We're into the second week of the NCAA Tournament and 11 of the top 16 seeds are on hand to play in Sweet 16 games Thursday and Friday nights.
But the half-dozen other teams grouped in the "best shot at winning a national title" short list all season – top seeds North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA and Kansas, as well as two seeds Louisville and Tennessee – got through the first two rounds, some via the "roll" approach (North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville) and the other three by way of "barely survive in Round 2" mode.
Those advancing out of Round 3 seem much more likely to go the latter route.
Anyway, on to the next steps toward San Antonio.
(Games times Eastern)
EAST (at Charlotte)
No. 1 North Carolina (34-2) vs. No. 4 Washington State (26-8), 4:27 p.m.
What's cool about the matchup: This is the coolest of all the Sweet 16 contests – the Tar Heels' high-powered and fast-paced offense against the Cougars' ability to grind an opponent's transition offense to a halt and clog up its half-court attack as well. WSU does a heck of a job of doubling up on "bigs", which could force Tyler Hansbrough (32 assists vs. 72 turnovers) to become more of a "passing post" than he is accustomed to being. And watch Kyle Weaver's defense against the Tar Heels' best perimeter threat, Wayne Ellington. It will be the proverbial "game within the game".
Frank Says: This is more likely to be like the game North Carolina had with Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals (when the Tar Heels and Hansbrough pulled it out in the late going, 68-66) than were the games Roy Williams' team played in Rounds 1 and 2. The result, barring a superb offensive effort by the Cougars, will be the same, though.
No. 2 Tennessee (31-4) vs. No. 3 Louisville, 9:57 p.m.
What's cool about the matchup: This will be the most fast-paced and high scoring of the Thursday/Friday games. Both teams thrive in transition, even when they aren't knocking in jump shots. The Cardinals are a better defensive team although the Volunteers did do a decent job pressuring Butler's jump shooters Sunday. It's hard to imagine Tennessee playing on Saturday without Chris Lofton shooting much better than he did in first two rounds in Birmingham (a combined four of 18 from the field).
Frank Says: I'll give the Cardinals the edge in post play, mostly vial David Padgett, and that could be the difference in the outcome.
WEST (at Phoenix)
What's cool about the matchup: Mountaineers' Coach Bob Huggins, via his days at the University of Cincinnati, knows as much about the Xavier program and style of play as any coach who isn't employed by an Atlantic 10 Conference institution. Both rosters have multiple "blue collar-types" who totally buy into the "team-first" offensive and defensive approaches of Huggins and his Xavier counterpart, Sean Miller.
Frank Says: He might be four or five inches shorter than West Virginia's 6-8 Joe Alexander, but Xavier's best defender, Stanley Burrell, figures to be matched up most of the way against the Mountaineers' best offensive player. If he limits Alexander's production better than Arizona and Duke were able to do, the Musketeers will be playing Saturday for the right to go to San Antonio.
No. 1 UCLA (33-3) vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky (29-6), 9:40 p.m.
What's cool about the matchup: Another contrast of styles in that the Hilltoppers of Coach Darrin Horn will attempt to pressure the Bruins all over the court, but will also mix up their half-court defenses in an attempt to take Ben Howland's team out of its offensive rhythm and limit the number of times freshman center Kevin Love touches the ball. Western Kentucky will also try to score as often in transition as possible, via the impetus of seniors Tyrone Brazelton and Courtney Lee, to avoid having to play against the Bruins' stifling half-court defense.
Frank Says: The Hilltoppers' best offensive players, Brazelton and Lee, are going to be checked by two of the best perimeter defensive players in college basketball, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. And Western Kentucky doesn't appear to have an individual or collective answer to prevent Love from being the dominant presence in the game.
SOUTH (at Houston)
What's cool about the matchup: The Longhorns have a terrific group of perimeter players in D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason while the Cardinal counters will the most dominant pair of post players on any team in the college games in 7-foot twins Brook and Robin Lopez. Of course the two groups are matching up, per se, but their respective production and effectiveness will go a way in determining which teams is playing Sunday afternoon for the right to play in another Texas venue next week.
Frank Says: Stanford was able to edge another team (Marquette) with an exceptional group of perimeters during a second-round game in Anaheim Saturday night. But Texas presents a front-court talent in 6-7 Damion James, the likes of which the Golden Eagles couldn't put on the floor against the Cardinal.
No. 1 Memphis (35-1) vs. No. 5 Michigan State (27-8), 9:57 p.m.
What's cool about the matchup: The Spartans present even more obstacles to the Tigers than Mississippi State while nearly derailing the region's top seed in Little Rock Sunday. Memphis doesn't figure to be able to crash the offensive glass with the kind of success against Tom Izzo's club as the Tigers have grown accustomed during the season. And the Spartans' combination of defenses figures to, at least somewhat, keep Memphis' dribble penetration attack from being overly productive.
Frank Says: If the Tigers can hit a lot of jump shots (in transition or in half-court settings), then their porous free-throw shooting shouldn't be a factor in the last five minutes. If things are still close down the stretch, look for Michigan State to selectively foul a lot of Tigers.
MIDWEST (at Detroit)
No. 3 Wisconsin (31-4) vs. No. 10 Davidson (28-6), 7:10 p.m.
What's cool about the matchup: The Wildcats' are led by the hottest guard in the country in Stephen Curry (who dropped 40 points on Gonzaga and 30 more on Georgetown in Raleigh) while the Badgers have one of the better backcourt defenders anywhere in Michael Flowers. Keep in mind that first-half (defensive) success against Curry doesn't mean a whole lot, either: he scored 55 of his points against the Bulldogs and Hoyas after intermission.
Frank Says: The gut feeling tells me that Coach Bo Ryan will be able to exploit his team's advantage in the post than were Mark Few of Gonzaga and John Thompson III of Georgetown.
No. 1 Kansas (33-3) vs. No. 12 Villanova (22-12)
What's cool about the matchup: The Wildcats needed to knock off Syracuse in a Big East Tournament game to secure one of the last at-large bids the NCAA Men's Championship Committee doled out, then rallied from 18 points down to stun No. 5 seed Clemson before handling 13 seed Siena (which blasted Vanderbilt in the first round). The Jayhawks have needed no such domino effect. They won the Big 12 Tournament to take the region's top seed and then dominated opponents (Portland State and UNLV) in Omaha that were well coached but undermanned.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the