|No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast continues a historic run to the Sweet 16 and will face No. 3 Florida Friday. (nytimes.com)|
It feels sweet to be a double-digit seed. Three of them have made it to the round of 16, including Florida Gulf Coast being the first No. 15 seed to ever reach this mark. We shouldn't be too surprised after watching upsets and parity all season long.
Now that 48 teams have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, title hopes seem a little brighter, but the opposition becomes more difficult. After four days of madness, here's where the four regions stand with 16 teams remaining.
Everyone said Oregon was better than a No. 12 seed and so far the Ducks have proven the theory correct. Oregon handled talented Oklahoma State and St. Louis teams with relative ease, but now the Ducks face the overall No. 1 seed. If there's a team that has made winning look easier than Oregon, it's Louisville. The Pac-12 has claimed it's been underrated all year. Knocking off a No. 1 seed will help its case but the Cardinals defense has been causing havoc for opposing offenses so far in March.
In the bottom half, a battle of powerhouse programs and Hall of Fame coaches can be found amongst the Cinderella finalists. No. 3 Michigan State and No. 2 Duke have been efficient so far this tournament, although Duke can't afford to get in the foul trouble it did Sunday night against Creighton. Izzo vs. Krzyzewski is a coaching battle worth watching any time and you know these two will have their teams prepared with almost a week to get ready.
This West region feels like it was created by ex-girlfriends and angry bosses that just want your bracket to fail. No. 2 Ohio State is the only 1-5 seed to reach the Sweet 16 and if a controversial charging call against Iowa State doesn't go in the Buckeyes favor, the West could be a complete shakeup. No. 9 Wichita State is a terrifying team to play in the NCAA Tournament because of their physicality, tenacious defense and ability to hit big shots when needed. The Shockers will face No. 13 La Salle, who would be the story of the tournament after being one of the last four teams in if it weren't for that team from Florida not named the Gators.
No. 6 Arizona, along with Oregon, continues to try and avenge the Pac-12's name and will now face the Buckeyes for a spot in the Elite 8. Ohio State came through in clutch situations against ISU, while Arizona has won both games by double figures. If this region has taught us anything thus far, it's that predicting its outcome is nearly impossible.
No. 1 Kansas against No. 4 Michigan is shaping up to be one of the best matchups of the tournament. Kansas gave one of its best and worst halves of the season in the same game against UNC Sunday, yet won the game more easily than the 70-58 score would suggest. Jeff Withey (16 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks) is the best defender in the country and completely takes away easy shot attempts in the paint. Kansas will have to limit turnovers against a fast-pace Wolverine team with tremendous guard play. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III will give the Jayhawk guards all they can handle and KU will need more from freshman standout Ben McLemore to advance.
Florida Gulf Coast has support from the majority of a country after a historic run being the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Yet many in its own state will not wish history to continue as now the Eagles must face the No. 3 Florida Gators in the round of 16. This FGCU team is athletic and extremely fun to watch and has more confidence than almost anyone; a deadly combination for opponents in the tourney. Florida will have its hands full as the Eagles bring momentum and the spotlight into Dallas to keep the dream allive.
The most predictable and chalk-filled of the regions, the East is the only region with the No. 1-4 seeds advancing to the second weekend. Yet it was not without its scares. No. 9 Temple had the advantage over No. 1 Indiana for most of the game before a 3-pointer by Victor Oladipo sealed it for the Hoosiers, and No. 2 Miami needed clutch free-throws to pull away from No. 7 Illinois.
No. 3 Marquette has only won nail-biters, becoming victorious against Butler in one of the best games of the tournament so far. Gritting out those tough wins has to give the Golden Eagles an advantage as they have proven their toughness and determination to execute in late-game situations. No. 4 Syracuse has yet to be fully tested, so it will be interesting to see how the Orange handle their first bit of adversity.
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