A First Look at the Sweet 16
HERE'S OUR FIRST LOOK AT THE NCAA TOURNAMENT'S SWEET 16 TEAMS
FYI, there will be no repeat national champion this year. Okay, so that's not exactly "breaking news".
Defending champ Villanova exited this here-and-now NCAA Tournament with last Saturday's loss to 5.5-point underdog Wisconsin but - as it turns out - that wasn't even the weekend's biggest surprise as 6.5-point favorite Duke took a powder against hungrier (and "host") South Carolina and let's not forget other brutal losses suffered by ACC members Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame as the conference deemed the best in the land this year wound up winning seven games, losing eight in the first full week of tourney play. Ugh!
So, we zoom into Sweet 16 play with just a single ACC team still alive-and-breathing (see North Carolina) while the rest of the 16-team field is comprised of three Big 10 teams (Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin), three teams from the Pac-12 (Oregon, Arizona and UCLA), three teams from the Big 12 (Kansas, West Virginia and Baylor), three teams from the SEC (Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina), a pair of teams from the Big East (Butler and Xavier) and a West Coast Conference squad (Gonzaga) and here's how the Sweet 16 sked shapes up:
On Thursday, it's ...
MIDWEST (at Kansas City) - Michigan vs. Oregon; Purdue vs. Kansas
WEST (at San Jose) - West Virginia vs. Gonzaga; Xavier vs. Arizona
On Friday, it's ...
EAST (at New York City) - South Carolina vs. Baylor; Wisconsin vs. Florida
SOUTH (at Memphis) - Butler vs. North Carolina; UCLA vs. Kentucky
#1 KANSAS (30-4) - It's likely that Bill Self's Jayhawks will be feeling at home for this week's game(s) in Kansas City but word to the wise here is KU must kick this game into overdrive versus Purdue and make G Frank Mason III (20 points, 5 assists in 90-70 win/cover against Michigan State in the round of 32) the chief/cook/bottle-washer.
#3 OREGON (31-5) - In Sunday's come-from-behind 75-72 non-cover win against 5-point dog Rhode Island, the Ducks were saved by two critically-important triple makes by Tyler Dorsey but - for some reason - Dana Altman's crew cannot keep its mouths shut with excess trash talking that could catch up with 'em in the Sweet 16 tilt against no-nonsense Michigan.
#4 PURDUE (27-7) - One thing you have to like about this Boilermakers' bunch is they have heart ... and you might not always have said that about Purdue teams in NCAA Tournaments past. True, the 'Makers know where their bread is buttered as Player of the Year frontrunner Caleb Swanigan (20 points, 12 rebounds in the dramatic 80-76 win against Iowa State last Saturday night) can take over any game on short notice but Vince Edwards (21 points, 10 rebs against I-State) may be the real X-factor in this region.
#7 MICHIGAN (26-11) - Hey, that team of destiny thing is nothing to scoff at as the maize-and-blue has not lost since that well-documented plane mishap two weeks ago and now John Beilein's water-logged crew (didn't you see the post-game celebration after the 73-69 win against Louisville?) is leaning more and more on the likes of pimply Moe Wagner whose late-game heroics and 26 points against the 'Ville was something special.
#1 GONZAGA (34-1) - Let's not make that hand-in-the-rim play be the only story coming out of the Bulldogs' "controversial" 79-73 non-cover triumph over Northwestern last Saturday. The truth is Mark Few's club built a 22-point lead while showcasing all its weapons and probably benefitted from the late-game challenge posed by the 'Cats. Now, Nigel Williams-Goss (20 points, 8 rebs and 4 assists) and mates won't be feeling like this is a road game against West Virginia - is this the year, Zags?
#2 ARIZONA (32-4) - You just can't write some of these scripts come NCAA Tournament time as now 'Zona boss Sean Miller gets a shot to beat old employee Xavier for a second time in the past three years here in the "Big Dance" and the Vegas honchos have U of A as a 7.5-point favorite at this moment. If frosh big man Lauri Markkanen (16 points, 11 boards in the 69-60 comeback win/cover against Saint Mary's) does his thing for two more games, than Mr. Miller will be going to his first-ever Final Four.
#4 WEST VIRGINIA (28-8) - No doubt the Mountaineers kept usually efficient Notre Dame at arm's length throughout last Saturday's 83-71 triumph but what really impressed us was the stamina shown in defending the whole court where F Nathan Adrian is a pain from end line to end line.
#11 XAVIER (23-13) - Just don't tell the X-men they're not supposed to still be playing what with their starting point guard out for the past few weeks and depth considered an issue. Hey, Trevon Bluiett (29 points in 91-66 rout of 7.5-point fav Florida State) is a legit superstar and the Musketeers are sweet from "3".
#3 BAYLOR (27-7) - Gotta admit we had a feeling prior to the start of this tourney that nobody was taking these Bears very seriously ... and now here's Johnathan Motley (19 points and 10 rebounds in 82-78 non-cover win against USC) the favorites to make it out of the East with #1 Villanova and #2 Duke kicked to the curb.
#4 FLORIDA (26-8) - Without a doubt, the Gators' resounding 65-39 round-of-32 win against Virginia was the shocker of the weekend as Florida actually registered a 21-0 run at one point. If double-double man Devin Robinson (14 points/11 rebounds against the Wahoos) and Company can continue to improve a once-anemic offense, than the sky's the limit.
#7 SOUTH CAROLINA (24-10) - Go ahead and raise your hand if you even know anyone that had these Gamecocks penciled in to a Sweet 16 berth. The fact is South Carolina was greatly aided/abetted by the Greenville site - please don't ask Duke or Marquette to discuss it - but still this is the first time in 44 years the Gamecocks won two NCAA Tournament games in one year.
#8 WISCONSIN (27-9) - It just seems that every time the Badgers need to make a big play there's G Bronson Koenig (17 key points versus 'Nova) or Nigel Hayes (19 points against the 'Cats including that key spinning layup with 1:14 left) getting the job done. Now let's see if Wisky's a big hit this week on Broadway.
#1 NORTH CAROLINA (29-7) - Let's say we're not real sure that the Tar Heels "justified" that somewhat controversial #1 seed with last weekend's scary 72-65 non-cover win against Arkansas as Roy Williams' gang surrendered an early-game 17-point lead and didn't get a great game from slightly-hobbled PG Joel Berry II who must make better decisions and shoot it better if Carolina's getting back to another Final Four.
#2 KENTUCKY (31-5) - Hope Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall's wife has stopped cursing by now ... okay, so she was upset with some of the zebra calls in Kentucky's 65-62 non-cover win on Sunday but it's Wildcats' boss John Calipari that should be miffed regarding AWOL play from G Isaiah Briscoe (two assists in 27 minutes against Wichita State) and when can we expect a blowout offensive game from Malik Monk? Hey, at least Kentucky knows how to block the other guys' shots late in games, eh?
#3 UCLA (31-4) - Talk about your sudden explosions! The Uclans were sleeping at the wheel in the first half of Sunday's game against 4-point dog Cincinnati but came alive with 49 second-half points as G Lonzo Ball (18 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists) did his "Jason Kidd" impersonation but now Steve Alford's kiddies are entering the deeper end of the pool.
#4 BUTLER (25-8) - As you can see, form held perfectly here in the South as these Bulldogs - who some folks didn't believe deserved a #4 seed - marches to their first Sweet 16 since 2011 thanks mainly to three-point accuracy (8-of-15 triples against Middle Tennessee State) and hard-nosed play by the likes of key reserve Kelan Martin (19 points in round-of-32 tilt) and a band of no-names.