And just like that, the first flurry of NCAA Tournament games is nearly finished with the set of 16 teams who will be feeling Sweet nearly complete. Much of the Midwest region has been surprisingly unsurprising with the least shocking of all being Kentucky’s march to the second weekend. They survived another grinder, a common theme for the entire region, on Saturday against Cincinnati. The Bearcats stayed within striking distance for much of the game, but it never really felt like the ending was in question. I guess it shouldn’t be a total surprise that even with the seed difference a game would be close between two teams as physical and with the defensive mentality of these two teams. I’ve been wondering the second half of the year if Kentucky’s close games are a sign that they might not be as good as their undefeated record would indicate, or if it is them simply being bored against inferior competition. We didn’t find out the last few days, but we surely will starting next weekend.
At the time of this posting the Wildcats’ opponent has yet to be determined, with Maryland/West Virginia being one of the late tip-offs on Sunday night. Both teams were somewhat popular picks to be upset in the first round games so it’s a little surprising that both teams found their way to this match-up. It’s hard to see either of these teams being able to compete with Kentucky for 40 minutes even with almost a week to prepare.
The other side of the Midwest region had a little more intrigue. After escaping a nail-biter against Texas, Butler was unable to finish the deal against Notre Dame on Saturday. Notre Dame made the clutch plays that allowed them to advance to the Sweet 16 even though they shot only 6-20 on 3s, something that has become their calling card.
The team that will be trying to hold the Irish to a similar 3-point percentage next week? The Wichita State Shockers who nailed 10-20 from deep in upsetting the Kansas Jayhawks on Sunday. The Shockers’ guards/experience proved too much for a young, up-and-down Kansas team to handle. Wichita State has experienced a lot of winning the last three years and certainly doesn’t let the moment affect them. Their win Sunday sets up what should be an incredible game against Notre Dame. Both the Irish and Shockers have a relative lack of size, star guards, and can bury teams with a barrage of threes. With any luck it will give us a game that doesn’t require overtime for the teams to get to 60 points.
The more marquee Elite 8 game would probably be a Kentucky-Notre Dame match-up, since many people pegged them as one of the few teams who have a chance to end the Wildcats’ undefeated run. From my point of view, the Irish and Wichita State are both so even that they have an equal chance, or lack there-of, of beating Kentucky. Plus Wichita State would surely provide many more underdog and “David vs. Goliath” stories that the media would surely eat up. Regardless, many people will be rooting for Kentucky’s opponent from here on out, no matter who that happens to be.