This year's NCAA Tournament, as in the past, has already featured a host of exciting games. Thus far, basketball fans have had the pleasure of witnessing shocking upsets and stellar individual performances. A good deal of hype surrounded this year's Duke squad, for instance, but Mercer defeated the Blue Devils in a tense round-of-64 matchup. Mercer, in turn, looked to have its eye on the glass slipper, but Tennessee convincingly beat them in the round of 32. Playing with a collective chip on their shoulders, the Dayton Flyers are the only team from Ohio remaining, as they upset Ohio State, and Harvard defeated Cincinatti. The Kentucky Wildcats managed to vanquish the well-coached Wichita State Shockers, the only undefeated team going into the tournament. With regard to individual performances, Michigan State's Adrien Payne scored 41 points in the team's round-64 matchup against Delaware, and Iowa State's DeAndre Kane willed his team to victory over North Carolina. Indeed, there has not been a dearth of excitement and energy in this year's NCAA Tournament.
As opposed to who's still in the Tournament, some of the most interesting storylines have to do with who's already out. This season's most eulogized freshmen—Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Tyler Ennis—are all done for the season. Syracuse, Ennis' squad, started the season off 25-0 before struggling down the stretch. Although the team had difficulty scoring the ball throughout the season, their failure to reach the Sweet 16 surprises many. Andrew Wiggins, who might become the first overall selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, only managed 4 points in Kansas' loss—an unfortunate way to end his collegiate career. Of course, the Wichita State Shockers' absence from the sweet 16 is noteworthy. Irrespective of their unblemished record coming into the Tournament, the Shockers advanced to last year's Final Four, and the key pieces from that squad returned this season. Given the single-elimination nature of the Tournament, these kinds of stories emerge each season, though they still come as a surprise for many fans.
If a host of March Madness storylines concern who's out, that does not mean that this year's Sweet 16 lacks noteworthy stories. Indeed, analysts continue to invoke the Tournament's new buzzword, parity, when discussing this year's field. The last decade of NCAA Tournaments has witnessed a paradigm-shifting accretion of talent throughout the nation, as Mid-Major schools continue to close the gap between them and the once-almighty schools from Major conferences. As such, this year's Sweet 16 features no clear-cut favourites, and expert statisticians inclined to wager money on a particular team will have a tough time. This year's Sweet 16, moreover, is freighted with storylines that transcend the action on the floor. For example, which brother's team—Archie Miller's Dayton Flyers or Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats—will advance farther in the Tournament? When in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville faceoff, who will vanquish whom? These kinds of stories add a good deal of gravitas to an already serious affair.
This list, then, looks at ten interesting storylines from this year’s Sweet 16. The following stories are noteworthy for manifold reasons, and will mean more to certain fans than others. The future’s opacity imbues these mini-narratives with excitement, as fans bide their time in anticipation, eagerly awaiting the lucidity of a final result. It should be noted that this list does not attempt to rank these storylines in order of importance; they are randomly numbered.
10 Michigan State Spartans
9 Stanford vs. Dayton
8 SEC Teams
7 Louisville vs. Kentucky
6 One-and-Dones versus Upperclassmen
5 University of Connecticut’s Rebirth
4 Mid-Major Successes
3 Brotherly Love—Archie/Sean Miller and Andrew/ Aaron Harrison
2 Michigan's Surprising Success
1 Rematch of 2006 Final: Florida vs. UCLA
A lot has happened since 2006, but Florida and UCLA are back in the Sweet 16, playing each other for the first time since 2011. The two teams memorably met in the Finals of the 2006 Tournament—a game that featured several future NBA players. This year, though, the Bruins are without their coach from 2006, Ben Howland, whom the administration fired before this season. Billy Donovan, who coached Florida to back-to-back championships from 2006-2007, is still the coach of the Florida Gators, a team glutted with talented upperclassmen. Florida has become a trendy pick to win it all, but UCLA is no pushover. This game should be an exciting one, and, if nothing else, it will remind fans and experts of those powerful teams from 2006.
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