LOUISVILLE, Ky. (MEDIA GENERAL/WTNH) – Stadiums and bars were packed over the weekend as basketball fans clenched their fists hoping their team made it through to the NCAA’s Sweet 16. The tournament is known for its upsets and there definitely were some.
So, which teams are the most surprising additions to the final 16? We asked Kels Dayton, executive producer of the SportzEdge.com.
“I think the biggest surprise in the Sweet 16 has got to be UCLA,” said Dayton. “Everyone complained when the Bruins were selected into the NCAAs, and no one who watched them play consistently throughout the season could have seen a run to the second weekend coming.”
Dayton said, UCLA benefited greatly by drawing SMU and then 14th-seeded UAB in their first two games. “But, you’ve got to give them credit. They’ve shown some nice growth, with big man Tony Parker coming up with a career high in points against UAB, and Josh Powell beginning to play well in that backcourt.”
Dayton expects UCLA’s run will end soon. He expects Gonzaga will bring their Cinderella story to an end.
Another Sweet 16 surprise has got to be NC State, which knocked off top-seeded Villanova in the Round of 32. “Mark Gottfried is such an underrated coach. He gets his teams to play hard, and play their best when it absolutely matters most,” said Dayton. “He’s a clutch coach, if there is such a thing.” Dayton said he’s been that way since he was at Alabama, and his team stunned No. 1 overall seed Stanford in the NCAAs back in 2004. That team made a run all the way to the Elite Eight. “I think something similar may be in the works here,” Dayton said.
The Wolfpack have plenty of talent, especially in point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber and Trevor Lacey. And big man Beejay Anya always seems to be in the middle of everything they do. “They’ll have a chance to knock off Louisville if they can handle the Cards’ pressure and hold their own on the interior. That should be a fantastic matchup,” Dayton said.
“Speaking of ‘clutch coaches,’ is there anybody who gets his team to play more consistently when the games matter than Tom Izzo?” Dayton said. “It’s amazing what he’s been able to do with so many different teams, and now this Michigan State group, which is not a great team, is back in the Sweet 16.”
It’s the 13th time in 16 years for Izzo in the Sweet 16. “At this point, it’d be surprising not to see Michigan State get back to the Final Four. The way they’re playing, they’re going to be the favorite up in Syracuse, which is remarkable considering the season they’ve had and where they came from,” said Dayton.