By John Marshall
The NCAA Tournament started about as expected, the upsets, buzzer beaters and extraordinary performances coming at nearly every turn.
Now that the first week is over and the pixie dust has settled, the bracket is down to a Sweet 16 that includes 15 teams from college basketball’s Power Seven conferences and Gonzaga. Considering the Zags are already a basketball powerhouse, this is a Sweet 16 for the big boys.
Apparently, Cinderella is sitting this one out.
Regardless of the Sweet 16 makeup, the regional weekend of the NCAA Tournament always produces great games, a few surprises and plenty of tension with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Here’s what to look for:
Kansas. Tournament’s top seed won its first two NCAA games by a combined 39 points and has won 16 straight. Come knock the Jayhawks off the hill.
North Carolina. Make their 3-pointers and the Tar Heels could be unbeatable.
Virginia. Finding offense always the key; Cavs can defend anyone, anywhere.
Oregon. Doubt the Ducks all you want. The least-respected No. 1 seed will fly right past if you do.
Oklahoma. They have Buddy Hield and are favored over Oregon to win the West as a No. 2 seed.
Hield, Oklahoma. Hey, buddy, watch this guy EVERY time he touches the ball.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Stat-sheet filler could have the Cavaliers headed toward the Final Four.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina. Need a basket, a rebound, a blocked shot – anything, really – Johnson is your guy.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami. Need someone to will a team to victory, fewer are better than the Canes’ no-shot-is-a-bad-shot point guard.
Georges Niang, Iowa State. One of the nation’s most efficient offensive players, he can score inside, outside, probably even from the bus.
Indiana vs. North Carolina, Friday, East Region. Among the bluest of blue bloods, the Hoosiers and Tar Heels have 10 combined national titles.
Kansas vs. Maryland, Thursday, South Region. May be the two most talented teams left, would have been a great title game.
Duke vs. Oregon, Thursday, West Region. An East Coast stalwart against an up-and-comer from the West. What’s not to like?
Virginia vs. Iowa State, Friday, Midwest Region. A head-butting of strength (Virginia’s defense) against strength (Iowa State’s offense).
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Thursday, West Region. Former Big 12 rivals and the Sooners have that Hield guy.
4-No. 1 seeds in the Sweet 16, a first since 2012.
8-Sweet 16 coaches who have led teams to at least one Final Four.
11-NCAA Tournament victories by Wisconsin the past three seasons.
12-Number of teams in the Sweet 16 that were ranked in the preseason AP Top 25.
30-Wins by Oregon this season, matching the school record set in 1945.
50.3-Iowa State’s shooting percentage, which was third nationally in Division I.
59.5-Points per game allowed Virginia, second in Division I during the regular season. The Cavaliers have allowed an average of 57 in two NCAA games.
70.5-Shooting percentage of Notre Dame’s Zach Augustine in seven NCAA Tournament games.
The NCAA Tournament has turned into an expanded version of ACC Tournament.
The conference went 12-1 during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament and has six teams that advanced to the Sweet 16: North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame, Duke, Miami and Syracuse. Pittsburgh was the only ACC team in the tournament that didn’t advance. Sorry, Panthers.
The Big Ten and Big 12 each got three through to the regional week, with one each from the Big East, Pac-12, SEC and WCC.
The Pac-12 set a conference record with seven teams in the field of 68, but is down to just Oregon after an ugly first week.