NCAA tournament: A couch potato's guide to Sweet 16
My last recollection is sitting in a dark room, watching Cincinnati play UCLA on my phone as the clock ticked near midnight.
And then I woke up mumbling: "Score the basketball. Score the basketball. Score the basketball."
I'm not saying I watched too much of the NCAA tournament in the previous six days, but I swear Charles Barkley is walking around inside my house.
My six-day, 52-game basketball-bender seared a few impressions in my mind as we try to decompress and get ready for the Sweet 16 to begin Thursday.
Here are the top 25:
1. After a ho-hum Thursday and Friday, the tournament kicked into life over the weekend with some gut-grinding second-round games. Tension and defense ruled. Goodbye defending national champion and top-seeded Villanova. Adios to you, too, Louisville, Michigan State, Virginia, Notre Dame, and . . . Duke!
2. Our nation might be divided by politics, but nothing brings us together quite like watching Duke lose in March. Twitter was spinning like a slot machine in the final minutes of South Carolina's 88-81 upset of the Blue Devils.
3. Duke's game was originally scheduled to be played in its home state of North Carolina. The NCAA moved the tournament games from that state to Greenville, S.C., because of North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2.
4. The smug and vaunted Atlantic Coast Conference has only North Carolina left in the tournament despite having nine teams awarded berths by the NCAA selection committee. And the top-seeded Tar Heels nearly got bounced out, too. They trailed Arkansas by five with three minutes to play before closing the game with a 12-0 run.
5. The Southeastern Conference has four teams left in the tournament and none are coached by Nick Saban. Weird.
6. It's possible that the Pac-12 could end up with three teams in the Final Four: UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon.
7. Apologies to the Big Ten, much-maligned for a mediocre regular season. Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all still playing, each now only four victories shy of the league's first national championship since 2000.
8. It doesn't play well in central Ohio, but Michigan is a national darling because of its spirited run of play since its plane skidded off the runway before the Big Ten tournament. John Beilein can X-and-O with the best of them. Senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. is doing a fine Kemba Walker impersonation.
9. Seniors rock. Nigel Hayes, the pride of northwest Ohio, put Wisconsin into yet another Sweet 16 with a gorgeous hesitation move for the winning basket against Villanova. And his veteran teammate Bronson Koenig is a stone-cold assassin. How were the Badgers an 8 seed?
10. Other than Duke, blue bloods reign. Carolina, UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona are kind enough to let some of the proletariat still participate in their expected coronation event. Trumpets will announce UCLA-Kentucky matchup on Friday.
11. UCLA isn't always interested in attempting defense, but the Bruins crank up the offense. They were tested and trailed at the half to a tough Cincinnati team that had won 30 games this season. An upset bid by the Bearcats evaporated when the game's pace increased in the second half.
12. UCLA is the remedy for the illness of having to endure watching Virginia play offense.
13. Xavier coach Chris Mack showed again why he's one of the game's best coaches in leading the Musketeers to their sixth Sweet 16 since 2008 despite losing their starting point guard six weeks ago to injury. Loved the moment during the deer-gutting win over Florida State when, after a timeout, Xavier scored on a layup off a half-court set play.
14. If you love shooters, check out Trevon Bluiett of Xavier. He's one reason the Musketeers are the only team from Ohio still in the tournament.
15. Someday, when the screaming stops, they should take the barstool that West Virginia coach Bob Huggins sits on during games and ship it to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Gotta love Huggs in another Sweet 16.
16. Hours after his Mountaineers earned a Sweet 16 spot, Huggins was in Columbus watching recruits Jeremiah Francis of Pickerington Central and Jerome Hunter of North play in the Ohio state high school tournament. That's hustle.
17. Kansas looked pretty scary against Michigan State. The Jayhawks might have a lot of off-court issues spinning around them, but they're a delight to watch when on a run. Their guards are why they'll beat Purdue. Kansas totaled 190 points in its first two games.
18. Michigan State is going to be a load next season.
19. Can't root for Baylor.
20. Kentucky blocked two shots in the waning seconds to prevail in a street-fight of a game against Wichita State on Sunday. A few weeks ago, the Wildcats only knew defense as a rumor. They've matured under John Calipari.
21. The other Italian coach in the Bluegrass, Louisville's Rick Pitino, can now be returned to the wax museum.
22. Is Chris Collins still on the court? And has the national media taken off its purple Northwestern face paint yet? No cheering in the press box. Remember?
23. Granted, officiating is a difficult job. But the referees sure seem to be struggling in this tournament. Enough with the touch fouls. Basketball is played by big, strong, quick athletes. Sometimes they bump into one another. Let 'em play.
24. The held-ball call in Duke's favor near the end of their loss to South Carolina literally made me laugh out loud.
25. If the NCAA cares so much about the "student-athlete," why was Cincinnati made to play in California on a Sunday night in a game that tipped off at 9:40 p.m. Eastern Time? Now those Bearcats are supposed to be in class today, right?
Ah, it's all about "the kids."
And one final bonus thought:
Why is Barkley in my kitchen?