Breaking Down the Sweet 16

So how is your bracket looking? After the first weekend of NCAA tournament action, many brackets have been busted across the nation due to some stunning upsets and compelling play. The tournament started out ho-hum before it made way for some magical upsets and stunning finishes.

Perhaps the best story is the one where tiny Davidson shocked Georgetown in the second round of the tournament behind the sensational play of Stephen Curry. Curry is blossoming into one of the great players in the country. We knew Curry was good, he did average over 25 points per game, but now his game has been broadcasted on the national stage against some traditional powers. And the stage for Curry has never been brighter as Curry is one of only six players to score 30 plus points in his first three NCAA Tournament games.

Davidson now takes on another giant in Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. Davidson surely has a shot, but I believe the steam gained by beating Gonzaga and Georgetown in the first two rounds will run out. Wisconsin on a larger scale has gone mostly unnoticed this year, but Badger coach Bo Ryan has this team focused and I expect them to nudge by the Wildcats of Davidson.

Some other thoughts after the first weekend of the Tournament:

*-Why is Memphis coach John Calipari so defiant in defending his team by saying free throw shooting is not that big a deal? How else do you explain Mississippi State hanging around and only losing by three after being down by double-digits on many occasions? I still feel the poor free-throw shooting will bite this team in the rear and I expect that to happen vs. Michigan State.

*-How about Stanford Head Coach Trent Johnson being tossed out in the first half of Stanford's second round game vs. Marquette? Who gets tossed in a crucial NCAA Tournament game? It's a good thing Associate Head Coach Doug Oliver did an admirable job keeping the team focused as Stanford won on a leaner from Brook Lopez. If they had lost, Johnson would have been blasted for taking arguing with referees too far. In that moment, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, you can't let your emotions get the better of you.

*-While UCLA is a terrific and immensely talented team, I think they are getting the benefit of some referees swallowing their whistles. In the waning seconds of UCLA's second round game against Texas A&M, as the Aggies had the ball trying to tie up the game against the Bruins, the Bruins clearly fouled Donald Sloan as he attempted to get to the rim. As they say, players have to make the game not the referees, but we all would be lying by saying that the Bruins have not been the beneficiaries of some questionable calls going back to the end of the regular season.

*-So last week I said watch out for Western Kentucky as they had all the ingredients for a nice run. Well I turned to be prophetic in this one as the very underrated Courtney Lee has led the Hilltoppers to the Sweet 16. A dramatic buzzer beater win against Drake was most likely the best first round game of the tournament. The Hilltoppers took care of business the next day as they disposed of San Diego, another team that stunned the world as they knocked off the almighty Connecticut Huskies.

*-If you haven't noticed, Duke is overrated. The rich and storied program needed all the gas in its tank to beat the 15 seeded Belmont Bruins in the first round and had nearly enough to hang with West Virginia.

*-By the way, it is time to put West Virginia's Joe Alexander in the same breath with some of the best players in the country. America is witnessing the ascension of one of college basketball's rising stars.

*-An intriguing matchup to look forward to in the Sweet 16 is Washington State vs. North Carolina. North Carolina, in its first two games against Mount St. Mary's and Arkansas, did not break a sweat in scoring over 100 points in each game, the first time that has been done since 1990. Now the Tar Heels will face a team in the Washington State Cougars that held their first two NCAA Tournament opponents (Winthrop and Notre Dame) to an astounding 40.5 points per game average. That feat is even more remarkable considering Notre Dame was an offensive juggernaut this season averaging nearly 80 points per game. This game is a classic contrast of styles and whichever team sets the pace will have the edge.

*-With Tennessee and North Carolina in the same bracket, Louisville is going largely unnoticed. That would be a big mistake as the Cardinalis are now fully healthy and running on all cylinders. They easily defeated Boise State and Oklahoma in its first two games. I expect the Cardinals to beat Tennessee and set up a terrific matchup with North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

*-Villanova, while struggling at times in the Big East, has proved they belonged in the NCAA Tournament by beating Clemson and the surprising Siena Saints in succession. A lot what is expected from Villanova early on and they are now showing the fruits of their labor. They say guards are vital in the NCAA Tournament, and the Wildcats have one of the very best in Scottie Reynolds. They do face an uphill battle trying to match up with Kansas, as the Jayhawks look flawless lately.

The first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament lived up to the hype, and expecting anything less this weekend in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds would be foolish. Here are my revised predictions for this weekend's games culminating with the Final Four in San Antonio.

East Region - UNC over Washington State, Louisville over Tennessee, with UNC beating Louisville to get to the Final Four.

Midwest Region - Kansas over Villanova, Wisconsin over Davidson, with Kansas defeating Wisconsin to get to the Final Four.

West Region - UCLA over Western Kentucky, Xavier over West Virginia, with UCLA making reservations in San Antonio.

South Region - Michigan State over Memphis, Texas over Stanford, with Michigan State dancing their way to the Final Four.

My bracket is the same as I predicted last week and that is UCLA, Michigan State, Kansas and North Carolina. I still have a shot to win my pool but at this point it is irrelevant since the magic and glory of the NCAA Tournament is what it's all about and soon enough March Madness will cease to exist. I guess we'll have baseball to fall back on!


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