Lots of favorites in Sweet 16
The Billion Dollar Dream has been over for a while. Most bracket sheets are loaded with red X’s. Still, there is plenty of March Madness ahead of us in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
You want favorites? Three No. 1s – Florida, Arizona, Virginia – are alive and well after two rounds.
You want underdogs? How about three with double-digit seedings – Stanford, a 10, with 11s Dayton and Tennessee.
You want a rivalry? It’s tough to beat Kentucky-Louisville.
You want rematches? Besides Kentucky-Louisville there is Arizona-San Diego State.
You get the point. Four days, 12 games. It’s regional weekend when the Sweet 16 is cut to the Final Four. Enjoy.
SOUTH REGIONAL, Memphis, Tenn., Thursday-Saturday.
The game that guarantees a winner with a double-digit seeding, Stanford vs. Dayton, will be followed by the overall top seed, Florida, facing a familiar tournament opponent in UCLA.
Stanford gets to wear home whites after beating New Mexico and Kansas. The Cardinal are in the round of 16 for the first time since 2008, the last time they were in the tournament. They haven’t given up more than 57 points and they have been great at the free throw line.
Dayton followed the win over Ohio State with a squeaker over Syracuse and the Flyers are in the round of 16 for the first time since 1984. They got here with two wins by a total of three points and they have yet to break 60, but they have done just enough. Coach Archie Miller couldn’t meet his brother Sean and Arizona until the national semifinals.
Florida has lived up to its billing as the overall No. 1 seed. The Gators have increased their winning streak to 28 games with a couple of double-figure victories. This is their fourth straight year in the round of 16, the longest current streak.
UCLA won both its games by 17 points and the Bruins have won five straight and seven of eight, including an upset of Arizona. This is their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.
Florida beat UCLA in the national championship game in 2006 and in the national semifinals the following season. The Gators also eliminated the Bruins in the second round in 2011.
WEST REGIONAL, Anaheim, Calif., Thursday-Saturday.
This is the closest any of the regions came to having seeds 1-4 advance. Top-seeded Arizona, No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 4 San Diego State are still playing along with seventh-seeded Baylor.
Arizona was impressive on defense in dispatching Gonzaga in the third round and the Wildcats are in the round of 16 for the third time in four years.
San Diego State finally showed its defensive prowess in a third-round win over North Dakota State, which had a season-low 44 points.
These teams met in San Diego on Nov. 14 and Arizona won 69-60 behind the 23 points of Nick Johnson. The Wildcats were ranked No. 6 at the time and four weeks later were No. 1, a spot they held for eight weeks.
Wisconsin is going from facing one set of highlighter yellow uniforms to another. The Badgers beat Oregon to get to the Sweet 16 after missing to get there last season. Frank Kaminsky, who had 19 points against Oregon, will be in for quite a test against Baylor’s tall, athletic front line.
The Bears come in off a 30-point demolition of Creighton in which they held Doug McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer, to 15 points. They won’t be able to concentrate on one of the Badgers, who have six players averaging from 13.4 points to 7.9 points.
EAST REGIONAL, New York, Friday-Sunday.
The NCAA tournament hasn’t been in Madison Square Garden since 1961. One of the teams headed there this week has some great memories already of the building known as ”the world’s most famous arena.”
Virginia, the quietest of the four No. 1s, played its kind of game – good defense and patient offense – in beating Memphis by 18 points. That got the Cavaliers to the round of 16 for the first time since 1995. They are the sole team remaining from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Michigan State was the nation’s pick for the national championship even if it was a No. 4 seed. The injuries are a thing of the past and the Spartans look like the team that held the No. 1 ranking this season. They had their hands full with Harvard in the third round, but pulled away in the final minutes.
Third-seeded Iowa State was able to overcome the loss of third-leading scorer Georges Niang to a broken foot by beating North Carolina in a game that came down to DeAndre Kane’s driving basket with 1.6 seconds to play. The Cyclones, in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2000, are still a team with plenty of scorers.
Connecticut won a record seven Big East tournament titles at Madison Square Garden, the last in 2011 when Kemba Walker led them to the national championship. Shabazz Napier was a freshman on that team and he’s doing a solid imitation of Walker as he averaged 24.5 points in the two wins that has the Huskies in the Sweet 16 a year after they weren’t eligible for the tournament over academic sanctions.
MIDWEST REGIONAL, Indianapolis, Friday-Saturday.
Indianapolis is about to be invaded by people from the commonwealth of Kentucky. Those wearing red are for Louisville, those wearing blue are for the University of Kentucky. There will be fans of Tennessee and Michigan in town, but they will be hard to notice with all those Kentuckians in for a visit.
Tennessee, a No. 11 seed, is the third team that played in the First Four to reach the regional semifinals. The Volunteers have won eight of nine with the only loss to Florida in the SEC tournament. They reached the Sweet 16 with a frontcourt dismantling of Mercer, outrebounding the team that beat Duke 41-19.
Second-seeded Michigan is in the round of 16 for the second straight year and the Wolverines are trying to get back to the national championship game where they lost to Louisville. Nik Stauskas led an outside attack that saw Michigan make 14 3-pointers in a third-round win over Texas.
Kentucky beat Louisville 73-66 just days after Christmas in the schools’ annual meeting. This one is going to be on a higher level as Kentucky’s roster of high school stars meets a Louisville squad that features key players who were on last season’s national championship team.
Kentucky, the preseason No. 1, did what no other team could do this season – beat Wichita State. In what has to be the best game of the tournament so far, the Wildcats played above their years in handing the Shockers their first loss of the season.
Louisville is in the round of 16 for the third straight year and the great news for the Cardinals is that Naismith Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino is 16-0 in the regional semifinals. His team has won 14 of its last 15 games overall and eight straight in the NCAA tournament.