The dust has settled on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but Jon Rothstein still can’t believe what we witnessed over the previous four days.
“Just when you think you found out all the answers, they changed all the questions,” the CBS Sports college basketball insider said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It’s unbelievable the things that we saw. It might have been the best opening weekend that we’ve ever seen in NCAA Tournament history.”
National-title contender Michigan State going down in the first round, Texas A&M staging one of the most improbable comebacks in college basketball history, game-winning shots galore – it was a crazy weekend.
A crazy weekend made crazier by the fact that six ACC teams made the Sweet 16. Granted, there were breaks in the Round of 32. Duke played Yale, not Baylor; Note Dame played Stephen F. Austin, not West Virginia; and Syracuse played Middle Tennessee, not Michigan State.
So, is the ACC-heavy Sweet 16 a sign of strength or circumstance?
“This is what happens,” Rothstein said. “Because the ACC has 15 teams and an imbalanced schedule, there are certain teams, I think, that drag down the perception of the conference because we don’t see great teams playing against each other as much as we do in conferences like the Big 12 where there’s a double round-robin. But the ACC again is proving that the teams at the top of the league are better than the top teams of any other league, and we have to remember that Louisville did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament and two teams that won double-digit ACC games, Virginia Tech and Clemson, did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. So those are two big things to keep in mind when you look at the landscape of things.”
Still, maybe we should have seen this coming. In fact, Rothstein spoke to Mississippi State coach Ben Howland a week or so before the tournament and got some advice he wish he would have taken.
“He said, ‘Take teams from the ACC,’” Rothstein recalled. “I probably should have listened more to a guy who went to three straight Final Fours.”
Syracuse’s presence in the Sweet 16 is of particular note. The No. 10 Orange (21-13) play No. 11 Gonzaga (28-7) this Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET.
“Syracuse and Gonzaga, seven days before Selection Sunday, were not going to get at-large bids,” Rothstein said. “Now they’re playing in the Sweet 16. (But) if you look at it, Syracuse playing Dayton and Middle Tennessee is a lot easier than playing two ACC teams.”
Jamie Dixon, meanwhile, may have coached his last game at Pitt. The Panthers fell to Wisconsin, 47-43, in opening-round action and have not advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2009.
If Dixon leaves Pitt, he’d be a great fit at TCU, where he played in the 1980s. TCU also recently parted ways with Trent Johnson, who, in four years, went 8-64 against Big 12 opponents.
“According to Pitt staff and people internally at Pittsburgh, there has been no word that anything is imminent,” Rothstein said of Dixon’s potential firing. “Now, the people I’m talking to in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area (say) there’s been an expectation that Jamie Dixon would potentially be the next head coach at TCU. Jamie has told confidants that he feels it is time to move on from Pittsburgh and (how) Pittsburgh’s geographic recruiting footprint has changed a lot since Pitt went from the Big East to the ACC.”
Still, Dixon-to-TCU might not be as straightforward as it seems. Dixon, 50, signed a 10-year deal in 2013 worth roughly $2.5 million annually. TCU also just paid Johnson $4.8 million to essentially go away.
“I don’t care how much resources an athletic department has,” Rothstein said. “That’s real money. I think TCU has an expectation that he is the target, but still, (there is) nothing, I think, really imminent.”
In other head-coaching news, UNLV is reportedly interested in hiring Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, but Rothstein doesn’t see Cronin making the move.
“While UNLV has upside, Cincinnati is a perennial NCAA Tournament team, he’s from Cincinnati and he’s also in a situation where he has went through one of the more backbreaking rebuilds in college basketball,” Rothstein said. “I would be shocked if that wound up happening, but I do know that he’s on their short list. It’s tough to see somebody leaving a good Power 5 job for UNLV.”
And, finally, CBS Sports Radio’s Doug Gottlieb may or may not be a candidate for the Oklahoma State opening.
“Doug is obviously revered in Stillwater as a great player at Oklahoma State, but from what I’ve gathered right now, it doesn’t seem like anything is imminent in terms of candidates,” Rothstein said. “They’re still going through the process of finding the best candidate. I was also told by somebody in Stillwater today (that) resources will not be a problem for Oklahoma State, even though they paid Travis Ford in excess of $7 million not to work.”
Oklahoma State went 12-20 this season, including 3-15 in the Big 12.