- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Mercifully, there was Mercer. Taking out mighty Duke in the first round always earns a good bit of attention.

How about that Harvard? The Crimson again made noise early in the NCAA tournament by beating Cincinnati.


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North Dakota State made noise, removing Oklahoma from the draw. Stephen F. Austin wrestled VCU out of the way.

But they’re all gone now as the NCAA tournament moves into its second weekend. The world’s greatest sporting event is really three events rolled into a big one.

The first weekend is like a carnival, full of fun with surprises seemingly lurking around every corner. The final weekend is much more serious, with four teams gathered and a championship so very close they can all taste it.

The middle weekend? That’s the one that defies an easy definition. It is kind of a mix between the first and the last. Things are more serious as a championship is much closer. But there’s still some fun to be had. Let’s see where we can find it as the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games get ready to play out.

The original seedings held for only three of the eight games in the round of 16 and all involve the remaining No. 1 seeds. None gets a break as all are lined up against a No. 4 seed. Florida gets UCLA, Virginia gets Michigan State and Arizona gets San Diego State. All three top seeds could get beat but the guess here is none will in this round.

At least one double-digit seed will be playing for a spot in the Final Four. Stanford, a 10 seed, and Dayton, an 11, play in the South region for the right to meet the Florida-UCLA winner. The only other double-digit seed remaining is Tennessee, an 11 seed that has to deal with No. 2 Michigan. The guess here is no double-digit seeds remain after this weekend.

The best matchup in the Sweet 16 round? That’s easy — archrivals Louisville and Kentucky meet in Indianapolis. As sports rivalries go, that’s about as big as it gets. Louisville won the championship last year, Kentucky the year before. You’ll recall Kentucky handed Wichita State its only loss of the season in the round of 32. The guess here is that was Kentucky’s last victory of the season.

Baylor has been one of the best teams in college basketball for a while now, though the Bears have generally flown under the radar. They absolutely walloped Creighton (by 30) in the round of 32 and now get to take on Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed in the West Region. The guess here is Baylor’s run continues one more game before getting shut down by top-seeded Arizona.

Virginia is the only “local” team left standing among the five in the original field (Mount St. Mary’s, American, George Washington and VCU all went out without winning a game). In Michigan State, the Cavaliers have one of the toughest matchups in the Sweet 16. Of the three top seeds remaining, Virginia seems most vulnerable but there’s something about that team this season. The guess here is the Cavs win two more this weekend and head to the Final Four.

After waffling on some predictions earlier, it is time to stick the neck out and make a full round of them. Since everybody’s bracket is blown up by now, wrong guesses can’t do any harm.

So here are the Sweet 16 winners: Florida, Stanford, Virginia, Connecticut, Arizona, Baylor, Louisville and Michigan.

That takes us to the Elite Eight, where Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Louisville will advance. Yes, three No. 1 seeds.

As for next weekend and the Final Four, that’s where Virginia’s magic comes to an end. Florida gets to the final, where it will meet (and defeat) Louisville for the championship.

That’s not exactly predicting chaos, is it? You can call it playing it safe and not be wrong. But remember, that’s the way this tournament works. The fun, the crazy happens early. When it is time to crown a champion, only the big guys need apply. Florida has already won two championships under coach Billy Donovan (2006, 2007) and the Gators aren’t going to be awed by the big stage as they chase a third.

Will it happen that way? Let’s just say no money is being put on any of this. Though the craziness of the first weekend can’t be repeated, strange things can still happen. That’s what makes this tournament so much fun. So quit worrying about your busted bracket and sit back and enjoy Act Two.