Big Ten fans will wait until Friday for both Michigan State & Wisconsin to make their last push for the Final Four, but regional action will start tomorrow night in both the East and West brackets. Here's a brief look at the action in Charlotte & Phoenix. Regional finals are scheduled for Saturday in these regionals.
Two coaches with ties to the state of Wisconsin will be in Charlotte. Washington State coach Tony Bennett is the son of former Badger head man Dick Bennett. WSU plays the kind of defense their coach's father was renowned for, shutting down Notre Dame's heralded Luke Harangody in the second round. The Cougars will now play top-seeded North Carolina. With the Heels having rang up 100+ in both opening games, it will be a test like young Bennett hasn't seen before.
The other East semi will be will one of the best games of the entire Sweet 16. Tennessee-Louisville provides both a feisty geographic rivalry and a compelling basketball matchup. Volunteer coach Bruce Pearl made his reputation at UW-Milwaukee when he led the Panthers to a pair of NCAA wins back in 2005. Pearl also worked as an assistant at Iowa under Dr. Tom Davis.
I went with a chalk matchup in this regional, picking a Carolina-Tennessee final and the Heels cutting down the nets. No reason to change horses now.
Ticketholders in Phoenix are probably disappointed, as the dream of a Duke-UCLA battle on Saturday got upset when the Blue Devils were ousted. Fourth-seeded UConn also said goodbye, and this bracket now features #12 seed Villanova and #7 seed West Virginia. And the #3 team, Xavier, doesn't exactly scare anyone. If bracket breaks are the key to winning in March, as I believe they are, Ben Howland & UCLA have to be smelling the opportunity for an easy weekend ride.
This is a bracket that is sure to unlock emotions for hoops fans in my old hometown of Pittsburgh. Howland used to coach the Panthers. Xavier's Sean Miller played there. And Pitt's biggest rival is West Virginia. My own bracket here is pretty messed up, as I counted on the Dookies to coast through the first three games before falling to the Bruins. As it is, I will now take West Virginia to continue its upset run against Xavier before losing to Howland's team. UCLA makes the Final Four for the third straight year.