Though Friday night's Louisville/Kentucky matchup in the Midwest headlines the early half of the weekend, Thursday night features a little intrigue as well.
Thursday NCAA Regional Semifinals
|South||(10) Stanford Cardinal vs. (11) Dayton Flyers||FedExForum
|715p||CBS||Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols|
|West||(2) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (6) Baylor Bears||Honda Center
|747p||TBS||Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager|
|South||(1) Florida Gators vs. (4) UCLA Bruins||FedExForum
|945p||CBS||Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols|
|West||(1) Arizona Wildcats vs. (4) San Diego State Aztecs||Honda Center
|1017p||TBS||Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager|
With a win here, Dayton makes their first regional final since 1983-1984 when they lost the West Regional Final to eventual National champ Georgetown and Patrick Ewing. That was the last year the tournament featured less than 64 teams. The Flyers are in just their 6th tournament since they ran thru Oklahoma and Wayman Tisdale, and Detlef Schrempf's Washington Huskies.
It has taken Johnny Dawkins six years to get to the NCAAs, and now that he's gotten there he owns bragging rights over former Duke back-court mate Tommy Amaker for this year. As valiant as Harvard's run was, Dawkins' squad is the one still standing. Likely favorites tonight, due to their strength of schedule, the Cardinal have the most impressive win, knocking off Kansas. With a win, they'd make their first regional final since 2001, when they lost to Maryland.
The winner gets a date with the winner of Florida/UCLA in the regional final.
Billy Donovan is looking to reach his fourth straight regional final. The last five times the Gators have reached the tournament, they've made it at least as far as the regional finals. Recent history has not been kind to UCLA in this head-to-head matchup with the Bruins falling to the Gators in the 2007 title game, and again in 2008 in the national semis. The two teams met once again in the Sweet 16 in 2011, where the Gators once again sent the Bruins packing. With Florida charging hard, not having lost since December 2, a victory for the Bruins here would serve as partial justice for the country's most decorated of programs.
UCLA hasn't been challenged yet by Tulsa or Stephen F Austin, so they will need to be prepared to weather the early storm. Steve Alford hasn't been particularly successful in the NCAA tournament (7-7 in 8 appearances), and he may be overmatched tonight.
Baylor lost five straight from January 15 to January 28. Take those out and you have a 26-6 team who has won 12 of their last 14. They are a physically imposing group who has lost just two games to unranked teams. What we have here is a clash of styles, with Bo Ryan's grind-it-out patient approach facing Scott Drew's up-tempo approach. Baylor is trying to keep in line with a new pattern of making a regional final every other year. They made the Final Eight in 2010, and 2012, falling short of the Final Four both times.
Wisconsin and Bo Ryan haven't made a regional final since 2004-2005, having made three sweet sixteens since then, losing them all. The Badgers also have the dubious honor of having played in the Final Four game that set basketball back to the days of James Naismith back in 2000, when they lost to Michigan State 53-41.
The winner here plays the winner of Arizona and San Diego State.
Arizona-San Diego State
East Coast bias cannot be denied here, I never watch ENOUGH west coast basketball during the season. But we do know both of these teams are good, even great. And all things equal, this maybe should be positioned to be the regional final as San Diego St was undervalued at selection time. The San Diego State program is woefully under-recognized under Steve Fisher, an understated giant in the coaching game. Never fully respected due to his shotgun marriage at Michigan title run, and subsequent Fab Five roller coaster ride, Fisher has quietly built a low-budget program into a well-respected juggernaut in the often underwhelming SoCal area. He manages to out-perform Pac-10 behemoths regularly on the recruiting trail, and he is presented with a chance here to demonstrate regional dominance on the stage where it matters most. So to most right coast folk, this is just entertainment. When we read between the lines it represents a heckuva lot more.
This is arguably the best chance for the Aztecs since the 2011 run where they lost to eventual champion UCONN and Kemba Walker in the Sweet 16. But Arizona, who has for lack of a better word, "cruised" through this entire campaign on depth and overwhelming talent, should be confident in pretty much any game they enter. Their main cause for concern: Only one win vs a ranked team all year, when they beat #6 Duke back in November. The Pac 12 didn't garner a ton of respect in the polls, though it did have a lot of tough outs.
All things equal, these are your two best teams in the west and it's fitting that they meet in the regional semis, if they can't meet in the final itself.
Enjoy the games today, and feel free to use the comments section as an open thread this evening.