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Sweet 16 Look Ahead: Marshall's availability will be biggest story

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There are four schools from Ohio in the Sweet 16 -- and the three best National Player of the Year candidates are still alive, too. Mark Gottfried made it in his first season at N.C. State. Syracuse made it without Fab Melo. Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo both made it for the 10th time.

But that's not the story.

The story is Kendall Marshall's wrist.

North Carolina's point guard fractured a bone in his right wrist after he was fouled on a drive in the second half Sunday in a victory against Creighton. He'll have surgery Monday. And though a source close to Marshall said UNC is optimistic he'll play Friday in the Sweet 16, optimism should not be confused with realism. Barring something barely short of a medical miracle, Marshall will miss Friday's game against Ohio. So the Tar Heels no longer seem like a lock for the Final Four.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

This is not the time to focus on the Final Four.

This is the time to do the annual Sweet 16 Look Ahead ...

My bracket is OK, I guess: Seven of the teams I projected to make the Elite Eight remain in play, Vanderbilt being the lone mistake. So though I incorrectly had Indiana and North Carolina State losing in the Round of 32, I'm positioned to finish strong. And the team I picked to win it all (Kentucky) is still the favorite to win it all, according to Sportsbook.com.

Three Sweet 16 games I can't wait to watch

1. Kentucky vs. Indiana

Two power programs with super-rich traditions will go at each other in a rematch of that classic from early December. The buildup should be tremendous. It'll be John Calipari vs. Tom Crean -- a rivalry that started years ago in Conference USA while the men coached at Memphis and Marquette -- in the Georgia Dome, and tickets are so in demand that organizers decided Sunday night to open the upper deck.

2. Michigan State vs. Louisville

Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino have combined for 20 Sweet 16s, 11 Final Fours and two national championships. So good luck trying to find a better coaching matchup in the Sweet 16 -- although Jim Boeheim vs. Bo Ryan is is pretty good, too.

3. Ohio State vs. Cincinnati

Two schools separated by 106 miles will play Thursday in Boston, and who saw this coming? Sure, Ohio State has been strong since November. But Cincinnati started 3-2 with losses to Marshall and Presbyterian, and then THE FIGHT happened, at which point the Bearcats dropped to 5-3 and suspended Yancy Gates for six games. So again: Who saw this coming?

Six Sweet 16 facts

1. Four schools from the state of Ohio remain in the bracket, meaning 25 percent of the Sweet 16 is comprised of schools from the state that produced -- ready for some random music references? -- the original drummer from Guns N' Roses (Steve Adler), the frontman of the Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl), a nine-time Grammy winner who gets to hang with Chrissy Teigen on the regular (John Legend), and that lady who once sang about a fast car (Tracy Chapman) in a song that every girl I know still claims is one of the best songs ever written. Stand up, Ohio! Maybe together you can get somewhere.

2. Only three of the 16 schools remaining actually won their conference tournaments. Two of them (Michigan State and Louisville) will play each other in the Sweet 16.

3. Five of the 16 schools still alive finished outside of the top three in their leagues. Wisconsin and Indiana finished fourth and fifth in the Big Ten, North Carolina State finished fourth in the ACC, and Cincinnati and Louisville finished fourth and seventh in the Big East. Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan State and Ohio State are the schools remaining that at least won a share of their leagues' regular-season titles.

4. The Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana) and Big East (Syracuse, Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville) comprise 50 percent of the Sweet 16. The Pac-12 is the only power conference with zero Sweet 16 teams. The only non-BCS leagues represented are the Atlantic 10 (Xavier) and the MAC (Ohio).

5. Four 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan State), two 2 seeds (Kansas, Ohio State), two 3 seeds (Marquette, Baylor) and three 4 seeds (Louisville, Indiana, Wisconsin) are still playing. There's also a 6 seed (Cincinnati), a 7 seed (Florida), a 10 seed (Xavier), an 11 seed (N.C. State) and a 13 seed (Ohio).

6. Ten of the schools in the Sweet 16 were in the top 16 of our preseason Top 25 (and one). Our preseason rankings were No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Louisville, No. 11 Florida, No. 12 Baylor, No. 13 Xavier, No. 14 Kansas and No. 16 Cincinnati. The only schools we had in the top 16 that didn't at least make the NCAA tournament were No. 10 Pittsburgh and No. 15 Arizona.

Four random notes

UNC isn't the only team hurting: Kendall Marshall's injury is the most recent setback a Sweet 16 team is dealing with, and it is, in my opinion, the most devastating. (That's why I'm now picking Kansas to represent the Midwest at the Final Four.) But it's far from the only one because Michigan State (Branden Dawson) Indiana (Verdell Jones), Marquette (Chris Otule), Florida (Will Yeguete) and Syracuse (Fab Melo) are all also operating without an important piece it figured to have when this season began.

Oh, the possibilities: Who knows if it'll happen, but do you realize we could have North Carolina vs. North Carolina State in the Elite Eight? Or Rick Pitino (Louisville) against his former assistant (Billy Donovan)? And that the East final could feature Big Ten (Ohio State) vs. Big Ten (Wisconsin) or Big East (Syracuse) vs. Big East (Cincinnati). Thinking about what might happen is just as fun as watching what actually happens, you know?

It's the second (or third or fourth) job that's good: Only four of the Sweet 16 coaches are in still at the schools that gave them their first Division I head coaching opportunities. They are Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Chris Mack (Xavier) and John Groce (Ohio).

Good at both ends: There are only three schools left that rank in the top 10 of offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom.com. They are Kentucky (No. 2 in offense, No. 9 in defense), Ohio State (No. 6 in offense, No. 1 in defense) and Michigan State (No. 8 in offense, No. 3 in defense). The top five teams in defensive efficiency (Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Kansas) are all still alive while two of the top five teams in offensive efficiency (Missouri, Creighton) are gone.

Best college player left in each regional

South: Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
West Draymond Green (Michigan State)
East: Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
Midwest: Thomas Robinson (Kansas)

My updated projected Final Four: Kentucky vs. Marquette; Ohio State vs. Kansas
My updated projected championship game: Kentucky vs. Ohio State
My updated projected champion: Kentucky


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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