NCAA Sweet 16 Preview: Down With The Sweetness
Four days. 48 games. Several brackets busted in the process. This is why it's called March Madness.
And now we have an entire week to regain whatever strength we lost due to every top seed not showing dominance early and often. By the end of the week, I hope your bracket takes better shape than before. We all knew that the top seeds were going to advance, but there are several teams that, according to experts, weren't even supposed to be here.
So enough chatter...let's take a glance at the 2009 Sweet 16 party.
Midwest Region: Louisville, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State
12 Arizona Wildcats vs. 1 Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals are continuing their march to the Big Dance in Detroit. After almost suffering the same fate as the Ohio State Buckeyes, Louisville finished things off with a 79-72 win over the Saints. Now, they head to Indianapolis for a chance to win the Midwest Region.
But standing in their way are the upset-minded Arizona Wildcats. After being insulted by practically everyone outside of the Sun Devil State, Zona has shown that not only do they belong in the tournament, but they also can still play ball.
Whether it was to keep a streak alive or to spice things up, the 'Cats have continued to win. Two stunning upsets later (over Utah and Cleveland State), the Cats will play the Cards with a chance at upset No. 3.
3 Kansas Jayhawks vs. 2 Michigan State Spartans
The Jayhawks have the biggest chip on their shoulders. It doesn't help that they are the defending National Champs. It also doesn't help that the Florida Gators won back-to-back championships a few years ago, since Florida set the bar high for several teams to try to cross.
But in order for Bill Self to pick up where he left off last year, he will have to dispatch of a tough-as-nails Big Ten foe.
Tom Izzo has a date when the season's over. His team will be looking forward to seeing a bald head coach in the offseason, but until then, they are looking to head to the Elite Eight. Standing in their way is a dangerous Big XII team that is playing for keeps, now that they have returned to the Sweet 16.
The Spartans hope to keep at least one Big Ten team in the tournament with Purdue playing UConn in another region. But the only thing on Izzo's mind is that he can end the season with a plethora of shockers on his plate.
West Region: UConn, Purdue, Missouri, Memphis
5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. 1 UConn Huskies
The Boilermakers have been riding the wave all through the tournament. After surviving an onslaught from Northern Iowa in the first round, they needed to pull all the stops to defeat the feisty Huskies in the Field of 32 Dreams. Now that they're in the Sweet 16, they will let nothing and no one stop them from reaching the Elite Eight.
But they might want to look at their opponents first.
The Huskies started off strong by defeating Chattanooga by almost 60 points. Then they went to the Field of 32 Dreams and continued that dominance with an almost 30-point victory over Texas A&M. With Jim Calhoun back on the sidelines, UConn looks to make a strong run to the Final Four in Detroit.
So after taking out their first two opponents by a combined 82 points, could you imagine what they could do to the Boilermakers?
3 Missouri Tigers vs. 2 Memphis Tigers
Arguably one of the most intriguing matchups of the Sweet 16 is this showdown in Phoenix between national runner-up Memphis and upset-minded Missouri.
The Tigers are not Oklahoma or Kansas, and that could be a good thing for them. The pressure is more on Blake Griffin and Bill Self to make it to the Elite Eight. But if Mizzou defeats Memphis, they could possibly have enough in the tank to make it to KISS Country in Detroit.
But Memphis has been there and done that. They almost tasted the glory last year. Still, even without Derrick Rose, Memphis is considered one of the front-runners to make it to the national championship.
So, after a pair of sluggish starts, can the Tigers of Beale Street stop the momentum of the Tigers of the Show-Me State?
East Region: Pitt, Xavier, Villanova, Duke
4 Xavier Musketeers vs. 1 Pittsburgh Panthers
The Musketeers had an easy time with Portland State, but they had a rough time in their Field of 32 Dreams matchup with Wisconsin. But as CBS continued to show Xavier's AD on TV, the team stepped it up and continued to dominate going down the stretch. In the end, they did enough to punch their ticket to Boston.
Their opponent for their trip hasn't had an easy road either. With the majority of the country against them, will Pitt use that as a demoralizer or a motivator?
The Panthers had a tough time against East Tennessee State, as well as Oklahoma State. But they did enough in the paint as well as a few clutch moments to get a 10-point win over ETSU and an eight-point victory over the Cowboys. Now they head to Boston looking to win again against a tough Xavier team. But, as I said, the country is against them making it to the Final Four.
Is Xavier the team to take them down a peg? Or are they just another stepping stone for Pitt to cross over?
3 Villanova Wildcats vs. 2 Duke Blue Devils
Home court advantage has played a role for Villanova. The Wildcats had the city of Brotherly Love jumping at the thought of them making it to the Final Four. With the fans behind them, 'Nova got fired up and staved off a late-game surge from American to advance to the next round. Then they used the fans once again to defeat the UCLA Bruins.
But right from the tip-off, 'Nova dominated that game and kept Shipp and Co. in check throughout.
On the other side of the bracket, we have the ACC Champion Duke Blue Devils. Coach K has his tough team eying another Final Four appearance. Now the entire team is heading to Boston to battle the upper-East coast-favorite Wildcats. Duke had some problems with Binghamton in the opening round, but managed to continue raining threes and dominating the paint to get a 24-point win.
In the Field of 32 Dreams, despite a very physical contest, Duke managed to stave off a late game rally from Texas to send the Longhorns packing. But both teams are playing tough for the chance to be in the Final Four.
South Region: North Carolina, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Oklahoma
#4 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Gonzaga knows how to play tough. They know when to play tough. But do they know how and when at the same time? In their opening round matchup they had their way with Akron. They zipped the Zips offensive game up quickly, and waltzed their way to a second round matchup with Western Kentucky.
But they had something of a fierce battle against Western Kentucky.
In a very physical matchup, 'Zaga did enough to hold off the upset-minded Western Kentucky team. Now they head to Memphis with a chance to execute one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history. But...
Tyler Hansbrough knows what it's like to get close...but he doesn't truly know what it's like to get there and win it all. North Carolina is just two wins away from heading to the Final Four once again. Despite being in a tough region, Carolina has been just as dominant as UConn.
In their first round game, Carolina had no immediate threat from Radford. It became nothing more than a scrimmage for the ACC Powerhouse. In their second round game, the ACC got a measure of revenge on the SEC when they dispatched the LSU Tigers from the tournament. Now they have a Gonzaga team on their plate that is looking to send Roy Williams home early.
Is this Tyler's time to shine? Or will 'Zaga hand us our first major #1 departure of the tournament?
#3 Syracuse Orange vs. #2 Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners are led by the Griffins...and no, I'm not talking Family Guy. The Griffins have done their part in going under the radar. While Kansas is getting all the noise, it was Mizzou and Oklahoma (or as Gumbel called them "Oklacoma") that have made an impact and advance to the Sweet 16.
The Sooners barely broke a sweat against Morgan State, and in their second round matchup, they dominated the boards and even threw out some football like defense to eliminate the Michigan Wolverines. Now they go into the Sweet 16 with their heads held high. But for how long?
On the other side of the spectrum will be the Syracuse Orangemen. The Orange made waves with a 6-OT upset of UConn during the Big East Tournament. Because of that, the Orange may be a sure lock for the Elite Eight. Despite how tough Oklahoma is, Syracuse is just as tough.
Two big wins in the tournament have 'Cuse heading to Memphis for a date with Oklahoma and a chance to possibly face North Carolina in the Regional Finals. Jim Boeheim has his team playing hardball, and if they defeat the Sooners this weekend, don't be too surprised...they took UConn to their limits, remember?
My Picks For The Elite Eight
Let's keep this short and sweet. These are my picks for the Elite Eight.
Midwest Region: Louisville vs. Michigan State
West Region: UConn vs. Missouri
East Region: Pitt vs. Duke
South Region: North Carolina vs. Syracuse
That's my take...what's yours?