Thursday, March 28, 2013

03/28 (Sweet 16) Quickie

It's a good set of games tonight, but in today's USA TODAY Sports column, I'm focused on expectations.

For Indiana, if they lose tonight, the season is a failure. It's harsh, but true. It doesn't take away from Tom Crean's rebuilding job, but they are past the point of "happy to be good again!" and squarely in the "this team can/should win a title" zone. The same goes for Louisville -- maybe even more, which makes a Louisville-Indiana title game so interesting. One team will crap out, guaranteed.

As you roll down the field, expectations change: Because college hoops has this quirky thing where being a national semifinalist is nearly as meaningful as winning it all, simply making the Final Four is the expectation for the other 1-seed Kansas, the 2-seeds Ohio State and Duke, the 3-seeds Michigan State and Florida and the 4-seed Michigan.

Florida is a unique case: Because they made the Elite Eight the past two years, it's "Final Four or fail" for them, even if their seed doesn't quite justify that expectation. For Michigan State, it's the remarkable Izzo streak of every four-year player getting to at least one Final Four. For Michigan, it is simply that they are unlikely to have a team this talented in the near future. Again, that makes a Florida-Michigan regional final absolutely amazing, as it does for Michigan State-Duke.

Miami is an odd case: By seed, it should be "Final Four or bust." But because the program is so nouveau riche -- literally, this season -- you get the sense that getting to the Elite Eight will still be considered pretty good, albeit disappointing for those who thought this team was good enough to get to the Final Four.

As for the rest, it's pretty much all gravy. Oh, Arizona fans can/should be ticked if they don't get to the Elite Eight, but there isn't a huge shame in losing to a strong 2-seed.

Wichita State-LaSalle is fascinating: One of those teams is going to the Elite Eight -- bringing with it a puncher's chance at making the Final Four and earning college hoops immortality that would come with it. Both teams have to be saying to themselves: Why not us? In that case, losing tonight will be hugely disappointing to the loser, even if making the Sweet 16 at all should be cause for celebration.

Give the column a read -- this tension between "win or failure" and "just happy to be here" is a long-standing fascination of mine. Tons more in the column, too. Enjoy the games tonight.

-- D.S.

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