Breaking down the Sweet 16

The NCAA tournament showed again why it is so special. What an incredible first week. The storylines were incredible. You had big-time shock city with No. 3 seeds Baylor and Iowa State going down. UAB and Georgia State got in the spotlight. Then you had the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, Villanova and Virginia, go down before the Sweet 16. The last time that happened was over a decade before, in 2004, when No. 1 seed Kentucky lost by one-point to UAB, and No. 2 seed Gonzaga fell to Nevada.


There was the great storyline of father-son tandems. Bryce and Steve Alford are in the Sweet 16 despite losing 13 games during the regular season. Ron and R. J. Hunter of Georgia State grabbed headlines; Ron's celebration when his squad won the Sun Belt led to an Achilles injury. R. J. made magic on the court, scoring 12 of his team's final 13 points, including a long-range trifecta in the upset of Baylor.


You had so many dramatic comebacks. NC State was down 16 to LSU and found a way to prevail. Then the Wolfpack almost blew a 12-point lead before dispatching Villanova. Georgia State was down 12 with less than three minutes left and got the victory. There were plenty of them as leads were not safe.


There were numerous outstanding performances. Bryce Alford hit 9 of 11 3-pointers against SMU. The tourney record is 11 by Jeff Fryer of Loyola-Marymount. T. J. McConnell showed his leadership for Arizona and scored 19 in the win over Ohio State. Zach Auguste had 25 points in an opening win over Northeastern. Fred VanVleet put up 27 on Indiana. The hits just kept on coming.


The ACC put up impressive numbers, placing five teams into the Sweet 16. There are three from the Pac-12, two each from the Big Ten and Big 12.


There are familiar names on the sidelines, guys who have been to the Final Four before: Coach K, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Bo Ryan, Bob Huggins, Gregg Marshall, Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, Tom Izzo. That means more than half of the coaches left have been to the Final Four before.


Now we are ready for the Sweet 16. Let's look at the matchups:


KENTUCKY VS. WEST VIRGINIA

The 'Cats are 36-0. Bob Huggins is 8-2 lifetime vs. John Calipari. Something has to give. West Virginia will press and trap and try to force turnovers. Kentucky has size, depth, length and the pursuit of history on its side.


NOTRE DAME VS. WICHITA STATE

I am really looking forward to seeing Jerian Grant and Fred VanVleet. The Irish love to spread the court and get open looks from three-point range. Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia hit big trifectas in the win over Butler. The Irish have Zach Auguste capable of doing damage inside. Gregg Marshall's stock keeps climbing. The Shockers have three straight 30-win seasons.


WISCONSIN VS. NORTH CAROLINA

The Badgers' frontcourt was the difference against Oregon as Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky (my choice for player of the year) and Nigel Hayes were too much for the Ducks. The key to the Tar Heels is Marcus Paige, who is a great second-half player. Kennedy Meeks is a question mark with a sprained knee.


ARIZONA VS. XAVIER

Sean Miller faces former assistant Chris Mack. T. J. McConnell has been a super leader all season long; he and Gabe York each scored 19 in the round of 32 victory over the Buckeyes. Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will improve their shooting after combining to go 4 of 24 from the field vs. Ohio State. .


NC STATE VS. LOUISVILLE

There should be a great battle on the boards in this contest. NC State already won at Louisville back in February, so Rick Pitino's team is out for revenge. Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier and Co. will try to slow down the upset-minded Wolfpack and Trevor Lacey.


MICHIGAN STATE VS. OKLAHOMA

Tom Izzo is always special at this time of season. He is now 20-4 in round of 32 games, including 12-1 in his last 13. His tenacious defense will test Buddy Hield and company. I love what Travis Trice did against Virginia, scoring 13 quick points and then taking charge late in the contest. Branden Dawson is healthy and productive now.


DUKE VS. UTAH

Jakob Poertl will have his hands full against Jahlil Okafor. The diaper dandy put on a show vs. San Diego State, scoring 18 points (9 of 12 field goals) in the first half vs. the Aztecs. The Utes have a balanced attack as five players scored in double figures in the victory over Georgetown. The Utes held DeVauntes Smith-Rivera without a trifecta (0-for-seven); can Larry Krystkowiak's team hold Quinn Cook in check?


GONZAGA VS. UCLA

The Zags beat the Bruins 87-74 earlier this season, though the Bruins are more confident now. Kyle Wiltjer keyed that Zags victory, scoring 24 points 9 of 13 field goals). Norman Powell struggled, hitting three-of-11 vs. the Zags. Bryce Alford has been hot in the tourney so far, averaging 24.5 ppg. while shooting 75 percent from three-point range (12-of-15).

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