By Cole Frederick/Staff Correspondent
NCAA Tournament Weekend 1 Review
Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament, and the conference represented itself very well during the first weekend of the tournament. Three teams – Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina – advanced to the Sweet 16, and the conference boasts a 7-2 record so far in the tournament.
No. 2 seed Kentucky defeated Northern Kentucky 79-70, in its opening round game, then and knocked off No. 10 seed Wichita State, 65-62. The Wildcats take on No. 3 UCLA in the Sweet 16 at Fed Ex Forum in Memphis in a rematch of game played earlier in the season. The Bruins defeated Kentucky, 97-92, at Rupp Arena in early December.
Florida is making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2014, when coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to the Final Four. Second-year Florida coach Mike White is now 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament, and his Gators dominated their first two tournament games.
In the opener, No. 4 seed Florida dismantled East Tennessee State, 80-65. The Gators followed up that win with a resounding 65-39 victory over No. 5 seed Virginia in the second round. Florida faces No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
South Carolina is making the most of its first tournament appearance in over a decade. The Gamecocks, who struggled on offense for most of the year, scored 93 points on Marquette as they defeated the Golden Eagles by 20 points in the opening round. Frank Martin’s team then proceeded to upset No. 2 seed Duke by a score of 88-81 in one of the most surprising upsets of the first round of the tournament. South Carolina advanced to take on No. 3 seed Baylor on Friday (March 24).
After defeating Seton Hall, 77-71, in its opening round game, Arkansas took on No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Hogs led 65-60 late in the second half, but the Tar Heels closed the game on a 12-0 run to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 72-65 win. Arkansas finished the year 26-10.
Vanderbilt’s season came to an end after a shocking final-minute loss to Northwestern. The Commodores took a 65-64 lead with 17 seconds left, but Vanderbilt guard Matthew Fisher-Davis committed an intentional foul that sent the Wildcats to the free throw line. Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh hit both free throws, and Vanderbilt’s season ended at 19-16.
NCAA Tournament Weekend 2 Preview
Only 16 teams remain in the quest for a national championship. In the South region, North Carolina takes on Butler, while Kentucky plays UCLA. In the East, Florida plays Wisconsin and South Carolina takes on Baylor. In the Midwest region, Kansas faces Purdue and Michigan plays Oregon. Finally, in the West, Gonzaga plays West Virginia, while Arizona takes on Xavier.
Three No. 1 seeds remain in Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga. Overall No. 1 seed Villanova was eliminated by Wisconsin. Talent-wise, Kansas is probably the favorite. The Jayhawks have stumbled in recent years as a favorite, however, and are susceptible to an upset somewhere along the way.
Kentucky has as much talent – and perhaps more talent – than any team in the country, but the Wildcats also have the toughest path to the championship. Both South Carolina and Florida have a shot to reach the Final Four and could square off against each other in the Elite Eight.
South region: No. 1 North Carolina over No. 4 Butler, No. 2 Kentucky over No. 3 UCLA, No. 2 Kentucky over No. 1 North Carolina
East region: No. 8 Wisconsin over No. 4 Florida, No. 3 Baylor over No. 7 South Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin over No. 3 Baylor
West region: No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 4 West Virginia, No. 2 Arizona over No. 11 Xavier, No. 2 Arizona over No. 1 Gonzaga
Midwest region: No. 1 Kansas over No. 4 Purdue, No. 7 Michigan over No. 3 Oregon, No. 1 Kansas over No. 7 Michigan