By Josh Cook
After a thrilling first week the men's NCAA Tournament heads into the second week Thursday night with the regional semifinals.
Local favorite, University of Kentucky, is now the national favorite too after tournament top seed Kansas was upset.
Here is a brief look of what to expect this weekend in the NCAA's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight:
With Kansas out this region is wide open, and full of underdogs.
The only high seed that held up was No. 2 Ohio State. You have to like the Buckeyes with nearly everyone's national Player of the Year Evan Turner leading the way. They'll be tested by Tennessee, though. The Volunteers beat the top two seeds in this tournament (Kansas & Kentucky) during the regular season and they definitely have the athletic ability to keep up with Ohio State. But Turner will just be too much.
Then there's Michigan State against every Kentucky fan's favorite team, Northern Iowa. The Panthers are riding high after their upset of Kansas (and if you picked that upset please provide me with the next winning lottery numbers). The Spartans, meanwhile, will be without leading scorer Kalin Lucas, who tore his Achilles against Maryland. Lucas, however, only had four points in Michigan State's 86-83 win over the Terrapins. The biggest advantage the Spartans have though is Tom Izzo, the coach who gets the most of his team this time of year.
Onto the regional final for the second meeting of the season between the two teams who tied with Purdue atop the Big Ten standings. Ohio State won 74-67 at East Lansing, Mich. on Feb. 21. Turner tallied 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in that game despite playing with a head cold and flulike symptoms. On the flip side, Lucas only had nine points for the Spartans. The key is Turner, who could be in the midst of one of those Danny Manning-type runs to the national title, but if he gets in foul trouble the Buckeyes and their short bench could be in trouble. This time of year, and especially in this bracket, you go with the underdog.
Regional final: Michigan State vs. Ohio State.
Headed to Indy: Michigan State.
Top-seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Kansas State seem bound for a showdown in the regional final in Salt Lake City. Neither should overlook their regional semi opponent, though. Both Butler and Xavier have been such strong programs in recent years that you can go ahead and drop the "mid" from the mid-major label.
The Bulldogs are hoping to return to their hometown for the Final Four, but the Orange will be an enormous roadblock. Even without Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse will still have a big advantage inside. The Orange should roll.
In the other semi the upstart Musketeers will try to knock off the Wildcats. Jordan Crawford (aka the kid who dunked on LeBron over the summer) has been one of the breakout stars of the Big Dance so far. With him leading the way Xavier will keep dancing.
The difference in the regional final will be Wesley Johnson, who before Turner's tremendous Big Ten season was the frontrunner for player of the year honors.
Regioinal final: Syracuse vs. Xavier.
Headed to Indy: Syracuse.
Many think with Kansas out that this is UK's tournament to lose. The Wildcats have to get out of Syracuse first, and that may not be easy.
UK should take care of Cornell, everyone's Cinderella. The Big Red are a great story, but the Big Blue just has too much talent. If only the UK women had it so easy in their Sweet 16 game against Nebraska.
Second-seed West Virginia, meanwhile, faces a much more formidable foe in 11th-seeded Washington. The Huskies beat the No. 6 (Marquette) and No. 3 (New Mexico) seeds to get here, and the latter was in very convincing fashion. The Huskies have talent and finally appear to be utilizing it. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, have lost their starting point guard (Truck Bryant) to a broken foot so they are vulnerable. Look for Washington to pull off the upset.
In the Elite Eight UK's freshmen should be great. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins don't want their first, and likely only, college season to end without a trip to the Final Four.
Regional final: Kentucky vs. Washington.
Headed to Indy: Kentucky.
Duke's cake walk to the Final Four continues this weekend in Houston.
The Blue Devils face an under-manned Purdue team. The Boilermakers should be proud of advancing this far without fallen star Robbie Hummel, but without him they can't compete with Duke. The Blue Devils' string of stinging Sweet 16 loses comes to an end.
The other game is an intriguing match-up between No. 3 seed Baylor, which should have a homecourt advantage, against 10th-seeded St. Mary's. Gaels' center Omar Samhan has been the best player in the tournament so far and with him scoring inside and his teammates hitting three-pointers from the outside St. Mary's is going to be a tough team to beat. But the Bears' athleticism and depth up front should do in the Gaels.
Three words sum up this regional final...Duke is due. The Blue Devils haven't been to a Final Four since 2004, this is their year and their talented trio - Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith - should carry them to Indianapolis.