Complete Sweet 16 breakdown
No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Syracuse have looked dominant, will be tough to beat
Northern Iowa has been the story of the tourney and gets a wounded Michigan St.
Duke has a good chance of making the Final Four, but Baylor stands in the way
Like many meteorological forecasts, predictions for this season's NCAA tournament have been erratic, at best. Now that we're down to the Sweet 16, it's time to reexamine the paths ahead and look at the updated conditions each team will face on the road to Indianapolis.
2. OHIO STATE
How they got here: Beat UC Santa Barbara 68-51, beat Georgia Tech 75-66.
Selling points: The Buckeyes have the nation's best player in Evan Turner, who rebounded from a subpar first-round effort with a near triple-double against Georgia Tech. The Buckeyes also showed they can handle a team with size in its frontcourt, and that they have weapons besides Turner.
Warning signs: Ohio State is getting progressively sloppier with the ball. Turner had nine turnovers on Sunday and the Buckeyes had a turnover percentage over 20 percent of possessions for the fifth time in their last 10 games. With Tennessee's ball-pressure to manage on Friday, they need to tighten this up quickly. Also, the depth and athleticism of the Vols could trouble a team that barely plays anyone past its starting five.
Final Four-cast: Sunny, with a slight chance of pain.
The so-called toughest regional pre-tournament has blown up and clearly is there for the taking. Tennessee is not an ideal Sweet 16 matchup, but Ohio State would be strongly favored over either Northern Iowa or a Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State in a regional final. The Buckeyes are the favorite to make it to Indy.
5. MICHIGAN STATE
How they got here: Beat New Mexico State 70-67, beat Maryland 85-83.
Selling points: Like most Tom Izzo teams, these Spartans are tough. Very tough. They gutted out two wins this weekend, including Sunday's buzzer-beater from Korie Lucious. They're going to have to be tough now after likely losing point guard Kalin Lucas to an Achilles injury. It's a devastating blow at this stage.
Warning signs: The Spartans went from the favorite role in their Sweet 16 matchup with Northern Iowa to a likely underdog, based on their quality of play when Lucas was injured in early February. They're just not the same team offensively without him, and that could be trouble against UNI, which makes you work for everything and doesn't like to allow cheap buckets.
Final Four-cast: Dark clouds.
The Spartans were very inconsistent down the stretch of the season, even with Lucas. It's hard to imagine they can overcome the loss of their leading scorer and assist man on such short notice to beat two very good teams in Saint Louis. If Izzo can pull this off, it would be exceptional.
How they got here: Beat San Diego State 62-59, beat Ohio 83-68.
Selling points: The Vols are a very uncomfortable matchup with their depth and defensive intensity. Bruce Pearl has shown flexibility with a roster that was rebuilt multiple times in the aftermath of some suspensions/departures. The team looked and sounded very focused in person in Providence.
Warning signs: Tennessee's offense isn't all that good, especially when the Vols don't force turnovers. They have lost their last six games when allowing at least a point per possession, so the game plan heading into Friday is very clear: make Evan Turner as uncomfortable as possible.
Final Four-cast: Cloudy, with sunshine possible later in the week.
It's rare that a major-conference team is an unknown, but no one -- not even the team's beat writers or maybe even the players themselves -- really know what this Tennessee team is. The three teams remaining in the region, though, all seem like reasonable fits style-wise. In January, mentioning this team and the Final Four would have been laughable. Now? No one's laughing.
9. NORTHERN IOWA
How they got here: Beat UNLV 69-66, beat Kansas 69-67.
Selling points: Their playing style is like having a plastic bag slung over you. You can fight it, but there's very little chance for air. Don't let their modest scores fool you, though. UNI is very efficient offensively, and obviously has clutch shooting in its back pocket, too. Classic upperclass-oriented, double-champ from a mid-major league causing havoc. Now they get a crippled Michigan State.
Warning signs: How will Northern Iowa handle being thrust into the role of presumptive favorite? It's one thing to stun Kansas when few expected it. It's another to take out a program with the pedigree of Michigan State when a lot of people now expect you to. Also, UNI's defense has been uncharacteristic forgiving in the NCAAs, with both opponents notching at least 1.10 points per possession.
Final Four-cast: Partly sunny.
UNI was good enough to beat Michigan State at full strength. They really have a strong chance to handle the Spartans now and make the Elite Eight. Waiting there, though, will be a team that will, for different reasons, be a difficult matchup for the Panthers.
How they got here: Beat East Tennessee State 100-71, beat Wake Forest 90-60.
Selling points: The Wildcats tore through the opening weekend like a national title contender should, pounding a 16 seed and a slumping 9. On paper, they get the bonus of facing a 12 seed next, although with the way Cornell is shooting the ball, it may not be the bargain many would have expected. Kentucky has the best raw talent of any club left and, for a young team, also is prudent with the basketball.
Warning signs: Nothing obvious. This is a powerful team that's clicking. They haven't shown the tendency to be overconfident, either, but if they get sucked into the "Cornell" on the front of the jersey Thursday instead of the quality of the Big Red, they could find themselves behind and facing some adversity.
Final Four-cast: Sunny and pleasant, with a chance of a weekend storm.
The competition gets steeper for the Cats, who will potentially face two very dangerous offensive teams in Cornell and Washington, or have to overcome West Virginia's extremely physical style. This regional in Syracuse won't be a walkover, but the 'Cats are definitely the most talented team in it.
2. WEST VIRGINIA
How they got here: Beat Morgan State 77-50, beat Missouri 68-59.
Selling points: West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over and is impossible to keep off the offensive glass, so despite an inelegant looking attack, it's extremely effective and efficient. They are also showing the ability to win close games against comparable competition, which could be key this weekend.
Warning signs: The Mountaineers don't shoot the the three very well and they put people on the line a ton, which is part of the reason their overall defensive numbers aren't better. They also are paired with a Washington team that wants to play at a pace above WVU's normal comfort zone, and very well could have to beat Kentucky to make it to Indy.
Final Four-cast: Pleasant early, chance of showers late.
The Mountaineers will have a distinct physical/style advantage against Washington. The Huskies actually foul shooters more often than WVU does and will struggle to keep the 'Eers off the glass and the line. If WVU can even moderately slow down the UW attack, an Elite Eight trip looks likely. Unless Cornell pulls a Northern Iowa-style shocker, though, it will be Kentucky waiting in the regional final. WVU has the tools to win that game, but won't be favored.
How they got here: Beat Marquette 80-78, beat New Mexico 82-64.
Selling points: The Huskies are playing their best ball of the season at the right time, finally showing a team quality that matches some of their individual talent. Their overall efficiency numbers are far better than you'd expect from a team labeled as disappointing for much of the season. They have an explosive offense that could trouble both higher seeds in this region.
Warning signs: Washington makes West Virginia look like Siena when it comes to putting people on the line. The Huskies can't stop doing it (295th in free-throw rate conceded), and that could be lights out against the Mountaineers, who will miss plenty of shots and need to find cheap points.
Final Four-cast: Windy and cool.
This is a rough Sweet 16 draw for a team that likes to run, and they also could have to get past Kentucky. That's a lot to ask of any team, and despite recent form, Washington is not on the level of either.
How they got here: Beat Temple 78-65, beat Wisconsin 87-69.
Selling points: The Big Red had the most impressive weekend of any team in the field, eviscerating two of the nation's top 20 defenses (essentially a pair of Ohio-vs.-Georgetown-level explosions). They are extremely experienced and confident, coming off this weekend and having played well at Kansas and Syracuse earlier in the season. They're the nation's best three-point shooting team and now get to play less than an hour from their campus in a building they played in in December.
Warning signs: The Big Red get a whole different animal now in Kentucky, a team with NBA-level talent, size and athleticism that poses an extreme threat on the offensive end that's nothing like what Temple or Wisconsin could offer. As good as Cornell is, there's a limit to their ability that Kentucky will sorely test.
Final Four-cast: Raining (jumpers), with a possible violent storm on the horizon.
If Cornell can execute offensively as well as it did in the first two rounds, and frustrate Kentucky enough with a zone to keep them from running wild, the upset is not impossible. Of course, things could go the other way and be an easy UK win. Even if Cornell does the unthinkable, the Big Red might then have to do it again against an extremely physical West Virginia squad. If Cornell navigates this to make it to Indy, it's probably the greatest Final Four run of the modern era.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors