What the NCAA tournament needs after Sunday is to take a deep breath. And now, consider the Sweet 16.
Start with the game everyone anticipated in their brackets. Which, of course, is 11th-seeded Dayton against 10th seeded Stanford.
The three most incendiary words in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky vs. Louisville.
Florida, looking every bit No. 1, but moving ever closer to its Elite Eight wall.
Arizona vs. San Diego State. The winner gets the Pacific time zone.
Virginia vs. Michigan State. Virginia is in its first Sweet 16 since 1995. Michigan State has been in six Final Fours since 1995.
That and more come after a hyper-ventilated early Sunday. The first three games of the day went to the last second – including Iowa State’s win against North Carolina, when no one seemed exactly sure for awhile when the last second was.
And now that March can pause for second wind, 16 thoughts for the Sweet 16.• No Jabari Parker, no Andrew Wiggins, no Tyler Ennis. But Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon play on. The Year of the Freshman is ending with mixed reviews in March. Sometimes, experience matters. Witness Stanford’s four starters in their fourth seasons.
• No Wichita State, either. But on the day the Shockers fell, they shot 55 percent and committed only nine turnovers. That’s not losing, that’s just the other team being one play better.
“The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four,” Kentucky’s John Calipari correctly said. “I am not ashamed to come out on the losing end,” Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall correctly said. Meanwhile, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers can stand down. The wait since the last perfect national champion is 38 years, and counting.
• And no Doug McDermott. A 30-point loss to Baylor is not the way it was supposed to end for the nation’s leading scorer and most decorated player. “It just stinks,” he said afterward, “that it’s the last one.” But the embrace with his father is one of the heart-tuggers of the tournament. “It’s the last time I’ll be able to walk off the floor and give my dad a hug. So it’s tough.’’
• The top scorer left in the Sweet 16 -- down at No. 53 in the nation with an 18.7 average -- is Stanford’s Chasson Randle. The guy the Kansas players had barely heard of.
• Here’s the Sweet 16 bracket. Notice anything missing? The entire state of North Carolina. What in the name of Michael Jordan is going on? You have to go back to the Jimmy Carter administration in 1979 to find another Sweet 16 without at least one school from the state.
• It takes all kinds to make a Sweet 16. Michigan State is there for the sixth time in seven years. The last time Dayton made it, in 1984, current coach Archie Miller was five years old. Florida is No. 1. Five of the teams – Kentucky, Dayton, Stanford, Tennessee, Baylor – came into the tournament unranked in at least one of the major polls.
• Friday’s Louisville-Kentucky game in Indianapolis might not have the glamour of their Final Four collision two years ago, but you somehow get the feeling, the loser will hurt worse. Final Four dreams die painfully. That goes double, when one of these two is killing the other’s.
• Here comes Kentucky, right on schedule. At least on John Calipari’s schedule. The four losses in seven SEC games – panic in the Commonwealth! – seem a long time ago. “All we have done all year is continue to get better,” he said. “Individuals are losing themselves into the team, so they’re playing better and more confident.”
Meanwhile, the owner of what is likely to be the most cited statistic of the week? Rick Pitino. He’s 11-0 in round-of-16 games. But he’s 0-1 this season against Kentucky.
• Sometimes, being blessed helps. The Dayton Flyers, who won by a combined three points against former No. 1 ranked Syracuse and former No. 3 Ohio State, could have been evicted from the bracket in both games by a shot in the air in the final seconds. Both missed.
“Buffalo has been good to us the last couple of days on buzzer shots,” Miller said. “You need that, I think, obviously in this tournament.”
• Is it Bo Ryan’s time at last? Wisconsin has gotten this far on stability. The Badgers have started the same five guys all 35 games this season and Saturday was the seventh time all five scored in double figures in a game. They’ll be trying to get Ryan to his first Final Four at the age of 66.• Florida has shown no reason yet why it should not still be the favorite. The Gators have won 28 in a row, and now even Bill Belichick is on the bandwagon. UCLA is next, and if they win, the Gators would be facing their bittersweet recent history; there consecutive trips to the Elite Eight, three consecutive defeats.
• Through the weekend, Arizona was third in the nation in field goal percentage allowed at 37.9. San Diego State was fifth at 38.3, having just held the best-shooting team in the nation -- North Dakota State – to 32 percent. Arizona and San Diego State meet Thursday.
Probably won’t be 84-80.
• Michigan plugs solidly along, in its march toward a return to the Final Four. The Wolverines had four turnovers against Texas and average only nine a game. They also lead the nation for committing the fewest fouls.
If they can get past Tennessee, it might be Michigan vs. Louisville in a rematch of the 2013 national championship game, only a week earlier.
• Annual events of March: Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, Michigan State in the Sweet 16. This makes six in seven years and 12 in 17. Take a bow, Tom Izzo. Or not.
“Someday,” he said, ``I’ll have a grandson sitting on my lap and I’ll say `Hey, your old grandpa went to 12 Sweet 16s in 17 years, and he’ll say, `Who gives a damn?’
And I’ll probably say, `You’re right,’ and we’ll move on.’’
• We’ve seen this movie before. A relentless player leads Connecticut through the bracket nearly by himself. Three years ago, his name was Kemba Walker, Now, it’s Shabazz Napier, averaging 24.5 points the first weekend.
Mr. Do-It-All led Connecticut in points, rebounds and assists for the season, and that hasn’t happened since the school started keeping assist records in 1970.
• The SEC – Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee -- is 7-0, and without one touchdown. The Big Ten and Pac 12 also have three teams left. The Big East, on the other hand, is gone. And the ACC slipped in only Virginia.
• The theory is that the top four seeds in each region should fill the Sweet 16. But only 10 of them survived, including only two No. 2’s and one No. 3. It’s March. The past weekend proved it.