Can the Sweet 16 possibly live up to the excitement of the NCAA Tournament's opening weekend? Probably not, but here are the story lines to follow Thursday and Friday.
Can't-miss post matchup
Saint Mary's Omar Samhan vs. Baylor's Ekpe Udoh. Seems fitting that Samhan, the man who has been a matchup nightmare through the first two rounds, squares off with Udoh, the man whose nickname is The Nightmare. Samhan is averaging 30.5 points in the tournament, and he's missed only eight of 32 shots in leading the 10th-seeded Gaels into the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
The Baylor frontline, though, is much better than the Richmond and Villanova frontlines. Udoh was fifth in the country at 3.8 blocks per game, though he will give away at least 20 pounds to Samhan. That's where Josh Lomers, the Bears' massive 7-foot, 280 pound senior, will help defensively. Baylor also has 6-7 Quincy Acy and 6-10 Anthony Jones to help on the Gaels' big man.
The Bears might not stop Samhan, but they're much better equipped to slow him down.
Keep an eye on
Xavier's Jordan Crawford. Samhan has been the tournament darling so far, but Crawford has been just as good for a No. 6 seed Xavier squad that's in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. The Indiana transfer scored 28 in the opener against Minnesota and 27 in the second round against No. 3 seed Pittsburgh.
"Jordan is a great scorer," teammate Terrell Holloway said. "We're always comfortable out there on the court. Jordan is capable of going on 10-, 15-point runs (by himself)."
Kansas State, the Musketeers' opponent Thursday, has a couple of guards (Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen) who can score in bunches, too, which should make for an exciting game.
Shoot until you can't shoot anymore
A matter of motivation
At this point, we should probably stop talking about Robbie Hummel. Yes, the injury was awful for the hard-working player and, yes, the Boilermakers looked awful against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament without him on the court. But that was then, and now the Boilers are in the Sweet 16 after knocking off Siena and Texas A&M.
Purdue proved the naysayers wrong; it still is a very good team.
Motivation, part 2
The Volunteers were, to say the least, upset with receiving a No. 6 seed. They felt, after beating Kansas and Kentucky—the top two overall tournament seeds—during the season and losing just eight games (only 10 BCS schools lost fewer times) they deserved better. And they're probably right.
Tennessee beat San Diego State and Ohio to reach the Sweet 16, and now it really has a chance to show it deserved better. The Vols face No. 2 seed Ohio State, a team that, with Kansas' loss, is the clear favorite to reach the Final Four from the Midwest Region.
Don't rule out
Washington getting to the Elite Eight. For all the talk about overseeding and underseeding, it's pretty clear the selection committee gave the Huskies exactly the seed they deserved after an up-and-down season that led to the Pac-10 tournament title. The problem for No. 6 seed Marquette and No. 3 seed New Mexico, though, was the Huskies didn't play like a No. 11 seed.
The dream is still alive
And the Panthers' dream isn't just barely alive; they're facing a Michigan State team in the Sweet 16 that will be without point guard Kalin Lucas.
Northern Iowa established the tempo in its upset against Kansas and made huge shots down the stretch to fend off the Jayhawks. They'll look to do the same against the Spartans.
All part of the plan
When Cornell coach Steve Donahue added a game at Kansas to this season's schedule, he didn't do it just to show his guys what it was like to play in a high-pressure situation. He wanted to show them they could succeed in a high-pressure situation, which they did by taking the No. 1 ranked KU to the wire before losing. They won't be intimidated by Kentucky.
"The Kansas environment was a big step for us," Donahue said. "That was a huge game. I thought that was a great effort by our guys. I really felt good after that game, even though we lost, and in some ways—I was not happy we lost, but I thought it would be great motivation to get through our league, and if we got this opportunity to play these type of teams that we would be ready."
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
Purdue makes the plays
March 22, 2010: After battling the whole game, Purdue's Chris Kramer said it came down to just one final play that his team was able to convert against Texas A&M.
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