Going into the NCAAs, the Midwest was billed as the most loaded region. Now it's the most volatile one after three of the top four seeds didn't make it to Saint Louis. Throw in Michigan State advancing despite losing
Kansas-killer Northern Iowa is the darling of the regional, although the Panthers won't get to enjoy that underdog feeling in their Sweet 16 game. Vegas has them as just a 1.5-point underdog against the wounded Spartans, and that might be unfair given UNI's quality and Michigan State's small sample of unimpressive work when Lucas was out/hobbled in early February.
The Vols seemed like a hardened bunch in Providence. All business, no real jubilation, quotes from coach to bench players hitting the talking points of "team as a family." This is not a classic
Ohio State's Turner is the lone superstar left in a regional that's filled out with three other teams that fit into the "sum is greater than their parts" category. He will have the ball -- and the Buckeyes' fate -- squarely in his hands.
The winner will be favored over either Northern Iowa or Michigan State in the regional final, so this Sweet 16 matchup carries a lot of weight to go with the intrigue. As mentioned in the
There's no real blatant advantage here. All four teams are relatively regional and should be well represented. The Vols fans showed very well in Providence, although the bright orange made it easier to ID them in a sea of red and blue (Robert Morris, Richmond, Saint Mary's, etc).
The number of possessions projected by kenpom.com in the Northern Iowa-Michigan State game. For tempo-free newbies, that's a really slow game. The Spartans, without Lucas, may need to try to speed things up and steal some baskets in transition, but that's not easy at all against UNI. This game could be a complete grind, and the more it stays in the half court, the more it favors the Panthers.
With Turner, the Buckeyes have been the most consistently good team in this bracket over the course of the season. It won't be easy, as they'll have to deal with Tennessee's grinding style and then either the confidence of upstart Northern Iowa or the familiarity and contempt of league co-champ Michigan State, but taking the best team with the best player seems like the best bet.