NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: West Region
Top Dog — Michigan State (1)
Coach Tom Izzo punched the ticket to his 10th Sweet 16, thanks in no small part to his all-everything point forward Draymond Green. No insult intended Steve Smith, but Sparty has not seen a super-sized talent like Green since Magic was still Earvin Johnson in East Lansing. When times got tough in a hard-fought 65-61 win over Saint Louis, Green took control on both ends of the floor, handling the ball, scoring and play-making on the perimeter on offense while rebounding and intimidating in the paint on defense. Green, who went for 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists against the Billikens, is joined by talented guard Keith Appling on a balanced squad capable of cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
Underdog – Florida (7)
On paper, Florida had a favorable Round of 32 matchup against similarly undersized No. 2 seed Missouri. But as fate would have it, Mizzou was ousted early by No. 15 seed Norfolk State. Two-time national champion coach Billy Donovan would have no such problem, however, as UF toppled the Spartans 84-50. A streaky hot team with too many guards (Erving Walker, Kenny Boyton, Bradley Beal) to guard, Florida shot lights out against Norfolk State, hitting 28-of-53 from the field (52.8 percent) and 10-of-28 from downtown (35.7 percent). Billy the Kid's team will be tough to beat if they keep their hot hand and big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy stay out of foul trouble.
Player to Watch – Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (3)
Numero Uno in Marquette's all-out athletic attack, Darius Johnson-Odom is hoping to lead the Golden Eagles to their first Final Four since D-Wade carried the club on his back in 2003. Unlike Tom Crean's crew, however, coach Buzz Williams' team will not rely solely on a singular talent to stay alive. Instead, Marquette's duo of Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder will do the damage. The tag team combined for 34 of MU's 62 points and 15 of the Eagles' 36 rebounds during a 62-53 win over Murray State to advance to the Sweet 16.
Opening Weekend Upset – Norfolk State (15) over Missouri (2)
Heading into the Big Dance, the knock on Mizzou was its lack of size. And Norfolk State center Kyle O'Quinn couldn't have come up bigger in a David vs. Goliath matchup where David outweighed Goliath down low. The 6'10", 240-pound O'Quinn recorded 26 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots in an historic 86-84 victory for the Spartans.
Irish Bracket Bomb
“I got a lot of those clovers, texting me, ‘Good luck, good luck, Kyle O’Quinn win!’ I had to leave my phone at the hotel because I was getting too many of those kinds of messages.” — Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn, whose Irish surname and green-and-gold Spartan teammates proved to be good luck on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.