With the Sweet 16 now set for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four tournament, we should be able to analyze the big picture with a great deal of clarity but after some remarkable finishes the lines are in fact more blurred than in any tournament in recent history. With the end result being more predictable than in most years, as Kentucky continues to look unstoppable in their quest for perfection.
THE BEASTS OF THE EAST
If your bracket has been obliterated over the last few days, it’s likely due to how the East region has played out with the top two seeds falling over the weekend. Some would say this fallout was predictable, but most ignored the proverbial writing that was on the wall, after all both Villanova and Virginia were consistent all season long. Early exits should however not be a surprise as Villanova was the least battle tested of the #1 seeds, and Virginia simply couldn’t match a championship offense with the championship defense they brought to the floor in the ACC. At the end of the day a team still has to score the basketball. This region now becomes wide open as Michigan State, Louisville, Oklahoma and NC State will do battle this weekend for a shot in the Final Four. It’s hard not to put your money on Tom Izzo or Rick Pitino, but NC State has been a giant killer this season, just not consistently. Oklahoma, which is one of three Big 12 teams to get a #3 seed, is easily the quietest of the bunch. Seemingly no one is giving them a shot to move on. Louisville remarkably figured out a way to shoot, which could be trouble for the rest of the region. They have players that are used to playing in these types of games and match up nicely against Michigan State. If you have one of these four teams in the Final Four, you are likely a step ahead of your competitors.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY
In the South region Gonzaga looks like a team that not only can make it to the Final Four but play in the National Championship finals as well. The hot shooting of Kyle Wiltjer and handles of Kevin Pangos, possibly the best player with the ball in the country, have cumulated into a high octane offense that is going to be tough to beat. There’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon if you are still not a believer, as this team also boasts two 7-footers. They are a matchup nightmare – even for Duke. Duke has looked great, but a truly neutral floor may prove to be problematic for them in the Elite Eight. Elsewhere in the South region, UCLA is killing the critics with their sweet 16 appearance as many continue to lay claim that making it to the round of 16 still doesn’t justify their allowance into the tournament. They have had a very gracious draw thus far, and their run no doubt appears to be over on Friday. Davidson got run off the court by an Iowa team that didn’t care how much experience they had. Let the story of Iowa State teach everyone a valuable lesson. You cannot continue to rip off exciting comebacks all season long and expect that to not catch up with you in the tournament. It just happened much sooner than anyone thought. We’re looking at the Duke/Gonzaga matchup to potentially be the game of the tournament.
BEST IN THE MIDWEST
The results after the earlier rounds are much easier to explain away than say the East region. Kentucky is at the top of their game, even if John Calipari would try to convince you otherwise. They have been unstoppable, and we shouldn’t be surprised that such a young team starts most games that slow. Look for WVU to press them all game long in the full court, but Kentucky to out-athlete them in about 2 minutes making the necessary adjustments. Wichita State got the matchup they wanted against Kansas, and it’s now more obvious than ever that Kansas has nothing to gain from scheduling a mid-major game against a team that is so accomplished. There were no upsets in the first round so it was business as usual in the Midwest. Notre Dame, who struggled mightily in their two matchups, still matches up well against Wichita St. They have 4 shooters that stretch a defense out, and Wichita St will struggle defending the three ball. Both teams have been consistent all season however, and this matchup will be the best in the round of 16.
THE WILD WEST IS HERE TO STAY
The West region can boast the best matchups in the first half of the tournament, and is primed to produce potentially the best matchups moving forward as well. UNC had to do some real work to get by Harvard, and Arkansas and the Tar Heels gave us some relentless play to make it to the round of 16. Arizona has looked like the 2nd best team in the tournament and is healthy and firing on all cylinders. Ohio State who looked great after the 2nd round drew the shortest of straws getting Arizona, but should be proud of their efforts. After beating Baylor, it was sad to see Georgia State not be able to handle Xavier. The moments between Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter and his son R.J. are really what college athletics are all about, and truly embraces the spirit of the tournament on a holistic level. Xavier’s spot is wasted in the sweet 16 because everyone knows Arizona is going smash them. The West will remain wild until the end of the Wisconsin-Arizona matchup which should be one the better games to watch since either of those two teams are the most likely to knock of UK. The excitement is just beginning!