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Six key questions about the Sweet 16 …

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No more waiting.  It’s Game On for the 16 teams remaining in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.  Sweet.

While the West, East, and Southeast are rather chalky – minus Marquette and Butler – the Southwest is dominated by double-digit seeds.  Add up the seeding numbers in each region and it looks like this … West (11), Southeast (17), East (18), Southwest (34).  Which brings us to the six key questions about this year’s Sweet 16 …

1) Can VCU keep its momentum?  After an amazing run of 3 games in 5 days – including a First Four win over USC – the Rams will have had a four-day layoff when they tip-off against Florida State on Friday.  VCU has taken 70 three-pointers in three NCAA games (average of 23 per game) and made 29 (9.6 per game).  That’s a 41.4 shooting clip from beyond the arc.  In their win over Purdue, VCU shot a sizzling 56.9 percent from the floor. Next up is Florida State, one of the nation’s best defensive teams.  Stir it up and something has to give.  Will the break refresh the Rams or will it cool them off?

2) Can Butler reach another Final Four?  The Bulldogs are the only team in the Southeast bracket to reach back-to-back Sweet 16’s.  That alone is amazing when you consider the points, leadership, and talent Butler is missing from its 2010 squad that made it to the national championship game in Indianapolis.  Whether it’s good fortune, execution, talent, coaching – or a combination – the Bulldogs have certainly enjoyed the March spotlight.  By beating Pittsburgh, Butler has already taken out the Region’s top team.  Plus, matchups are favorable.  Wisconsin plays a similar style, and neither BYU or Florida run over opponents with sheer talent and size. 

3) How will the young ‘Cats handle the Buckeyes’ experience?  Granted, this is March and freshmen have basically played an entire season.  And yes, Kentucky has relied on its upper classmen to help them reach the Sweet 16.  But if Kentucky is going to upset Ohio State, the UK freshmen will have to be a factor.  The Buckeyes aren’t deep, but the core of their team is versatile, talented, and experienced.  If Ohio State shoots like it did against George Mason, no one will beat the Buckeyes.  In terms of athletes, though, Kentucky matches up well with Ohio State.  The difference will be whether UK can avoid mistakes and whether they can knock down big shots.

4) Will the Mountain West survive?  San Diego State and BYU are very good teams.  We’re about to find out if either can play at an elite level in back-to-back outings.  Naysayers will point to the fact that while the Mountain West is a good conference, it’s not the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, or SEC. SDSU and BYU face champions of those leagues on Thursday.  If both lose, it will still be a great season.  Reaching the Elite 8 or Final Four, on the other hand, would elevate both team and league perceptions.

5)  Will Kansas avoid another upset?  After dispatching Illinois, the Jayhawks are two wins from another Final Four.  And while the prospects of having to play only double-digit seeds is beneficial, it’s not without risk.  Last year, KU was ousted by ninth-seeded Northern Iowa.  If the Jayhawks stumble against Richmond, VCU, or Florida State, it’ll be another disappointing finish for fans in Lawrence.  That certainly adds some below-the-surface tension.  Being a prohibitive favorite isn’t always easy.  How will KU handle it?

6) Which Duke team arrived in Anaheim?  Early in the season, the Blue Devils looked poised to defend their national title.  Then Kyrie Irving injured his toe.  Questions ensued.  Duke looked vulnerable in losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech.  Even when they were winning, the team wasn’t as explosive.  Now, Irving is back with two games under his belt.  Duke looked shaky down the stretch in its game with Michigan.  Will three extra practice days help?  If the Blue Devils regain early-season form, it’ll be hard to knock them out.  If the mojo doesn’t return, can they survive their trip out West?  That’s what we’re about to find out.

Different thoughts? Rebounds always welcome.  Follow on Twitter @BracketguyDave.  Enjoy the hoops.

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