Now that we’ve caught our collective breath after the upsets and dramatic finishes of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to move on to the Sweet 16. The tournament re-starts Thursday with regional semifinals in Louisville and Anaheim. Some nuggets to peruse as you pursue a path to victory in your office pool:
WEST NOT BEST FOR DUKE
Duke plays top-seeded Oregon in Anaheim, California, at 6:55 p.m. Pacific time. That’s 9:55 p.m. back in North Carolina. History says playing three time zones away doesn’t bode well for the Blue Devils.
Duke is 0-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played on the West Coast. Coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t put much stock in the statistic.
“It’s interesting with ESPN, every time I look at the ticker, it’s something we haven’t done. So we’ve won 90 games in the NCAA,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve never been one to look at what I do on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or whatever. I’ve looked at what we’ve done cumulative.
“So it’s our 23rd Sweet Sixteen. We’ve been in 116 NCAA games, and we’re honored like crazy to be in here. I really don’t think it makes a damn bit of difference what we’ve done on the West Coast before. If we started to compete because of Mondays, Tuesdays and West Coast, I don’t think we ever would have had five national championships and 12 Final Fours.”
The last time Duke played in Anaheim, in 2011, the defending national champion Blue Devils were No. 1 seeds and lost 93-77 to a fifth-seeded Arizona in a regional semifinal.
NOVA EXPECTS A TUSSLE
Sure, No. 2 seed Villanova spent three weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team for the first time in school history earlier this season. The Wildcats (31-5) also have won five of their last seven, and they believe they are starting games off much better. They cruised through the tournament’s opening weekend routing UNC-Asheville and then Iowa as they shot 58.6 percent. Another win puts them into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
But Villanova coach Jay Wright noticed how Miami came back after squandering a 21-point lead against Wichita State to advance to Louisville, Kentucky.
“You could see it in their eyes: no panic, no concern,” Wright said of the Hurricanes. “You saw them step it up another level against a team that was on a run. If you do that any time, you’re a good team. But when you do that in the NCAA Tournament, when you fight against momentum in the NCAA Tournament with no panic, momentum in the NCAA Tournament is far greater than any other time during the year.”
This is the third time the Hurricanes (27-7) have reached the Sweet 16, and they are trying to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in this program’s short NCAA Tournament history. They view how they handled blowing that lead in the second round as giving them a big character boost.
“Adversity, sometimes you’ve just got to keep fighting,” Miami senior Tonye Jekiri said.
PARKINSON’S WON’T SLOW KENNEDY
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy says he’s fortunate he hasn’t had to endure many negative effects of Parkinson’s disease. The 52-year-old was asked if there’s a message in the fact he’s coaching in his first Sweet 16 five years after his diagnosis.
“It’s no different message than Michael J. Fox or Janet Reno or so many other people who have had the disease in stressful jobs and have gone on and been successful,” he said, referring to the actor and the former U.S. Attorney General. “I’ve been totally blessed that the symptoms aren’t greater than they are, and I’ve got great doctors.”
Kennedy said he gets a check-up once a year, and he credited his wife, Mary, for improving is diet.
“She’s a nutrition junkie, unfortunately, but it’s helped me in fighting this disease,” he said, “and we think it’s a big part of why my symptoms are so mild.”
DIALLO WAITING TURN
One of the major story lines early in the season was the saga of Kansas five-star recruit Cheick Diallo, who was the subject of a monthlong NCAA investigation into his education and background. He has not been the factor many anticipated he would be after he was cleared to start playing Dec. 1. He’s averaging 3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 7.5 minutes.
“The bottom line with Cheick, and this is not a knock to him at all, it’s just that we’ve had some other guys probably perform better with the other players on the court than what he was doing at the time,” coach Bill Self said. “Then we got on a roll and he’s kind of been the odd man out. Just to be very candid.
“But Cheick will get the last laugh on everybody, and I think he knows that.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed.