By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Surprises abound in the Sweet 16, and not all of them are pleasant.
Two days after Michigan State lost star point guard Kalin Lucas for the remainder of the tournament, West Virginia learned Tuesday that its own floor general, Truck Bryant, has a broken foot and also will be unable the rest of the way. I think Lucas' absence hurts the Spartans more than Bryant's hurts WVU.
But getting back to surprises, Cornell and Northern Iowa are hogging all the headlines. Let us not forget, however, about Omar Samhan and St. Mary's. Sure more unpredictable outcomes are on tap; about the only thing that won't surprise us this weekend will be that Miller Lite will show us the ad with Buster the dumb dog 15 times. Here's a preview:
+ EAST REGION: Cornell Cute, But Big Red Will Be Feeling Blue
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What The First Weekend Taught Us
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What Day 2 Taught Us
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What Day 1 Taught Us
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball
+ EAST -- Everybody wants to pick Cornell over Kentucky because a) if the Big Red does pull off the grand upset, they can say, "I predicted it. I'm really smart," and b) when UK wins, no one will really remember the idiots who picked Cornell. You've got brains vs. talent, experience vs. inexperience and discipline vs. the playground. Kentucky's youngsters haven't been bothered by the pressure of the single-elimination, high-stakes event. Cornell is good but Kentucky is better. UK wins and then slices past a West Virginia team that won't necessarily be troubled by Bryant's absence. The Mountaineers' real woes come from their inability to shoot the basketball, a large problem if they hope to beat a Kentucky team that averaged 95 points in its first two tournament games. UK advances to Indianapolis after a physical regional final.
+ SOUTH -- Purdue's grit has been impressive, but Duke is too versatile for the Boilermakers. The Devils are difficult to guard on the perimeter, and they're balanced on the blocks. Slow them down, speed them up, they can play either style and they can defend just as well. Duke beats Purdue and then meets Baylor, an easy winner over St. Mary's, in the regional final. The Baylor-St. Mary's game will be an excellent one, but the Bears will have a little too much firepower, even for Samhan and company. The Duke-Baylor final shall be a dandy, but the basketball gods gave Mike Krzyzewski a dangerous and balanced team this year, as well as a comfortable path to Indianapolis. Of course Duke will advance to meet Kentucky once again when the stakes are high.
+ WEST -- Syracuse, Syracuse, Syracuse. No offense to Kansas State or the Big 12, but the Orange are playing lights out and I don't believe Arinze Onuaku's return will disrupt any rhythm Jim Boeheim's bunch found in its first two tournament games. And those were some games, eh? The Orange won each time by more than 20 points, including a surprisingly easy blowout of Gonzaga in round two. Syracuse breezes by Butler and will take a large load of confidence into the regional final against KSU. I'm still not fully convinced about Frank Martin. His glare and his overall freakish nature are well documented, and I get the connection he has with his players. But the Elite Eight is the big kid's table, and Boeheim has sat here before. Many times. And Kansas State might be a little beaten up after a nasty regional semifinal against Xavier. KSU will barely beat the Muskies in a knock-down, drag-out brawl. I can't wait to watch that game. But Syracuse advances from the West.
+ MIDWEST -- Northern Iowa proves it's not a one-trick pony with a defeat of a battered Michigan State team. I don't think it will require a gimmick or a heroic late shot, either. The Panthers followed up their defeat of UNLV by staying focused enough to beat top overall seed Kansas in the tournament's biggest upset so far. UNI really controlled that game from start to finish, and although it got sloppy late, it had just enough in the tank and will do the same against the tournament savvy Tom Izzo and his proud Spartans. Ohio State worries me some. Many think the Buckeyes are a lock to come out of the Midwest, but Evan Turner could struggle against Tennessee in a regional semifinal. The Vols will throw some athleticism his way, and since he's not a natural point guard, ET might struggle again with turnover problems. Perimeter assassin Jon Diebler will once again need to hit six or seven threes to keep UT's defense away from Turner some. I think Diebler will do it, and OSU will get a stronger fight in this round than against UNI in the regional final. Ohio State advances to face Syracuse in the Final Four.