Extra-Sweet Sixteen

Now that everyone’s bracket is totally busted (you really didn’t think you were going to walk away with Buffet’s Billion, did you?), we can get down to the serious business of handicapping the 16 teams left in the NCAA tourney field and pick some favorites for the Final Four.

Three of the four number one seeds survived the first weekend. The only top seed to fall — Wichita — may be a harbinger of things to come. Kentucky’s two point win over the Shockers in the second round gave notice to the rest of the field that the Wildcats are in it to win it. Seeded 8 when the tournament began, Kentucky has benefited the first two games from a surprisingly tough defense and the emergence of frosh forward Julius Randle who ended up with double-doubles in both weekend games. The Cats seem to be coming together at exactly the right moment and Coach John Calipari has his squad playing like they’re on a mission.

The other three number ones to win through — Florida, Arizona, and Virginia — had some anxious moments against the lower seeds, but made it to the third round with minimal trouble. All three teams will play #4 seeds with upset potential written all over those games. 4 Michigan State will take on Virginia on Friday night, and if you want an upset special for next weekend, that game may be it.

The best third round game is likely to be on Thursday night when two of the Cinderella teams of the tournament clash for a chance to keep the dream alive. In the South Regional, 10 Stanford vs. 11 Dayton will play for a trip to the Elite Eight and a chance to play the winner of the 1 Florida vs. 4 UCLA contest. Dayton did not overwhelm in its two upset victories over 6 Ohio State and 3 Syracuse. But the Flyers proved to be a pesky bunch and managed to hold off their higher ranked opponents in the final minutes of both games. Stanford has been even more surprising. After getting into the tournament by advancing to the semis of the Pac-12 tourney, the Cardinal downed a very good New Mexico team and toughed out a 3 point win over a short handed Kansas squad. Both teams have demonstrated the poise and determination that should make Thursday’s contest a close, exciting game.

The other double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen is Tennessee. The 11 seeded Vols manhandled all three of their opponents the first weekend, including a win over Iowa in their play-in game, a comfortable 19 point victory over Massachusetts, and a 20 point win over little Mercer who toppled mighty Duke. For all the bad press the SEC got pre-tournament, 3 teams from the conference are in the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee will likely give 2 Michigan all they can handle on Friday night.

Perhaps the most intriguing third round game will take place in Indianapolis on Friday night. The Battle of Kentucky between 4 Louisville and 8 Kentucky will probably end up being a war. Two storied college basketball programs led by two probable Hall of Fame coaches. Kentucky’s John Calipari versus Louisville’s Rick Pitino in a game played just a hop, skip, and a jump from both campuses at 70,000 seat capacity Lucas Oil Stadium. Kentucky, as mentioned, is playing at the top of its game while defending champ Louisiville will not go quietly into that good night. Like an Alabama vs. Auburn football game, there will be civil war in the state until one side proves themselves the he-bull of the corral.

Take Clubber Lang’s word for what to expect: “Pain.”