NCAA Tournament 2011: The 10 Biggest Questions Entering the Sweet 16
To those of you who have ripped your brackets into 10 million pieces and cursed at how Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and the entire Big East ruined your weekend, it's OK. Now you can sit back and watch the games without a care in the world.
This tournament is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ones in awhile.
Four incredible days filled with comebacks, fantastic shots and epic collapses testify to why we call it March Madness.
We have our share of Cinderellas, with VCU, Marquette and Richmond still alive, along with the elite teams going strong in Kansas, Ohio State and Duke.
Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette, widely viewed as the best players in the country, carried their teams to two victories, while Kyrie Irving made his return to the sport, if only for a few more games.
The Sweet 16 is a few days away, so here are a few questions to ponder while we all wait in anticipation for the madness to begin...again.
10. Will Kyrie Irving Start Against Arizona?
Really not that important of a question in terms of the scheme of the game, but it's still one to ponder. For awhile, we thought we had seen the last of Kyrie Irving in a Duke uniform.
Then he got the cast off. He started shooting. He practiced, but it was just five on zero. No big deal. Then we heard that he practiced for real. Then all of a sudden, there was Mr. Irving on the floor this past week.
He came off the bench and scored points in garbage time against Hampton. Against Michigan, he came off the bench, struggled a bit, but ultimately hit a key shot with less than a minute left that helped the Devils escape with a win.
He didn't look 100 percent, but he wasn't far off.
Irving has another week to get back into shape. With that extra few days to recover, get his legs back and practice more, don't be shocked if we see the Kyrie Irving who took college basketball by storm in the first month to help Duke get to Houston for the Final Four.
9. Will Virginia Commonwealth Be Able to Continue This Run?
For a team that no one felt deserved to be in the NCAAs, the Rams sure are making the most of their time in March. Two upset victories over Georgetown and Purdue turned this team into this year's Cinderella.
The win over Purdue, specifically the way they completely dominated the Boilers, was the most shocking victory of the tournament in my eyes (sorry Butler fans).
Next up is an under-the-radar Florida State team which has the best on-ball defender in the country in Chris Singleton. It will be interesting to see if the Rams can continue this improbable run.
8. Will North Carolina Play Smart at the End of the Game?
Not quite sure why John Henson is smiling, considering he nearly cost the Tar Heels the victory yesterday.
First, Henson touched a ball that was clearly going out of bounds, which would have given UNC possession.
Then, on a shot by Isaiah Thomas, Henson arguably should have been called for goaltending. Thankfully, it wasn't a three-point shot, so even if Henson did get called for the penalty, the outcome of the game would not have mattered as UNC won 86-83.
Regardless, the Tar Heels will need to improve their decision making at the end of games. They go up against a similar team to the Washington Huskies in the Marquette Golden Eagles, so don't expect for it to be a blowout.
If they hope to advance to the Elite Eight, coach Roy Williams will need to ensure that Henson and the rest of the team are in the right frame of mind at the end of the game.
7. Will Kentucky Give Ohio State a Challenge?
Even though OSU played against vastly inferior teams, the Buckeyes' domination of UTSA and George Mason proved that they deserved the top overall seed.
Now the games get much more difficult, with a Kentucky team that's on the same level in terms of talent, though the Wildcats did struggle in early-round games against Princeton and West Virginia.
The question may be a little insulting for the Wildcats, but by a challenge I mean will they make the final score within 10?
One might as well call this the Diaper Dandy game with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas playing for Ohio State and Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb suiting it up for Kentucky.
6. How Unwatchable Will the Butler-Wisconsin Game Be?
Any time Wisconsin is playing, the game will be ugly. If it weren't for Jacob Pullen's heroic effort for Kansas State, there would've been no positive from that game except that it was over.
Enter Butler, a team that on paper looks similar to the Badgers.
Both teams average around 70 points, shoot 44 percent from the field and they have taken the exact same amount of three-point shots (715). Each possess an inside-out duo: Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor for Wisconsin and Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs probably do not deserve to be in this game due to Shelvin Mack's epic meltdown in the final seconds, followed by Nasir Robinson's surpassing idiocy to allow Matt Howard to sink the game-clinching free throws.
Because there's actually a fair amount of talent on the floor and because the teams are so similar, I hope the Bulldogs come up with a game plan to beat themselves in an entertaining fashion.
I'm not betting on it, though.
5. Can Derrick Williams Carry Arizona over Duke?
Had anyone told me that Duke would only beat Michigan by two points before the game started, I would have called them an idiot.
Well, that's what happened, through some fortunate shooting and a lack of a killer instinct that Coach K-led teams typically possess.
Next up for the Dukies is an Arizona team featuring one of the toughest players to match up against in the country: Derrick Williams. Not only is he a projected top 10 NBA pick, he's versatile enough to either pound smaller defenders down low or take bigger ones off the dribble.
Duke's weakness lies in a lack of strength up front, and Williams will be looking to take advantage of that.
Add in the fact that there should be a good showing from Arizona fans considering the game is being played in Anaheim, and this could be more of a home game for the Wildcats.
One thing is certain: If Duke plays the way it did against Michigan (particularly the last 15 minutes), the Blue Devils will be in for a long plane ride home.
4. Will Richmond Challenge Kansas?
If Ohio State is still the favorite, Kansas is not far behind. But the Jayhawks' road looks immensely easier due to the multitude of upsets that now have Kansas in San Antonio with 12th-seeded Richmond, 11th-seeded VCU and 10th-seeded Florida State.
First on the agenda is Richmond, the lowest seed left in the tournament, which has benefited from a syndrome of right game, right time in their first two contests.
Vanderbilt has a history of playing poorly in the NCAA tournament, and it showed against the Spiders. Next up was a slightly overmatched Morehead State squad that was still on a high following an upset win over Louisville.
The Spiders now get the pleasure of playing top-seeded Kansas after they had almost a week to scout them to make sure their tournament life goes past Friday like everyone is predicting.
Don't count out the Spiders, though. Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson are very good players, and we've seen how Kansas can lose to inferior teams. Just ask Northern Iowa.
3. How Will Florida Stop Jimmer Fredette?
As expected, Jimmer has played incredibly in the first two games of the tournament. Everyone knew Jimmer would have to drop 30-plus points each game for BYU to make it to the Sweet 16.
In comes Florida. The Gators are vastly more talented than BYU, but they haven't been exposed to anything compared to the one-man show that is the Cougars. In the SEC, most of the teams had two top players, with neither being counted on as much as BYU relies on Fredette.
It will be interesting to see who they put on Fredette. Florida's guards are too small to challenge shots, while their big men aren't nearly as quick to keep Jimmer out of the lane.
I thought Wofford would double-team Jimmer the entire game and play three-on-four in hopes that Jimmer's supporting cast would be unable to take advantage. While I don't anticipate Florida doing that the entire game, don't be shocked if there are small stretches in which that happens.
2. How Will San Diego State Stop Kemba Walker?
Kemba Walker has been the best player in the country for the past two weeks. Whoever those "experts" were who thought Mr. Walker and the Huskies would be too tired to make it out of the first weekend now look more like kindergarten students.
Oh, wait, I was one of those people. At least I still remember my ABC's.
Anyway, the Aztecs of San Diego State now get the enjoyment of trying to figure out Kemba, something hardly any team has done this season.
The fortunate thing for the Aztecs is that they've played a team similar to the Huskies in BYU. But UConn is more talented overall. Still, it's essentially a one-man show who has to score 30 points in order for his team to beat the top teams in the country.
The Aztecs did have trouble against the Jimmer's of BYU, but Kemba is more of a slasher and less of a long-range scorer. San Diego State has one of the more athletic teams in the country, which may help the guards keep Kemba in front of them.
Of course, that just means Walker will hit those step-back jumpers that have broken a fair share of ankles this season. Just ask Gary McGhee.
1. Which Unknown Will Become a Household Name?
Before the NCAA tournament, few people outside of the diehards and Butler fans knew about Gordon Hayward. By the beginning of April, everyone knew who this kid was and rooted for him to beat Duke. And he nearly did.
It happens practically every year. Some kid comes out of nowhere and becomes a household name for the year. It was Gordon Hayward last year. It was Stephen Curry before that.
Who will it be this year? Who will be the guy we fans look back on and remember: "Man he had one helluva tournament, I just wish I knew about the kid earlier?"
Whoever it is, I'll be sure to sit back, enjoy the ride and kick myself that I didn't see it coming.