Now that sixteen teams remain, let’s re-shuffle the deck and take a closer look at the field.
Four #1 Seeds: Florida, Kansas, Ohio State, and UNC
Three #2 Seeds: Memphis, UCLA, and Georgetown (Yeah, throw a little salt ‘n’ peppa on the crow I need to eat. Boo hoo for the Badgers of Wisconsin).
Three #3 Seeds: Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, and Oregon.
One four seed: Southern Illinois.
Three five seeds: Tennessee, USC, and Butler.
A six seed: Vanderbilt.
And the Runnin’ Rebels from UNLV hold the lowest seed (7) alive in the tourney.
The Pac-10(UCLA, Oregon, and USC) and the SEC(Vanderbilt, Florida, and Tennessee) each have three teams remaining. The Big East (Georgetown and Pittsburgh) and The Big 12 (Texas A&M and Kansas) placed two teams in the second weekend of action. The Big Ten (Ohio State) and the ACC (UNC) disappointed many with only one team each left in the field. Butler from the Horizon League, Southern Illinois from the Missouri Valley Conference, UNLV from the Mountain West, and Memphis from Conference USA complete the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Before breaking down the remaining teams…how important are free throws? Just ask Duke, Louisville, and Xavier. All of those teams could have advanced with a few charity stripers at the end of their games. Felt bad for Edgar Sosa of Louisville. The freshman made his first fifteen free throws Saturday (earned him the right to be compared to all of the great point guards from NYC). Then he missed two with :29 left and his team down 70-69. Justin Cage missed a free throw with :09 left that would have allowed the Musketeers to advance. Of course no one else should have been in the lane because Xavier should have had the ball out after AN INTENTIONAL FOUL! Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt barely survived in overtime after missing free throws late in their games.
Four #1 seeds have never, in the history of the tournament, made it to the final four. A fact that seems a little surprising (kinda like Wilt Chamberlain never fouled out of an NBA game-actually that one is astounding). After no #1 seeds made it last year, things might balance out this year. Perhaps the first question is: will the Jayhawks keep from ‘Self’-destructing? Kansas has four losses this year and a bunch of close calls. Two of those losses came to teams that they overlooked: Oral Roberts and DePaul. Overlooking is not something that a team does in the Sweet Sixteen, but we are talking about Bill Self – the man of the early exit. And Southern Illinois is the most disruptive team I have seen next to Louisville all year. The Salukis will make the Jayhawks earn a win. Speaking of the Salukis I am glad to see that they have dropped off the Cinderella radar. A four seed with a top ten RPI and a top thirty SOS should not be considered a Cinderella.
If…and that’s a big if, the Jayhawks get by Southern Illinois, they will stare down Pittsburgh or UCLA. Did I hear the state of Kansas gulp? Yeah UCLA looks friggin’ tough (“Someone get a tissue and wipe that dunk from Indiana’s face”). But one of the great ironies of the dance poses Ben Howland against his former wing man: Jaime Dixon. (Brief aside – if we were on the asphalt somewhere. You know…where the paint used for the lines is so thick that it’s raised from the surface. And the nets are made of chain. And all the guys were wearing random t-shirts – no school names on the front. And we played long enough to get to know everyone’s abilities. And my geeky cracker-butt was chosen as captain, and you were chosen to pick teams. And the guys to pick from happened to attend VCU, Pitt, and Duke. And we had five guys from each school, but their schools didn’t matter. Their talents were the only criteria for choice. We could only make our selections based on what we saw that day. How many VCU guys would remain after the first five choices? My point is how can it be an upset if they just have the better ballers? This whole notion that an upset takes place because a team from a conference that doesn’t have their games televised on a regular basis beats a big conference has gotta go. VCU beat Duke fair and square. They should have toppled Pitt. They had better players.) Can Dixon somehow manage to get his kids to play out of their minds?
Florida…hmmm….I suppose I should like this team. All of their players returned from a team that won the national chan’ship. Is it that they returned, or that they probably would not have received guaranteed jing had they jumped to the NBA? The Gators should easily dispense the Bulldogs, but they should have taken care of Purdue easier than they did. If Florida manages to beat Butler, Oregon or UNLV will be waiting. Neither of these teams will give in to the Gators. Oregon has made some great defensive adjustments. Earlier this season Aaron Brooks, Tajuan Porter, and Bryce Taylor outscored opponents. Not anymore. They have held their last six opponents to 63 or fewer points. None of those opponents could bring Florida’s firepower, but can the Gators maintain their offensive flow AND slow down the Ducks? And when did the Pac-10 become a conference of teams known for defensive play?
If not Oregon then Billy the Kid’s squad will need to tangle with UNLV. Is UNLV considered a mid-major? If so would they be a Cinderella? Because they weren’t a Cinderella in the early 90’s.
Ohio State received a gift, and sometimes that’s all a team needs to go on a run. The Buckeyes need to outlast Tennessee. Can Ohio State slow down a Vols’ offense that scored 121 versus Long Beach State and 77 against Virginia? If they do, can they recover in time for Texas A&M or Memphis?
Calipari’s group appears rather enigmatic right now. The Tigers have won twenty-four consecutive games. Until their most recent victory over Nevada none of those teams ranked in the top twenty-five. Does this mean Memphis is overrated? Or are they well-rested? Can they compensate for the loss of Chris Roberts? We shall find out.
Can the Aggies learn from their recent battle with Louisville? All hands need to be on deck…not just Acie Law.
And then there is the last bastion of hope for the ACC – the UNC Tar Heels. Many of us primed ourselves for a third round matchup between UNC and Texas. But we all forgot about Tim Floyd (the Bassmaster) and his USC Trojans who derailed Kevin Durant and the Longhorn express. Can the Bassmaster devise a game plan to slow the Heels? Note to T. Floyd: Do not forget about Reyshawn Terry. He’s not sexy, but he sticks like glue, and this senior wants to go out with a chan’ship.
On the other side of East region Georgetown squares off with Vanderbilt. Has anyone else noticed that the state of Tennessee has three teams in the Sweet Sixteen? Georgetown is a popular pick and for good reason: who do you stop? Everyone contributes for the Hoyas.
Get ready…Thursday will be here before ya know it. Time to hunker down in front of the television.