Rating the regional sites and their ‘fun factor’

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With the Sweet 16 set, the most pressing question(s) shouldn’t be about match-ups and who will win (although that Kendall Marshall wrist injury is a pretty intriguing story line).

No, with 16 unique fan bases descending on four cities in this beautiful country, the most important discussion should be the amount of excitement one can have if attending any of these games.

Even if you have no rooting interest but live in Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix or St. Louis, you may want to get a quick education on what to expect if you plan on immersing yourself in the frenzy before, during, and after the games.

A brief overview on what to expect at each location is below…

South Region (Atlanta)

I pretty much decided to write this article based solely on the mayhem that is likely to ensue down in Atlanta.  The South Region is going to be ridiculous, and if you live in the area but have no affiliation to any of the four schools involved, I still highly recommend hovering in and around the Georgia Dome. Grab some of your friends, find a suitable watering hole, and just observe.

If there aren’t fist fights, there will at least be some fantastic banter between IU and UK fans. The Wildcats are the favorites; the Hoosiers beat them in December and want/need/gotta have this for affirmation of the reclamation of their program’s mystique.

Fan interest level (on a scale of 1-5): 7

Big Blue Nation, one of the few state schools in the country that pours all their emotions into basketball and not football, can already smell their team’s eighth National Championship. But the Hoosiers are also all-in on basketball, and this weekend could steer this program back to where they want to be.

Xavier, a small, basketball-first school, is also completely invested in hoops. While they’re a second weekend mainstay that  has yet to reach the Final Four, they’re thrilled to still be playing based on how this team seemed to fall apart post-Crosstown Brawl.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

It’s going to be crazy, and based on location, all four fan bases will travel in droves. Wildcat and Musketeer fans will be co-mingling down I-75 en-route to Atlanta, with Hoosier fans likely joining them depending on where they’re packing up the mini-van

It’s a straight shot six-hour drive from Cincinnati (I made the trip to the Atlanta regionals in 2004), so there’s really no excuse not for any of these Mid-west fans not to road trip it down to the games.

East Region (Boston)

A great sports city that almost takes pride in being a terrible and apathetic college sports city, Boston at least boasts plenty of transplants from around the country, meaning there’s pockets of Badgers, Bearcats, Buckeyes and (especially) Orange fans in the area.

Tickets are already sold out, and because these schools all hail from a BCS-conference, the fan and alumni base is big enough to ensure a respectable turnout of fans taking up space at the row of bars outside the TD Garden on both Thursday and Saturday. In fact, the city expects this NCAA regional to generate triple the dollars than what hosting the regional did back in 2009, as that time around the four participating schools were much smaller.

Fans Interest Level: 4

And that’s only because I question Ohio State fans interest in this portion of the tournament. Think about it:  they’re football first, and have been a Final Four contender for the past few seasons. How jazzed are they, really, about the regionals?

That being said, I know that the Orange (it’s supposed to be Syracuse’s year) and Bearcat (first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001) fans are being completely unproductive this work week.

Projected nuttiness outside the Garden: 3

Syracuse is a four-hour drive from Boston, and their alumni are planted all over the East Coast.

Cincinnati fans don’t want to miss such a great opportunity to check out a new city with their team having a realistic shot of playing for a trip to the Final Four.

Ohio State is like a small country, so it’s a numbers game with them. You know they’ll fill their allotted tickets plus a few more.

Badger fans love to party so we welcome their drinking acumen into the Hub, assuming they show up.

For everyone that rolls into town: there’s about three dozen bars in a two block radius of the arena, so no shortage of options to drink up before game time.

West Region (Phoenix)

I know it’s impossible, but it would be great if we could suddenly relocate this section of the bracket to a more travel-friendly venue when there are no participating teams within two time zones of the place.

Consider: the campuses of Michigan State, Marquette, Florida and Louisville,  are all located located more than 1700 miles from the arena they must travel to compete for a trip to the Final Four.

Sort of impractical in these lean economic times, no? 

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  4

What’s great about this region is its got three “basketball first” schools, and Florida, which just really enjoys winning things.

With both games up in the air – I have a sneaking suspicion about Louisville – nothing is certain. All four schools have been to the Final Four in the past 10 years, but only Michigan State has been since 2007. There’s a lot of pride at stake here.

Projected nuttiness outside the arena: 2

I’m sure each school well sell their tickets, but expect a dead arena for both Sweet 16 games, especially Michigan State – Louisville, which tips at 4:47 local time.

Downtown Phoenix is also infamous for being a ghost town, so if you are headed west for the games, I’d be interested to know how visitors spend their off-day free time (golfing in Scottsdale?) and pregaming before you enter US Airways Arena.

Midwest Region (St. Louis)

The region that was most flipped upside down in the first weekend, the Midwest could either be really great for the casual fan, or just really great for NC State and Ohio.

Let’s be honest, Cinderella stories are great, but they’re usually supposed to end right about now and make way for the big boys. But based on what transpired both on and off the court late Sunday night, the Midwest is anyone’s guess, and fans from any school should be willing to fork over some cash to attend, especially because of the proximity.

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  5

And for a wide range of reasons.

Like they would for any second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, both Kansas and North Carolina fans have canceled all other social plans for the weekend to clear out space for one, maybe two big games this weekend, while Ohio and NC State are both ecstatic to be here, but have confident fan bases that are not satisfied.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

Two reasons: St. Louis is an underrated city to get wild in, and Ohio currently holds the title as the biggest party school in the country.

If the little guy is the one making the biggest scene during pregame “warm-ups”, then you know this is a recipe for an awesome weekend.

Why would Jayhawk, Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans want to get shown up?

Bobcat undergrads are sure to flood the Lou, as the eight hour drive from Athens to St. Louis is the perfect distance for a memorable road trip.

With Atlanta potentially being overrun with Kentucky fans, and Boston unlikely to have hoards of fans from all four participating teams, this region  would be my pick to attend if the cost of travel, accommodations and tickets to all three games were not an issue.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

UMBC becomes first No. 16 seed to beat No. 1 seed in beatdown of Virginia

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UMBC made sports history on Friday night by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The America East champions pulled off a shocking 74-54 upset over No. 1 seed Virginia in the South Region.

The Retrievers (25-10) not only made history by beating a No. 1 seed — they also knocked off the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion. Tied at the half, UMBC jumped out to a double-digit lead and maintained its dominance throughout the second half by consistently knocking down three-pointers and keeping the pressure on.

Senior guard Jairus Lyle, the team’s hero in the America East title game, finished with 28 points to pace the Retrievers as he went 9-for-11 from the field.  Joe Shurburne (14 points), Arkel Lamar (12 points) and K.J. Maura (10 points) also finished in double-figures for UMBC, as they extended its winning streak to six games.

Virginia (31-3) won the ACC regular season by four games. They took the league’s conference tournament as well. The Cavaliers were the most consistent team in college basketball this season. The Cavaliers lost sixth man DeAndre Hunter to the season with an injury earlier in the week. They were still a heavy favorite in this game.

But Virginia struggled to knock down three-pointers. It was clear Virginia started playing scared once the upset became apparent. And that’s how once of the biggest upsets in sports history went down. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome led Virginia with 15 points each.

Virginia shot only 41 percent (23-for-56) from the field and 19 percent (4-for-22) from three-point range as they couldn’t find consistent offense or a go-to player.

UMBC advances to battle No. 9 seed Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats advanced earlier on Friday night with a balanced effort in a win over No. 8 seed Creighton.

UMBC social media won the night as much as the basketball team

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The eyes of the sports world are on UMBC. Cinderella has arrived.

The No. 16 seed shocked No. 1 seed Virginia by double digits on Friday night as the Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

UMBC’s basketball team wasn’t the only group from the school ready to go on Friday night.

The school’s social media presence was trolling everyone and showing tons of swagger as the Retrievers built a second-half double-digit lead on Virginia.

The UMBC Athletics account called out pundits, trolled doubters and had fun with fans during a special moment in sports history.

Some examples:

Now that the historic win has gone down, UMBC, and their social media account, have become immortal.

No. 1 Xavier takes down No. 16 Texas Southern

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Xavier got off to a slow start, but rallied to run past No. 16 Texas Southern for a 102-83 NCAA tournament victory on Friday night in the West Region.

The Musketeers (29-5) had huge performances from seniors Trevon Bluiett (26 points) and J.P. Macura (29 points) as the duo combined for seven three-pointers and 35 points in the first 20 minutes. The duo ended up getting a third major scorer in the second half when senior big man Kerem Kanter stepped up his play. Kanter ended up with 24 points.

Xavier shot 45 percent (11-for-24) from three-point range and 54 percent from the field (35-for-64) in the win.

Texas Southern (16-20) went on a 16-0 run at one point in the first half to take a 20-13 lead. The Tigers had the momentum, but things quickly turned the other way when Xavier responded with its own 16-0 flurry.

The Tigers had five double-figure scorers, led by point guard Damontrae Jefferson with 20 points, but they couldn’t get stops on the other end. Guard Derrick Bruce finished with 18 points while Robert Lewis (14 points), Donte Clark (12 points) and Trayvon Reed (10 points) also finished in double-figures.

The Tigers started this season 0-13 as they lost all road games against tough competition. The SWAC champions rallied to win eight straight games before the NCAA tournament and put up an admirable fight before falling to the Big East regular season champions.

Xavier moves on to face the winner of No. 8 seed Missouri and No. 9 seed Florida State as the Musketeers could have a tough matchup against either team.

No. 4 seed Auburn survives off-night, beats No. 13 Charleston

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Auburn did everything they possibly could to become the third No. 4 seed to fall to a No. 13 seed in their first round game of the NCAA tournament.

Charleston, who was essentially playing without their best player, Joe Chealey, who was a shell of himself as he battled an ankle injury, turned the ball over 21 times and shot 5-for-22 from beyond the arc and still managed to find a way to be ahead in the final three minutes.

The Tigers, who are eighth in the country in free throw shooting percentage, made just 15-of-32 from the charity stripe. They missed all 13 threes they shot in the first half — a first for the program in Bruce Pearl’s tenure — and finish the night just 5-for-24 from beyond the arc while shooting 35.6 percent from the floor.

After Bruce Brown missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left, Charleston’s Grant Riller had a shot to tie the game. He missed, Auburn finally made a free throw down the stretch, and the Tigers escaped with a 62-58 win that they barely deserved.

The most important part of that sentence, however, is “win”.

There’s a reason that the saying in March is “survive and advance”. As long as you survive, as long as you live to advance and play another day, there’s always a chance.

I don’t think there is a single player on that Auburn roster, on the Auburn coaching staff or in the state of Alabama that will believe that the way they played on Friday night will be enough to get this team — who were co-champions of the SEC that went wire to wire in first place in the league — where they want to be this year. And to be frank, with the injury to Anfernee McLemore and the shoulder issue that is plaguing Bruce Brown, there’s a chance that this team may be too beaten down to make any kind of serious run in March.

But they’re still here.

Hope is still alive.

And that counts for something.

Miles Bridges goes into takeover mode as No. 3 Michigan State survives Bucknell

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It took a while for No. 3 seed Michigan State to get into a rhythm, but once they did, Bucknell, the Patriot League champs, didn’t have enough of an answer.

After heading into halftime with just a 44-40 lead, the Spartans held Bucknell to just 14 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half, pushing their lead as high as 18 points in an 82-78 win. The Bison hit a flurry of shots in the final seconds to make the final score look much more flattering than the second half actually was.

For Michigan State, however, the story of this game was Miles Bridges.

Oft-derided this season as a talent that couldn’t take over when his team needed him to, a player that was said to have “no game” by Big Ten expert that shall remain nameless, the NBC Sports Preseason Player of the Year took over against Bucknell. He finished with 29 points, nine boards and four assists, taking 22 shots from the floor with just seven of them coming from beyond the arc.

He went into takeover mode without simply settling for jumpers.

And that is when the Spartans end up at a different level. That’s when they reach their peak, and if we are going to see that Bridges for the rest of the NCAA tournament, then maybe — just maybe — this team has a chance to live up to the potential we all bestowed upon them at the start of the season.

The Spartans will advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they will face off with the winner of tonight’s No. 6 TCU-No. 11 Syracuse game.