The regional semifinals are set, and though Ohio State is no longer is alive in the NCAA Tournament, the state of Ohio is still represented. The first game in the Round of 64 saw Ohio State fall to the Dayton Flyers to end a tumultuous season.
For some Buckeye fans it was devastating, but for most realists no one had huge expectations for a team that struggled to get big baskets all season. Maybe that sting was eased a little when Dayton validated its win against the Buckeyes, once again fighting from the opening tip to the final buzzer to beat the Syracuse Orange in the third round.
The remainder of the second and third round action was enough to keep basketball fans craving for more. The second round saw five overtime games played, setting an NCAA record for the Round of 64. Three double-digit seeds are still alive in the Sweet 16 and at least one is guaranteed to advance with No. 10-seed Stanford facing No. 11-seed Dayton in the South region.
Before we look ahead to the key matchups in the Sweet 16, let's take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:
Craft! Craft! Craft!
You could see it developing before it even happened.
When Aaron Craft was called for an intentional foul on Dayton guard Jordan Sibert late in Ohio State's second round game, you just knew Craft would not be going out like that.
You knew he wouldn't allow his former AAU and Ohio State teammate to show him up and end his career.
Craft nearly single-handedly brought his Buckeyes back. He first swiped the ball from sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre to force a jump ball situation. Then, trailing by three, Craft took the ball right to rim to convert on a ridiculous and-one basket to tie the game.
After finding Sam Thompson for a basket on a baseline drive, Craft gave Ohio State its last lead of the game with an up-and-under, reverse lay-up with 17 seconds to play.
Some may remember Craft for giving up Vee Sanford's floater to win the game, but the senior guard earned the respect of his peers in the closing moments of his Ohio State career in Buffalo, N.Y.
That NaeNae, though
After the No. 14-seed Mercer Bears upset No. 3-seeded Duke in the second round, Mercer's senior guard Kevin Canevari took the internet by storm.
Canevari did not dominate this game. He did not score in six minutes of action, and he was borderline embarrassed by Quinn Cook's dribbling in the first half.
But never mind that. Canevari executed one of the most vicious editions of NaeNae dance during the post game celebration. I don't know about you guys, but this should definitely be a part of "One Shining Moment" when the tournament concludes.
The Longhorns' great escape
There is nothing better than buzzer beaters in the NCAA Tournament. They are the ultimate attention grabbers. They send you into an array of emotions.
However, when Texas' sophomore center Cameron Ridley grabbed a badly missed shot off the floor and laid it in at the horn, it felt very cheap.
There was no outstanding offensive move or act of skill. Jonathan Holmes missed his game winning shot attempt so poorly that a frantic scramble for the ball on the floor decided the game.
It's a shame, but I suppose that's why they call it madness. All but one team will feel the pain of a crushing loss before this thing is all over.
The Agony Of Defeat (Arizona State) 2/2 pic.twitter.com/TusszaMqV2— 3030 (@jose3030) March 21, 2014
Freshmen disappearing act
This entire NBA and college basketball season has been centered around the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, particularly the freshman phenoms that are sure to be one-and-done at the college level.
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Jabari Parker, the top three projected picks in the draft, will all be watching the Sweet 16 from their couches Thursday night.
The overreaction meter was at an all time high on social media.
Parker found himself on the bench a lot late in Duke's second round loss to Mercer. It is well known that Parker needs work on his defense, but you cannot put Duke's loss on the National Freshman of the Year. Parker averaged 19.2 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 48.7 percent from the field in the regular season. He could not, however, make up for all the size Duke lacked in the middle, which ultimately cost them.
The same goes for Wiggins and Embiid at Kansas. The Jayhawks lacked strong point guard play all season. Wiggins only took six shots Sunday in Kansas' third round loss to Stanford, but he scored 41 points in a loss to West Virginia earlier in the season. Wiggins jacking shots was not going to save Kansas from its eventual downfall. The Jayhawks can only wonder what it would have been like if Embiid's back was healthy enough for him to play against the Cardinal.
People need to understand that these guys are still top talents. Back in 2007, Kevin Durant's Texas Longhorn team did not make it past the first weekend and Durant has turned out pretty well in the NBA.
Sweet 16: Intriguing matchups
The second weekend of games in NCAA Tournament is shaping up to be another exciting marathon of hoops. Let's take a look at the regional semifinals and the most intriguing game from each region.
South Region: No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton
Can the Flyers continue their magical run Thursday night against Stanford? Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a combined three points and both games went down to the wire. The Flyers took advantage of subpar offensive performances from the Buckeyes and Orange, two teams that have struggled to score all season.
The Flyers controlled pace, kept both games in the high-50s, and made more plays down the stretch than their opponents - a recipe for success.
Stanford will be a different animal for Archie Miller's group. The Cardinal enter the contest averaging 73.5 points per game and they possess one of the best scorers in the country. Junior guard Chasson Randle averaged 18.7 ppg this season, which was good for third in the Pac-12. Randle scored 23 in a second round victory over Nex Mexico and four Stanford starters scored in double figures in their third round upset of Kansas.
Dayton will have its hands full in this one, but no matter who wins it will be a great cinderella story.
Prediction: The road ends here for the Flyers. Stanford will hit the three ball at a much higher rate than Ohio State and Syracuse, and they will get out and run. Stanford takes it, 75-68.
East Region: No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 UConn
The UConn Huskies flew past their old Big East rival Villanova in the third round and now they return to a site they knew well as a member of the Big East - Madison Square Garden.
Shabazz Napier has been on a complete tear, scoring 49 points in two games in Buffalo. Many see a lot of similarities in Napier's game and former Huskie Kemba Walker. In Walker's junior campaign, he was the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and ultimately led his team to the national championship. It will be so much fun to see if Napier can also put the team on his back and carry them to North Texas for the Final Four.
Standing in his way Friday will be Iowa State's senior guard Deandre Kane. Let's just hope we get to see a lot of one-on-one matchups with Kane and Napier. Kane is a bigger guard, standing 6-foot-4, and can bother Napier with his length. I would love to see these two guys get into a shootout late.
Prediction: I'm seeing another very high scoring affair in this one, which may not be such a great thing for the Huskies. Napier will have another huge game but he will be no match for the combination of Kane and Melvin Ejim. The Cyclones win this one, 88-80.
And maybe we'll get to see more of Fred Hoiberg's dancing!!!
West Region: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State
This is one of two rematches we'll be looking at here in the Sweet 16. In the first meeting between the Aztecs and Wildcats on Nov. 13, Arizona used 23 points from junior guard Nick Johnson to get an impressive road win.
Only six San Diego State field goals were assisted on, compared to its nine turnovers for the game. The Aztecs defend better than just about any team in the country and they do a good job of keeping the pace where they like it. However, they must move the ball better this time around against Arizona.
The Wildcats have a tremendous defensive backcourt themselves, with Johnson and junior T.J. McConnell both playing the passing lanes. If the Aztecs think they can get away with another rendition of the Xavier Thames show, they are quite mistaken.
The Wildcats were in high gear in their third round victory against Gonzaga. Five Wildcats scored in double-figures, including 18 points off the bench from freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Arizona had 24 assists on 32 field goals and turned the ball over just six times.
It could be a long night for the Aztecs if Arizona is hitting on all cylinders again.
Prediction: I picked San Diego State to make it to the Final Four as a sleeper before the tournament started. There's no need to back out now. The Aztecs will keep the game low scoring and force Arizona into contested jump shots. San Diego State takes out the top-seeded Wildcats, 65-61.
Midwest Region: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky
The Bluegrass rivalry is once again being played out on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament. Just two years ago it was a young freshman phenom by the name of Anthony Davis leading Kentucky past Louisville in the 2012 Final Four.
Now the two teams meet for an opportunity to advance to the Midwest regional final. Both teams felt like they were under seeded before the tournament and now they both have proven they can play at an elite level.
The Wildcats and Cardinals met earlier this season, Dec. 28 in Lexington, Ky, with Kentucky winning 73-66 behind 18 points and 10 rebounds from freshman guard James Young.
The Wildcats still rely heavily on freshman, but they are much more seasoned now. The Harrison twins had huge games in Kentucky's victory over top-seeded Wichita State and though Julius Randle is just 19 years-old, he is a MAN.
Louisville will have to counter with its experienced back court of Russ Smith and Luke Hancock. The two have already won a national championship and they've continued to bail the Cardinals out when ever they get into serious trouble.
The game may come down to a bruising battle down low between Randle and Louisville's sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell.
Prediction: Louisville will find a way to pull this game out. I have a hard time believing Andrew Harrison drops another 20 points against Rick Pitino's pressure defense, and the Cardinals are on a mission to get back to the Final Four. Louisville will win, 77-73.