NCAA Tournament 2017: 16 Things to Know Heading into the Sweet 16

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 20, 2017

NCAA Tournament 2017: 16 Things to Know Heading into the Sweet 16

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    Michigan has had a lot to celebrate lately.
    Michigan has had a lot to celebrate lately.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The 2017 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 has been set, and we've got 16 things you're going to want to know before the action resumes Thursday.

    For about 99.8 percent of people who filled out a bracket, it is officially broken—thanks for nothing, Villanova, Duke and Louisville! But that doesn't mean we stop watching. Rather, the fantastic stories that come out of the drama of the next four rounds are worth the entry fees that we absolutely did not pay to be included in bracket pools.

    Gonzaga hasn't been eliminated, but do the Bulldogs look the part of a team that can reach the Final Four?

    Will we ever get another true Cinderella story?

    Can Caleb Swanigan be stopped by anyone without a whistle and a striped shirt?

    Before we jump into any of those subjects, though, let's get started with something that's on everyone's mind after the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA tournament: Where art thou, ACC?

The Tournament Has Not Been Kind to the ACC

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    Virginia was one of several ACC teams to take a beating.
    Virginia was one of several ACC teams to take a beating.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    What happens during the NCAA tournament has no bearing on the regular season. When bracketologists say a team didn't deserve to get in, reaching the Final Four doesn't change the resume it had on Selection Sunday. Similarly, when a No. 1 seed loses in the second round, it doesn't mean it didn't deserve that fate.

    This applies to conferences as well, yet we have a tendency to use success in the NCAA tournament as a measuring device for comparing the various power conferences. There are so many better metrics out there for ranking conferences that it borders on idiocy to use a single-elimination tournament as that barometer.

    Still, what in the world has happened to the ACC?

    Regarded by the vast majority of the college basketball nation as one of the best conferences ever assembled, the Atlantic Coast Conference was a disaster on opening weekend.

    It all started with the First Four, when Wake Forest gave up 95 points to Kansas State—the only No. 11 seed that didn't at least advance to the second round. No. 9 Virginia Tech lost by 10 to Wisconsin Thursday night. The following evening, No. 8 Miami was trounced by a 20-point margin by Michigan State.

    Saturday was especially weird, though. Normally one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, No. 5 Notre Dame forgot how to play basketball without committing turnovers in a 12-point loss to West Virginia. No. 5 Virginia was obliterated 65-39 by Florida. Worst of all, No. 3 Florida State lost by 25 to No. 11 Xavier.

    Sunday wasn't much better. No. 2 Louisville opened the day with a close loss to No. 7 Michigan, and No. 2 Duke ended the day with a loss to No. 7 South Carolina. No. 1 North Carolina needed a frantic comeback to avoid an upset to No. 8 Arkansas.

    There's still a chance North Carolina could salvage things a bit by winning the national championship. But after four months of hearing how awesome the ACC is, most of its teams looked downright exhausted from the gauntlet they had to go through in January and February.

The Big Ten, Though, Looks Great

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    The Big Ten did what the ACC was supposed to do.
    The Big Ten did what the ACC was supposed to do.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Before the tournament got underway, 2016-17 was regarded as a down year for the Big Ten.

    There was only one bad team in the conference (Rutgers), but the lack of top candidates to reach the Final Four resulted in two straight months of wildly unpredictable action. It almost felt appropriate that No. 8 seed Michigan won the conference tournament since every game was a coin flip. 

    For the final three AP polls of the regular season, Purdue was the only Big Ten team ranked in the Top 20. Everyone had doubts about the Boilermakers thanks to a couple of curious losses in January, as well as first-round losses in each of their last two trips to the Dance.

    But whatever switch the ACC flipped before the start of the NCAA tournament, the Big Ten flipped it the other way. In the unofficial ACC-B1G Challenge portion of March Madness, the Big Ten is 3-0: Michigan over Louisville, Michigan State over Miami and Wisconsin over Virginia Tech.

    As a result, the Big Ten has three teams in the Sweet 16, and they each look a threat to win the national championship.

    Of the trio, Michigan has the most incredible story by far.

    Before winning the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines almost didn't get there. A plane crash set their travel plans back a day and forced them to play their first-round game against Illinois in practice jerseys just a couple of hours after landing in Washington. After surviving that ordeal and thriving against the Illini, they immediately became America's team.

    Eliminating Rick Pitino from the NCAA tournament only increased the allure of the Wolverines.

    Maybe the Big Ten was better than we thought. Perhaps this is the year it finally ends a 16-year national championship drought. Regardless of what happened over the four months preceding the Dance or what will happen before its conclusion, this conference had one heck of a showing in the first two rounds.

But the Best Conference Has Been the Pac-12

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    The Pac-12 is in fantastic shape.
    The Pac-12 is in fantastic shape.Steve Yeater/Associated Press

    Last year, the Pac-12 was laughed out of the NCAA tournament.

    The Conference of Champions sent seven teams to The Dance in 2016each one earning a No. 8 seed or betteronly to watch them drop like flies. No. 8 USC, No. 8 Colorado, No. 7 Oregon State, No. 6 Arizona and No. 4 California all lost in the first round. No. 3 Utah was able to avoid an upset in the opener, but it was slaughtered by Gonzaga in the second round. No. 1 Oregon made it to the Elite Eight before losing, but not a single team in the conference lived up to its seed line in the process of going a combined 4-7.

    Already this year, the Pac-12 is 8-1, and three of its four representatives have reached the Sweet 16.

    USC was on the verge of making it 4-for-4 and becoming this year's Cinderella story—a fun combination of starting from the First Four, like VCU did in 2011, while having the same head coach as Florida Gulf Coast in 2013—but Baylor thwarted that dream with a late rally Sunday night.

    Still, three cheers for Arizona, Oregon and UCLA for proving they belonged among the nation's elite and didn't just benefit from beating up on what was a rather weak conference beyond the top four or five teams.

    With the way the brackets broke, it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least two of them reach the Final Four. UCLA has a tough draw in the South Region, but Arizona is arguably the favorite to win the national championship considering it's facing a No. 11 seed in the Sweet 16 and the region it would face in the Final Four, the East, has been complete chaos.

Gonzaga Isn't Thriving, But It Is Surviving

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    At least Gonzaga still has a chance to end the Final Four drought.
    At least Gonzaga still has a chance to end the Final Four drought.George Frey/Associated Press

    Aside from "Is Duke back?," the one question I knew would be asked on every radio segment I did this season was: "How good is Gonzaga—really?"

    For the majority of the past three months, Gonzaga beat up on teams no casual fan cares about—and did so well after folks on the East Coast had gone to bed. Aside from CBB diehards and Gonzaga students/alumni, not many people watched what Mark Few's bunch was doing.

    Rather, most people occasionally looked at the AP poll or KenPom ranking and questioned whether this was the year to trust Gonzaga. When the selection committee opted to give Gonzaga a No. 1 seed instead of rewarding the ACC, Pac-12 or SEC tournament champion, the Bulldogs were immediately labeled as the No. 1 seed most likely to lose first.

    Well, it hasn't been pretty, but the Zags are still alive.

    They struggled to get anything going in the first half against South Dakota State and went into the intermission with just a 26-22 lead. They defended well and eventually made some shots in the second half, but that 20-point victory was nothing compared to the way Kansas and North Carolina demolished the poor No. 16 seeds in their paths.

    Gonzaga got out to a much better start in its second-round game against Northwestern and led by as many as 22 points in the first half. But the Bulldogs gave up 53 second-half points, allowing the Wildcats to get back to within five until a (justified) Chris Collins technical foul put a halt to the run.

    Survive and advance, though. Gonzaga has at least made it deeper into the tournament than the last time it was a No. 1 seed (2013), and it has shown some promise. If it can combine the second half of the first game with the first half of the second game and harness that efficiency for two more weeks, it could win the national championship.

    Mistakenly combine the first half of the first game with the second half of the second game, though, and the Zags might lose to West Virginia by a 60-point margin.

Press Virginia Is Impressing

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    The Mountaineers are ready for the mountain top.
    The Mountaineers are ready for the mountain top.Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    In the past two years, Bob Huggins' Press Virginia defense acquired a reputation on par with Billy Beane's Moneyball in Major League Baseball: good for getting to the playoffs, but not for winning there. The Mountaineers were destroyed 78-39 by Kentucky in 2015 and eliminated in the first round by No. 14 Stephen F. Austin last year.

    But after what they did to Notre Dame in the second round this year, the Mountaineers need to be taken seriously as a threat to win it all.

    West Virginia only recorded six steals in the win, which is well below its average of 10.2 for the season. However, the Mountaineers made every possession a nightmare for Notre Dame. They sped up and flustered what had been the most unbreakable offense in the country and took advantage of the fact the Fighting Irish were too exhausted to be fully invested on defense.

    Aside from the January blowout win over AP No. 1 Baylor, it was the most impressive and most perfect game West Virginia has played. The Mountaineers shot well, shared the rock and defended tirelessly without committing too many fouls.

    If that version of this team shows up for two more weeks, it could change the sport as we know it.

    Before Kentucky won the national championship in 2012, people thought the one-and-done approach would never lead to a titlethat veterans are too important in a single-elimination tournament. But since then, every team that's capable of recruiting guys who will jump to the NBA after one year is more than glad to do so.

    Could Press Virginia have a similar effect on teams that can't get those freshman phenoms? If the Mountaineers win the national championship, the average salary for strength and conditioning coaches could go through the roof.

Sayonara, Cinderella

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    A 31-win season wasn't quite enough to get Middle Tennessee into the Sweet 16.
    A 31-win season wasn't quite enough to get Middle Tennessee into the Sweet 16.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    For the fourth consecutive year, there will be no No. 12-16 seeds in the Sweet 16.

    As much fun as Florida Gulf Coast's Dunk City was in 2013, the real reason we've recounted that run so many times over the past few years is because there hasn't been any sort of Cinderella since.

    Oh, sure, there have been low-seeded teams that went on unexpected runs. Who can forget that Syracuse reached the Final Four as a No. 10 seed last year? And at least one No. 11 seed has made it to the Sweet 16 in each of those four years, including Dayton's journey to the 2014 Elite Eight. That was kind of a Cinderella story. At any rate, Dayton is a smaller school with less tournament history than the other No. 11 seeds that have reached the second weekend in recent years.

    But the Flyers played in the national championship game 50 years ago and have been to the NCAA tournament 18 times.

    Where are the minor conference teams from which Average Joe Basketball Fan cannot name a single player?

    Not one No. 13, 14 or 15 seed won a game this year, and Middle Tennessee was the only No. 12 seed to get the job done. However, the Blue Raiders were unable to knock off Butler in the second round, leaving us with No. 11 Xaviera program that has now been to the Sweet 16 six times in the last 10 yearsas the closest thing to an underdog story.

    When the next Cinderella does arrive, we won't take it for granted. Prior to FGCU, we were spoiled by having at least one small school in the Sweet 16 every other year. Now that it will have been at least half a decade since the last one, we're going to gobble up every story we can possibly read about the next team that comes out of nowhere to destroy brackets.

Wisconsin Is in the Sweet 16...Again!

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    When the Badgers are playing like this, who can beat them?
    When the Badgers are playing like this, who can beat them?Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    For years, people have been saying Tom Izzo and Michigan State always find a way to win in March, but how about the run the Spartans' Big Ten rival has been on lately?

    After upsetting No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round, Wisconsin has now been to the Sweet 16 in each of the past four years, as well as six of the past seven. The Badgers were already the only team that had advanced to a regional semifinal in each of the previous three years.

    At this point, they're just showing off.

    The four seniors in the starting lineup are relishing their one last chance to make a deep run. Bronson Koenig drained eight three-pointers in the opening win over Virginia Tech and is averaging 22.5 points thus far. Nigel Hayes also came to play, averaging 17.5 points and 9.0 rebounds. After singing "One Shining Moment," Vitto Brown hit three crucial three-pointers against Villanova. And Zak Showalter has been a real asset on defense, shutting down Justin Robinson and Jalen Brunson.

    As was the case last year, though, the biggest key to their success is the youngest guy in the starting five. Sophomore forward Ethan Happ hasn't been putting up gaudy numbers, but he has accounted for 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals despite dealing with foul trouble in both games.

    It is hard to believe this is the same team that lost five out of six games just a few weeks ago, including a home loss to Iowa. But the big three—Happ, Hayes and Koenig—are playing great, and the role players are pitching in wonderfully.

    Wisconsin is looking like the team that opened the season at No. 9 in the AP poll, and it has a realistic chance of matching what it did in 2000: reaching the Final Four as a No. 8 seed.

Sean Miller vs. Xavier, Pt. 2

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    Sean Miller used to patrol the sideline for Xavier.
    Sean Miller used to patrol the sideline for Xavier.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Arizona's head coach, Sean Miller, got his start at Xavier. You're undoubtedly going to hear a lot about that in the days leading up to Thursday's Sweet 16 battle between those schools.

    Miller had assistant jobs at Wisconsin, Miami of Ohio, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State, but it was the Musketeers who finally promoted him to head coach in 2004. Miller spent five years at Xavier. He won 71.9 percent of his games and made it to the Elite Eight in 2008. One year later, he left for the Arizona job, where he has gotten a reputation as an excellent recruiter, a severe perspirer and a man who cannot seem to get to the Final Four.

    Those first two things will forever stay with him, but for the second time in three years, he's going to need to eliminate his old school in order to have a shot at erasing that third thing from his public perception.

    Arizona and Xavier met in the West regional semifinal in 2015. You might recall it as the year Matt Stainbrook became an internet sensation for the Musketeers, but the X-Men were unable to pull off the upset while shooting 3-of-17 from three-point range. It was the only time in the past eight seasons that the Wildcats faced the Musketeers, but Round 2 is coming this Thursday.

    If Xavier wins, it would become the biggest Elite Eight surprise since Dayton got there as a No. 11 seed in 2014. The Musketeers were a train wreck late in the season and went just 5-11 all year against teams that made the NCAA tournament. They were a trendy first-round upset pick against No. 6 Maryland, but few gave them any chance of knocking off No. 3 Florida State. If they keep it going with a win over No. 2 Arizona, they'd be approaching a documentary-worthy story.

    But if Arizona holds serve, it might set up an Elite Eight showdown between the coach who can't reach the Final Four (Miller) and the program that can't get there (Gonzaga). It sure would be nice to end one of those narratives this year.

Butler Is Back

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    This way to the Final Four.
    This way to the Final Four.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Butler shattered everyone's bracket in back-to-back years, reaching the national championship in 2010 as a No. 5 seed before doing so again as a No. 8 seed in 2011.

    But if you've been banking on the Bulldogs since then, they've been busting your bracket in a different way.

    Butler has never been upset by a lower seed in the NCAA tournament, but it hasn't been pulling off any upsets of its own lately eitherunless you count beating No. 8 Texas Tech as a No. 9 seed last March. Butler missed the Dance in 2012 and 2014 and failed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

    For the first time in six years, though, the Bulldogs will play during the second weekend, and they mean business.

    As far as seeding is concerned, they had the cushiest path to this point, beating No. 13 Winthrop and No. 12 Middle Tennessee. However, each of those teams had legitimate second-weekend potential, so it's impressive that Butler did not trail at any point during either of those wins.

    As was the case during those deep runs in 2010 and 2011, defense has been and will remain the biggest key to Butler's success. Kamar Baldwin is one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation, and though the Bulldogs are a bit undersized, they do a stellar job on the defensive glass.

    If the threes keep falling, even better. Avery Woodson is 8-of-14 from distance through two rounds, and Butler shot 53.3 percent from three-point range as a team in the win over MTSU.

    Perhaps most important of all, Butler has had success against the caliber of opponent it will face the rest of the way. The Bulldogs went 4-0 this season against the RPI Top 25, sweeping Villanova and winning early games against Arizona and Cincinnati. North Carolina might be the best team left in the field, but the Bulldogs won't be afraid of their Sweet 16 opponent.

The Gators Are Back Too

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    Gorjok Gak is blossoming in front of our eyes.
    Gorjok Gak is blossoming in front of our eyes.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    We have been indirectly talking about Florida all year long, asking whether Villanova could become the first back-to-back national champions since the Gators did it in 2006-07.

    But now that the Wildcats are out and Florida is playing great, perhaps it's time to start intentionally mentioning this team in the same sentence as "2017 national champions."

    What Florida did to Virginia in the second round was incredible and borderline criminal. Granted, the Cavaliers had more than their fair share of problems on offense over the past six weeks, but shooting 29.6 percent from the field and 6.7 percent from three-point range in the 65-39 blowout was more than just bad offense. It was suffocating defense that resulted in Virginia's worst margin of defeat since 2013.

    According to KenPom, Florida has allowed just 104 points in 130 possessions for a rate of 0.80 points per possession. As a result, the Gators are No. 3 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. You may have heard that defense wins championships.

    They also have this year's top candidate to be the freshman who played minimally during the regular season before blossoming into an indispensable piece of the rotation in the NCAA tournament—otherwise known as pulling a Mitch McGary because of what he did for Michigan in 2013.

    That player is Gorjok Gak. The 6'11" freshman from Australia played a grand total of 48 minutes during the regular season, accounting for 13 points and 14 rebounds. But with John Egbunu out with a torn ACL, Gak has been given the opportunity to see the floor. Through two games, he has played 17 minutes with 10 points and three rebounds.

    Those aren't MVP numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but an energetic big man who comes off the bench and fires up the team with his hustle and slam dunks can be a real game-changer.

Regular-Season Champions Are Faring Well

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    Conference champs like Oregon are still standing.
    Conference champs like Oregon are still standing.Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Not every regular-season champion reached the Sweet 16. Nor did every Sweet 16 team win its regular-season crown. However, a significant number of the teams that survived to the second weekend proved their dominance in January and February.

    As discussed, the ACC has been an outright disaster in the NCAA tournament, already losing eight of its nine representatives. But the one still standing was the one that survived that regular-season gauntlet with a 14-4 record and a two-game cushion over the rest of the pack: North Carolina.

    Fellow No. 1 seeds Kansas (Big 12) and Gonzaga (West Coast) also won regular-season titles and have survived into the regional semifinals.

    No one expected the Big Ten to still have three teams at this point, but one member of that trio is Purdue, which also survived in an unpredictable slaughterhouse with a 14-4 record and a two-game cushion.

    SEC regular-season champ Kentucky is also still with us despite a good scare from Wichita State, and Pac-12 regular-season champ Oregon survived an upset bid from Rhode Island to reach the Sweet 16.

    All told, six regular-season champions still have a chance to win it all.

    This is hardly groundbreaking. Last year, seven of the Sweet 16 teams earned at least a share of their regular-season title. The year before that, five out of the 16 fit the description. The lesson here is that it's a lot safer to ride with teams that played well for four months rather than ones that played well for four days in conference tournaments.

The Caleb Swanigan Show

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    Caleb Swanigan has been putting on a show for the past four months.
    Caleb Swanigan has been putting on a show for the past four months.Morry Gash/Associated Press

    For as guard-oriented as college basketball has become over the past decade, there were quite a few quality big men this season. Jock Landale of Saint Mary's, Wisconsin's Ethan Happ, Baylor's Johnathan Motley and Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson all spring to mind as dominant frontcourt presences those top-notch teams could not have lived without.

    But Purdue's Caleb Swanigan takes the cake with 28 double-doubles, great passing instincts and the ability to defend without fouling.

    Through two games against Vermont and Iowa State, Swanigan has averaged 18.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.0 blocks. He is a force of nature in the paint who is also shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range in the tournament (43.2 percent on the season).

    If anything, Biggie isn't getting enough touches. Because of his ability to create both for himself and his teammates, Purdue ought to be looking to get Swanigan the ball early in the shot clock on every single possession.

    Even against quality big men, Swanigan can do whatever he wants. It's like watching that one running back in pee-wee football who has had an early growth spurt and cannot be contained by players his age.

    The only concern is foul trouble, but that hasn't been an issue thus far in the tournament. Swanigan committed at least three fouls in 12 consecutive games leading up to Selection Sunday, including fouling out four times. But he has committed a total of two fouls in two tourney games and will continue to dominate until the referees decide to intervene.

Kentucky's Run Could Be Historic

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    Malik Monk and company could have quite the path to a title.
    Malik Monk and company could have quite the path to a title.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    For the second time in four years, Kentucky and Wichita State played one of the best second-round games in NCAA tournament history. It wasn't nearly as beautiful on offense this time around, but they exchanged haymakers in the final few minutes, and a pair of Wildcat blocks sealed the deal.

    But for Kentucky, that's only the beginning of what could be a downright ridiculous path to the national championship.

    The Wildcats already defeated one of the most egregiously under-seeded teams ever, and we know they'll face UCLA's incredible offense in the Sweet 16, a rematch of a thrilling 97-92 game from earlier this season. If Kentucky wins that one, it will likely run into North Carolina and another rematch of a 103-100 game in December.

    Beat the Tar Heels and the Wildcats could have yet another rematch of a fantastic game if they were to run into Kansas in the Final Four. In the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Kansas got the better of Kentucky in a 79-73 instant classic.

    And if the basketball gods smile upon us, Gonzaga would be waiting for Kentucky in the national championship game for the best David vs. Goliath battle for the title since Duke vs. Butler in 2010.

    To recap, that's Wichita State, UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas and Gonzaga—otherwise known as the two best mid-majors in the country and three blue-blood programs. At the very least, that would rival Arizona's beating three No. 1 seeds in 1997 as the greatest championship run of all time.

Scott Drew and Matt Painter Breaking Curses

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    Scott Drew can coach.
    Scott Drew can coach.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Much has been made about Gonzaga, Sean Miller and Tony Bennett consistently failing to reach the Final Four, but Baylor and Purdue were in an even less impressive club, failing to get out of the first round in each of the past two years.

    Purdue's curse began in 2015 with a massive meltdown against Cincinnati. The Boilermakers led by five in the final minute of regulation before coming up short in overtime. But that was a No. 8 vs. No. 9 game. The bigger deal was losing to No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock in double overtime last year. Purdue had a major size advantage in that game but refused to capitalize on it.

    Baylor's run was more disturbing, partially because the endings went viral. In the loss to No. 14 Georgia State, R.J. Hunter hit the deep three-pointer that sent his father/coach falling off his stool to the ground in jubilation. And it was after the loss to No. 12 Yale that Taurean Prince gave an amazing explanation for how Baylor could lose the rebounding battle to Yale.

    Because of that tough luck in back-to-back years, both Baylor and Purdue were going to be popular picks to be upset in the first round regardless of their opponents.

    Not only did the Bears and Boilermakers each survive the first round, but they also advanced to the Sweet 16. If Scott Drew and Matt Painter both get to the Final Four, we'll need to find new coaches with shortcomings in the NCAA tournament.

Imbalance of Power

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    The brackets sure did break nicely for Arizona.
    The brackets sure did break nicely for Arizona.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    If you could get a prop bet on which half of the bracket will win the national championship, there's no question you're going with the half on the right, correct?

    Save for two not-really upsets in the first round, the South Region played perfectly to form. It'll be No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Butler and No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 UCLA. Plenty of entertainment value there. The Midwest Region isn't much different, with three of the top four teams (No. 1 Kansas, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Purdue) and the hottest team on the planet (No. 7 Michigan).

    Butler got a brutal draw, but if the Bulldogswho won 15 games this season against teams that made the NCAA tournament—are the ones from that half of the bracket least likely to win it all, we're all but guaranteed four great games Friday and two more Sunday to determine that portion of the Final Four.

    But the left half of the bracket is a mess.

    No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Duke were both eliminated from the East Region, leaving either Baylor, Florida, South Carolina or Wisconsin as a Final Four team that nobody saw coming. While the West Region still has three of its top four seeds, it is home to the biggest sleeper of them all: No. 11 Xavier.

    Because of the draw, No. 2 Arizona from the West Region is arguably the favorite to win the national championship.

    Its toughest possible path to the title game is to go through No. 11 Xavier, No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 3 Baylor. By comparison, the easiest possible remaining path for Pac-12 rival UCLA is to beat No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Butler and No. 7 Michigan. More likely, the Bruins would need to beat Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas to set up a possible game with Arizona.

    The logistics would never allow it, but it'd be great if we could re-seed the field once it gets down to the Sweet 16. It hardly seems fair that Wisconsin and Xavier went a combined 1-11 from Feb. 11 through March 2 and have easier paths to the Final Four than Kansas or North Carolina.

South Carolina Waited a Long Time to Shock the World

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    Late Sunday night, the Gamecocks broke what few brackets weren't already broken.
    Late Sunday night, the Gamecocks broke what few brackets weren't already broken.Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    South Carolina has never been to the Elite Eight.

    Prior to beating Marquette on Friday night, the Gamecocks had not won a single NCAA tournament game since 1973. This was their first trip to the Big Dance since 2004, and they were long overdue for some March Madness.

    By now, you've no doubt heard that South Carolina shocked the world by upsetting No. 2 Duke in the second round Sunday night. The Gamecocks shot an unfathomable 20-of-28 from the field and 21-of-23 from the free-throw line in the second half. They scored 65 points after the intermission and were almost more impressive on defense, shutting down Luke Kennard while holding Jayson Tatum in check.

    Ten times this season, South Carolina failed to score 65 points in an entire game. For the Gamecocks to hit that mark in one half was one of the most unpredictable developments in tournament history—particularly when you consider they shot 7-of-35 from the field in the first half to enter the break with just 23 points.

    Out of nowhere, South Carolina is averaging 90.5 points per game in the tournament. In the previous four months, the Gamecocks hit that mark just once, shooting 15-of-26 from three-point range in a 98-69 win over Auburn. No number of think pieces will help us wrap our heads around how this team outscored both Duke and Marquette—two of the most efficient offenses in the nation.

    At this point, anything seems possible. Sindarius Thornwell was a one-man show for the vast majority of the past two months, but he has four teammates who are averaging at least 10 points per game in the tournament. If guys like P.J. Dozier, Rakym Felder, Duane Notice and Chris Silva keep scoring like this while playing excellent team defense, there's no good reason to believe South Carolina is destined to lose another game.

    Xavier will be regarded as the Cinderella story because it's the only double-digit seed left in the field. Michigan is still America's team because of the recent run it has been on. But if South Carolina picks up one more win to close in on a chance to reach the Final Four and win it all, it will become the singular feelgood story of the tournament—if it hasn't already.


    Stats courtesy of and Sports Reference.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report.