Cinderella has left the Ball after dominating the NCAA Tournament opening. Those who remain in the field imposed their will, fought through adversity and seized victory. The names have changed but the schools left standing are comprised of the Blue Bloods of the hardwood. Fourteen of the 16 schools left have advanced to a Final Four in their history. Collectively, they have made a staggering 107 trips. Only Xavier and Gonzaga are working towards their maiden voyage.
In this Sweet 16 there is:
The top two candidates for the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns. All-time great college basketball guards: Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, Wichita’s Fred VanVleet and Arizona’s T.J. McConnell.
And the Coaching Legends of March: Hall of Fame coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Tom Izzo.
Coaching college basketball is much like a horse race. Some coaches struggle to get out of the gate and can never recover. Others can’t avoid interference. The good coach rides his colts like an experienced jockey, navigating each turn in each trial of the season to build endurance for this stretch run. It looks like Calipari has the mount on Secretariat.
Who can challenge Kentucky?
After winning a slugfest against Cincinnati, Kentucky faces another aggressive team in West Virginia. Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins is 8-2 lifetime over Calipari, including a victory in the Elite 8 in 2010. The physicality in the Midwest is by far the toughest of all regions
Kentucky will advance and likely battle another defensive minded team in Wichita State. The Shockers were 35-0 when Kentucky eliminated them last year with Aaron Harrsion’s game-ending dagger. The Shockers don’t have the frontcourt depth to match the ’Cats but what they do have is a toughness and resiliency of a pesky opponent. With Kentucky battling fatigue after a 40-minute track race with West Virginia and mounting pressure, a game Wichita State team with a score to settle is a real threat to the perfect season.
Lowest Seed To Advance
North Carolina State faces a Louisville team that it has beaten earlier this season in Louisville.
Offensively, NC State has developed a balanced attack with perimeter scorers and frontcourt contributors. The Wolfpack backcourt is playing at a high level.
Anthony “Cat” Barber gave Louisville all types of problems in their last meeting and now Barber is playing at an even higher level. Trevor Lacy is a prolific scorer and the go-to-guy in the stretch. Defensively, the Wolfpack have the frontcourt depth to rotate and wear down Montrezl Harrell. This game will be won on the glass. Look for the No. 9 seeded Wolfpack to advance.
Player to Watch in the Sweet 16
The best player in the NCAA Tournament that no one is talking about is T.J. McConnell of Arizona. The guy impacts the game in so many different ways. His on-ball defense is tremendous, his leadership is phenomenal. He’s a true facilitator and his biggest improvement, he’s a viable scorer. McConnell scored 19 against Ohio State, his sixth game in a row in double-digits.