CLEVELAND (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kentucky still has a shot at history. Tom Izzo has Michigan State on another deep March run. Former mid-major monsters Gonzaga and Wichita State are still going strong.
OK, so maybe we won’t get to see another celebratory fall by Georgia State’s Ron Hunter, but the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament are filled with some fantastic storylines.
Time to work on those excuses for missing work. This is going to be good.
To get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of the top teams, players and games to keep an eye on:
TOP TEAMS LEFT
Kentucky. Don’t know this by now, then you haven’t been paying attention for the last six months. History is still a possibility.
Wisconsin. Still looking good for a repeat Final Four appearance.
Arizona. Playing its best basketball at the right time after a pair of dominating wins.
Duke. Made it look easy through its first two games.
Gonzaga. Decimation of Iowa was a thing of beauty.
THE OTHER TOP PLAYERS
You know about the star players like Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky and Jerian Grant.
Here a few others to watch:
— Sam Dekker, Wisconsin. The athletic forward helps keep opponents from focusing too much on Kaminsky.
— Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky. The other talented big man — with Willie Cauley-Stein — in the middle of the Wildcats’ mammoth front line.
— Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga. The 6-foot-10 former Kentucky recruit can shoot from the outside, score near the rim, drive to the basket — pretty much a match-up nightmare for any team.
— Tyus Jones, Duke. The facilitator of the Blue Devils’ offense who hits big shots and gets the ball to big man Okafor where he wants it.
— Marcus Paige, North Carolina. Need a big shot, he’s the Tar Heels’ man.
— T.J. McConnell, Arizona. Scrappy, smart, finds a way to win. Likes to let out a red-faced howl when the Wildcats are on a roll.
Wisconsin vs. North Carolina, Thursday in Los Angeles, West Region.
Duke vs. Utah, Friday in Houston, South Region.
Wichita State vs. Notre Dame, Thursday in Cleveland, Midwest Region. After their massive takedown of in-state rival — if you can call it that — Kansas, the Shockers next face Jerian Grant and the Fighting Irish.
North Carolina State vs. Louisville, Friday in Syracuse, New York, East Region.
Arizona vs. Xavier, Thursday in Los Angeles, West Region. Xavier coach Chris Mack was Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before Miller left for the desert. They may know a thing or two about each other.
DUKE’S OFFENSE VS. UTAH’S DEFENSE. The Blue Devils put up points in bunches, averaging 80 points per game. The Utes rely on defense, allowing just 57 a game. Battle of strengths will determine the Elite Eight bid in this one.
KENTUCKY’S ATHLETICISM VS. WEST VIRGINIA’S GRIT. Cincinnati had some success bumping the Wildcats around. The Mountaineers will try to do the same and love playing that style of basketball. Some see an upset brewing, including two-time NBA champion (and an NCAA champ with Duke) Shane Battier.
UCLA’S DEFENSE VS. GONZAGA GUARD BYRON WESLEY. The Bruins know all about Wesley. The Zags’ senior guard was rival USC’s leading scorer before transferring to Spokane. Wesley averaged 14.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in seven games against UCLA while playing for the Trojans and will be motivated to beat the Bruins again, even without the rivalry.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE VS. LOUISVILLE’S MONTREZL HARRELL. The Wolfpack are a strong rebounding team, but will they be able to keep the powerful Harrell from wreaking havoc?
BY THE NUMBERS
.844 — Wichita State’s winning percentage over the past five years, highest in Division I during that span.
3 — Number of teams from North Carolina still in the bracket: Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State.
4 — Straight Sweet 16 appearances by Louisville.
4.4 — Average seed of the teams left in the Sweet 16. ULCA is the highest at No. 11 in the South.
12 — 3-pointers made by UCLA’s Bryce Alford in 16 attempts through two games of the NCAA Tournament.
22 — Times Duke has reached the Sweet 16 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
39 — Years since a team finished a season undefeated — in case you hadn’t heard it enough already.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)