As we enter the middle stretch of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, we look at the bracket-busting disappointments that are now home watching (I'm talking about YOU, Georgetown and Kansas!) as well as the underdog darlings who are still playing for a trip to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Part of the beauty of the single-elimination tournament is that any team, regardless of talent, coaching, or the size of their student body, can have a bad day on the court. On the other hand, a small school a tenth the size of its competitor can take on the role of David if Goliath is not up to task.
Let's take a look at some intriguing player matchups should the stars align and these particular teams meet in the next week or so.
Some of these matchups are already scheduled to take place, while the others can only occur if certain teams win and fate dictates these circumstances.
This matchup may be called “The Main Event” for many reasons. Not only will these two players be among the first five names called by NBA Commissioner David Stern in June, but Ohio State fans feel like their second-seeded team could take top-seeded Kentucky if given the chance.
Also, if the Buckeyes were to meet the Wildcats in the championship on April 7, the game would be a compelling matchup of the cream of the Southeastern Conference crop versus the best of the Big Ten.
Although the tournament has only been whittled down to a field of 16, the hoops world already seems ready to crown Wall and Turner as the next big names that came and went from college basketball.
Only one thing besides injury will dictate whether Wall or Turner gets selected first: a battle against each other. With tournament favorite Kansas out of the way, an OSU/UK battle seems not only possible, but destined to happen.
If these two forwards are to meet, the battleground would be the championship game.
Both Chism and Singler have built decorated careers at their respective schools, and are each ready to make the jump to the professional ranks.
Their physical statures are similar, but each player has subtle differences in his game that sets him apart from the other.
Chism is a bigger and beefier post presence than Singler, but Singler is far more dangerous on the perimeter given he shoots almost 40 percent from the three-point line and averages over twice as many assists per game than Chism.
Both teams and their decorated coaches have daunting matchups on the horizon before they can make the Elite Eight.
Tennessee plays aforementioned Ohio State on March 26, while Duke’s road to the Final Four runs through upstart Purdue, a team many had left for dead but has been rejuvenated despite the absence of Robbie Hummel.
Despite their No. 1 seeding, Duke hasn’t garnered as much overall respect as other top seeds due to the notion that Duke has a much easier path to the Final Four than most other teams.
Although Krzyzewski’s club is currently favored by eight against Purdue on Friday, not even Blue Devil Nation is ready to make any grand proclamations in a tournament that has been rife with upsets.
Cousins has proven to be a special breed of man-beast given the freshman’s amazing campaign when he averaged a double-double all season.
His aggressive style of play has caught every NBA scout’s attention, and while Cousins has likely secured a lottery pick, the next few games may dictate whether he is a top-20 pick or a top-5 pick.
While DeMarcus’ road to stardom was relatively short given that he hails from Mobile, Ala., Ben Allen had to travel multiple continents and universities to get to where he is today.
The Australian-born Allen came from the prestigious Institute of Sport down under to the storied campus of Indiana University.
Although tradition is what lured Allen to Indiana in 2005, a lack of playing time during his first two seasons as a Hoosier is what drove him to St. Mary’s College. Well, that, and a chance to suit up alongside his fellow countrymen.
"I felt at home because I had all the other Aussies [five in total] around me," he said.
The move has proved to be beneficial for Allen, as the 6’11” forward’s nice all-round game has finally earned him significant playing time.
One could reason that the Gaels would not be sitting in the Sweet 16 if not for Allen’s heroics in the West Coast Conference Championship game against Gonzaga.
The Melbourne-based Allen scored 20 points on four of six shooting from behind the arc to go along with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks which enabled the Gaels to punch their ticket for the Big Dance.
Cousins and the Wildcats may have gotten more national exposure thus far, but if they draw St. Mary’s in the Final Four, the international community is likely to side with Allen and the Aussie-infused Gaels.
In an NCAA Tournament already fraught with upsets, a few more would have to take place in order for the most improbable championship game in the history of Division I college basketball to occur.
Outside of Cedar Falls and Moraga, not many tournament brackets had St. Mary’s and Northern Iowa picked to make the Sweet 16, let alone the Final Four.
But if these two underdog schools continue to leave trails of larger basketball programs in their wake, then both starting centers may face each other come April.
Omar Samhan played like a man possessed against Villanova in the second round, but he would have his hands full of seven-foot center Jordan Eglseder if these two were to match up in the Finals.
Eglseder is the tree trunk of the Northern Iowa offense. Standing at seven-feet tall, the senior is the only Panther with enough size and experience to hang with big men that Northern Iowa may face further along in the tournament.
Samhan, who has averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds the entire year, has impressed the college basketball world with his ability to get inside and impose his will in the paint with high efficiency.
He particularly excelled against ‘Nova with 32 points while making 13 of his 16 shots.
While a Panther/Gael championship would likely garner meager television ratings, the battle between two Cinderella centers would be one for the ages.
Udoh has been a godsend for Baylor since he transferred from Michigan two years ago.
Averaging almost 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, the junior has provided a low-post presence that this program has sorely needed.
As the Bears’ basketball program has been a cloud hanging over the Big 12 Conference for most of the decade given the off-court drama that took place a few years ago, this tournament run was much-needed for the school’s image and recruiting capabilities.
Many Baylor enthusiasts envision their team advancing to the Elite Eight after they take on a Robbie Hummel-less Purdue squad, but not so fast…
JaJuan Johnson has done an admirable job of keeping Purdue in the national championship hunt despite losing fellow big man Hummel for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Boilermaker head coach Matt Painter will look to JaJuan, recently named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team, to keep Udoh in check should the two juniors face off against each other in the Elite Eight.
Butler is yet another candidate in this tournament to don the glass slipper. While the Bulldogs' road to the Sweet 16 can be considered improbable, they only lost four games all season as the toast of the Horizon conference.
Furthermore, Butler's athletic director should send a bouquet of flowers to the NCAA tournament committee for providing them with such a cakewalk schedule through the first week.
The Bulldogs dispatched UTEP in the first round, and then edged 13th-seeded Murray State 54-52 in the second round.
Their next game will be a tad tougher on March 25 when they face top-seeded...
...Syracuse in a matchup of Hayward against stud forward Wes Johnson.
This should provide for a captivating Big East-versus-mid-major basketball affair.
While Johnson is a better scorer and shot blocker with his 16.0 points-per-game and 1.9 block-per-game average), Hayward is slightly better on the boards (8.5 per game) and at the charity stripe (83 percent free throw percentage).
Pullen has improved in virtually every facet of his game in his three years at K-State.
However, Pullen’s maturation will be put to the test when he faces...
...Crawford and the Musketeers in the next round on March 25.
By now, you may know more about Crawford than merely his ability to posterize NBA All-Stars.
A sophomore who transferred from Indiana University, Crawford possesses an indelible “it” factor that is difficult to illustrate on paper. That said, his leadership does not go unnoticed by his teammates, coaches or fans.
However, Pullen, who excels at guard play a bit more than the more offensive-minded Crawford, will look to demonstrate why the Wildcats deserve to be the last Kansas school standing. K-State will endeavor to prove their critics wrong, and make sixth-seeded Xavier look more like a mid-major wannabe than a Cinderella hopeful.
Butler comes with the hype and prestige of being on an elite team from a powerhouse conference in the Big East.
Although the conference as a whole has somewhat disappointed thus far in the postseason, West Virginia has continued to have Indianapolis set in their sights.
The Mountaineers just didn’t expect an Ivy League school to stand in their way....
Cornell is one of most fascinating side stories to this year’s tournament thus far.
Not often does a school that doesn’t prioritize athletics make such significant strides in the NCAA postseason!
Although Cornell’s run will likely end against Kentucky, Wittman will rely on his three-point shooting capabilities in addition to his valuable senior leadership to keep the Big Red within striking distance of John Calipari’s Wildcats.
Butler should be able to outscore and out-rebound Wittman if they meet in the Elite Eight.
But if Cornell beats Kentucky to advance to the Elite Eight, Wittman and the Big Red will probably not have enough left in its collective tank to defeat West Virginia.
Regardless, a trip to the Elite Eight would bring a new level of pride and glory to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, N.Y.