We all know by now that the Syracuse University men’s basketball team didn’t go to this year’s NCAA Tournament. But the tournament is coming to us this weekend.
The NCAA’s Tournament’s East Regional semifinals and final – better known as the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 – will be played at the Carrier Dome. The field is not what anyone expected as the top two seeds, Villanova and Virginia, were knocked off last weekend in the round of 32. It’s the first time a No. 1 and 2 seed from the same region didn’t advance to the Sweet 16 since 2004.
In place of Villanova and Virginia, we’ve got sixth-seeded North Carolina State and seventh-seeded Michigan State. No. 3 seed Oklahoma is known more for football than basketball. And fourth-seeded Louisville hardly looked like a Sweet 16 team when it lost to Syracuse Feb. 18 at the Carrier Dome. But that’s what makes it March Madness, right?
Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma are all led by coaches who have been to this dance many times before. If you’re looking for a sleeper from an already unpredictable field, how about NC State, which has defeated Duke, North Carolina and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this season. The last time the Wolfpack hit that trifecta in 1983, they won the national championship.
Tickets are Available at www.carrierdome.com/tickets, calling (888) DOMETIX, or at the Carrier Dome box office (Gate B).
North Carolina State vs. Louisville: Friday, March 27, 7:37 p.m. (TBS)
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Coach: Mark Gottfried (fourth year at NC State, 18th overall, 371-205)
Record: 22-13 (10-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Defeated Syracuse 71-57 March 7)
How They Got Here: Seeded eighth in the East Region. Defeated No. 9 LSU 66-65 and No. 1 Villanova 71-68.
Players to Watch: 6-3 Jr. G Trevor Lacey (15.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg); 6-5 Sr. G Ralston Turner (12.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg); 6-2 So. G Anthony “Cat” Barber (12.3 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Sweet Fact: To reach the Sweet 16 for just the third time since 1989 (2005, 2012), the Wolfpack defeated a No. 1 seed (Villanova) for the first time since 1983, when they upset Houston in the national championship game.
Famous Alumni: Comedian Zach Galifianakis, American Idol champion Scotty McCreery, and former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano.
University of Louisville Cardinals
Coach: Rick Pitino (14th year at Louisville, 30th overall, 721-253)
Record: 26-8 (12-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Lost at Syracuse 69-59 on Feb. 18)
How They Got Here: Seeded fourth in the East Region. Defeated No. 13 UC Irvine 57-55 and No. 5 Northern Iowa 66-53.
Players to Watch: 6-1 So. G Terry Rozier (17.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 67 steals); 6-8 Jr. F Montrezl Harrell (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg); 6-5 Sr. G/F Wayne Blackshear (11.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
Sweet Fact: This is Louisville’s 21st appearance in the Sweet 16 and only three teams have more since 1975: Kentucky (25), North Carolina (25) and Duke (23). With a win Friday, the Cardinals will reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.
Famous Alumni: NFL Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld, TV newswoman Diane Sawyer.
Michigan State vs. Oklahoma: Friday, March 27, 10:07 p.m. (TBS)
Michigan State Spartans
Coach: Tom Izzo (20th year at MSU, 493-198)
Record: 25-11 (12-6 in the Big Ten Conference)
How They Got Here: Seeded seventh in East Region. Defeated No. 10 Georgia 70-63 and No. 2 Virginia 60-54
Players to Watch: 6-0 Sr. G Travis Trice (15.0 ppg, 5.1 apg); 6-5 Jr. G Denzel Valentine (14.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.4 apg); 6-6 Sr. F Branden Dawson 12.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 51 blocks)
Sweet Fact: Michigan State is making its 12th Sweet 16 appearance in the last 17 years and its seventh in the last eight years – all under Izzo. The Spartans won the national championship in 2000 over Florida in Indianapolis – the site of this year’s Final Four.
Famous Alumni: NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson (led Michigan State to the 1979 national championship), baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, and actor James Caan.
University of Oklahoma Sooners
Coach: Lon Kruger (fourth year at Oklahoma, 29th overall, 561-352)
Record: 24-10 (12-6 Big 12 Conference)
How They Got Here: Seeded third in the East Region. Defeated No. 14 Albany 69-60 and No. 11 Dayton 72-66
Players to Watch: 6-4 Jr. G Buddy Hield (17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg); 6-4 Jr. G Isaiah Cousins (11.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg); 6-8 Sr. F TaShawn Thomas (11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 51 blocks)
Sweet Fact: Kruger is the first coach in NCAA Division I history to take four programs to the Sweet 16 or beyond: Kansas State (1988 Elite Eight), Florida (1994 Final Four), UNLV (2007 Sweet 16) and Oklahoma. Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, John Calipari and Bill Self have taken three programs to the Sweet 16.
Famous Alumni: NBA star Blake Griffin (led Oklahoma to its last Sweet 16 appearance in 2009), actress Olivia Munn, actor James Garner.
Feature Photo: Louisville coach Rick Pitino during the Feb. 18 Carrier Dome game. Michael Davis photo.