Message to the whiners: Who cares if there is no Cinderella?
In fact, I'll take it a step further. It's a good thing there's no Cinderella! It means the best teams are still playing. Sure, Cleveland St. and Western Kentucky were fun stories, but they're just not the same quality as the teams we have left. Instead, we have a selection of truly outstanding matchups:
#1 Louisville vs. #12 Arizona: Don't let the seeding fool you. I was dead wrong about Arizona. They are for real. Perhaps it's my west coast bias that made me discount them. The Wildcats beat both Kansas and Gonzaga this year as well as UCLA. They also have two NBA players (Wise and Hill) and four players who hit 38% or more of their 3-point shots. I ignored my own rules when I originally discounted them. Absent that late 4-game losing streak, they were probably worthy of a 6 seed. And as for Louisville? They're very, very good. This should be an interesting game, but the Cardinals will be too much.
#3 Kansas vs. #2 Michigan St.: What's not to like about this matchup of traditional powers? Top coaches. Great talent on both sides. But I think this is clearly MSU's game to lose. They beat the Jayhawks by 13 at home in January. Kansas also has out of conference losses to Syracuse, UMass and Arizona. It'll be closer than it was in January, but the Spartans will move on.
#1 UConn vs. #5 Purdue: The Boilermakers are the only other party-crasher in the Sweet Sixteen. I'm still not a believer in Purdue. The lost 7 conference games in a Big 10 wrought with mediocrity. A bunch of good teams, but maybe only one great one (Michigan St.). UConn has silenced those that questioned their #1 seed by soundly thumping their first two opponents. I expect more of the same in the most lopsided game of the round.
#3 Missouri vs. #2 Memphis: You want a fun game to watch? This ought to be it. Missouri loves to press the tempo and extend the defense. It's what got them a lead over Marquette that was too much to overcome. After Memphis' slight scare in the first round, they played very well against Maryland. The Tigers have enough to give the Tigers a scare here, but the Tigers will end up winning. (I like Memphis in a close one.)
#1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Xavier: I'm not sure why, but my pick to win it all (Pittsburgh) has made the first two rounds very interesting. Xavier, on the other hand, had little trouble getting here, and they're probably better than most people give them credit for (wins over Memphis, Missouri and LSU this year). However, it's the Musketeers' bad losses down the stretch (Duquesne, Dayton, Charlotte, Richmond) that make me believe they won't have enough for the Panthers.
#3 Villanova vs. #2 Duke: Another fabulous matchup. If you're a college basketball fan, you're excited about this matchup. These are two very good teams with solid NCAA histories. This has all the makings of being the closest game in the round, and I think Nova will have too much for a Duke team that lacks athleticism (apart from Henderson).
#1 UNC vs. #4 Gonzaga: It's everyone's favorite little guy from the Pacific Northwest against the most talented team in college basketball. The Tarheels future in this tourney comes down to the health of Ty Lawson's toe. I don't think the Zags will be able to exploit this potential weakness, so expect UNC to move on.
#3 Syracuse vs. #2 Oklahoma: It's clearly my favorite game of the round, but that's because I'm an Orange fan. However, I think even a casual basketball fan will find this game interesting. It's a matchup of the tourney's best remaining guard (SU's Johnny Flynn) vs. the best remaining big man (OU's Blake Griffin). If Syracuse can neutralize Griffin and hold their own on the boards, they should have the firepower to eke out a win. At least that's what I'm hoping!