Let’s catch up on -- or relive -- what happened in the first week of the NCAA Tournament and preview for what’s come in the regional semifinals and finals.
Since you’re craving more tournament action, we’ll cover you with a look at each region until games start again Thursday. And for a look at how I’ve updated my bracket with Sweet 16-and-beyond picks,.
First-weekend MVP: Sindarius Thornwell. The SEC Player of the Year was the driving force to the biggest upset of this tournament, No. 7 South Carolina overtaking No. 2 Duke 88-81. Thornwell was a standout in the Gamecocks’ first-round win over Marquette has well. He has averaged 26.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and two steals. Thornwell has long been a very good college player, almost as good as Devan Downey, and this is the moment he deserves.
Second-best player: Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin’s senior guard has a knack for making massive shots. He showed up big in Wisconsin’s win over Villanova -- before Nigel Hayes gave Wisconsin the victory, thanks to . But it was Koenig’s career-high 28 points vs. Virginia Tech that lift him to this pedestal.
Best game so far in the region: Wisconsin 65, Villanova 62. The No. 1 overall seed going down in the closing seconds rises above the rest in a chaotic region. In the aftermath, it is interesting that Villanova has been a top-two seed the past four seasons, and in three of those years lost in the first weekend. That national championship will overshadow some underachievement.
What just happened here: The Nova and Duke losses dwarf everything else. Before we get to those, real quick: The East was home to the First Four catapulting a team into the Round of 32 for the seventh consecutive season. Southern California came back on Providence, then came back on SMU, then almost came back on Baylor. Virginia exited with 39 points, a terrible look for Tony Bennett to punctuate what might have been his best coaching job in Charlottesville. SMU had a great season, but a first-round exit means nobody outside Dallas will remember it. Florida played up to its metrics. Villanova and Duke, considered to have the easiest roads to the regional final, both lose. This bracket fools us every year.
Here’s what happens next: Florida is going to beat Wisconsin with defense, quick guards, zig-zag tempo on offense and enough experience to handle the Badgers’ vets. Devin Robinson is going to have a terrific game vs. Ethan Happ. In the bottom half of the bracket, Baylor is going to beat South Carolina in good part because the Bears are going to eat iron and render South Carolina’s offense immobile. I don’t think South Carolina will score 60 points.
Who’s heading to Phoenix: Florida. This region already doesn’t make a lot of sense, so why not have the least-experienced coach (Mike White) be the one who slips into the Final Four? I love the potential matchup of Manu Lecomte vs. KeVaughn Allen. That could be totally head-on-a-swivel entertainment. I believe Robinson will do will against Baylor’s Johnathan Motley. Florida is better on defense, a little bit shakier on offense but will win because it has the better overall roster. Robinson wins Most Outstanding Player for the region.
First-weekend MVP: Trevon Bluiett. He averaged 25 points and five rebounds in pushing a No. 11 seed into the second weekend. Xavier is the only double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. Bluiett is as valuable as diamonds. Without him, Xavier is home. His game is diverse and he plays without fear. His 3-point shooting (8 for 15 in the first two rounds) will have to show up again to get past Arizona.
Second-best player: Jevon Carter. West Virginia’s junior guard had 24 points to help put away Notre Dame, proving to be more important to the Mountaineers in that game than anyone on Gonzaga or Arizona. Considering the work he puts in at both ends, Carter might have the highest calories-per-point ratio in the tournament.
Best game so far in the region: Northwestern 68, Vanderbilt 66. We had a few dandies, but this one tops the list. Vanderbilt might well have won if not for a memorable brain-lock foul by Matthew Fisher-Davis in the closing seconds. That turn of events gave Northwestern its first NCAA tourney win. Had Northwestern been able to get close in the final minutes against Gonzaga, that game would get the nod, , Gonzaga led by at least five points the rest of the way.
What just happened: Northwestern got all the pub, while Arizona got a nice fight from Saint Mary’s. The Wildcats had to work for their fifth Sweet 16 under Sean Miller. Princeton had a shot in the closing seconds to beat Notre Dame -- how long ago does that seem? -- and Xavier strutted past the first weekend. First, Xavier beat Maryland by 11, then won 91-66 over third-seeded Florida State. Hilarious. Florida State almost got beat by Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, and that game was top five in dunk-itiude of the 52 we’ve had. Saint Mary’s beat VCU, and .
Here’s what happens next: Gonzaga will handle West Virginia’s press. Big men Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski will show off their dynamic abilities and make West Virginia’s offense anemic against their length and size. West Virginia is the nation’s fifth-ranked defensive team, but Gonzaga is first. The Bulldogs win with room to spare. Arizona will not get a big push from Xavier. Lauri Markkanen will overwhelm RaShid Gaston and/or Sean O’Mara, although the battle between Bluiett and Allonzo Trier (if they guard each other) will be great. The West will offer up the least dramatic pair of regional semifinals. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds will confidently step into the Elite Eight.
Who’s heading to Phoenix: Arizona. Sean Miller is going to his first Final Four and in the process hand Mark Few the title of “best coach to never make a Final Four.” Arizona beats Gonzaga in a close game decided by clutch play from Kadeem Allen. Arizona gets revenge for losing 69-62 to Gonzaga on Dec. 3, when Trier did not play. Speaking of Trier, he will be named MOP.
First-weekend MVP: Caleb Swanigan. Some incredible competition for Swanigan from Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Michigan’s Moritz Wagner. I lean Biggie because Purdue would have succumbed to Iowa State’s second-half run had Swanigan not been on the floor. Watching him and Deonte Burton go at each other in the final eight minutes was some of the best entertainment in this tournament. Swanigan is averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds, 5.5 assists and two blocks. Guy is always in the right place for a rebound and will have a double-double every game Purdue plays in this tournament.
Second-best player: Dorsey, because I think Michigan could have somehow gotten to the Sweet 16 without Wagner, and I know Kansas could have gotten to the second weekend without Jackson. That is absolutely not the case with Oregon and Dorsey. His top-of-the-key 3-pointer gave Oregon the lead over Rhode Island in the closing seconds to complete a furious comeback. Dorsey is averaging 25.5 points and five rebounds in the tourney. His draft stock could take another tick up if he shows up big against Michigan.
Best game so far in the region: Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91. Not an easy call, but Michigan’s insane second-half barrage of 3-pointers edges Oregon-Rhode Island and Purdue-Iowa State. The Midwest has been the best region for close games. Purdue-Vermont was good, despite the final margin, and Louisville-Michigan was captivating. Oklahoma State lost to Michigan despite shooting better than 50 percent overall, 40 percent from 3 and 87 percent from the line … it’s nuts. That almost never happens. You know how you lose? The other team hits 16 3-pointers and only has four turnovers. Just about the only way.
What just happened: The Michigan tale, arguably Michigan State, then somehow was down like 30 at halftime to Sparty and wound up losing by 20. Monte Morris’ career came to an end in a great game. Rhode Island, a trendy Sweet 16 pick, is the owner of the must frustrating loss of this tournament. Oklahoma State lost in the first round, and 27 hours later its coach left for Illinois. Louisville got knocked out. Oh yeah, that!, continued. Even if Michigan loses by 25 to Oregon, this team’s two wins will be a top-three memory from this tournament. From plane scare to six-game winning streak. And now a lot of people like Michigan to go to Phoenix. Imagine. You had Miami open up a double-digit lead on
Here’s what happens next: Kansas takes out Purdue when Jackson gets elected to guard Swanigan. Swanigan has one of his worst offensive games, and Purdue’s guards can’t keep up with KU’s backcourt studs. Kansas gets an early lead and keeps the Boilers chasing for about 30 minutes. At the bottom of the bracket, Oregon gets a combined 50-55 points from Dillon Brooks and Dorsey, and the Ducks go bucket for bucket with a Michigan team that runs out of gas. Without an ability to stop Oregon’s action, the Wolverines fall in another close and thrilling game. Zak Irvin steps up and contributes while Walton plays inconsistently against Oregon’s guards.
Who’s heading to Phoenix: Kansas. The homecourt feel of Kansas City proves to be a tangible bonus for the top-seeded Jayhawks, who get great games out of Jackson and Devonte’ Graham. Oregon gets overwhelmed late, and Brooks goes cold from the field. For only the second time as a No. 1 seed, Bill Self takes KU to the Final Four. Jackson is named the region’s Most Outstanding Player. Frank Mason’s moment will be saved for Phoenix.
First-weekend MVP: Lonzo Ball. This is the region that lacked standout performances. I give it to Ball because he was masterful in the win over Cincinnati, even with a pedestrian-for-him line of 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Special player.
Second-best player: De’Aaron Fox. Now, I know Malik Monk made the first critical block at the end of the game, and then Bam Adebayo had the next one. But through Kentucky’s two wins, Fox -- the team’s most important player -- was the grease to the engine. He averaged 17.5 points and had moments where he blew past the defense. He’s the fastest player in the game and cannot be contained for 20 minutes, let alone 40.
Best game so far in the region: Kentucky 65, Wichita State 62. It was a roll in the mud but a great watch. Wichita State’s season ends in frustration because two bad possessions in a row end with ill-advised 3-point attempts from the right wing. Until that, a tense string was played throughout the game. The Shockers proved themselves worthy of the matchup. Now, if only a few Top 25 teams .
What just happened: North Carolina got way too frisky with No. 8 Arkansas, but managed to get out with a 72-65 victory. Had the Heels lost, the ACC would have no teams in the Sweet 16. Seton Hall was bounced by Arkansas after a controversial flagrant-1 foul call. The most predicted 12-over-5 came true: Middle Tennessee romped Minnesota. Dayton and Wichita State played a really good, close, low-scoring game. The Flyers deserved a more fair first-round matchup. Cincinnati’s terrific season was overshadowed with the pub for UK-Wichita State, UCLA/LaVar Ball, UNC’s scare and Middle Tennessee being the chic pick to reach the Sweet 16. The Bearcats will be really good again next season. This is the only region in which the 1-4 seeds broke through. We usually get one or two such regions every season.
Here’s what happens next: John Calipari returns to Memphis and is cheered heavily Friday night. Memphis fans hate him, many of them anyway, but Calipari will no doubt have some emotions going as he goes back to the city he changed forever from a basketball standpoint. It will be a short stay, as UCLA will go 2-0 vs. Kentucky this season because the Wildcats will not be able to outrun the Bruins. That game could well be decided in the 90s -- again. UCLA won 97-92 the first time. The difference will be that TJ Leaf doesn’t have as great a game, but Thomas Welsh pin-pricks UK to death with jumper after jumper. Ball vs. Fox will live up to the billing, and Isaac Hamilton will trade shots with Monk. The Bruins win with more 3-pointers made than Kentucky, and it’s the deciding factor.
UNC will edge past Butler, winning by 3-5 points. The Tar Heels will get by thanks to Joel Berry putting on the best game he’ll have in this tournament. Berry will have a points-assists double-double and maestro the Heels to some heady finishes in the final minutes. Chris Holtmann’s team will fall short due to an inability to keep a winning rate on the boards. It goes down as the third-best Butler season in program history.
Who’s heading to Phoenix: UCLA. The Bruins and Tar Heels flirt with surpassing 200 points. UCLA gets out of the region thanks to an all-time memorable four-game run from Ball, who will be the talk of getting drafted No. 1 overall after he navigated the Bruins past a UNC team that wilts and loses its footing in the second half. UNC makes a surge after going down doubt digits with 10 minutes to go, but it can’t rocket-booster past a UCLA team that once again scores in the 90s en route to a victory. In the postgame press conference, nobody asks Steve Alford about the Indiana job. Ball is named the region’s MOP.