, and if nothing else, the Final Four will feature at least two of the top 10 teams in the country. That is probably a good thing.