Spelling out the road to the Sweet 16

As we eagerly await the tipoff of Sweet 16 games tonight, here’s an alphabetical rundown of highlights so far.

ACC: Six of the remaining Sweet 16 teams are from the strongest top-to-bottom (with this year’s exception of Boston College) conference in basketball, the Atlantic Coast. Disagree? Check those numbers again. Every year pundits talk about how it’s the Big 12’s time, the Big Ten’s time, the Pac-12’s time. And while individual teams from those leagues may do well, every year, the ACC (12-1 in this year’s Big Dance) puts up while the pretenders shut up (case in point: this year, the ballyhooed Pac-12 is 3-6.)

Boilermakers: The odds-on favorite every year to win the mascot bracket (it’s a train, people) broke down on the tracks in the first round, bowing out to Little Rock. (Have I mentioned I called that?)

Cats: In the traditional favorite Cats vs. Dogs mascot matchup, there is one of each still standing: the Villanova Wildcats and the UConn Huskies. Ithasn’t been a great bracket for either Wildcats or Bulldogs.

Dunk City: This year’s Florida Gulf Coast team left quietly in comparison to 2013’s Sweet 16 squad, falling 83-67 to UNC in the first round after playing the Tar Heels tough for a half.

Eastern Time Zone: What it’s sucked to live in if you’re a North Carolina fan.

Forces of nature: There are Hurricanes (Miami) and Cyclones (Iowa State) still alive. Batten down the hatches.

Guard greatness: If you were unaware of Miami guard Angel Rodriguez before the tournament, you’ve probably noted his 24 points against Buffalo and career-high 28 against Wichita State. Gonzaga’s Eric McClellan has continued his late-season surge, while Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig sank Xavier with a buzzer beater.

Hawk-themed teams did not have a good second round. St. Joe’s and Iowa both lost.

Indiana knocked off Kentucky in the second round, keeping alive Hoosier hopes, dreams, and movie references.

Jumpers: I’ve seen more than a few made, from mid-range, with my own eyes.

Kansas has looked strong, cruising past Austin Peay and then handling UConn, despite Frank Mason III’s ill-timed shooting slump (3-of-15, 0-of-6 from 3-point range.)

Lumberjacks rock: Stephen F. Austin came up a point short against Notre Dame after knocking off West Virginia in the first round.

Mascots: Among the remaining assorted mascots, it’s trendy to fear the Turtle, but I’d keep a safe distance from a Badger.

Numbers game: Kansas put up the most points in the first two rounds, scoring 105 against Austin Peay. Wisconsin – raise your hand if you’re surprised – and Pittsburgh combined for 90 in a first-round grindfest.

One seeds: For all the chaos of the first two rounds, the four one seeds are marching on. Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia all made it to the second week.

Panthers pain: I still can’t believe Northern Iowa lost like that. The Pitt Panthers lost in the first round and then lost coach Jamie Dixon to alma mater TCU.

Quirky and now-departed mascots included Jackrabbits, Phoenix, Blue Raiders, Seawolves, and Rainbow Warriors.

Rebounding (along with a fortunate draw) is a major reason bubble team Syracuse is in the Sweet 16. The Orange, 14 out of 15 ACC teams in the stat coming into the tourney, outrebounded Dayton 48-28 in the first round and Middle Tennessee 37-35 in the second.

Shockers: The Shockers of Wichita State, still looking to repeat their surprise run to the Final Four in 2013, fell in the second round. Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns fell in shocking first-round fashion on a buzzer-beating, half-court shot.

 Tulsa. Still a head-scratcher.

It’s been Upset City, baby. A tournament-record 10 double-digit seeds won first-round games, eight of whom were seeded 11th or higher.

Villanova is still in the tournament.

More importantly, Jay Wright is still in the tournament.

Xavier did not keep a safe distance from Badgers.

Yale started off the upset fest by knocking off Baylor, and retinas everywhere were grateful.

Zags: Gonzaga is an 11th seed. Ha. A-ha ha ha. A-ha ha ha ha ha ha.