Thanks, NCAA tournament. That was fun while it lasted.
If you're like me, your bracket has already been demolished. Between Syracuse's loss to Dayton and Duke going down to Mercer, there's pretty much nothing left to look forward to.
Except the basketball, that is.
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It doesn't matter if you've lost every game so far. If you can't enjoy the next four rounds of the Big Dance, you aren't a college basketball fan.
Predicting how this year's tournament will unfold has often been a fool's errand. You like Syracuse and Duke? Too bad, you should've chosen Dayton and Mercer. You think Kansas can win without Joel Embiid? Nope, the Jayhawks are out in the second round.
Even with that said, there are some teams that have distanced themselves from the pack to some extent. Whether it's a favorable matchup in the Sweet 16 or simply good performances in the previous two rounds, these four teams have a great chance of moving on in the tourney.
Locks to Advance
The Florida Gators are the No. 1 overall seed for a reason, and they're doing exactly what you would've expected of them in their first two games.
Florida beat Albany without much difficulty and then it throttled a Pittsburgh team that had throttled Colorado in the previous round. The Gators were never under much pressure and wore down the Panthers as the game went on.
Scottie Wilbekin said after the win that he was happy with how well the team played right from the tip, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
"We just wanted to come out and not let them play harder than us or not play as hard as we can," Wilbekin said. "I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game, and we played together on offense and played together on defense."
At time of writing, UCLA was up on Stephen F. Austin in the first half of the teams' third-round game. No matter the result, though, you'd favor the Gators. Neither the Lumberjacks nor the Bruins have the kind of offense that can break down what is one of the best defenses in the country.
So much of the NCAA tournament can boil down to which team has the hottest player. Look at what guys like Carmelo Anthony, Danny Manning, Glen Rice and Corliss Williamson meant to their teams en route to a national title.
Turner Sports' Matt Winer evoked a different name when describing Shabazz Napier's performance in Connecticut's upset of No. 2 Villanova in the round of 32:
Down goes 'Nova. They've been a 2 seed twice. Lost in Round of 32 both times. Shabazz Napier looking Kemba-like with 25. #MarchMadness— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) March 23, 2014
There's no question that watching the way Napier grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and carried the Huskies through against the Wildcats made you think back to Kemba Walker and that improbable run to the 2011 national championship.
The Iowa State Cyclones will be a tough matchup in the Sweet 16, but UConn has a tough defense. ISU didn't miss Georges Niang in its win over North Carolina, but that injury will catch up with the Cyclones in the next round.
Few teams have looked more impressive than Michigan in the tournament so far. The Wolverines didn't have much trouble against Wofford in the second round, and then they bludgeoned Texas in the round of 32. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com wrote that Michigan's style of play can't be figured out with only a day or two of preparation:
In reality, Texas lost the game the minute John Beilein put the finishing touches on his game plan earlier in the day Saturday -- proving once again, that on a short prep with no real prior knowledge, Beilein's offensive system is nearly impossible to prepare for.
"We have such a deep level of content in terms of how we play, our play list, our changing schemes, that it puts us at a competitive advantage," Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander said. "We get to focus on maybe one to three things our opponents do well.
"They knew they had to guard five guys, playing in concert, with a deep playbook."
Even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. this time around, you could see Michigan making another Final Four and possibly repeating last year's runner-up result. There aren't a lot of teams hotter than the Wolverines at the moment.
The Elite Eight is at least well within grasp. Even with Tennessee looking imperious, you'd favor the Wolverines to get the job done.
With that 85-77 win over Oregon, Wisconsin demonstrated that it can win whether the game is played at a snail's pace or at a quick tempo.
At time of writing, it hasn't been determined whom the Badgers will play in the Sweet 16. Creighton could give them problems, but their defense should be good enough to cut off the Bluejays' supporting cast from Doug McDermott. Baylor plays a style more similar to Wisconsin's, but the Bears have been too inconsistent this season to be viewed as legitimate threats.
The more successful Frank Kaminsky is in the post, the more shooters like Ben Brust and Josh Gasser get open on the perimeter. And the more successful those guys are from long range, the more Kaminsky gets one-on-one situations under the basket. When the Badgers are in a rhythm, they're near impossible to beat.