Still bummed out that you picked Kansas as your national champion and they Self-destructed again as a No. 1 seed in the second round? You've had four days to get over it. Time to refocus on the positives that the Sweet 16 has to offer. The tournament resumes Thursday night with regional semifinals in Salt Lake City (West) and Syracuse (East). It will be hard to top the havoc wreaked by the mid-majors in the first two rounds, but the only surprise would be if another highly seeded team doesn't get ambushed on the way to Indianapolis. A look at tonight's matchups:
Butler vs. Syracuse: Togetherness
Don't sell the Bulldogs (30-4, 22 wins in a row) short. What they may give up in size and athleticism is outweighed by the continuity they've developed. Coach Brad Stevens has used the same starting lineup - Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley - for 61 of the last 66 games. Nored, their sophomore point guard, is a leader on and off the court - he was freshman class president. They've got the carrot in front of them of the Final Four in hometown Indianapolis. Will that be enough against Syracuse? Center Arinze Onuaku is out of tonight's game, but the Orange didn't miss him much in easy wins against Vermont and Gonzaga. Butler will have major matchup problems defending Wesley Johnson, who has returned to his pre-wrist injury form. The Bulldogs will rain threes against the Syracuse zone and hope they make a splash.
Xavier vs. Kansas State: Fear the Beard
K-State guard Jacob Pullen's thin, Abe Lincoln-style beard is all the rage in Manhattan (Kansas). Before the Wildcats' home game against Texas in January, 1,000 beards were distributed to K-State students. Pullen says the beard is getting a little itchy, but it's become a good-luck symbol for the 28-7 team and he won't shave it until after the tournament. Pullen's got more than just whiskers going for him. He's a video freak - game films, not PlayStation - and his studying helped him get a handle on BYU's Jimmer Fredette. Pullen's 'D' limited Fredette to 4-for-13 shooting in the second round. Pullen has been doing his homework this week on Xavier's Jordan Crawford, who averaged 27.5 points in the first two rounds. Yes, the same Jordan Crawford who dunked on LeBron in that infamous summer camp video. Don't know if Pullen has critiqued that film.
Washington vs. West Virginia: Truck stop
They say point guard play is paramount in the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia will try and prove "they" wrong. The Mountaineers lost their starting floor leader, Darryl (Truck) Bryant, when he broke his right foot during practice Tuesday. Bryant averaged 9.3 points and was second on the team in assists (3.1) and three-pointers (40). West Virginia has a capable backup in Joe Mazzulla, who can run the team but has shooting issues. There are no other point guards on the West Virginia roster, so expect forwards Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks to assume some ballhandling responsibilities. The Mountaineers' lack of backcourt depth could be exposed by Washington's Isaiah Thomas (no relation to a certain former coach/GM), who has made 7 of 12 threes and has 15 assists in the first two rounds. Washington, which didn't cement a bid until its surprise Pac-10 Tournament title, is making 40.1 percent of its threes during a nine-game winning streak.
Cornell vs. Kentucky: Smashing stereotypes
Forget those David vs. Goliath, Brainiacs vs. Brawn oversimplifications of the game everyone's been parroting. Cornell is legit. Its offensive execution shredded Temple and Wisconsin last weekend. It has all the elements needed for success: experience (four senior starters), a guard on top of his game (Louis Dale), a three-point threat from the wing with an NBA pedigree (Ryan Wittman), a 7-footer clogging the middle (Jeff Foote) and a coach who knows what he's doing (Steve Donahue). Any team that took Kansas to the final seconds in Lawrence before losing and acquitted itself well against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome is no fluke. Plus, the Big Red knows it can beat Kentucky. They're 1-0 lifetime against the Wildcats, winning 92-77 on Dec. 28, 1966. That should add to their growing confidence.