1. Ohio State’s quest for dominance: College basketball has been decidedly mediocre as a whole this season, with no real difference between most of the teams in the top 25. But all year, Ohio State has seemed to be on a different plane. Its two losses during the regular season were both on the road, against ranked teams in the Top 15. And now in the tournament, as Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, etc have struggled at times in their games, the Buckeyes have rolled and looked absolutely dominant. Now however they are rewarded only with the two winningest programs in college basketball history, Kentucky and North Carolina. Win those two in a convincing manner and they will be cutting the nets down in Houston.
2. The era of Jorts in full effect: The most improved player in college basketball is the lone senior on a program known for its freshman, who played 35 total minutes last season. Josh Harrellson is a fan favorite in Lexington, Kentucky, in part because of his Cinderella story and in part because of his unique personality. In addition to becoming a force on the glass down low, Harrellson has embraced the nickname “Jorts,” given to him because he famously wore jean shorts on his campus recruiting visit. The denim legend has a chance to enter UK lore if he can somehow slow down Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and make Kentucky so filled with jean shorts, that it looks like Gainesville on a Saturday college football afternoon.
3. Buzz Williams’s final audition: Coach Buzz Williams is absolutely focused on taking Marquette to another Final Four, and to do so, he will have to beat two of the North Carolina, Ohio State, Kentucky trio. But Williams will also be a hot commodity when the season ends, as he is likely to be pursued by all of the job openings left in college basketball. Marquette is not the most attractive BCS-level job and Williams will have the opportunity to jump ship if he so chooses. Either way, a number of college Athletic Directors will be watching his Golden Eagles play, waiting for a loss and a chance to call his cell phone for a quick inquiry.
4. Harrison Barnes lives up to the hype: Thanks in large part to the success of freshman John Wall last season, many in the national media felt the need to crown North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes national preseason player of the year before he had even played a game in Chapel Hill. Early in the year, Barnes did not live up the hype, causing some painful growth and verbal reprimands to the press by coach Roy Williams. But as the year has gone on, Barnes has hit his stride and looks an awful lot like the number one player in America he was coming out of high school. A run to the Final Four and the Harrison Barnes redemption story will be told far and wide, likely followed up with a top 5 pick this spring in the NBA Draft.
5. Duke goes for the repeat: Only two teams have gone back to back in the NCAA tournament in the last 35 years and both were considered some of the best in the history of college basketball. This year's Duke team has the chance to replicate the accomplishment, but do so in a different manner than the two prior winners. Both the 1992 Duke and 2007 Florida teams were dominant from start to finish, but this year's Duke team has been a notch below Ohio State and Kansas all season. They escaped against Michigan on Sunday and now are four games away from college basketball immortality...even if many of us aren't sure that they are all that good.
6. Arizona announces it is back: It hasn't been that long since Arizona was the dominant college basketball power on the west coast. But then came the rise of UCLA, the decline of the Lute Olson era, Kevin O'Neill and all of a sudden, Arizona basketball became somewhat of an afterthought. Well regardless of what happens in the Sweet 16 versus Duke, the Wildcats' program under Sean Miller has proven that it is once again a power. Derrick Williams has made some of the most athletic plays of the tournament and Arizona has won two hard-fought battles over Memphis and Texas. With a strong recruiting class coming next season, Arizona basketball is back regardless of if they beat Duke. but if they sneak up and knock out the Blue Devils, well Arizona will announce that it is a top ten program once again, this time to stay.
7. Kemba Walker's time: There isn't much left for Kemba Walker to accomplish at Connecticut. He has had an amazing season and his run in the Big East tournament ensures that he will be remembered forever around the Huskies' program. But he is two wins away from taking his UCONN team to a Final Four, completing a postseason that will have few equals in recent history. His ability to score and will wins at the end of games is unbelievable to watch and Walker now must do it as an underdog two more times to reach his ultimate goal. In a year where the stars have come out, Kemba still has the chance to be the biggest one yet, with two games in Anaheim to tell the tale.
8. Steve Fisher's redemption: Everyone thinks Steve Fisher is a bad coach. Regardless of his amazing tournament run to the title in 1989 and his time spent overseeing the Fab Five, the reality is that media and most college basketball fans think Fisher is synonymous with "good recruiter/bad coach." But San Diego State has had a tremendous season in a tough conference and now has a chance to prove its mettle versus arguably one of the two best players in the game (Kemba Walker) and the defending national champions (Duke) over the next five days. Win both of those games and Fisher may not quiet the critics, but they will have much less ammunition than they would prefer.
9. Learn about the Morris twins: Coming out of high school, most figured the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, to be super talented, but likely headed for a substantial amount of trouble during their time at Kansas. That opinion was bolstered by a stupid moment from Markieff, as he shot a BB gun out of a dorm window and ended up arrested on a battery charge. But since then, the Morris twins have gotten better on and off the basketball court and are the leaders of a Kansas team with a legitimate chance to win a title. Both players are forces on the glass and can score, making them not only a great brother tandem, but a matchup nightmare. In a relatively open bracket, it should be easy pickings for the brothers Morris.
10. Richmond tries to keep going: Every year a team comes from out of the first weekend as a big underdog, heads into the second weekend with lots of press and excitement, only to fall in their Sweet 16 game to a stronger opponent. Last year that team was Cornell from the Ivy League and this year it is the familiar NCAA tournament success story, the Richmond Spiders. Unlike past heroes of the little guy, Richmond is from a near-major conference (Atlantic 10) and counts some good athletes and one great player, Kevin Anderson. Richmond plays great defense and has the ability to beat anyone in the tournament...except perhaps Kansas, who creates matchup nightmares for the Spiders. This is the spot where teams like Richmond exit stage left. We shall see if the Spiders will follow the script.
11. Could VCU be great?: No team had a better first weekend than VCU. Who would have ever imagined that the Colonial team would put absolute smackdowns on USC, Georgetown and Purdue, all three in games that were never really all that close. VCU coach Shaka Smart has become the hottest name in the coaching community and our CBSSports.com writer Gregg Doyel suggested that they might be the most impressive team so far in the tournament. VCU plays a straightforward offensive style, in which every player can score and all on the court have a variety of skills. It makes them tough to prepare for in a given game and nearly impossible to defend when clicking. It is tough to see VCU coming out of this bracket and beating Kansas, but making the Elite Eight and giving the Jayhawks a good game? I would call it likely.
12. Florida State goes for respect: Every year there is one team like Florida State that makes the Sweet 16. Usually they are from a power conference, were average all year, often underachieving, and then they get the perfect draw and make a run to the tournament's second weekend. The Seminoles were blessed by getting to play the decidedly unathletic and overseeded, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and are now onto play America's new fascination, VCU. When healthy, Chris Singleton is the type of player that can lead FSU over anyone and there will be no team they will see that they can't match up with athletically. But FSU has always been a team that skeptics dismiss and Leonard Hamilton is a coach that usually brings out the eye rolls from those in the college basketball community. This weekend could change that.
13. Brad Stevens tries to do it again: Butler's move to the championship game last year was remarkable and a testament to the ability of Brad Stevens and a great group of Butler players, led by Gordon Hayward. But this Butler team's set of last-second wins last weekend may have even been more impressive. While Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are both playing well, there was a time this year that Butler was completely in turmoil, losing to lower level Horizon League teams and looking like a fragment of the team that was a half court shot from cutting down the nets. But Stevens never gave up, the team got better and now two one point wins have put the Bulldogs two victories from the Final Four. The Southeast bracket is wide open and there is no reason that Stevens cannot make magic again.
14. Jordan Taylor will impress: Jordan Taylor is a phenomenon to watch. While he plays on a painfully boring team that at times can suck the life out of any room it is in, he is an explosive scorer that also has the ability to get his teammates involved and control a game. Taylor will get overshadowed this weekend by Jimmer, Kemba and the rest, but he is as good a player as they are and at the top of his game, potentially a better NBA prospect. Wisconsin is prime to sneak in under the radar and make a trip to the Final Four, because they play great defense and are a style contrast for most teams. Bo Ryan can get it done with this group, but it will be Jordan Taylor who makes it happen.
15. Jimmer: He is the biggest star in college basketball and has become a sports figure so well known, that he can be called only by his first name. Jimmer Fredette draws the highest ratings of the NCAA tournament and is everyone's second favorite player in the nation. But what he doesn't have is a Final Four, an accomplishment that will make him an all-timer in the sport. Florida is a team that BYU beat last year and the Cougars might be favored against either Wisconsin or Butler. Jimmer can do it and if he does, he will become the Tim Tebow of college basketball. All it takes is two more wins.
16. The under-appreciated Gators: Florida is playing its best basketball of the season and is one of only a few teams left in the tournament that has a scoring threat at every position. This Florida team has generally been overlooked all season and was thought by most to be way overseeded in the No. 2 spot in the Southeast region. But the Gators played two great games in Tampa and come to New Orleans with the most open bracket in the field and are the odds-on favorite to advance. Billy Donovan is extremely overlooked as a coach...three national title games in 11 years and a chance to go to a fourth Final Four this year. Get that done and he has to be considered one of the five best coaches in the game, a group he is rarely placed into.
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