The 12 games between now and Sunday will narrow down the field of 68 to the Final Four who will meet in Atlanta next weekend for a shot at the national title. No. 3 Marquette and No. 2 Miami will kick things off at 7:15 (CBS) tonight in the East region, followed by No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Arizona out west at 7:47 (TBS).
The nightcap will offer a historic rematch between No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Syracuse at 9:45 (CBS) in the East and a Cinderella special between No. 9 Wichita State and No. 13 La Salle at 10:17 (TBS).
First Pass: Which Cinderella has the best shot at Atlanta, if any?
Jeremy Bauman: I’d have to say Wichita State.
They’ve got strong inside-out play and have proven they can rise to the occasion with lethal shooting in a close game.
Last week a few Pittsburgh players spoke during a press conference about the Shockers’ style; it reminded them of their own team, which played pretty solid and physical defense all year.
The Shockers also have that “never give up mentality.”
“Just continuing to play hard and fighting, not giving up, even though they were the No. 1 team, we always felt like we had a chance going into the game and being in the game,” said star forward Cleanthony Early. “We’ve just got to continue to keep that mentality.”
When you combine their attitude with their level of competition and talent, you could have a team that reaches Atlanta to fight for a birth in the Championship game.
Maxwell Ogden: The West Region continues to be the weakest, which leaves La Salle and Wichita State as the most likely Cinderellas. Whichever team gets past the other in their Sweet Sixteen battle will either play Ohio State or Arizona in the Elite Eight.
Ohio State is elite, but they fail to dominate in any capacity other than defense. Deshaun Thomas is the life of their offense, and when he’s struggling, the Buckeyes rarely score. This opens the door for Wichita State, a team with excellent size, to slow him down and take the game down to the wire. The same goes for Arizona, where Sean Miller coaches a balanced team, but one that has been inconsistent all season.
With all of this being said, I’m going with La Salle. They have elite guard play with Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, and when it comes to late-game situations, few are better than those two.
The Explorers have a legitimate chance at making it to Atlanta.
Ben Baroff: As enjoyable a run as Florida Gulf Coast has had, it’s hard to see them beating Florida and the winner of Kansas/Michigan.
But as we know, Wichita State and La Salle matchup against each other Thursday night. One of them has to lose, but the path to Atlanta for the winner is easier in the West than any other region.
It’s hard to pick against a more experienced Wichita State team, but in a tight spot, I like La Salle. La Salle is an incredible 23-0 this season when being tied or in the lead with less than five minutes to play. Ole Miss seemed to have them beat in the Round of 32, but the Explorers wouldn’t quit.
I like La Salle to win tonight, but as for reaching Atlanta, I cannot see either team beating Ohio State or Arizona. Too much talent, and too much tournament pedigree for either of these Cinderella’s to overcome.
Second pass: Which player has the most to gain/lose this weekend?