Four frenetically paced days of March Madness are in the books, and now it's time for the fun: to step back and assess grades for how some teams fared (and failed).
I will be your teacher for this exercise, so let me first set some ground rules.
- Rule No. 1: There are no curves on which I will grade. I won't grade Kentucky on a different scale than, say, Fairleigh Dickinson. That'd be totally un-fairleigh to everyone involved.
- Rule No. 2: These grades are based solely upon the first weekend of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. I don't care that Houston lost to Temple in January or that Creighton had a six-game losing streak near the end of last year. That is not a part of my criteria. This is not a power rankings. It's a report card.
All that's fair game is what teams did -- or in some cases, failed to do -- during their time in the NCAA Tournament field. That's a sample of one game for some, two games tops. My criteria is based entirely on vibes and performance with a heavy lean towards the vibes, so if you have problems with the report card, please wait until teacher conferences. Just know I will not be sharing my rubric and, no, I will not be rounding your team's 69 up to a 70. I am not that nice.
OK. Let's dive into the grades.
NCAA Tournament grades: Opening weekend report card
|Alabama||A+||The destructive force that is Alabama's offense cut through the first two rounds with ease by margins of 21 and 22 points. This team has the second-highest scoring margin in college hoops this season and is still running up the score en route to the Sweet 16.|
|Princeton||A+||Princeton became the fourth No. 15 seed in tournament history to punch a ticket to the Sweet 16 after stunning No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 7 seed Missouri in the span of three days. The Tigers are into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the bracket expanded in 1985.|
|UConn||A+||No. 13 seed Iona gave UConn some brief troubles in the first round -- the Huskies trailed at halftime -- but they've outscored their opponents by a jaw-dropping 41 points in the 60 minutes of basketball since. Saint Mary's was its most recent target, falling 70-55 to UConn in the second round.|
|Kansas State||A||The mettle Kansas State showed in a come-from-behind win vs. No. 6 seed Kentucky in the second round was emblematic of this team's grit and determination it has shown all season. K-State guard Markquis Nowell had 27 points and nine assists in the win, propelling the Wildcats (of Kansas State) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018 and the Wildcats (of Kentucky) back home.|
|FAU||B+||FAU snuck out a one-point win over Memphis in the first round then eliminated Cinderella-hopeful Fairleigh Dickinson in the second round to notch its first NCAA Tournament win in program history. Coach Dusty May and the Owls have a program-best 33 wins -- and counting.|
|Houston||B+||Two double-digit wins over a 16 seed and a No. 9 seed, respectively, is to be expected by a No. 1 seed like Houston in the opening weekend. But doing so with Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead banged up -- and overcoming a double-digit deficit against the Tigers in a second-round game played in Birmingham -- is mighty impressive.|
|Gonzaga||B+||No. 3 seed Gonzaga will make its eighth consecutive trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Grand Canyon and TCU in a span of three days. Zags looked good and showed grit while doing it, too, overcoming adversity after stumbling out of the gate to finish on a strong note entering the Sweet 16.|
|Michigan State||B+||Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo punched his ticket to a 15th career Sweet 16 after defeating No. 2 seed Marquette in a stunner on Sunday. The Golden Eagles won the Big East regular-season and tournament titles but turned in their second-lowest scoring total of the season in 69-60 loss fueled by Sparty's defense.|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||B||This is the highest grade among teams not advancing into the Sweet 16, and arguably it is too low when adjusting for expectations. FDU became the second No. 16 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed after taking down Purdue in Round 1 then gave No. 9 seed FAU a run for its money before falling 78-70 on Sunday.|
|Duke||C-||Duke won its 10th consecutive game with a first-round win over No. 12 seed Oral Roberts but failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons after being held to a season-low 52 points vs. Tennessee. First-year coach Jon Scheyer had a great debut season, but it finishes with a massive dud after entering the Big Dance as a trendy dark horse pick.|
|Marquette||C-||The Big East has largely had a strong postseason showing, but the crown jewel of the league, Marquette, which won the regular season and the Big East Tournament, didn't make it into the second weekend after falling in Round 2 to Michigan State. The Golden Eagles picked a bad day for their top-10 offense to be dysfunctional, turning in 60 points -- the second-lowest tally for them in a game all season -- in the loss.|
|Kansas||D||No. 8 seed Arkansas ensured that a reigning national champion would not repeat for the 16th consecutive year as the Razorbacks kicked the Jayhawks to the curb in the second round. With Bill Self still recovering and not on the sideline, it's hard to be too harsh here, but KU failing to make the second weekend after winning the Big 12 regular-season title and earning a No. 1 seed is by any measure a major disappointment.|
|Kentucky||D||A sixth-seeded Kentucky team losing to a third-seeded Kansas State team isn't terribly egregious. But the loss guaranteed UK's Sweet 16 drought would extend to three years -- the longest of the John Calipari era. It continues an ugly downward trend of the program and puts pressure on Cal, with a top recruiting class incoming, to win and win big next season.|
|Indiana||D||Even with a killer inside-out combo in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, No. 4 seed Indiana fizzled in the second round to No. 5 seed Miami in a game that wasn't even competitive. IU dealt with injuries down the stretch, but ending a successful season with a second-round exit given its lofty preseason expectations and roster talent is not ideal.|
|Arizona||F||Arizona's loss to No. 15 seed Princeton marked just the 11th time in tourney history a No. 15 seed has taken down a No. 2 seed. The Wildcats were double-digit favorites and fell flat on their face in the second-biggest upset of this year's tournament.|
|Purdue||F||It was inevitable Purdue would land at rock bottom in this space. It became the second No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed with its loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, yet another postseason failure for the Boilermakers in a string of stunning ones in recent years.|