Sweet 16 preview: Chalk isn't so bad
Andy Katz looks ahead at all the upcoming Sweet 16 games
No one seemed to complain when all four No. 1s made the Final Four last year and it resulted in one of the most dramatic national championship games -- and one of the most memorable shots -- since 1983.
So don't complain that Cinderella is back in her peasant clothing until next year, after Siena was sent back to upstate New York late Sunday afternoon by Louisville.
A chalk bracket isn't so bad. This is the first time all the 1-, 2- and 3-seeds are in the Sweet 16, a year after the first tournament in which all four No. 1s made it to the Final Four.
And this is the first time since 1991 that two regions -- in this case, the right side of the bracket -- sent seeds 1-4 to the Sweet 16.
The Big East, with five teams overall in the Sweet 16 and one in each region, has a shot to beat its 1985 record of three Final Four teams.
SEC teams were young or rebuilding or weak this season, and the conference has no teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1989. So the league's fans can get back to what they really cherish at this time of the year: spring football.
Seven coaches remain in the Sweet 16 who have won at least one national title.
One of the schools (Arizona) is led by an interim coach (Russ Pennell) who knows he has no shot at getting the job even if he wins four more games. How about that for no pressure?
The tournament has still delivered on its promise for some anxious moments:
• Gonzaga's Demetri Goodson gave us a last-second game-winner in an 83-81 second-round victory over Western Kentucky. It was reminiscent of Tyus Edney's end-to-end layup to beat Missouri in 1995.
• Siena's first-round double-overtime win against Ohio State was the best game of the first two rounds, and it produced at least one lower-profile school that had dreams of pulling a George Mason. Cleveland State got to the second round by crushing Wake Forest in a game that surprisingly had no drama whatsoever since it was over so early. But so were the Vikings' chances midway through their second-round game against Arizona.
Who will be the X factor in Kansas/MSU? How can Cuse contain Blake Griffin? Could Purdue's D stop red-hot UConn? Check out Insider Intel for all these answers and much more. Insider Intel
• Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun missed the opener because he was hospitalized with dehydration, providing a solid 24-hour news cycle on him alone.
• Ty Lawson's injured toe has been the most dissected digit in tournament history, and after missing the opener, the UNC point guard quieted the chatter by scoring 23 points, dishing out six assists and committing zero turnovers against LSU.
• Clemson's Terrence Oglesby was ejected for throwing an elbow while coming off a screen against Michigan's Stu Douglass in the first half. The incident left Oglesby in tears in the postgame locker room, devastated and embarrassed for how his season ended.
• The sudden return of Marquette senior guard Dominic James (from a broken foot suffered in February) for the Golden Eagles' second-round game against Missouri was an interesting twist. James mustered 17 minutes but wasn't effective, as he didn't take a shot and had only one assist.
Now on to what's ahead:
EAST REGIONAL (BOSTON)
No. 1 Pitt vs. No. 4 Xavier, Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET
No. 1 Pitt
How did the Panthers get here? Pitt had the most trouble of any of the favorites. The Panthers were dangerously close to becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. Their 10-point win over East Tennessee State doesn't tell the whole story. This game was extremely tight down to the final minutes. You could see how the Panthers were playing not to lose, before figuring out how to win.
Pitt had the most difficult second-round game of any of the top seeds. Oklahoma State was more than capable of knocking off the Panthers. The Cowboys were able to run with Pitt by making plenty of early shots, and they had the Panthers fighting for every possession late before Pitt was able to pull away in the final minutes for an 84-76 victory.
Who's hot? Sam Young. The senior forward may be the most talented and maligned stud of any remaining Sweet 16 team. Young poured in 32 points for the Panthers in their win over the Cowboys. He didn't score as much (14) but was dominant on the boards (13) in Pitt's win over ETSU.
What does it mean for the program? Pitt has its best chance to win a national title with co-Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair and seniors Young, Fields and Tyrell Biggs. Coach Jamie Dixon has been a model of consistency in his six seasons. But getting to the Sweet 16 isn't enough. The Panthers haven't been past this round under Dixon. Winning one more game won't change the reputation of Dixon as a solid coach who hasn't been to the Final Four. But the perception certainly would change for the Panthers if they can win two more games and get to Detroit.
Drama factor so far? Pitt is making sure its fans are paying attention. The Panthers haven't cruised for multiple four-minute periods, let alone a game. The Panthers are earning every victory, and if they win the East Regional, they will feel like they've earned every bucket.
No. 4 Xavier
How did the Musketeers get here? Xavier was sent to Boise and its games didn't get much national play. But much like they did earlier in the season, the Musketeers quietly manufactured wins -- an 18-point victory over No. 13 Portland State and an 11-point win over No. 12 Wisconsin.
Xavier has had an interesting season. The Musketeers were lucky early with a half-court shot to beat Virginia Tech; were poised in a win over Memphis in the same event in Puerto Rico; were humbled by 18 against Duke in New Jersey; and then went on cruise control for a spell before bumps in the Atlantic 10 in which they lost four of their final five road games. But beating Portland State and Wisconsin to get to the Sweet 16 is more than admirable for this crew.
Who's hot? Not really anyone, but if we must pick one for a team that is getting by with a little bit from everyone, then B.J. Raymond gets the nod. He scored in double figures in both games but is a combined 9-of-22 in the tourney, including 5-of-14 on 3s.
Who's not? Junior forward Jason Love has struggled in the NCAAs. He had four fouls in just 16 minutes in Xavier's win over Wisconsin and didn't make a field goal. Love did last 26 minutes in Xavier's first game and scored eight points with two fouls in 26 minutes. But the onus is on Love to stay on the court to bang with the big boys from Pitt.
What does it mean for the program? Xavier continues to be one of the top 20 programs in the country. The Musketeers are to the Atlantic 10 what Memphis is to Conference USA and what Gonzaga is to the WCC. Xavier is now the team to beat every season in the A-10. Reaching the Sweet 16 for the third time since 2004 is a testament to the coaching of Thad Matta (who left Xavier for Ohio State in '04) and current coach Sean Miller. Getting to the Elite Eight with a win over Pitt would be quite a feat, considering this squad was never projected to be within 40 minutes of the Final Four this season.
Drama factor so far? There were anxious moments against the Badgers as the Musketeers trailed at the half. But the Musketeers outscored Wisconsin 24-12 over the final nine minutes to roll to a comfortable win.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Villanova, Thursday, 9:57 p.m. ET
No. 2 Duke
How did the Blue Devils get here? Well, it was quite impressive. Duke dismantled Binghamton in the first round by 24 points.
Then the Blue Devils went back and forth with Texas before grinding out a 74-69 victory in Greensboro, N.C. Duke was physical with the Longhorns and answered every time Texas tried to take over the game.
The Blue Devils have found ways to win games in the past month, making the right plays at the right times in the last few weeks of the regular season (save for their loss at North Carolina) and in the ACC tournament, especially in a one-point quarterfinal win over Boston College.
Who's hot? Duke junior guard Gerald Henderson continues to rise in the big games. Henderson scored 24 points, made 10-of-13 free throws and grabbed six boards in the win over Texas. Henderson, along with Kyle Singler, is making defending the Blue Devils a difficult proposition from this point forward.
Who's not? So far, it's the center position for the Blue Devils. Texas is much more physical up front than Villanova, but not more so than Pitt. The Blue Devils need more from Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek to get to Detroit. Thomas fouled out against Texas while Zoubek had four fouls.
What does it mean for the program? Duke doesn't need to do much of anything anymore. The Blue Devils aren't losing their luster as one of the most polarizing teams in the country. Duke's expectations are higher than most any other program, but the Blue Devils couldn't get out of the first weekend the past two seasons. Reaching the Sweet 16 seems to have put them back in their place among March's elite.
Drama factor so far? The Texas game had its share, coming down to the final few possessions. Duke should expect this type of affair the rest of the way if it's going to get to Detroit.
No. 3 Villanova
How did the Wildcats get here? They didn't have to travel far. Villanova was the only team in the bracket to play on one of its satellite home courts. Nova didn't look too comfortable in the opener, struggling for most of the first 30 minutes against American before pulling away for a 13-point win.
The second round, shockingly, was less competitive as Villanova ran away from UCLA from the opening tip and won by 20 points. The Wildcats were hard to figure early in the season and lacked a marquee win until nearly February. But the Cats served notice that they were ready to be taken seriously when they closed out the famed Spectrum on Jan. 28 with a win over Pitt. Outside of being blitzed at West Virginia, the Wildcats have looked the part of a potential Final Four team.
Who's hot? Senior forward Dante Cunningham. Coach Jay Wright said late in the season that Cunningham should be considered for Big East Player of the Year, and he scored 25 in the first game and then 18 points to go along with 10 boards in the second-round win over UCLA.
Who's not? This isn't easy, because Villanova looked so good against the Bruins. But senior wing Dwayne Anderson didn't shoot well in that game, going 0-of-4 on 3s, making just 4 of 14 shots. But Anderson still managed a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.
What does this mean for the program? Villanova continues to prove that it can survive in this football-driven world without big-time football in the Big East (like Georgetown and Marquette). The Wildcats are in their fourth Sweet 16 since 2005. Wright has one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming to the Main Line next season, so the trend should continue.
Drama factor so far? American led by 10 at the half and by four with 8:33 remaining. There was plenty of drama in the Wachovia Center in the first round to make up for the void of angst in Round 2.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (INDIANAPOLIS)
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 12 Arizona, Friday, 7:07 p.m. ET
No. 1 Louisville
How did the Cardinals get here? Pitt has made its own life difficult, but Louisville isn't far behind for 1-seed angst. The Cardinals did beat Morehead State by 20 in the first round, but the Cards were ahead by just a deuce at the half. Siena did all it could to push the Cards in the second round. The Saints led by four at one point in the second half, after trailing by a dozen earlier. Siena pushed the Cards down to the final few possessions before succumbing to Terrence Williams (24 points, 15 boards) and the Cards, who won by seven.
Who's hot? Williams. He scored, rebounded and led the Cardinals to the win over the Saints. The Big East Player of the Year award was split between UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Pitt's DeJuan Blair. If the league was going to go that far, it should've just carved up a third trophy and handed one to Williams.
What does this mean for the program? All it does is continue to show how Rick Pitino turned Louisville into one of the elite programs in the country, which we first started seeing evidence of with that 2005 Final Four appearance. The top-seeded Cardinals, winners of the Big East regular-season and tourney titles, are one win away from a second straight Elite Eight, making Louisville the dominant program in the Kentuckiana region, not just the Commonwealth.
Drama factor so far? The Cards provided plenty for a half against Morehead and kept their fan base anxious throughout the Siena game. Louisville isn't getting far without sweating. That trend probably will continue later this week.
No. 12 Arizona
How did the Wildcats get here? Arizona slipped into the Dance as one of the last teams in the field. But the Wildcats had four of the best wins of any at-large team with victories over Gonzaga, Kansas, UCLA and Washington. So the run to the Sweet 16 shouldn't come as a shock. The bracket did open up for Arizona, which might've been under-seeded to start with (along with first-round opponent Utah being over-seeded).
Arizona was the dominant team in the win over the Utes by 13. Arizona then caught a break when Wake Forest flamed out in the first round and was crushed by upstart Cleveland State. The Vikings may have been gassed as they were overwhelmed late by the Wildcats in Arizona's 71-57 win.
Now comes the hard part. Of the previous 16 12-seeds to make the Sweet 16 since the tourney expanded in 1985, exactly one has advanced to the Elite Eight. In 2002, Missouri defeated 8-seed UCLA in the Sweet 16 and eventually lost to Oklahoma in the regional final. Every other 12-seed has had to face a No. 1 in the Sweet 16, and that will be the case again with Zona preparing for Louisville. Those 12s are 0-15 against the top-seeded teams.
Who's hot? Point guard Nic Wise, the least-heralded of the Wildcats' big three, is on a tear (Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger are the other two). Wise scored 29 points and made all seven free throws in the win over Utah, and then scored 21, converting all 10 free throws, in the win over Cleveland State.
Who's not? The bench hasn't produced much for the Wildcats. If Arizona is going to beat Louisville, it will come from the first five. The total bench time on Sunday was 18 minutes, and the three players -- Fendi Onobun, Zane Johnson and Brendon Lavender -- had a combined two points and one board.
What does this mean for the program? Arizona will take a major hit with the likely departures of Hill and Budinger to the NBA draft. But these players and interim coach Russ Pennell and his staff are serving up a program that proves its excellence on the court when pressed. It's hard to find a more unique situation, in which a program could conceivably make the Final Four and then be completely rebuilt by a new coach six months later.
Drama factor so far? Shockingly, with what has transpired at Zona the past two seasons, there has been little drama in this tournament for the Cats. Arizona has been remarkably vanilla in winning handily. That's the complete opposite of the Tucson-based soap opera of the past couple of years.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Kansas, Friday, 9:37 p.m. ET
No. 2 Michigan State
How did the Spartans get here? Michigan State blew past Robert Morris by 15 in the second half and then had a grinder of a game against USC in the second round, prevailing by five. The Spartans played one of the hottest teams in the field in the Trojans, who won the Pac-10 tournament to earn a berth and then ran away from Boston College in the second half of the first round. MSU did a phenomenal job on USC's Taj Gibson, who made all 10 shots he attempted against the Eagles. Gibson was limited to three points, no rebounds and five blocks in 23 foul-plagued minutes.
Who's hot? Few players have had a tournament turnaround as fast as senior guard Travis Walton. Walton didn't score in 21 minutes and committed four fouls in the first-round win over Robert Morris. He followed that up with 18 points (two fouls) and made 8 of 13 shots in the win over USC.
Who's not? Goran Suton did get 10 boards against USC, but he was 1-of-10 from the field. Remember, Suton is a post player, and missing nine shots won't bode well against KU's Cole Aldrich. Suton did grab 17 boards in the win over RMU, but he needs to be more offensive to balance his and the Spartans' game.
What does this mean for the program? Izzo continues to prove that Michigan State is one of the top five programs in the country under his leadership. MSU has a legitimate chance to get to Detroit and play essentially at home, something that hasn't been done since Duke played in the 1994 title game against Arkansas in Charlotte, N.C. The Spartans are also trying to keep this stat alive: Every player who has stayed for four years under Izzo has gotten to play in at least one Final Four. Pick up two wins in Indy, and that trend continues.
Drama factor so far? There was plenty in the final minutes against USC on Sunday. The Spartans were only one possession ahead in the final minute.
No. 3 Kansas
How did the Jayhawks get here? KU took down one of the feel-good stories when it beat first-time NCAA tournament participant North Dakota State by 10. Shockingly, that game was closer than the Jayhawks' second-round, 17-point win over Dayton.
Who's hot? Cole Aldrich put up a triple-double in the win over Dayton with 13 points, 20 boards and 10 blocks. He has turned himself into a pro over the past year by working on all aspects of his game. Aldrich was just as monstrous in the middle against the Bison, with 23 points and 13 boards. He was productive when the Jayhawks last played Michigan State, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 boards in a 13-point loss in East Lansing in early January. He'll need to put up a double-double again for the Jayhawks to win on Friday.
Who's not? Brady Morningstar didn't give KU much alongside Sherron Collins' 25 points on Sunday. Morningstar whiffed on all four 3s, didn't score and had three turnovers in 32 minutes against the Flyers.
What does this mean for the program? Kansas doesn't have to prove anything. The Jayhawks are one of the top five programs in the country. But getting to the Sweet 16 after losing all but two key players from a title team just enhances Self's credibility even more in the recruiting world and in the psyche of all KU fans. They have a true winner in Self, a front-runner for national coach of the year after retooling the Jayhawks so fast.
Drama factor so far? There was some during the first game. NDSU's Ben Woodside put up 37 on KU, and the Bison were always within a few possessions of making this game really tight down the stretch.
SOUTH REGIONAL (MEMPHIS, TENN.)
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Syracuse, Friday, 7:27 p.m. ET
No. 2 Oklahoma
How did the Sooners get here? Oklahoma outclassed Morgan State in the opener, winning by 28 and then holding off a gritty Michigan by 10 in the second round.
Oklahoma played some of its best stretches of basketball in Kansas City for the first time since national player of the year favorite Blake Griffin returned from a concussion suffered in late February. The Sooners looked the part of a potential national title team in stretches of the two games at the Sprint Center. They had the requisite balance needed to feel confident they can advance.
Who's hot? Griffin. The Big 12 has been on quite a run of late, with Texas' Kevin Durant and Kansas State's Michael Beasley as featured tourney players in consecutive seasons. But neither reached the Sweet 16. It would have been a shame if Griffin was out before the second weekend of the tournament. He has a shot to be in uniform when the awards are given out at the Final Four. Griffin poured in 33 points and grabbed 17 boards in the win over Michigan.
Who's not? Tony Crocker's offense hasn't clicked despite doing an outstanding job on Michigan's Manny Harris (3-of-9) defensively. Crocker was 0-of-4 on 3s and got his four points from the line in the win over the Wolverines.
What does this mean for the program? Oklahoma has a rich history in hoops and Jeff Capel has the look of a coach who isn't going to fade away, assuming he stays in Norman. But this is easily the best chance the Sooners have of winning the title since they were in the 1988 title game under Billy Tubbs. OU had to at least get to the Sweet 16 with Griffin still in the lineup.
Drama factor so far? There was some in the Michigan game as the Wolverines trailed by only one point at the half. OU started to click midway through the second half as it stretched a five-point lead with five minutes left into a seven- and then nine- and then 12-point lead over a four-minute period. The drama was when Morgan State's Ameer Ali flipped Griffin in the first round. Griffin's acrobatic move to land on his tailbone and not his neck was the most angst-ridden moment for this squad and its fan base.
No. 3 Syracuse
How did the Orange get here? Syracuse was supposed to be the tired team after seven overtimes in the Big East tournament, right?
Well, not quite. The Orange have been as impressive as any team in the Sweet 16 field. Syracuse ran away from Stephen F. Austin by 15 in the first round and then pushed out in front of Arizona State on Sunday to win by 11. Syracuse certainly had the look of a title contender with its run to the Big East championship game. So far, the Orange haven't done a thing to suggest they can't contend all the way to Detroit.
Who's hot? Flynn is playing the best basketball of any point guard in the tournament. In fact, he's probably been the top point guard over the past three weeks.
Flynn dished out seven assists and had only two turnovers in the win over the Sun Devils. He scored 11 points and made all four of his free throws. Defending Flynn will be quite a chore for the Sooners as he makes his way into the lane to create shots for Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins on the wing -- and also drops dimes for Paul Harris and friends on the break.
Who's not? Well, it's more a matter of what's not with this group -- and the answer is depth. The Orange played essentially six players in the win over the Sun Devils, with Rautins logging 34 minutes off the bench. Kristof Ongenaet did get 10 minutes of time and five boards. The Orange may need his fouls and production to help keep the Griffins, Blake and Taylor, off the glass in the Sweet 16. Foul trouble for Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson could be a major factor as to whether the Orange can beat OU.
What does this mean for the program? Syracuse missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. Don't think for a second that didn't bother the coaching staff and the fan base. Getting to the Big East tournament title game was quite an accomplishment after winning the historic six-overtime quarterfinal game against Connecticut. But reaching the Sweet 16 puts the Orange back on the national map when the calendar hits late March.
Drama factor so far? Do we really need more drama from the Orange? Didn't they fulfill their quota during the Big East tournament? Syracuse hasn't had much to sweat in the final minutes so far in this event.
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Gonzaga, Friday, 9:57 p.m. ET
No. 1 North Carolina
How did the Tar Heels get here? North Carolina whacked Radford 101-58 in the first round and then had a legitimate scare from LSU in the second before pulling away with a 14-point win.
The win over the Tigers was significant for a number of reasons. The Tar Heels got Ty Lawson back for the game, were able to come back after losing a lead, and showed the ability to deliver a knockout punch. North Carolina had done that before this season, but being able to do it again in the NCAAs tells a different story.
The one question for the Tar Heels coming into the tournament was whether Lawson would play, and if he did, how effective he would be after missing two ACC tournament games. He sat out the first-round game and then dominated the ball in the second. The quest for the title can now go on without an asterisk regarding Lawson's availability.
Who's hot? Lawson and Wayne Ellington have the scorching hands at this juncture. Lawson scored 23 points with six assists and no turnovers while Ellington made 9 of 16 shots, 3-of-6 from 3 and dished out four assists en route to 23 points against the Tigers.
Who's not? Deon Thompson's minutes are dropping, but that's not a bad thing when Ed Davis comes off the bench for 25 minutes, makes 4 of 6 shots, grabs seven boards and scores nine points. Thompson played only 15 minutes and made all three of his shots, but had only one board in the win over the Tigers.
What does this mean for the program? The Tar Heels expect to be in the Sweet 16 every season. This team is projected to win the title. So reaching Memphis is just another stop on the tour to Detroit. The Tar Heels continue to be one of the standards in the sport, and reaching yet another Sweet 16 is another example of their excellence.
Drama factor so far? There has been plenty, with Lawson's toe and the Tigers' providing a good scare for the Tar Heels, who trailed by five points midway through the second half. The talk of the toe should die down, but the drama may not with a difficult bracket still ahead in Memphis.
No. 4 Gonzaga
How did the Bulldogs get here? No team reached the Sweet 16 with as much flair as the Zags. Demetri Goodson finished off Western Kentucky with a layup in the final second to beat the Hilltoppers 83-81 in Portland.
Goodson's bucket was the play of the tournament so far, and the Zags have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since a tough loss to UCLA in Oakland back in 2006. Gonzaga's 13-point win over Akron was no walk, either. The Zags trailed by three at the half and had to gut out the first 12 minutes of the second half before pulling away.
Who's hot? The easy answer is Goodson, but that was only one of his two buckets. The consistent players have been Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo. The starting backcourt combined to make 13 of 26 shots and 6-of-11 from 3 for 38 points in the win over Western Kentucky. If the Zags are to have any chance of upsetting North Carolina, they need this pair to make perimeter shots.
Who's not? Austin Daye is still a difficult matchup and the Zags could use a bust-out game from him. Daye got into foul trouble against the Hilltoppers (four) and had four turnovers to go along with 4-of-9 shooting (1-of-2 from 3). Daye scored only 10 points in the win over Akron and had just seven in the win over Saint Mary's to claim the WCC title. Daye had one breakout game (28 against Santa Clara) in the past month, and he has registered five single-digit scoring games in the past 12 outings.
What does this mean for the program? The Zags have their best shot to get to the Final Four since the 2006 Adam Morrison team. That may sound ridiculous considering that was just three seasons ago. But these Zags are deeper and more balanced than that squad. And getting to the Sweet 16 is yet another validation of their place as a national program.
Drama factor so far? The Zags own this department with the Goodson bucket to beat the Hilltoppers. That is the highlight of the tourney so far.
WEST REGIONAL (GLENDALE, ARIZ.)
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Purdue, Thursday, 7:07 p.m. ET
No. 1 Connecticut
How did the Huskies get here? UConn has been the most dominating team in the field so far.
If you were going to reseed the event, the Huskies would be your new overall No. 1. Hard to argue the point after UConn trashed Chattanooga by a count of 103-47 in the first round and then toyed with Texas A&M in the second to win 92-66.
The Huskies lost a brutal six-overtime game to Syracuse in the Big East quarterfinals. That was the fourth straight season the Huskies couldn't get a Big East tournament win.
Only seniors Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie had ever won an NCAA tournament game, and that was during their freshman season, when the Huskies eventually lost to George Mason in the 2006 Elite Eight. So sweeping through the first two rounds proves that the Huskies, even without Jerome Dyson, are the favorite to win the title.
Who's hot? A.J. Price is torching the competition. A year ago, Price tore his ACL in UConn's first-round loss to San Diego. This season he's making up for that early exit. Price scored 20 points, including five 3s, in the first-round win over Chattanooga. He poured in 27 points and made 4-of-7 from 3 in the second-round win over Texas A&M. If Price can continue that torrid pace, he would be a tourney MVP candidate.
Who's not? Hasheem Thabeet was a nonfactor offensively against the Aggies. The Huskies relied heavily on Adrien (23 points) inside. Thabeet took just two shots, made one and converted four free throws for six points. Thabeet did dominate overmatched Chattanooga with 20 points and 13 boards, but he'll need to be more assertive offensively against Purdue.
What does this mean for the program? UConn doesn't have to prove itself nationally, but this group of players was about to leave Storrs empty if it couldn't win in the postseason. There is a rich tradition of champions under Jim Calhoun, and the NBA-draft laden 2006 team doesn't seem to have the same cachet here after losing to Mason. This year's squad has certainly been consistent but still had to prove it could produce in March. The six-overtime loss was deflating, but getting to the Sweet 16 should lift the weight off their backs as they focus on reaching the Final Four.
Drama factor so far? None of it has been on the court. The only drama was about Calhoun's health. He was dehydrated and hospitalized in Philadelphia for a night and missed the first-round game, but returned for the dismantling of the Aggies.
No. 5 Purdue
How did the Boilermakers get here? In typical Purdue fashion, the Boilermakers were grinders in two solid wins over Missouri Valley champ Northern Iowa by five points and then the Pac-10 outright champ Washington by two.
Purdue easily could have lost both of those games but didn't wilt when things got tight. If Purdue had remained healthy throughout the season and not dealt with a back injury to Robbie Hummel, a broken nose for Chris Kramer or a concussion for Lewis Jackson, then the Boilermakers likely would have finished closer than four games back of Michigan State in the Big Ten -- and consequently wouldn't have been a 5-seed.
Who's hot? JaJuan Johnson has been scorching all season long and the NCAA tournament is no exception. Johnson scored 22 points, grabbed six boards and converted 4 of 5 free throws in the win over Washington. He poured in an efficient 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first-round win over Northern Iowa. Johnson averaged 13.4 points and 5.6 boards for the Boilermakers throughout their injury-riddled season.
Who's not? Maybe it's not fair to pick on Hummel since he's still dealing with a back injury, though he did have a rough go offensively against the Huskies. Washington can be physical with Jon Brockman up front, and the Huskies' quickness is hard to match. But Hummel went just 2-of-7 in the game. He'll likely have to be more effective if the Boilermakers are going to pull off the upset against the Huskies.
What does this mean for the program? Purdue under Matt Painter has meant a return to the successful late-'90s runs under Gene Keady when the Boilermakers went to the Sweet 16 from 1998 to 2000. Painter has put Purdue in the upper echelon of the Big Ten in a short time.
Drama factor so far? Portland and Dayton were the pods to envy over the weekend. Purdue's win over Washington wasn't as dramatic as Siena's over Ohio State, but it served as quite an undercard to the nightcap of Gonzaga-Western Kentucky. If Purdue has more drama in the Sweet 16, it could mean the Boilermakers are pulling off a major upset by beating UConn.
No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 3 Missouri, Thursday, 9:37 p.m. ET
No. 2 Memphis
How did the Tigers get here? Memphis came out flat in the first round and had the most trouble of any No. 2 seed. Cal State-Northridge was the aggressor and delivered the first punch to the Tigers. Memphis would have been out if it hadn't been for Roburt Sallie's career-high 35-point game, a Memphis NCAA tournament record (which snapped a mark set by Larry Kenon in 1973). Sallie made 10 3-pointers in the game. The rest of the team made just one.
Memphis then spent the next 24 hours figuring out how to get back to being a dribble-drive-motion team by focusing on Tyreke Evans penetrating to open up the floor. He did, and the shots came for Sallie, Doneal Mack, Robert Dozier, Willie Kemp, Shawn Taggart and Evans. All made key buckets in blowing out Maryland in the second round by 19.
Memphis is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season, the only program in the nation that can make that claim. The Tigers have been to three Elite Eights and the national title game. Dozier and Antonio Anderson, the two senior starters, think getting to the Elite Eight is what is expected, with the Final Four being the ultimate goal. So far the Tigers are on track to continue the remarkable run under John Calipari.
Who's hot? It's hard to ignore Sallie here. Sallie was averaging 4.5 points a game prior to the Northridge performance, and he had nine scoreless games this season. Sallie scored 13 points in the win over Maryland, including three from 3. Sallie didn't start either game and Calipari is probably more inclined to keep it that way after Mack found his stroke by staying in the starting lineup. Mack was 0-for-5 on 3s in the Northridge game, but then made 5-of-7 against the Terps.
Who's not? Wesley Witherspoon is struggling to find his footing during the tournament. Calipari said he's the one player he still needs to get going. Witherspoon played just seven minutes in the win over Maryland and didn't make a field goal. He didn't score against Northridge nor against Tulsa in the Conference USA title game. The last time he produced was when he put up 10 against Houston in the C-USA semifinals.
What does this mean for the program? Reaching the Sweet 16 gives the Memphis seniors 13 NCAA tournament wins in four seasons. That's quite an accomplishment and proves the Tigers are one of the elite programs in the country. The numbers are too daunting to challenge that claim.
Drama factor so far? The Tigers provided plenty in Round 1. Northridge led by six with 10 minutes left and had the Tigers scrambling before they went on a big run to close out the game.
No. 3 Missouri
How did the Tigers get here? Missouri won the Big 12 tournament title and, like Syracuse, was a dangerous No. 3 seed entering the field. Mizzou had to put away pesky Cornell in the first round in Boise and then squeaked out a four-point win over Marquette in the second round Sunday.
The Tigers' 83-79 victory over the Golden Eagles turned out to be one of the best games of the day. Marquette held a four-point lead at 78-74 with 1:50 left in the game. But Missouri went to one of its go-to players in Leo Lyons, who converted a three-point play. Then the Tigers got four free throws from Kim English and Lyons to win the game.
Who's hot? Lyons scored 18 points and made the key three-point play to help stave off the Golden Eagles. In the opener against Cornell, Lyons put up 23 points and 10 boards. He and DeMarre Carroll have been the most consistent Tigers throughout the season.
Who's not? Guard Zaire Taylor had a bit of a rough game, which isn't unexpected considering he was going against some of the best guards in the country vs. Marquette. Taylor had four fouls, was just 2-of-7 and scored four points. Taylor has had his moments, like scoring 19 in a win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. He'll have to be prepared to defend the drives of Memphis and get out on the shooters, too.
What does this mean for the program? This is the first Sweet 16 since 2002 at Mizzou. The question of whether Mike Anderson's fastest 40 minutes in basketball could work in the Big 12 is moot. The only issue now is how long the Tigers will hold on to Anderson since other schools are bound to be interested in his services. He has a good thing going at Mizzou with a unique style that is causing problems for others in the Big 12. Reaching the Sweet 16 is a feat that should give Anderson plenty of leverage.
Drama factor so far? The Marquette game was one of the best on Sunday and the Tigers handled it with poise. The Golden Eagles, not the Tigers, committed a key turnover on an inbounds pass. The Tigers were the team that made free throws late to ice the game. That could prove critical if they're going to upset Memphis in Glendale.
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