Now that we are down to just sixteen teams, STF will profile each Regional lineup to see how we got here, what the Sweet 16 really means to each participating school, and who has the best chance to advance to San Antonio. The second of two today, here's the Midwest.
Davidson vs. Wisconsin, 7:10 pm Friday
#10 Davidson Wildcats
Last Weekend: Defeated #7 Gonzaga 82-76, defeated #2 Georgetown 74-70
How Davidson Got Here: Superior guard play. Stephen Curry and Jason Richards are the backbone of this Wildcats team.. Curry had 40 points against the Zags and 30 points against the Hoyas. Fifty-five of his seventy points have come in the second half. Richards, the NCAA leader in assists, did not disappoint either, with 35 points and 14 assists playing all but four minutes of the first two games. In the Georgetown game, Curry and Richards, by virtue of either points scored or assists tallied, accounted for 70 of the Cats' 74 points, including a hand in every field goal made. That is impressive.
What the Sweet 16 Means for Davidson: The difficult non-conference schedule paid off. They were not fazed by the big stage. While any Davidson fan, player and coach must be absolutely thrilled by what has happened so far, the Wildcats have to believe that they are the next George Mason. They have to believe, in their heart of hearts, that they can make the Final Four given the right opportunity.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Perhaps the third slimmest chance of anyone left in this tournament (the first and second being Western Kentucky and Villanova). But they have to feel good about their chances to make the Elite 8. Wisconsin's style means the pace will be slow, allowing starters to play close to 40 minutes and the Wildcats to keep it close regardless of the outcome. In Kansas, they may have to face the most talented team of the tournament. Then again, that's what they said about UConn in 2006.
#3 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Weekend: Defeated #14 CS Fullerton 71-56, defeated #11 Kansas State 72-55.
How Wisconsin Got Here: Insanely good defense. The Badgers have played hard-nosed defense all season long, and last weekend was a powerful showcase of just that. Sure, the Badgers allowed Michael Beasley to drop 17 on them in the first half. But in the second half, they surrendered just six points from the best college player in the land. Bo Ryan's squad has the liberty of avoiding Georgetown, however now they're stuck with the possible Cinderella story of this year's tournament, Davidson.
What the Sweet 16 Means for the Badgers: A Sweet 16 appearance for this year's Badgers should come as no surprise. They've found incredible leadership from Michael Flowers, one of the best hustle players in the country in Joe Krabbenhoft and a slew of other players that simply know their roles (i.e. Marcus Landry, Trevon Hughes). Wisconsin is in a very favorable position now to make a strong run at a Final Four, with its upcoming game against Davidson and a potential showdown with Kansas.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Good, but not likely. The Badgers can and should defeat Davidson, but a potential Elite Eight game against Kansas would be too much for them. The Jayhawks are better, faster and stronger (and harder?) than Wisconsin and would prevent them from making a Final Four run.
Villanova vs. Kansas, 9:40 pm Friday
#12 Villanova Wildcats
Last Weekend: Defeated #7 Clemson 75-69, defeated #13 Siena 84-72
How Villanova Got Here: Scottie Reynolds and a favorable draw. Reynolds has had an up and down 2008 season while transitioning to becoming "the man" at Nova, but he caught fire following a 22-point performance against Syracuse in the first round of the Big East tournament. He's continued to lead Nova in scoring each game since, including his huge second half against Clemson and 25-point performance against Siena. The Wildcats also caught a break by playing a choketastic Clemson team and a Siena squad whose season was complete with a win over Vandy.
What the Sweet 16 Means to the Wildcats: If you told any Villanova fan on January 23, right after the Cats were just routed by Rutgers, that this team was going to the Sweet 16, they would have assumed you were on meth. This Sweet 16 run is a total surprise for Villanova, so the Cats are basically playing with house money from here out. All this can do it set up the Wildcats as a possible Top 10/Top 5 team to start next season.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Not likely, but it's not like Villanova hasn't done this before in program history. Still, there are no more double-digits seeds for the Cats, as they now have to face the powerful Kansas Jayhawks. While the multi-talented 'Hawks probably have too much size, depth and firepower for the Wildcats, they are still coached by Bill Self, and the three-pointer is the great equalizer in the college hoops.
#1 Kansas Jayhawks
Last Weekend: Defeated #16 Portland State 85-61, Defeated #8 UNLV 75-56.
How Kansas Got Here: The beatdown of Big Sky champs Portland State was routine, with future NBA draft picks drubbing guys who would be lucky to get a tryout for Slamball (it's back, you know!). UNLV provided a slightly tougher test, shutting down the perimeter in the first half until Kansas used superior quickness to penetrate the lane, score and open up the outside game. In all, it has been pretty easy so far.
What the Sweet 16 Means to Kansas: A sigh of relief to a team that still remembers the two-season "Killer Bs" debacle. However, anything short of a Final Four this season will leave Kansas fans exasperated, and add just a little more heat to Bill Self's kiester.
Chances of Reaching San Antonio: Inheriting the winner of a 12 vs. 13 matchup almost doesn't seem fair, but Jayhawk players and fans will take it. With respectable but limited teams like Wisconsin and Davidson lurking on the other side of the bracket, if Kansas doesn't make it to San Antonio this year, the program's reputation could take a near-fatal hit. Going through Detroit just like Danny's '88 squad did has the Lawrence faithful hoping for another Miracle.