With the 2015-2016 NCAA men’s basketball season coming to an end on Monday, there are plenty of people who simply aren’t ready for the off-season.
The 2015-16 season was full of highs and lows, providing excitement and heartbreak to so many passionate basketball fans around the country. From the upset from the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the NCAA Tournament over the Michigan State Spartans, to the NBA Draft debate surrounding Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, there was plenty to talk about all season long.
With the season firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to reflect and look at some of the key points that we were able to take away from the 2016 NCAA Tournament. From coaches earning high-profile jobs with marquee schools, to mid-major conferences making the case for more consideration on Selection Sunday for multiple bids, there’s plenty to talk about.
Below are five key takeaways from the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Despite the Blazers being out of the running for the tournament title, the road to the Big Dance wasn’t going to be easy.
On Saturday, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders found themselves squaring off against the Old Dominion Monarchs for the right to represent the conference in the field of 68. With two teams full of experience, the game was destined to be a closely contested affair, and it lived up to that very expectation.
Despite taking a five-point lead at half, the Monarchs weren’t able to hold onto the lead in the second half.
In the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Hampton Pirates found themselves in Dayton, OH in the First Four, fighting for a 16-seed and a spot in the Second Round.
After taking down the Manhattan Jaspers to do just that, they were paired up against the high-powered Kentucky Wildcats. They got a taste of the bright lights on the national stage in the Big Dance, and found themselves one win away from being there again in 2016.
In their way, the upstart South Carolina State Bulldogs were looking to take down the regular season champions and go dancing themselves. In the regular season, the Bulldogs went on the road and took down the Pirates, and they were looking to knock them off once more.
In the end, only one team could advance to the NCAA Tournament, and it was a tight game early on. After being tied at 39-all after the first half, the Pirates pulled away in the second half to come away with the win.
Fans of the Stony Brook Seawolves have been waiting a while for the school to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and many thought that this year could be the year that they finally earn a ticket to the big dance. After finishing atop the America East standings in the regular season, the spot in the field of 68 was theirs to lose.
After advancing to the conference tournament finals, the Seawolves were one win away from realizing their dream. They had to get past another perennial conference powerhouse to earn the spot, the Vermont Catamounts.
Both teams have been regular fixtures near the top of the conference standings, so a Seawolves-Catamounts finale is no surprise. For either team to come away victorious, star players would need to bring their best.
Fortunately for the Seawolves, Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy did just that. Warney scored a game-high 43 points, while Puriefoy added 23 points of his own, and the duo helped lead Stony Brook on a massive second-half comeback to secure a berth in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
For the first time in a long time, the Gonzaga Bulldogs didn’t look unbeatable in the West Coast Conference. They failed to win the regular season crown, and it looked as if they needed to win the post-season tournament to keep their NCAA Tournament streak intact.
Firmly on the bubble, the Bulldogs entered Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV on a mission. Wins over the Portland Pilots and the BYU Cougars put the Bulldogs one win away from dancing in March for the 18th consecutive season.
Only one team stood in their way, and that was the regular season champion Saint Mary’s Gaels. By virtue of a tiebreaker, the Gales finished atop the conference despite both teams having identical 15-3 records in conference play.
Gonzaga was swept in the regular season by the Gaels, and were out for some redemption. On a neutral court, and with the title on the line, the Bulldogs won when it mattered most.
Number one seeds in the conference tournaments haven’t fared so well in 2015-16. The level of parity in the conferences has been on full display, which makes the game that much more exciting.
On Tuesday night, the Wagner Seahawks were out to put an end to the struggles of the top seeds. Wagner finished atop the Northeast Conference standings in the regular season, and earned the right to host the conference title game in Staten Island, NY.
Their opponent on Tuesday, the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, had their sights set on securing the school’s fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Knights were a top contender in the conference all season long, and were looking to extend their four-game winning streak with a win over the high-powered Seahawks.
Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson split the season series at a game each, and both were looking for one more win to seal the deal and move onto the field of 68.
The Knights weren’t intimidated by playing on the road, and used a strong second half comeback to seize control of the game and come away with the conference championship.