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The NCAA Tournament field has been narrowed to 16 teams and if your bracket is anything like most, it's officially busted. Depending on the severity of your misfortune, your bracket may be shredded and trashed as well.
No need for March Madness to give way to March Sadness just yet though. FOXSports.com's Second Chance Bracket Challenge gives fans another shot at picking a champion from the remaining field. Likewise, our 2013 NCAA Bracket Predictions have been updated with simulations of the remaining field.
Midwest Region-Adam Meyer
There’s a reason the selection committee tabbed Louisville the No. 1 overall seed instead of Gonzaga. Rick Pitino’s posse made the Final Four last year and will look to improve upon that this season. The Cardinals set a record for the most steals (20) in a game against NC A&T (winning by 31) and dropped the hammer on Colorado State (winning by 26) in the third round. Next on the docket, No. 12 seed Oregon. In the first write-up for the Midwest region, I mentioned the Ducks as a notable team to keep your eye on and I hope you listened. Oklahoma State commented how Dana Altman’s team was better than the seed given and Saint Louis would probably agree. The Pac-12 tournament winner upset the Cowboys by 13 and the Billikens by 17.
The rest of the region was straight favorites: Tom Izzo’s Spartans and Coach K’s Blue Devils. Michigan State has scored more (67.5 ppg) and allowed less (51 ppg) as the tournament moves forward. Duke held off Albany (won by 12) and sneaky upset pick Creighton (won by 16). Both MSU and Duke can be considered college basketball royalty when it comes to the tournament. The teams have combined for six titles and have both been to the final game in the past three years.
Second Chance Bracket Advice: I like Louisville to take on Michigan State in Indianapolis, with the Cardinals advancing. But, if you are a risk-taker, the Spartans are a great choice to make the trip to Atlanta.
West Region-Joel Beall
The New York Tribune once noted, "There is no law, no restraint in this seething cauldron of vice and depravity," regarding the Wild West. The American frontier's eponymous NCAA region is carrying over this assessment, as havoc has ruled this side of the bracket.
Top seeds Gonzaga, New Mexico, Kansas State and Wisconsin were sent packing, as the West provided most of the tournament's shock and awe through the first weekend (and also getting the blame for most fans' shockingly awful brackets). Ohio State was this close to joining the fates of their highly-ranked compadres, yet the last-second heroics of point guard Aaron Craft, as well as the aid of a controversial call, kept the Buckeyes dancing.
With the region's big boys put to rest, the Scarlet and Grey seem to be a foregone conclusion to reach the Final Four. Certainly the Buckeyes' pedigree matches this belief, as this marks the fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 for the program. The defensive prowess of Craft, combined with the scoring of Deshaun Thomas, gives Thad Matta dexterity on both ends of the floor. Throw in its experience in March (OSU made the Final Four in 2012) and fortitude in surviving the Big Ten gauntlet, and Ohio State will undoubtedly be a tough out.
Not that the Bucks are lacking resistance. This is far from the first rodeo for the University of Arizona, with the Wildcats making an Elite Eight appearance in 2011. Entering this year's competition as a No. 6 seed, Sean Miller's squad will be a formidable opponent for Ohio State, evidenced by Arizona's wins over Florida and Miami this season. Guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson are a streaky but lethal duo, and forward Solomon Hill can get it done on the boards (5.4 rebounds per game) and with buckets (13.3 points per contest). If you're looking at going against the grain in your Second Chance bracket, choosing the Cats is the way to roll.
In the West's other Sweet 16 matchup, the Wichita State Shockers take on the La Salle Explorers. The Shockers don't seem to be getting the love normally reserved for a lineup that knocked off a No. 1 seed, perhaps due to Gonzaga's perceived lack of merit for their preeminent standing. However, Wichita State has proved it's no pushover, with victories over Creighton and VCU. Likewise, La Salle has more than validated its at-large bid, winning its First Four game versus Boise State on the way to beating Kansas State and Ole Miss. Hailing from the highly-aggressive Atlantic 10, the Explorers are acquainted with spirited clashes. Unfortunately, whoever emerges victorious from this battle will likely be a major underdog against the Buckeyes or Wildcats.
Yet Wichita State and La Salle have already shown the error in assuming fruition for the favorites. If anything, the role of David is one each school relishes.
The outlaw Henry Starr stated his love affair with the Old West, saying, "I love it. It is wild with adventure." Hopefully the same can be said for the action in Los Angeles this weekend.
South Region-Adam Meyer
If one NCAA Tournament team has grabbed our attention like Katherine Webb at a BCS Championship game, they are the Eagles of Florida - don't label us "Golf" - Gulf Coast. Sunday night, FGCU became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 7 seed San Diego State. While "swagger" has no value in everyday life, it tends to be the currency for successful March Madness teams. Kentucky’s youth possessed it last year and Kemba Walker’s UConn team had it in 2011. The men representing Fort Myers have it by the boatload. My colleague said it best via Twitter, "@FOXSportsFowler: Florida Gulf Coast is THAT team at the rec that took floor at 1 pm…still running it back at 5 pm #wegotnext."
The next task for Dunk City … in-state powerhouse Florida. When the brackets were released, and after you removed the No. 1 seed, the No. 3 seed Gators had the best odds of winning the tournament, according to the WhatIfSports.com simulations. Outside of SEC opponents, Billy Donovan’s bunch has only lost to Arizona (No. 6 seed) and Kansas State (No. 4 seed) this year. Also, Florida has only won games by double-digits this season. So, if Cinderella can keep it close, they may just live to see another day.
Since the regular season ended, Kansas has acted like the No. 1 they earned. The Jayhawks averaged 83 points (with a winning margin of 19.6 points) in the Big 12 tournament and 67 points (9.5 winning margin) in the NCAA tourney. However, the absence of freshman Ben McLemore is certainly disheartening for those who chose Bill Self’s squad to win the title. Against No. 16 seed Western Kentucky, McLemore scored 11 points and only two free throws against North Carolina. During the season, he averaged over 16 points per game. If "Rock Chalk" wants to win the South region, they’ll need more production from the frosh when they take on Michigan. John Beilein’s boys ran past the Jackrabbits and battered the Rams at The Palace. As I mentioned in the original NCAA preview, the Wolverines haven’t lost non-Big Ten games this year. As for common opponents, both KU and Michigan beat Ohio State (UM lost by three in the first matchup) and Kansas State. They both lost to Michigan State (yes, Michigan won the rematch).
Second chance bracket advice: As exciting of a team FGCU is to watch, they still are a No. 15 seed. They still lost five games in the Atlantic Sun and they still needed to win the conference tournament in order to make the NCAA tourney. Florida and Michigan are my front-runners to meet in Arlington, with Florida making the Final Four.
East Region-Joel Beall
In a campaign filled with parity and surprise, the only thing hoops fans have come to expect is the unexpected. Apropos, then, that in a tournament infamously known for its insanity, the advancement of every favorite in the East Region might be the biggest amazement of all.
However, don't misconstrue the absence of Cinderellas for a lack of excitement. Both Marquette outings have delivered the theater and drama associated with the madness of March, as the Golden Eagles survived consecutive last-second heaves from Davidson and Butler. The Illinois-Miami encounter was one of the best back-and-forth games of the college season. Temple gave No. 1 seed Indiana all they could handle and more, with a trey from Victor Oladipo keeping the hopes of Hoosierland alive for another week.
While Indiana remains the preferred choice of many to reach Atlanta from the East, it will be not be an easy endeavor for Tom Crean and company. Standing in their way in the Sweet 16 is Syracuse. Jim Boeheim's team flaunts wins over Louisville and Georgetown, and facing weekly top-notch competition in the Big East will have the Orange prepped for the Hoosiers. Though Syracuse struggles to light the scoreboard at times, their defense and tenacity on the boards will keep this contest close. In theory, it seems odd to label Syracuse, or a No. 4 seed for that matter, as a "dark horse." Nevertheless, with the majority of the country placing their faith in the Hoosiers pressing forward in the tournament, choosing Syracuse is a sound way to differentiate your bracket from the fray in the Second Chance challenge.
Waiting for this winner will be Marquette and Miami. Struggles by the Golden Eagles may have fans penciling in the Hurricanes, but early-round opponents Davidson and Butler are nightmare match-ups for any team. More importantly, style points account for little in March. Finishing first in the Big East is nothing to dismiss lightly, and the leadership from juniors Vander Blue and Davante Gardner is the guidance that has historically excelled this time of the season.
Still, the Hurricanes are beginning to show what everyone in the ACC already knows: they're a tough hombre to tangle with. There's an adage about the tournament calling for paramount guard play, a facet Miami has tied down with the expertise and vision of Shane Larkin. Winning both the regular season and tournament crowns in a conference with its fair share of NCAA tournament success, Miami deserves consideration for those rethinking their championship selections.
Boosted by All-Americans Oladipo and Cody Zeller and flanked with a plethora of role players, it's easy to see why Indiana is the popular title pick. Alas, if this season has illustrated anything, it's that our assumptions continue to be confounded.
Adam Meyer is a Contributor for WhatIfSports.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FOXSportsMeyer.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.