By Matt Murray
If ever there was a year to regroup after the first weekend, this is it. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to forget the first fifty games that have already happened, and re-examine the field as it stands, with the 16 teams left standing.
Before we discuss, here is what the remaining field looks like.
#1 Kentucky vs #4 Indiana
#3 Baylor vs #10 Xavier
#1 Michigan St. vs #4 Louisville
#3 Marquette vs #7 Florida
#1 Syracuse vs #4 Wisconsin
#6 Cincinnati vs #2 Ohio St
#1 North Carolina vs #13 Ohio
#11 NC State vs #2 Kansas
Amidst all the madness of the first four days, it was easy to feel a little bit like the tournament had imploded upon itself; that blue bloods had given way to Cinderellas and that while shocks are good for the tournament, some of this madness had somehow done us a disservice. But now, with four days to breath, it becomes a little bit more apparent that order will likely be restored. The only No. 1 seed playing anything less than a 4-seed is North Carolina, who will strike midnight on this year’s Cinderella, Ohio University, with relative ease (with or without Kendall Marshall).
Injuries: Injuries were also thought to potentially plague some of the tournaments heavy-hitters, yet the only squad that it seemed to really affect was Duke, who had been inconsistent all season long. More notable is the manner in which Syracuse, Indiana, and North Carolina have fought to overcome their injuries and have found a way to be one of the 16 teams left standing in the world of college basketball. However, this is a re-set and while these injuries have been overcome, they still could affect these squads as the competition ramps up. And to make matters worse, North Carolina has been faced with an in-tournament injury as Kendall Marshall broke a bone in his right hand this weekend. It’s important to note that Marshall is left-handed and finished out the win against Creighton, but his status is uncertain, and there’s no real way to spin an injury as a benefit, particularly, as Henson is still battling back from his own.
Biggest Surprise: Obviously there is no way to go with any team other than Ohio, although their advancement must be taken with a grain of salt. The Midwest bracket was by far the weakest and riddled with the most inconsistent teams, one of which was the up and down Wolverines, eliminated by Ohio in the first round. Then they faced a Big East rattled South Florida, which had already played Cal before upsetting Temple in the second round. Regardless, the Bobcats deserve all the credit in the world for securing two wins in the big dance. However, the fans in Athens shouldn’t be holding their breath, as even an injury-ridden Tar Heel team should beat them pretty handily.
Also in this conversation should be NC State, as their path has a been a bit more tumultuous, and while it’s hard to classify a power conference team as a Cinderella, they certainly are the lowest remaining seed that actually still threatens to do a little more damage. They’ll face a Kansas team that had to come back in dramatic fashion to advance, and the Jayhawks embody the theme of “inconsistency” that pervades the Midwest.
Most intriguing match-ups: At first glance, two of these Sweet 16 match-ups will catch the eye. The first is in the South region, as Kentucky gets the game they’ve been waiting for all season. Indiana handed the Wildcats their lone loss of the regular season, yet it took shooting 60% from behind the arc in Bloomington and a last second buzzer-beater to secure a one-point win at the buzzer. The Wildcats have had to live with that game in the back of their minds since December 10th, and now they’ve been handed an opportunity at redemption.
The other eye-catching matchup? The battle of Ohio. One of the tournaments most dangerous sleepers in the Cincinnati Bearcats, knocked off one of the East region favorites, the Florida State Seminoles last night. This set up a game that Bearcat fans having been chomping at the bit to see. Buckeye fans, however, probably aren’t quite as excited. Why? Well in the short-term, simply because the Bearcats are red-hot. Making a surprise run to the Big East title game, before losing to a slightly hotter Louisville team, but then picked up right where they left off when they hit the Big Dance.
But that’s not the only reason OSU isn’t quite as excited as UC. The truth of the matter is that OSU doesn’t really have anything to gain from the match-up. If they win, they were supposed to win. But if they lose, there’s a lot more at stake. Pride is one thing, but a much more tangible truth is the fact they could lose some recruits. UC appears to finally be over their rebuilding hump, as after a long absence from the dance, they’ve now made it two years in a row, and they’ve won at least one game in each of those years.
Ohio: So we’ve mentioned most of these teams individually, but the collective is what’s just as impressive. The state of Ohio got four teams into the field of 68, but what’s more is those four teams are undefeated thus far. Think back to January. There was a very real possibility that two of these teams were going to miss out on the tournament for the first time collectively in years, especially in the midst of their major brawl back in December. That’s right, Xavier and Cincinnati looked like they were about “zipped up” in the early months of 2012, yet both got hot when it mattered, and now the pair of Cincinnati teams make up 1/8th of the remaining field.
Feel like you have your bearings again? Well you have four days to orientate yourself before it implodes on you again next weekend. But in the meantime, good luck making sense of the madness. And I recommend getting some more red ink to mark up all the mistakes in your bracket…
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.