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Running down the NCAA's regionals

By John Marshall

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 20 2012 10:45 a.m. MDT

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, right, stands with his team as they start to celebrate as they lead with time running down in the second half of an East Regional NCAA tournament third-round college basketball game against Kansas State in the NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, March 17, 2012 in Pittsburgh. Syracuse won 75-59.

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

Now it's time for the big dogs to take over the NCAA tournament.

Fourteen of the 16 teams remaining in the bracket are from major conferences, leaving scrappy Ohio and Xavier as the only mid-majors with a shot at following up on what Butler and Virginia Commonwealth did a year ago.

Good news, even for you underdog fans, is that the resumes of the 14 big-school programs include 93 Final Four appearances and 33 national titles. Get teams like that together, and there's sure to be some great matchups and games.

Needless to say, it should be sweet.

BEST GAMES

If we're going to tout how great the matchups are, we might as well start off by pointing out a few.

Syracuse vs. Wisconsin. The Orange live for creating turnovers; the Badgers hold onto the ball as if it were a pot of gold coins. Should be fun to see how this battle of styles and wills plays out.

Michigan State vs. Louisville. A battle of minds between Cardinals coach Rick Pitino and the Spartans' Tom Izzo. A couple of pretty good teams with some good players, too.

Kentucky vs. Indiana. Don't think the Wildcats have forgotten about that Assembly Hall court storming after Indiana's win in December. Two traditional powers, too; a combined for 12 national titles between them.

Marquette vs. Florida. The Gators can shoot, particularly from the 3-point arc. The Golden Eagles are tough and like to play defense. Another will-inflicting game.

UNSUNG HEROES

We know the stars, the big names who get all the attention. But just below the marquee are a handful of under-the-radar players who are there to support the headliner, sometimes even steal the show.

Here's a few who have grabbed the spotlight so far:

Brady Heslip, Baylor. He's open soon as he crosses midcourt and has killed teams that collapse on Baylor's big front line in the NCAA tournament. In case you didn't see it, he hit a 10th 3-pointer on the way to the locker room after demolishing Colorado on Saturday.

Marquis Teague, Kentucky. Once considered Kentucky's lone weak spot, the freshman had 24 points, seven assists and four rebounds against Colorado.

Jeff Withey, Kansas. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor make the Jayhawks go. Withey becoming more assertive helped take them to the regional semis.

Aaron Craft, Ohio State. The Buckeyes' point guard can score and has great court vision. His biggest contribution could be defense; he can take an opposing guard completely out of a game.

Russ Smith, Louisville. The Cardinals guard can be a difference-maker and was against New Mexico, scoring 17 points. He disappeared a few times this season, which Louisville can't afford at this point.

NUMBERS

0 — Losses by 29-7 Baylor outside the Big 12.

1 — Team left from last year's Final Four: Kentucky.

3 — Conference tournament champions in the round of 16: Michigan State, Louisville and Ohio.

4 — Teams from the Big Ten and Big East left in the tournament.

10 — Times Michigan State has reached the regional semifinals in the last 15 years.

10½ — Point spread for North Carolina over Ohio, widest among the eight games.

48 — Years since Ohio last reached the round of 16.

50 — Years since Cincinnati beat Ohio State in the national title game for the second year in a row. The Bearcats and Orange play Thursday in Boston.

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