US & World

NCAA's Sweet Sixteen Set For Bitter Battles

Play in the men's basketball tournament resumes tonight with two games each in Syracuse, N.Y. and Salt Lake City. Match-ups include Butler and Syracuse; Washington and West Virginia; Xavier and Kansas State; and Cornell and Kentucky.

The "regional semifinals," the NCAA calls them. We know them as the Sweet Sixteen.

Play in the men's basketball tournament resumes tonight with two games each in Syracuse, N.Y. and Salt Lake City.

The first tip-off has the No. 5 seed Butler Bulldogs going after the No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange. Later, the No. 11 seed Washington Huskies will meet No. 2 seed West Virginia; No. 6 seed Xavier will tackle No. 2 seed Kansas State; and No. 12 seed Cornell will face No. 1 seed Kentucky.

Butler, playing out of the Horizon League, has made the round of 16 three times in eight years. And Syracuse — regularly one of the best teams in the country — has shown a vulnerability to the upset in tournaments past.

But the Orange skated past their first two opponents without a serious challenge, while the Bulldogs struggled to get past upstart Murray State in the second round.

The West Virginia-Washington matchup is much harder to size up than it would have been a couple of weeks ago. The Huskies nearly missed the whole shootin' match, clinching a berth by winning the Pac-10 tournament. But they've stormed past two higher-rated opponents so far.

Meanwhile, West Virginia — which played well all year and won the Big East tournament — suddenly finds itself without point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his foot in practice earlier in the week. The Mountaineers still have standout guard Da'Sean Butler on their side.

Xavier is another team from a so-called "mid-major conference" — the Atlantic 10 — with a solid record in recent NCAA tournaments. The Muskateers took out Big East power Pitt in the second round and it's no longer much of a surprise to see them in the Sweet Sixteen.

Kansas State was only the second-best team in Kansas entering the tournament. But that's only because the Wildcats share the state with the University of Kansas, which came in as the overall No. 1 seed and the No. 1 team in the country. And so far, K-State has the last laugh, since the rival Jayhawks were bounced by Northern Iowa in round two.

Finally there's Thursday's most intriguing matchup: Kentucky and Cornell. First-year UK coach John Calipari puts an astonishing load of young talent on the floor, with at least three freshmen bound for NBA glory. But the Big Red of Cornell are one of the best shooting teams in the country from beyond the 3-point range and they've humbled two favored opponents rather easily in the first two rounds of the tournament (Temple and Wisconsin).

Thursday's games are just half the story of the Sweet Sixteen, of course. Friday night brings four more contests: Michigan State-Northern Iowa; Duke-Purdue; Ohio State-Tennessee; and Baylor-Saint Mary's.

The winners of Thursday and Friday's games get together again on Saturday and Sunday to determine who goes to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit