03/25/10 — Opinion: Sweet 16 has plenty of storylines

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Opinion: Sweet 16 has plenty of storylines

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 25, 2010 1:46 PM

The first two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament have provided unlikely upsets, thrilling finishes and if you're anything like me, brackets worthy of being thrown into the fireplace.

The Sweet 16 and the final three rounds of the tournament are sure to deliver numerous memorable moments.

The following is five things to watch during the Sweet 16:

* Party crashers: Northern Iowa and Cornell didn't just make the Big Dance, they crashed it. The Panthers knocked off UNLV and then sent No. 1 overall seed Kansas packing.

UNI guard Ali Farokhmanesh made perhaps the shot of the tournament as his 3-pointer with less than a minute left helped put away the Jayhawks. The Panthers are the first Missouri Valley tournament champion to reach the Sweet 16 since Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores in 1979.

Don't expect Northern Iowa to be intimidated when it faces injury-plagued Michigan State on Friday night in St. Louis.

Cornell showed its ability to play with anybody in a five-point loss at Kansas in early January.

Point guard Louis Dale, forward Ryan Wittman and center Jeff Foote have combined to average nearly 60 points a game through the Big Red's first two tournament contests. Cornell could etch its name in tournament lore forever if it can orchestrate another upset and shock Kentucky tonight.

* Deuces wild: Second-seeded West Virginia and Ohio State have the looks of legitimate national title contenders.

The Mountaineers' Da'Sean Butler has carried his team since the Big East tournament and has averaged 18.5 points through the first two rounds. Butler doesn't seem to be done delivering clutch performances in this tournament.

West Virginia's balanced scoring makes it a serious threat to reach the Final Four and possibly play for a national championship.

Like Butler, the Buckeyes' Evan Turner has been the catalyst to Ohio State's run to the Sweet 16. Turner just missed a triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the second round against Georgia Tech.

No player left in the tournament will determine whether his team reaches the Final Four more than Turner.

* Ready for liftoff: Duke heads to Houston seemingly under the radar more than fellow No. 1 seeds Syracuse and Kansas. The Blue Devils have yet to be tested in the tournament and have been consistent on neutral courts over the past month.

With second-seeded Villanova already eliminated, Duke's path to the Final Four doesn't look nearly as troublesome as it once did.

* Marching on: With Kansas watching from home, Syracuse and Kentucky have assumed the role of favorites to win it all. Both the Orange and Wildcats turned in dominating performances in the second round.

If both clubs advance through the Sweet 16, the potential Syracuse-Kansas State and Kentucky-West Virginia matchups in the Elite Eight would provide the tournament with the headline showdowns it needs heading into the Final Four.

* Man in the middle: St. Mary's center Omar Samhan was dominating last weekend in Providence. The Gaels' big man scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a win over Richmond. He followed that up with 32 points and seven boards in an upset of Villanova.

Samhan will once again have to come up big if St. Mary's is going to defeat Baylor and the Duke-Purdue winner.