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MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City, MO) (all times Eastern)
#7 MICHIGAN VS #3 OREGON (CBS, 7:09 PM). Michigan has been one of the bigger stories in college basketball. Since their plane failed to take off and went skidding down the runway, they’ve won the Big Ten Tournament and won two games in the NCAA Tournament which included beating Louisville in Indianapolis late last week after trailing by double digits. Oregon really sweated out Rhode Island and while they’re still a good team, they’re not quite the same without Chris Boucher. If Michigan can hit from the outside, then their dream of a postseason run isn’t likely to come to an end just yet.
#4 PURDUE VS #1 KANSAS (CBS, approx. 9:39 PM). Kansas has dealt with a ton of off the court issues and I keep waiting for it to derail the team. But it hasn’t happened yet. I’m now beginning to think that it won’t. They just keep winning and keep looking impressive. They didn’t have any trouble at all in their first two games, and although Purdue is better than both Michigan State and UC Davis, they still have to play in Kansas City. Still, they did manage to beat a red hot Iowa State team in their last game, so an upset isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.
WEST REGIONAL (San Jose, CA) (all times Eastern)
#4 WEST VIRGINIA VS #1 GONZAGA (TBS, 7:39 PM). Gonzaga ran out to a huge lead against Northwestern in their last game, but had to hold on for dear life down the stretch. Still, Gonzaga has been nothing but impressive all season long. The Saint Mary’s team that gave Arizona a scare was blown out by Gonzaga not once, not twice, but three times. Having said that, Gonzaga hasn’t really played a team that plays the pressure defense that West Virginia does, so it could be a real challenge for them. Handing the pressure and controlling the tempo will be key. It’s a really interesting match-up to say the least.
#11 XAVIER VS #2 ARIZONA. (TBS, approx 10:09 PM). Xavier was unspectacular from pretty much February until the start of the conference tournament, but since then they’ve beaten Butler (who is a protected seed), nearly beaten Creighton, and then blown past Maryland and Florida State in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Logic would indicate that they just don’t have what it takes to beat an Arizona team that was playing as well as any of the #1 seeds down the stretch, but given how strong Xavier has played in the last two weeks, I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Having said that, Arizona has looked rather impressive as well. They did win the Pac Twelve Tournament and beat both Oregon and UCLA along the way, who are also a pair of protected seeds. Another element of intrigue is that Sean Miller used to coach at Xavier, and Chris Mack was his top assistant.
-This isn’t too unusual, but no UTR teams made it out of the first weekend, and Gonzaga is the only non-Power 5/Big East team remaining. I LOVE the NCAA Tournament, and I love how each team builds its own storyline as they play their way through the tournament. Having said that, when we get down to the Sweet Sixteen, and even more so the Final Four, a part of me feels like I’m at the point of the concert where the band its playing their biggest hit. You love the song, but you also know the show is about to end.
It will also come as no surprise to those who follow the site when I say that the teams I find myself almost intrinsically attached to from year to year are the Under the Radar teams. Chad and I actually created the weekly Under the Radar podcast simply because we wanted to talk about those teams on at least a weekly basis throughout the season. We didn’t care if anyone watched or listened. In fact I don’t think we expected that anyone would (although we’ve since learned that people have been). So, when all those teams are gone, it feels like another part of the season is over despite how exciting everything is now. But, it’s not done entirely. The CIT Tournament has always been fun to watch, and John Stalica’s coverage of it has been great. We’ve seen Cal State Bakersfield advance deep into the NIT after holding on for a win against UT Arlington (who had a great season and could have made some noise in the NCAA Tournament had it not been for injuries). UCF is also deep in the NIT, and it’s been fun to watch them throughout the year. I’m as excited about the rest of the NIT and CIT (for different reasons) as I am about the rest of the NCAA Tournament.
But, the NCAA Tournament has been great. The viewership has been up, and there have been some great storylines, particularly Northwestern’s first appearance and how exciting (and strange) both of their games were, to Michigan’s improbable run of success since the airplane incident, to Xavier’s jar of ashes and how they’ve turned things around after a disappointing February, to Gonzaga who has been highly ranked all year and is still trying to reach their first ever Final Four, to South Carolina’s huge win over Duke for their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Field expanded to 64, to Kentucky’s exciting win over Wichita State, to UCLA’s explosive offense, to so many other stories. Enjoy it while you can!! As sad as I’ll be to see it end, I’m incredibly excited to see how it will end!