Sixteen reasons to love the Sweet 16:
1.Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast University. Florida is aristocracy. Florida Gulf Coast is in its second year of tournament eligibility. Florida won successive national championships. Florida Gulf Coast lost successive games to Lipscomb this season. Florida fans have requested 102,807 vanity license plates. FGCU fans: 1,378 license plates. This is a dream matchup if you're a college basketball fan in this state — or became one this week.
2. Jim Larranaga. At 63, after 13 winning seasons at George Mason, with the chance to ride that job in to a nice sunset, he had the courage not just to take a new job but take over a struggling Miami program. Two years later, he's doing the Ali shuffle in the winning locker room. Can a good story get any better?
3. Marquette student section. Duke's students get all the national publicity for their in-game antics. But Marquette's students are famous for waving celebrity big-heads when opposing teams shoot foul shots. Alum Dwyane Wade's head was one this year. Mike Tyson. Charles Barkley. Who'll materialize Thursday night against Miami? Nevin Shapiro?
4.Tim Jr. did it the Hardaway. The son of the former Heat star desperately wanted to attend Miami. Then-coach Frank Haith didn't think Hardaway Jr. was good enough. Hardaway is good enough to star at Michigan, where dad will watch him play Kansas. But here's a thought to ponder: How good would Miami have been with Hardaway on this team?
5. The power of sports on display. A March ago, the on-campus bookstore at Florida Gulf Coast had 21,223 in sales of hats and apparel. This March, it's $201,213, according to the university. And you wonder why college coaches make big money?
6. Age is served. A year ago, Kentucky won the title with a roster of one-and-done freshmen to suggest the absurd way of the future. This year? Only one of the Rivals' top 10 freshmen recruits is still in the tournament, Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski. Meanwhile, older teams like Miami are thriving. The planets have aligned again.
7. John Calipari is home. This is satisfying to no end. Does anyone represent what's wrong with college sports more than Calipari? Left Massachusetts before NCAA sanctions hit. Left Memphis before NCAA sanctions hit. Went to Kentucky and used the absurd one-and-done rule to win.
8. The Upset Lives. The best team always wins the NBA's best-of-five and -seven formats. The beauty of the NCAA is how a lesser opponent can shoot a better team out of the gym for one game. Low seeds like Florida Gulf Coast (15), LaSalle (13), Oregon (12) and Wichita State (9) are alive.
9. We don't have to think about the Marlins. Normally at this time of year, Opening Day would come into view. On Wednesday, Forbes listed the Marlins' worth at $520 million, meaning life is good for Jeffrey Loria, who bought the team 11 years ago for a reported $158 million. Thank goodness we don't have to think about this.
10. Mike Krzyzewski vs. Tom Izzo. It's popular for some reason to hate on Duke and Krzyzewski. All he's done is win with class (mostly) for decades and help the larger basketball community by coaching events like the Olympics. In Michigan State's Izzo, he matches up against a similar story of a coach who does so much right. This is a matchup to admire.
11. Mock Brackets. Here's one: I lined up the coolest alums, a few matchups would be: Miami's Sylvester Stallone vs. Marquette's Chris Farley and Ohio State's Roy Lichtenstein vs. Arizona's Kristen Wiig.
12. Dwyane Wade's Dilemma. OK, it's not a big dilemma. But it does present some of the incestuous issues of the tournament. He's become a 'BFF' with the Miami players, who now play his Marquette team (he's rooting for Marquette, of course). Next round? His college coach, Indiana's Tom Creen, either plays his Miami or his Marquette (has to root for Creen, right?)
13. The Conference Power Game. All year, the Mountain West was touted as the top-rated conference thanks to its NCAA-best rating by Ratings Percentage Index, which factors in schedules and wins. No Mountain West team is alive. The Big Ten has four teams left. The Sweet 16 is the best rating of a conference around.
14. The Commercials. Wade and his sons in a soap commercial is pretty cool. The most over-played commercial is the blind-date beer commercial. Once, it's fine. But by this weekend, I'm looking forward to the next-chapter commercial: Marriage, kids, middle-age … and beer replaced by a hard-liquor ad.
16. The chance of a Miami-Florida Gulf Coast rematch in the Final Four?