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Baylor's Isaiah Austright reaches over Creighton's Doug McDermott (3) Zach Hans(40) for rebound during first half third-round game NCAA college

Baylor's Isaiah Austin, right, reaches over Creighton's Doug McDermott (3) and Zach Hanson (40) for a rebound during the first half of a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Updated: March 24, 2014 9:56AM



ST. LOUIS — As it does every year, the first week of the NCAA tournament eventually became kind of a blur. Thirty-four games — so many of them fraught with tension — over six days will do that to a person.

It’s good to have a chance to take a breath and reassess.

Strongest regional

It was the Midwest before the tourney started, and it’s still the Midwest even though No. 1 seed Wichita State and No. 3 seed Duke have been bounced. That says a lot about how stacked this region was. In hindsight, a third-round game against an 8-seed as potent as Kentucky was unfair to the 35-0 Shockers. UK is the most talented 8 of all time, and it isn’t even close.

The Wildcats’ Sweet-16 matchup with fourth-seeded Louisville in Indianapolis will be the most anticipated game of the tournament. UK has won five of the last six in this ferocious rivalry, including a tight one in Lexington in December and the teams’ huge Final Four clash in 2012. The Cardinals will be the favorites this time, though.

And still, Michigan lurks. If the second-seeded Wolverines can get the jump on 11-seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16, they could have a real advantage in the regional final over the Louisville-Kentucky winner, which will have to bounce back quickly from an extraordinarily emotional game.

The Wildcats of the west

Kentucky isn’t the only long, dynamic, scary team that’s threatening to vastly outperform its seed. Have you watched Baylor play yet? Led by 7-1 sophomore Isaiah Austin and deadeye shooter Brady Heslip, the sixth-seeded Bears had five players in double figures in an 85-55 blowout — seriously, wow — of national player of the year Doug McDermott and Creighton.

Baylor gets Wisconsin next in Anaheim, Calif. For the Badgers, it will be kind of like facing Oregon two games in a row. Only this time it won’t be in front of a wildly pro-Bucky crowd like the one in Milwaukee.

Fun, but not really

What to make of 10-seed Stanford and 11-seed Dayton in the South? It’s pretty cool that one of these extreme underdogs will advance to the Elite 8, but it’s almost impossible to envision either of them pulling a George Mason-Butler-Wichita State and getting to the Final Four.

Dayton doesn’t have the size or muscle to tangle with the Florida-UCLA winner (probably the Gators, but far from a sure thing), and Stanford is too slow and predictable offensively. The Cardinal would have a better shot against UCLA, in theory, because the teams know each other well and split two regular-season games. The Bruins are soaring, though, and have national-championship ability if they can find their peak.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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