Sweet 16: Top NCAA matchups, players and story lines
The NCAA Tournament’s first weekend closed with a flourish, a Sunday full of scintillating games after three days of good-not-always-great basketball.
That put the madness back in March and should carry over into a regional round filled with great matchups and big-name programs.
Here’s a rundown of the top games, players, coaches and interesting story lines for the Sweet 16:
UCLA vs. Kentucky, South Region; Friday, Memphis. Blue bloods in Bluff City. NBA draft picks everywhere. Rematch game . Coach Cal headed back to Memphis. Yeah, don’t miss this.
Gonzaga vs. West Virginia, West Region; Thursday, San Jose. A great contrast in styles between the smothering defense of the Mountaineers and the offensive firepower of the Zags.
Kansas vs. Purdue, Midwest Region; Thursday, Kansas City. The Jayhawks have all those athletes. The Boilermakers have Mr. Double-Double Caleb Swanigan . The game will be just down the road from Lawrence, so expect the Sprint Center to be rocking.
Xavier vs. Arizona, West Region; Thursday in San Jose. Wildcats coach Sean Miller against protege Chris Mack in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. We’ll take it.
Wisconsin vs. Florida, East Region; Friday, New York. The Duke-Villanova matchup everyone wanted didn’t materialize, but the Badgers and Gators will play some high-level basketball in the Garden.
Frank Mason III, Kansas. National player of the year frontrunner still playing like it in March.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA. Can dominate without scoring, hits big shots when his team needs them, too.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue. Practically carried the Boilermakers past Iowa State and into the Sweet 16 on his broad shoulders.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga. The player who makes the Zags go .
Dillon Brooks, Oregon. Clutch, does whatever it takes to win even if he’s not hitting shots.
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. SEC coaches voted him the player of the year over those future NBA players at Kentucky. There’s a reason.
Frank Martin, South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ unexpected run into the Sweet 16 means we get to see more screaming, stomping and death stares from the big man in the big suit.
Sean Miller, Arizona. Coaches with the intensity he played with at Pittsburgh, has yet to sweat through a shirt in this year’s tournament.
Bob Huggins, West Virginia. Huggy taught Martin a thing or two about sideline vitriol, spews venom with the best of them.
John Calipari, Kentucky. Coach Cal can recruit and he can shout, too.
Roy Williams, North Carolina. Don’t let that Southern charm fool you. Coach Roy is a dadgum competitor.
Josh Jackson, Kansas. Dynamic freshman makes the highlight reels multiple times a game, makes a great tandem with Mason.
Malik Monk, Kentucky. Can heat up in a hurry. Just ask North Carolina.
Allonzo Trier, Arizona. The Wildcats’ go-to player at crunch time.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Long, athletic, scores inside and out, carrying a big load with Joel Berry II fighting an ankle injury.
Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan. He’s been a big reason for the Wolverines’ story book postseason run.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. Hampered by injuries earlier this season, rounding back into form at just the right time.
1_ACC team left in the bracket after nine qualified.
3_Teams still in the bracket for the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.
4_Trips to the Sweet 16 for Baylor, all since 2010.
11_Seed of Xavier, highest left in the tournament.
17_Combined NCAA Tournament games for Wisconsin seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, most in the country.
46_Assists to 10 turnovers by UCLA so far in the NCAA Tournament, the best ratio in the field.
20,400_Twitter followers for Butler mascot Blue III , aka Trip.
MORE TO WATCH FOR
Here’s hoping Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown gets another shot to sing on national TV. His rendition of “One Shining Moment” should not be his last appearance.
If Florida senior guard Canyon Barry’s underhanded free-throw shooting style looks familiar — at least to you older readers — it’s the same style is father, Rick, used while becoming one of the NBA’s best all-time free-throw shooters.
UCLA coach Steve Alford was repeatedly asked about the Indiana job while in Sacramento. Expect that to continue for as long as the Bruins are in the bracket; Alford led the Hoosiers to a national title as a player and left as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Also expect plenty more proclamations from Lonzo Ball’s dad, LaVar. He’s already called his son better than Steph Curry and LeBron James, said he could have beaten Michael Jordan one on one back in the day and lashed out at anyone who has dared to criticize him, including Charles Barkley.