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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Very Sweet 16

By Rick Reilly
ESPN.com

Tom Izzo/Muhammad Ali/John Calipari
What's all the shouting about? A star-packed Sweet 16. Tom Izzo, Muhammad Ali and John Calipari will all be there.

Why wouldn't you watch this Sweet 16? Muhammad Ali will.

Barring a bad health day, the champ will be in the stands in Phoenix watching his hometown University of Louisville play a school from his adopted home, Michigan State.

As Sweet 16s go, this may not be the GOAT, but it's pretty tasty. There are more storylines in this thing than a "Downton Abbey" episode. Your job is to figure out which one of these 15 is a complete lie. (Answer at the bottom.)

1. Will Indiana Bow to the 'Brow? The unibrow, that is, on the face of the best player in college basketball, Kentucky's freshman center Anthony Davis, who takes on the Hoosiers on Friday in the South bracket. It's magnificent. It looks like the wings of a great black hawk in flight. It forms a perfect V at the top of his nose. Even his mom wears a mask that's going around in his honor. The permanent scowl it gives him, plus the nearly five shots per game he rejects, makes Davis an intimidating hoops artist. Hey, it worked for Frida Kahlo.

2. By the way, it's not true that Kentucky starts only freshmen. It's starting two sophomores this season. Hottest joke going around the Sweet 16 right now -- Q: How many Kentucky freshmen does it take to change a light bulb? A: None, it's a sophomore course.

3. Who will emerge from a Sweet 16 that's more stacked than a Cuban election? Thirteen of the 16 schools have won at least one national championship, with 34 titles in all. This is a LegendFest, with six of the coaches having won rings: Rick Pitino (Louisville), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Billy Donovan (Florida), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Bill Self (Kansas). The hottest? Izzo, who's trying to make his fourth Final Four in the last eight and third in the last four. The most to lose? Kentucky's John Calipari, who gets a $350,000 bonus if his team wins it all.

4. Is there a Cinderella who can survive all those Wicked Stepsisters? Ohio, up against North Carolina, hasn't gotten past this stage since 1964. (Can you name Ohio's most famous alumnus? Matt Lauer.) North Carolina State, taking on Kansas, was picked to finish eighth in the ACC this season. (Can you name North Carolina State's most famous attendee? Zach Galifianakis.) Slipper size, please?

5. Is Syracuse a heavy or a hero? After a season that included a sex scandal, a drug scandal and a Fab scandal, how are the Orange even here at all? And is Boeheim the Coach of the Year or the Problem of the Year? Whichever, he and his sack full of worries get Wisconsin on Thursday in the East bracket.

6. Which of the record four Ohio teams do you like: Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ohio or Xavier? Before you answer, be advised, they don't even like each other. Ohio State and Cincinnati, who meet Thursday, hate each other so much they've played only twice in the last 49 years -- and they're only two hours apart down I-71. Cincinnati and Xavier threw haymakers at each other after their Dec. 10 game, a Xavier win. Cincinnati's Yancy Gates punched Xavier center Kenny Frease. You'd need a step-ladder to do that. He's 7-feet tall.

7. Where do Mr. and Mrs. Steve and Lorri Zeller of Washington, Ind., go Friday? To Atlanta to see 6-11 son Cody lead Indiana against Kentucky? Or to St. Louis to watch 7-foot son Tyler lead North Carolina against Ohio? Each was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball in high school. Each has a brother (Luke) in the NBA's D-League and an uncle (Al Eberhard) who played for the Detroit Pistons. If the two can win four games total this weekend, the whole family can see them both in one place -- New Orleans.

8. Will Baylor sharpshooter Brady Heslip get past Georgia Dome security? The 5-6 guard missed Baylor's home loss to Missouri this season when a security guard refused to let him in. A cop was called to the scene, didn't appreciate Heslip's language, placed plastic handcuffs on him and plunked him in jail, where nobody else recognized him either. Maybe Heslip should handcuff himself to Baylor's center this time?

Maggie Smith
This year's Sweet 16 is so grand that even Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, will be tuning in.
9. Which will give out first on non-stop Marquette coach Buzz Williams -- his voice or the underarms of his shirt? Let's hope it's not his voice again. Sports writers would pitch in and send a limo to get Williams to the arena. He says things like, "We're not a filet mignon team ... we gotta get back to eatin' hamburger." He loves "character guys" but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that six of his players were ticketed this season for being in a bar underage. Well, where are you supposed to go in Milwaukee?

10. One of the six Marquette players who was NOT at the bar was its star, Jae Crowder, who has seven siblings, one of which you'll notice on television. He's just slightly larger than a Red Roof Inn. Crowder is easy to spot, too. He has the body of an NFL tight end -- although he played QB -- with dreadlocks halfway down his back, tied in a ponytail. Yank them at your peril. To keep in shape, he pulls SUVs with ropes. When SUVs aren't available, he uses his brother.

11. Speaking of family, can Marquette's former coach, Indiana's Tom Crean, go farther in his sport this season than his brothers-in-law did in theirs? Who are they? Jim and John Harbaugh, head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. Both made the playoffs, but not the final weekend. Crean married their sister, Joani. It's a helluva backyard football game at Thanksgiving.

12. Speaking of Wisconsin, will this year finally be Bo Ryan's song? He is hoops' Sisyphus. This is his fourth visit to the Sweet 16, but he's never made it over the hill to the Final Four. Oddly, this isn't even one of his best teams. It lost three times at home. The Badgers will try to slow it down against Syracuse. Try? The Badgers run less than $50 panty hose.

13. Will Xavier guard Tu Holloway be able to lead an upset of Baylor? Headline writers hope so. Tu's Two Too Much ... On Tu the Final Four ... Tu Esta Bueno (Mexico City newspaper). Beats trying to make something out of Kansas guard Jordan Juenemann's name.

14. Can North Carolina make good on President Obama's prediction that it'd win it all, even without star point guard Kendall Marshall? Marshall's broken wrist leaves the Heels with three potential NBA lottery picks -- John Henson, Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo. Will it be enough? And will Obama lose Ohio now?

15. Will 35-year-old Josh Halulko stay perfect? The options trader from Coral Springs, Fla., got all 16 regional semifinalists correct in his ESPN.com bracket, one of only three such brackets out of 6.45 million. How many did he fill out? "One," he says. "And I was in a hurry. I did it in 10 minutes. Had to get back to work." Since he's from Ohio, he picked every Ohio team to get to the Sweet 16. Who knew? His Final Four: Ohio State, Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky, with the Buckeyes winning it all. Hey, Josh, want to handle my options account?

Enjoy, Champ.

(Did you spot the lie? It's No. 8. Baylor's Heslip did not miss a game because security didn't recognize him, nor was he arrested, nor is he 5-6. He's 6-2.)