It's amazing, really, how fast the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament goes. Start with 64/5, and before you know it, you're down to 16. And this year, for the Sweet 16, bragging rights go to the Big East and the Big 12.
|Michigan State||Big Ten|
|Gonzaga||West Coast Conferenc|
The ACC, as has so often been the case, sends Duke and UNC to bring back the bacon. Wake failed rather abysmally, losing to Cleveland State. The Vikings bowed to #12 Arizona, a gutty team to be sure, but one which has been through a complete circus and which has no margin for error. If Wake had half the guts the Wildcats have, they'd be on their way to the regional finals.
Like Wake, Clemson has no one to blame but themselves. Michigan is a frustrating team to play, but they're certainly beatable, but you have to show up.
Florida State should probably have won, but irony of ironies, they ran into a team that won partly by just beating them to a pulp (you may remember a similar strategy in Cameron, though Duke won that one) B.C. just had a bad matchup. We thought Maryland could have caught Memphis napping as they did against Cal State Northridge, but Greivis Vasquez offered them the best sort of wake up call. That goes down, immediately, as one of the dumbest things anyone has ever done prior to a tournament game.
As far as the ACC-Big East thing goes, the ACC could still wipe out their northern neighbors, but it's not a pretty scenario. Duke has to beat two to get to the Final Four, and UNC has to beat Syracuse in the Southern regional finals. There's a reasonable chance that the Final Four could come down to Duke and UNC on one side and Louisville and UConn on the other. That would be pretty amazing, but in the Triangle, it could be really, really bad and potentially dangerous. Our advice: stay away from bars and Franklin Street, no matter who you pull for.
In that scenario, our guess is that the energy that goes into the ACC side of things would be so immense that whoever won would be totally drained on Monday.
One other thing worth noting: this has become the tournament of the favorites. How do you rank the least of these teams? Arizona? A tough time to be sure, but a long tradition of excellence. They're a 12th seed. Gonzaga? Xavier? Please. Aside from the fact that they're both four seeds - hardly Cinderellas - both teams have long since established a level of excellence that is arguably harder to maintain than it is in bigger conferences. This is particularly true at Xavier, where they've stayed good despite bidding goodbye to Bob Staack, Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, and, now, Sean Miller. All of those guys succeeded there, and did so at a school which plays no games academically. There are no shortcuts at Xavier. If we weren't Duke fans, we might pull for them. They do it all right, and they have a great tradition of excellence.
Point is, there isn't anything close to a Mason in this field. Arizona is arguably the weakest, but they're doing okay, although a lack of depth will really hurt against Louisville. Kansas and Michigan State
There are some other beautiful matchups. We don't know if Purdue can beat UConn, but we love their heart. And Memphis-Missouri should put a bunch of people on ventilators. That's going to be a lot of fun.
Xavier and Pitt should be interesting, too. Xavier has gotten the idea that they belong, and while Pitt is better, they haven't ripped through either ETSU or Oklahoma State.
Duke and Villanova will have the great sub theme of Taylor King, who can't play, but who can certainly tell the Wildcats all they need to know about Duke. Can't ask for a better scout than that. Most of can gather a general sense of a team by watching, but a guy like King can tell you not just what someone's strengths and weaknesses are but what their emotional composition is like. So if there had been, say, a fight in practice last year, or in pickup - he knows what that was about and what set it off.
All four teams left in the South have showed huge heart, with UNC overcoming a lot to get to this point, even if everyone thought they'd have no problem getting here. Gonzaga reached down to beat Western Kentucky in a big way, and no one will question Syracuse's heart after that six-overtime win over UConn. And Oklahoma is about more than just Blake Griffin, although he's huge. They're a really good team.
They also have an advantage that they share with, well, nine other teams: someone who knows what the hype of the Final Four is like. Jeff Capel has been there, of course, and Griffin seems pretty unflappable.
By the way, while a Duke-UNC matchup is possible, so is a Coach K-Capel rumble, which could be nearly as interesting.
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