Kentucky Basketball: 3 Things We Have Learned After The First Two Rounds Of The NCAA Tournament

Well, the Sweet 16 field is set.

And we've been spoiled again.

We get a Kentucky-UCLA rematch. Add North Carolina and the South Region is stacked with blue bloods.

In the West Region, we could see the Arizona-Gonzaga rematch and settle the "Who is the best team in the West?" question for good.

But the sexiest storylines involve the underdogs who smashed our brackets on their way to the second weekend. No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 7 South Carolina restructured the East Region by dismissing No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Duke, respectively, in the second round.

The drama will continue. So what should we expect from the Sweet 16?

1. Lonzo Ball will lead UCLA to the Final Four and end all debate about the No. 1 pick

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UCLA guard Lonzo Ball can lay claim to the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft with a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Listen, this summer's NBA draft will feature one of the most stacked classes of talent in years. The pool is so deep that a kid such as California's Ivan Rabb could fall outside the lottery. The greatest prize, however, is Ball. He's on a short list of players who could become the top pick in averaging a silly 14.7 points, 7.6 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He collected 12 assists against just two turnovers in UCLA's NCAA tournament wins over Kent State and Cincinnati.

In Memphis, Ball will be a star in a rich field. This is when the heroes soar. College basketball doesn't have a more equipped Superman than UCLA's star. When he dazzles the world with a pair of performances that boost his draft stock and lead the Bruins past Kentucky and North Carolina, he'll prove that his father, LaVar Ball, might exaggerate his talents but not his promise.

2. Bronson Koenig will send Wisconsin back to the Final Four

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It's easy to forget Nigel Hayes and Koenig were young players who cried with former teammates Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky after Wisconsin lost to Duke in the 2015 national title game. The duo never forgot that sour taste. They played with an unmatched edge in the opening rounds this time around. The team's 1.37 points per possession against Virginia Tech and wild finish against Villanova (Wisconsin made 53 percent of its shots) gave the Badgers more confidence in a region that offers a smooth path to Glendale, Arizona.

Expect Big Play Bronson to lead Wisconsin to another Final Four with a pair of breathtaking performances at Madison Square Garden.

3. Kentucky and UCLA will give us the best game of the entire NCAA tournament in their rematch

Figure out your UCLA-Kentucky plans now. You can't miss this game on Friday. When these two squads faced off in December in Lexington, the Bruins won a tough game with a push in the second half. That was nearly four months ago, when both young squads were still evolving into the products we see now.

Malik Monk finished 6-for-21 in Kentucky's two wins in the first weekend of the tournament. That's a sloppy start for the projected lottery pick. It won't last. Monk will end that slump this weekend against the Bruins. Both programs had their rocky moments in the opening rounds. They won't disappoint here, though. We'll see other great games throughout the NCAA tournament, but we'll look back at UCLA vs. Kentucky as the game of this tournament.

4. Gonzaga will make the Final Four and silence the doubters

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Gonzaga's depth is what separates this Bulldogs team from past versions that failed to make the Final Four. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's fair to discuss the what-ifs after a horrendous non-call on a goaltending violation during Northwestern's loss to Gonzaga in the second round. The Bulldogs still managed to demonstrate why they're perhaps Mark Few's greatest team, with depth few teams in the country can match.

The Bulldogs will enter the Sweet 16 as the hunted in the West Region. After they beat an oppressive West Virginia squad and then knock off Arizona at full strength in the rematch -- Allonzo Trier didn't play in Gonzaga's win over the Wildcats earlier this season -- the Zags will secure the program's first trip to the Final Four and arrive in Glendale as a feared team capable of winning a ring.

5. LaVar Ball will limit the hyperbole

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Yes, we will get more quotes and hot takes from Lonzo Ball's father in Memphis. But we're no longer in the regular season. LaVar Ball's son has a chance to do something special in the Sweet 16. This weekend could change Lonzo Ball's future. And as much as LaVar Ball loves the sound of LaVar Ball's voice and any stage where he can praise his sons, he's still a nervous father who will watch his son chase a national championship. If any new comments became a distraction that affect his son and the UCLA squad he leads, he would never forgive himself. This is Lonzo Ball's moment. Let's all hope LaVar Ball allows him to enjoy it.

6. You'll highlight the good things on your bracket, exclude the horror

Listen, if you burn nine burgers on the grill but manage to get one just right, you still win. In a way. Same with our brackets. Forget about the damage. If you had Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 or South Carolina over Duke, tell the world about it.

7. The SEC will change perceptions of its basketball brand

The basketball product in the SEC has had a problem for a long time. Well, two problems. The first is SEC football. That's the biggest element of collegiate sports, and every SEC basketball program knows its football team is the sun to its moon. The other issue is that Kentucky's success has dwarfed the spotlight granted to other teams with impressive stories, such as Avery Johnson's rebuilding effort at Alabama.

With Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky all reaching the Sweet 16 and multiple teams fighting valiantly in the early rounds, however, the league is making a significant statement about its talent, potential and coaching. That will continue in the Sweet 16. All three SEC teams could advance to the Elite Eight. This helps the entire conference.

8. The Big Ten's underrated coaches will earn more respect

Rick Pitino and Jay Wright are generally regarded as two of the greatest in-game adjusters and one-day-prep geniuses in college basketball. Michigan's John Beilein and Wisconsin's Greg Gard outcoached both in the second round. Plus, Matt Painter led Purdue over Iowa State and into a key matchup against Kansas in the Sweet 16. The Big Ten exceeded expectations with a lineup of coaches few leagues can match. Another round of standout performances by the league this weekend will demonstrate the extent of the Big Ten's coaching depth.

9. You'll hear ridiculous takes about one-and-done players

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We apologize in advance for the nonsense. Prepare yourself for the pundits and critics who will tell you Wisconsin and South Carolina are building their teams the right way with veterans, while Kentucky and UCLA are ruining the game with their one-and-done crews.

Listen, coaches go after the best players. All of them. That's all this is. Sometimes, those talented young players get really good job offers from NBA teams and decide it's best to leave. This experience vs. youth conversation is ridiculous. You can win in different ways at this level.

Let's just enjoy the diversity, instead of promoting false ideas that attempt to discredit the powerhouses that can lure five-star talent to their campuses.

10. The ACC will endure the criticism it deserves

It's unfair to judge a league entirely based on what occurs in the NCAA tournament. But North Carolina's position as the only ACC squad standing, after a blown lead and late comeback against Arkansas, is the greatest surprise of the NCAA tournament. Did the ACC fool us all? Feels that way.

11. South Carolina's ride will continue, but Baylor's will end

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Sindarius Thornwell's scoring prowess can continue South Carolina's NCAA tournament run. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The darling of the NCAA tournament thus far features the best all-around player in America. Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 points per game, 40 percent from the 3-point line) is on a mission right now. If you can beat a Duke squad many viewed as a No. 1 seed, you can handle a Baylor team that slid past two double-digit seeds after entering the NCAA tournament with a 5-6 mark in its previous 11 games. South Carolina will advance.

12. Nigel Hayes will discuss his diverse interests

The Wisconsin senior is far more than a basketball player. He volunteers in his community. He is concerned about issues affecting minorities. He's a vocal opponent of the NCAA's rules on amateurism. On this stage, Hayes will not shy away from the controversial topics he has tweeted about throughout his career.

13. You'll hear more about the next step in the collegiate game's evolution

Coaches in Indianapolis discussed this topic last week. At some point, you have to wonder what the next push will be in college basketball. A 24-second shot clock? NBA 3-point line? New regulations on transfers? This week, we'll know where the remaining coaches stand on issues that could shape the game over the next decade.

14. You'll learn about Frank Martin's miraculous journey

Martin grew up without a father in tough Miami neighborhoods. To make ends meet, he worked odd jobs, which included a stint as a bouncer, as he pursued his coaching career and education. Martin could have taken a different path, but here he is winning at South Carolina, which has become nationally relevant since his arrival.

Josh Jackson will have to answer some tough questions

The Kansas freshman has been as impressive as any first-year player in America. But reports about his off-court behavior, including allegations of threats of violence, have complicated his season thus far. In the Sweet 16, teams don't control access. The NCAA does. Whether he's at the podium or in the locker room, Jackson will face questions about issues outside basketball. How he handles those queries could impact his performance on the court.

16. You'll have fun

We didn't get a ton of drama in the first round. The second round salvaged the opening weekend's woes. We're just getting started. The Sweet 16 matchups feature an intriguing arrangement of talent. We'll have surprises, great finishes and excitement. So, fight with your best friend about Baylor's season and Lonzo Ball's future and Wisconsin's seed and the ACC's collapse. That's part of this. But remember to enjoy it.

Source : http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/18961166/kentucky-wildcats-ucla-bruins-highlight-best-games-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16

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