Now that the Sweet Sixteen is set, a few early thoughts:
Obviously with six teams, the ACC did extraordinarily well. The PAC-12 and the SEC were fortunate not to get shut out entirely - only St. Joseph's poor decisions (and Oregon's corresponding tough play) and an extraordinary comeback by Texas A&M kept those conferences represented in the Sweet Sixteen.
The ACC has six but the Big 12 (with 10 schools) and the Big Ten (with 12 schools) have three each. Ordinarily that would indicate a great year, but when someone doubles you, it just means you're only half as good.
There is no Cinderella this year. Gonzaga is the closest, but the Zags are generally seen as a major power in a minor conference.
This is what Barry Jacobs reminds us of every year: by the Sweet Sixteen, it's almost always down to the power conferences.
There is a good chance that the Final Four will feature matchups between the Big 12 and the ACC: that will happen if Kansas and Oklahoma prevail and face the winner of UNC-Virginia, should the ACC powers win out.
Whatever happens, there are some great matchups.
Kansas and Maryland should be fun. KU is obviously favored but Maryland has some very talented players as well. Of course Terrapin coach Mark Turgeon is a former Jayhawk. Expect to see that worn out this week in the media.
Villanova is a tough team but Miami has shown real grit thus far and we wouldn't rule the 'Canes out. They have the size to bother Daniel Ochefu and Angel Rodriguez is an outstanding defender who can give opposing guards fits.
We don't bet against Duke, as we often say, partly because we're Duke folk and partly because we've seen Duke do amazing things over the years. It's just not a smart plan to bet against the Blue Devils. Plus Duke has Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, which is kind of like having the Terminator and the Predator on the same side.
That said, we'd feel a lot better if Matt Jones were 100%. Oregon is going to be a tough opponent for the young Devils.
Texas A&M and Oklahoma will have echoes of past Big 12 battles, but the main question is simple: can the Aggies control the Buddy? No one else has, other than West Virginia, which limited him to six and just eight shots.
He's a nightmare to defend.
UNC and Indiana should be a fun, fast-paced game, but the Tar Heels have a major size advantage. Of course mismatches work both ways and that means that Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will both have to chase smaller guys around, and those guys will have chances to get open. We'd favor UNC, but if the bigs get gassed, it's wide open.
Notre Dame and Wisconsin is the almost-rematch from last year: the Irish very nearly beat Kentucky and Wisconsin did so quite memorably. We'd say Notre Dame, but like Virginia, Wisconsin's defense keeps the offense in range. Right now we'd say a tossup.
Iowa State is going to try to run, as usual and they're going to find themselves running in molasses. You can't run against Virginia. So look for the Cavs to constrict the Cyclones and advance.
The final game in the bracket? Tough call. Both teams are famous for falling out early, but not this year. They've both shown tremendous grit and late improvement. We'll take Gonzaga, if only because their forwards should be able to shoot over Syracuse's 2-3 zone.