The East is the NCAA Tourney’s most bizarre region in years

The East is the NCAA Tournament's strangest region in years.
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By David Fox

This year’s East region isn’t the craziest bracket in NCAA Tournament history, but it’s pretty darn close to the top.

In a matter of hours, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the region, Villanova and Virginia, lost their round of 32 games. That leaves No. 3 Oklahoma as the top dog in the East region – for now.

Not only did the top two seeds in the region lose, the outright conference champions from the ACC and Big East lost in the round of 32. 

How strange is all that? Here are a few answers:

For the first time since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, the ACC and Big East outright champions both failed to make it to the Sweet 16. 

Now, the unbalanced schedule may have given Virginia a leg up in winning the ACC title at 16-2 – one game ahead of Duke. But either way, the Cavaliers are the first outright ACC regular season champ since 2003 Wake Forest to fail to reach the Sweet 16. The 1997 Duke team that lost to Providence in the second round is the only other ACC champion since 1985 to fail to reach the Sweet 16. 

Villanova was dominant during the regular season, winning the Big East with a four-game lead over Butler. That didn’t stop the Wildcats from losing to the sixth-place team in the ACC. Villanova is the sixth outright Big East champ to lose before the Sweet 16 and the third since 2008. Pittsburgh lost in the second round to Butler in 2011 and Georgetown lost to Davidson in the second round in 2008. 

For the first time since 2004, the top two seeds in a region lost before the Sweet 16. In 2004, No. 1 Kentucky lost to No. 9 UAB in the second round and No. 2 Gonzaga lost to No. 7 Nevada. Those upsets cleared the path for No. 3 seed Georgia Tech to reach the Final Four.

Only six times in NCAA history, including 2015, have the top two seeds in a region failed to reach the Sweet 16. Not only did it happen in two different regions in the 2000 Tournament, but both regions lost their top three seeds, clearing the path for two No. 8 seeds to reach the Final Four (North Carolina and Wisconsin).

Making the upsets more painful for Virginia and Villanova have to be the teams still playing.

Villanova defeated Xavier three times during the season by an average of 14.3 points per game, and the Musketeers are the only Big East team left in the field.

Meanwhile, Virginia was the first ACC team in nine tournament games to lose. After NC State’s win over Villanova, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried went so far as to call the ACC “undervalued.” Presumably after Virignia lost to the third-place team in the Big Ten, Gottfried might choose different wording.

“In my opinion, it's an undervalued conference right now for how strong our league is,” Gottfried told the media. “So when you went on the road like we have and beat North Carolina or on the road and beat Louisville or beat a Duke team, it's not that you don't respect (Villanova). We respect Villanova, but we've seen good teams. We've seen a lot of them in our conference. You see them about every night. So a league like that prepares you for games like tonight.”

March Madness is weird, and something strange happens every year. This year, the strangest outcomes happened to be in the East bracket.

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