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Sunday, March 22, 2009
Updated: March 23, 4:03 PM ET
Sweet 16 preview: Chalk isn't so bad

By Andy Katz

No one seemed to complain when all four No. 1s made the Final Four last year and it resulted in one of the most dramatic national championship games -- and one of the most memorable shots -- since 1983.

So don't complain that Cinderella is back in her peasant clothing until next year, after Siena was sent back to upstate New York late Sunday afternoon by Louisville.

A chalk bracket isn't so bad. This is the first time all the 1-, 2- and 3-seeds are in the Sweet 16, a year after the first tournament in which all four No. 1s made it to the Final Four.

And this is the first time since 1991 that two regions -- in this case, the right side of the bracket -- sent seeds 1-4 to the Sweet 16.

The Big East, with five teams overall in the Sweet 16 and one in each region, has a shot to beat its 1985 record of three Final Four teams.

SEC teams were young or rebuilding or weak this season, and the conference has no teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1989. So the league's fans can get back to what they really cherish at this time of the year: spring football.

Seven coaches remain in the Sweet 16 who have won at least one national title.

One of the schools (Arizona) is led by an interim coach (Russ Pennell) who knows he has no shot at getting the job even if he wins four more games. How about that for no pressure?

The tournament has still delivered on its promise for some anxious moments:

• Gonzaga's Demetri Goodson gave us a last-second game-winner in an 83-81 second-round victory over Western Kentucky. It was reminiscent of Tyus Edney's end-to-end layup to beat Missouri in 1995.

• Siena's first-round double-overtime win against Ohio State was the best game of the first two rounds, and it produced at least one lower-profile school that had dreams of pulling a George Mason. Cleveland State got to the second round by crushing Wake Forest in a game that surprisingly had no drama whatsoever since it was over so early. But so were the Vikings' chances midway through their second-round game against Arizona.

• Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun missed the opener because he was hospitalized with dehydration, providing a solid 24-hour news cycle on him alone.

Ty Lawson's injured toe has been the most dissected digit in tournament history, and after missing the opener, the UNC point guard quieted the chatter by scoring 23 points, dishing out six assists and committing zero turnovers against LSU.

• Morgan State's Ameer Ali did his best WWE move by flipping Oklahoma's Blake Griffin over his shoulder and nearly altering the South Regional.

• Clemson's Terrence Oglesby was ejected for throwing an elbow while coming off a screen against Michigan's Stu Douglass in the first half. The incident left Oglesby in tears in the postgame locker room, devastated and embarrassed for how his season ended.

• The sudden return of Marquette senior guard Dominic James (from a broken foot suffered in February) for the Golden Eagles' second-round game against Missouri was an interesting twist. James mustered 17 minutes but wasn't effective, as he didn't take a shot and had only one assist.

Now on to what's ahead:



No. 1 Pitt vs. No. 4 Xavier, Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET

No. 1 Pitt
How did the Panthers get here? Pitt had the most trouble of any of the favorites. The Panthers were dangerously close to becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. Their 10-point win over East Tennessee State doesn't tell the whole story. This game was extremely tight down to the final minutes. You could see how the Panthers were playing not to lose, before figuring out how to win.

Pitt had the most difficult second-round game of any of the top seeds. Oklahoma State was more than capable of knocking off the Panthers. The Cowboys were able to run with Pitt by making plenty of early shots, and they had the Panthers fighting for every possession late before Pitt was able to pull away in the final minutes for an 84-76 victory.

Who's hot? Sam Young. The senior forward may be the most talented and maligned stud of any remaining Sweet 16 team. Young poured in 32 points for the Panthers in their win over the Cowboys. He didn't score as much (14) but was dominant on the boards (13) in Pitt's win over ETSU.

Who's not? Junior guard Jermaine Dixon is just 1-of-7 in two NCAA games so far. Dixon needs to be more productive to take some pressure off Levance Fields on the perimeter.

What does it mean for the program? Pitt has its best chance to win a national title with co-Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair and seniors Young, Fields and Tyrell Biggs. Coach Jamie Dixon has been a model of consistency in his six seasons. But getting to the Sweet 16 isn't enough. The Panthers haven't been past this round under Dixon. Winning one more game won't change the reputation of Dixon as a solid coach who hasn't been to the Final Four. But the perception certainly would change for the Panthers if they can win two more games and get to Detroit.

Drama factor so far? Pitt is making sure its fans are paying attention. The Panthers haven't cruised for multiple four-minute periods, let alone a game. The Panthers are earning every victory, and if they win the East Regional, they will feel like they've earned every bucket.

No. 4 Xavier
How did the Musketeers get here? Xavier was sent to Boise and its games didn't get much national play. But much like they did earlier in the season, the Musketeers quietly manufactured wins -- an 18-point victory over No. 13 Portland State and an 11-point win over No. 12 Wisconsin.

Xavier has had an interesting season. The Musketeers were lucky early with a half-court shot to beat Virginia Tech; were poised in a win over Memphis in the same event in Puerto Rico; were humbled by 18 against Duke in New Jersey; and then went on cruise control for a spell before bumps in the Atlantic 10 in which they lost four of their final five road games. But beating Portland State and Wisconsin to get to the Sweet 16 is more than admirable for this crew.

Who's hot? Not really anyone, but if we must pick one for a team that is getting by with a little bit from everyone, then B.J. Raymond gets the nod. He scored in double figures in both games but is a combined 9-of-22 in the tourney, including 5-of-14 on 3s.

Who's not? Junior forward Jason Love has struggled in the NCAAs. He had four fouls in just 16 minutes in Xavier's win over Wisconsin and didn't make a field goal. Love did last 26 minutes in Xavier's first game and scored eight points with two fouls in 26 minutes. But the onus is on Love to stay on the court to bang with the big boys from Pitt.

What does it mean for the program? Xavier continues to be one of the top 20 programs in the country. The Musketeers are to the Atlantic 10 what Memphis is to Conference USA and what Gonzaga is to the WCC. Xavier is now the team to beat every season in the A-10. Reaching the Sweet 16 for the third time since 2004 is a testament to the coaching of Thad Matta (who left Xavier for Ohio State in '04) and current coach Sean Miller. Getting to the Elite Eight with a win over Pitt would be quite a feat, considering this squad was never projected to be within 40 minutes of the Final Four this season.

Drama factor so far? There were anxious moments against the Badgers as the Musketeers trailed at the half. But the Musketeers outscored Wisconsin 24-12 over the final nine minutes to roll to a comfortable win.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Villanova, Thursday, 9:57 p.m. ET

No. 2 Duke
How did the Blue Devils get here? Well, it was quite impressive. Duke dismantled Binghamton in the first round by 24 points.

Then the Blue Devils went back and forth with Texas before grinding out a 74-69 victory in Greensboro, N.C. Duke was physical with the Longhorns and answered every time Texas tried to take over the game.

The Blue Devils have found ways to win games in the past month, making the right plays at the right times in the last few weeks of the regular season (save for their loss at North Carolina) and in the ACC tournament, especially in a one-point quarterfinal win over Boston College.

Who's hot? Duke junior guard Gerald Henderson continues to rise in the big games. Henderson scored 24 points, made 10-of-13 free throws and grabbed six boards in the win over Texas. Henderson, along with Kyle Singler, is making defending the Blue Devils a difficult proposition from this point forward.

Who's not? So far, it's the center position for the Blue Devils. Texas is much more physical up front than Villanova, but not more so than Pitt. The Blue Devils need more from Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek to get to Detroit. Thomas fouled out against Texas while Zoubek had four fouls.

What does it mean for the program? Duke doesn't need to do much of anything anymore. The Blue Devils aren't losing their luster as one of the most polarizing teams in the country. Duke's expectations are higher than most any other program, but the Blue Devils couldn't get out of the first weekend the past two seasons. Reaching the Sweet 16 seems to have put them back in their place among March's elite.

Drama factor so far? The Texas game had its share, coming down to the final few possessions. Duke should expect this type of affair the rest of the way if it's going to get to Detroit.

No. 3 Villanova
How did the Wildcats get here? They didn't have to travel far. Villanova was the only team in the bracket to play on one of its satellite home courts. Nova didn't look too comfortable in the opener, struggling for most of the first 30 minutes against American before pulling away for a 13-point win.

The second round, shockingly, was less competitive as Villanova ran away from UCLA from the opening tip and won by 20 points. The Wildcats were hard to figure early in the season and lacked a marquee win until nearly February. But the Cats served notice that they were ready to be taken seriously when they closed out the famed Spectrum on Jan. 28 with a win over Pitt. Outside of being blitzed at West Virginia, the Wildcats have looked the part of a potential Final Four team.

Who's hot? Senior forward Dante Cunningham. Coach Jay Wright said late in the season that Cunningham should be considered for Big East Player of the Year, and he scored 25 in the first game and then 18 points to go along with 10 boards in the second-round win over UCLA.

Who's not? This isn't easy, because Villanova looked so good against the Bruins. But senior wing Dwayne Anderson didn't shoot well in that game, going 0-of-4 on 3s, making just 4 of 14 shots. But Anderson still managed a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.

What does this mean for the program? Villanova continues to prove that it can survive in this football-driven world without big-time football in the Big East (like Georgetown and Marquette). The Wildcats are in their fourth Sweet 16 since 2005. Wright has one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming to the Main Line next season, so the trend should continue.

Drama factor so far? American led by 10 at the half and by four with 8:33 remaining. There was plenty of drama in the Wachovia Center in the first round to make up for the void of angst in Round 2.