The Sweet 16 is set, and we should have some great action. Two more wins and teams will be advancing to Indianapolis for the Final Four!
Let's break down the regions:
NORTHERN IOWA VS. MICHIGAN STATE
Kansas was supposed to be here, but nobody told Ben Jacobson's Panthers about that plan! The shock of the tournament put the 9-seed into a showdown against Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
Northern Iowa has been outstanding on the foul line in two close wins over UNLV and Kansas, hitting 36 of 42 tries. Michigan State is so tough on the glass, as shown by the 42-24 rebound edge versus Maryland. The Spartans will likely be without Kalin Lucas, who has an Achilles issue, but Durrell Summers stepped up and scored 26 points against the Terps. Raymar Morgan will have to be a factor in this contest.
Michigan State is one of three Big Ten teams left in the field. Will we see an all-Big Ten regional final? When it is all said and done, Izzo finds a way to win. His team almost blew a 16-point second-half lead against Maryland, but the Spartans found a way to get to the winner's circle on Lucious' winning trifecta.
Prediction? The celebration in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is over as Michigan State advances.
TENNESSEE VS. OHIO STATE
It's a rematch of the 2007 NCAA tournament thriller won by the Buckeyes. Jon Diebler has been hot for Ohio State, totaling 43 points in the first two games of the tourney. Diebler has hit 11 trifectas in those wins. After scoring just nine points against UCSB, Evan Turner had a solid showing in Round 2.
JP Prince has been key for the Vols, averaging 16.5 points per game in the first two tourney outings. Remember, the Vols have bounced back from the Tyler Smith off-court issues and a 29-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament. This is a resilient team, and Bruce Pearl's club will battle, scrap and claw. I just feel that Turner, Diebler, William Buford & Co. will have too much for the Vols to handle.
Prediction? Yes, my friends, I see an all-Big Ten regional final. Ohio State beat Michigan State 74-67 in East Lansing in their lone meeting during the regular season.
SYRACUSE VS. BUTLER
The Orange rank No. 1 in field goal percentage, and Jim Boeheim's squad has shot better than 54 percent in each of its first two tournament games. Wesley Johnson had 18 points against Vermont and a career-high 31 points (11-of-16 from the floor) and 14 boards against Gonzaga. Andy Rautins has hit eight of 16 trifectas in the tourney. The Orange made 22 3-pointers in two games.
Remember, Syracuse was picked sixth in the Big East preseason poll. That is why Boeheim is my national coach of the year.
Butler's Shevlin Mack has made nine of 12 3-pointers in the tourney. Gordon Hayward has made just one of 10 3-pointers so far in the tourney, while Matt Howard is averaging 7 ppg in the first two games.
Against Gonzaga, the Orange hit 12 of 25 treys while the Zags hit three of 21. The trifecta could be a big swing factor here. Butler has to be able to shoot against the Syracuse zone to have a shot in this game.
Prediction? I like the athleticism of the Orange -- the Big East team moves to the Elite Eight.
KANSAS STATE VS. XAVIER
Xavier got a great win over Pittsburgh to move into the Sweet 16. Xavier's Jordan Crawford has been super, scintillating and sensational, totaling 55 points in wins over Minnesota and the Panthers.
Prediction? It has been an exciting first season for Chris Mack at Xavier, but I think Kansas State is a little too strong. I see a Syracuse-Kansas State regional final.
KENTUCKY VS. CORNELL
Wow, the Big Red have been impressive in averaging more than 80 ppg in wins over Temple and Wisconsin. This is the first time the Ivy League has had a team in the Sweet 16 since Penn made the Final Four in 1979.
Kentucky has enjoyed "blowout city" against East Tennessee State and Wake Forest. John Calipari doesn't want to hear the critics talking about inexperience. The Cats have been impressive, hitting 22 trifectas in their first two games. Darius Miller stepped up big-time against the Demon Deacons.
Kentucky has 48 assists and only 25 turnovers in the tourney. John Wall has 31 points, 18 assists and eight turnovers so far. DeMarcus Cousins has made 10 of 12 shots from the floor, but his matchup with 7-footer Jeff Foote should be interesting.
Prediction? This game will be played in Syracuse, which means that the fans will be rooting for David against Goliath. But I feel that Calipari, the master motivator, will get his team ready for this challenge: The Cats will get through.
WASHINGTON VS. WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers were expected to be here as a No. 2 seed. Yet Washington, an underachiever early this season, is hot at the right time, winning nine straight contests.
Prediction? This region sees form hold true as Huggins and his Mountaineers meet the Big Blue.
DUKE VS. PURDUE
A lot of people picked Purdue to lose its opening-round game to Siena. Matt Painter's club passed that test. Then, experts thought that Texas A&M would take care of business against the Boilermakers. But Chris Kramer would not be denied, hitting the winning shot while leading Purdue with 17 points.
Now the Boilermakers will be an underdog again, this time against a Duke team that rolled against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and California.
Mike Krzyzewski has to be happy with this road. He has his big three in Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer, and they seem to be cruising. Against the Golden Bears, Scheyer struggled from the field, hitting just one of 11 shots, but Duke still won handily.
Prediction? Sorry, Boilermakers, I like Duke to move on.
BAYLOR VS. SAINT MARY'S
Wow, the 10th-seeded Gaels have been a surprise, beating Richmond and Villanova. Now comes another test: facing Baylor down in Houston.
LaceDarius Dunn of the Bears had 26 points versus Old Dominion, while Omar Samhan of Saint Mary's hit 24 of 32 shots (75 percent) in the first two games. These stars will shine once again in the Sweet 16.
Prediction? In the end, I see Mickey McConnell, the long-range shooter for Saint Mary's, as the difference-maker. I look for Cinderella to score yet another surprise. Duke versus Saint Mary's in the regional final, baby!