Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Men's tournament moves to Sweet 16

Instead of parlaying an historic day of upsets into a second weekend filled with small schools, the NCAA tournament now looks like a who’s-who of major college programs.

All but two of the 16 teams in the regional semifinals will be from power conferences. The lone exceptions are Xavier, which is hardly a stranger to this kind of run, and Ohio University, a big school with a small, but no longer unknown, basketball program.

According to STATS, this will be the first time since 2003 that 14 teams from the six major conferences have made the Sweet 16.

Among next week’s matchups:

—No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Indiana and No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 10 Xavier in the South; No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 4 Wisconsin in the East; No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Ohio and No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 11 North Carolina State in the Midwest; and No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Louisville and No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 7 Florida out West.

Take the two mid-majors out of that mix and you’re talking a combined 87 Final Four appearances and 31 national titles.

While two No. 2 seeds, Duke and Missouri, fell to 15s Lehigh and Norfolk State on a history-making second round Friday, all four No. 1s got through the first week safely — the first time that’s happened since 2009. A year before that, all four top-seeded teams made it to the Final Four for the only time.

Could happen again this year, though Carolina will have to overcome an injury to a key player to get there.

The Tar Heels defeated Creighton 87-73, but point guard Kendall Marshall broke his right (non-shooting) wrist.

“You can ask any question you want, but I just told you all we know,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said when announcing the injury. “We do not know anything else.”

Despite the dearth of small programs — such as the Butlers and VCUs and George Masons that have crashed the Final Four over the last decade — there will be a fair share of double-digit seeds and underdogs.

That list starts with No. 11 seed North Carolina State, the program that pretty much set the standard for March Madness upsets and gave us one of the most memorable moments in college sports: Coach Jim Valvano running around the floor at The Pit, looking for someone to hug after Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s air ball and put it in at the buzzer for an upset over powerhouse Houston.

That was in 1983. In 2012, the Wolfpack snuck in as one of the last teams on the bubble. On Sunday, they upset No. 3 Georgetown 66-63 to make it to the Midwest Regional, where they’ll play Kansas.

“We always talk about we have such great history at NC State, but it’s also time to build some new history,” coach Mark Gottfried said.

No. 10 Xavier comes from the Atlantic-10, the closest thing to a power conference without actually being one. This is the fourth Sweet 16 appearance in the last five years for the Musketeers, who made their biggest news this season with an ugly brawl against crosstown rival Cincinnati that led to suspensions and knocked the team out of whack.

“The only guys that know what we went through were the guys who were in the locker room,” coach Chris Mack said. “Some would say it’s self-inflicted, but I know we have great kids. And I’m really proud of them today.”

Then, of course, there’s Ohio — enrollment 17,000 but with a basketball program that has, well, basically nothing in common with that better-known behemoth about 75 miles away, Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are also still alive in the tournament, with a game against either Florida State or Cincinnati up next. But right now, the talk of the tournament — the biggest underdogs left — are the Bobcats.

“I do think our guys have a chip on their shoulder,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “I think our guys look forward to playing on the big stage against quality competition.”

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