Tate's Take: The Madness Runs Through The Atlanta Region
Now that everyone's bracket is officially busted and either set on fire, ripped to shreds or crumbled and used to practice wastebasket jump-shots in the office (thanks Virginia), the madness continues. Only 16 teams remain and there's not nearly as much chalk as we expected (no pun intended, Kansas). The sweet 16 has formed and for the first time ever, only seven programs seeded forth or higher are in contention for the 2018 crown.
There's a good chance that ATL could be known for much more than its peaches, sweet tea, Waffle House, Coca-Cola and bad traffic. After this weekend, we may be adding college basketball madness to that list after 2 consecutive rounds of upsets with more potentially brewing. Believe it or not, a nine, seven, eleven and five seed represent the Atlanta Region after seeing VA, AZ, TN and Cincy bow out early. Hands down this has been the tournament's most unpredictable region. Here's what to expect from its games this week:
It doesn't take an Ivy League degree to see Kentucky is the HUGE favorite here and deservedly so. With deepest and most talented front-court in the country, their youth and lack of experience however could pose as a major concern. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing as well as anyone in the country right now. Coach John Calipari could be closing in on his fifth Final Four in eight seasons. Kevin Knox is a huge part of that but will need some assistance from the back-court in Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo.
Loyola-Chicago comes in as an eleven seed and of all the teams remaining in the field, the region's biggest underdog has the most unlikely chance of getting to the Final Four. Don't tell that to Sister Jean and the Ramblers who defeated Miami and Tennessee en route to a S16 berth. Though not an impressive rebounding club, Loyola-Chi ranks among the top-5 nationally in points allowed.. an area that can lead to an even deeper run in the tournament. We have seen it before with VCU and George Mason.
But Loyola-Chicago won't be the only team showing up in Atlanta unexpectedly and coming off of a major upset. Nevada enters with just as much confidence as any cutting into Cincinnati's 22-point deficit with eleven minutes remaining in the game. Jordan Caroline is a high volume scorer that is capable of posting 20 points on a stat-sheet before halftime. NC State (twin) transfers Cody and Caleb Martin are great complimentary assets and play well off each other. Head coach Eric Musselman's stock is on the rise and could elevate, putting him in position for a potential power 6 conference job. The Elite Eight match-up with UK could be better than advertised and serve as one of the biggest upsets if dark horse Nevada can avoid Loyola's antics.
Kansas State is the most questionable team and benefited most from UVA's absence. K-State also joins Loyola as an atrocious rebounding club but there's light at the end of the tunnel with the possibility of team scoring leader Dean Wade returning, joining Barry Brown, arguably the South Region and Big 12's most underrated back-court tandem. Maybe being overlooked with all the attention focused elsewhere is what is best for K-State? If not nothing else, a recently struggling-to-win Bruce Webber who's seat was getting hotter and hotter may have just earned himself an extension and some recruits along the way.