ST. LOUIS — There will be no Jabari Parker. No Andrew Wiggins. No Doug McDermott.
No Final Four duel with Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim.
No. 1 seed Wichita State is no longer.
Many of the big names dropped out early of the NCAA tournament. And that’s pretty much the reason it’s unfolding into a Sweet 16 of magical matchups, improbable meetings and must-see showdowns.
In almost every way possible, this already has been a tournament nobody saw coming. (Right, Warren Buffett?)
Raise your hand if you saw Dayton-Stanford coming? Go ahead and roll your eyes if someone tells you he picked two No. 11 seeds and a No. 10 seed to make the Sweet 16 field.
But these regional semifinals won’t be all about the unknown, of course.
It doesn’t get any more basketball-centric than Louisville-Kentucky, who meet in the Midwest Region.
The long-standing rivals, whose fans don’t exactly meet for tea after games, have met four times in tournament history. Kentucky is 3-1 against the Cardinals in those games, losing only in 1983.
This season the fourth-seeded Cardinals come in as the defending champions with veteran forward Luke Hancock and guard Russ Smith leading the way.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats outstanding freshmen appear to finally get it after cutting down top-seeded Wichita State 78-76 Sunday.
The upcoming rivalry Friday in Indianapolis wasn’t yet a buzzing topic among Wildcats after they beat the Shockers.
“We don’t worry about that,” forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “I’m just really trying to enjoy the moment now.”
No. 4-seeded Michigan State will play in its 12th Sweet 16 under coach Tom Izzo against top-seeded Virginia in the East Region.
Oh, remember Virginia? The team few thought deserved a top seed as recently as Friday as it struggled against No. 16 Coastal Carolina? The Cavaliers’ defense looked as stellar as ever Sunday night while stifling Memphis to advance.
The third No. 1 seed alive is Arizona, which trounced Gonzaga Sunday night and will play No. 4 San Diego State in the West Region.
Michigan, a No. 2 seed, will try to earn one more tournament victory than last season when the Wolverines lost to the Cardinals in the championship game.
In the Midwest Region, they’ll play another unlikely Sweet 16 team in Tennessee, whichm against the Volunteers, who arrives after rolled over 14th-seeded Mercer.
Both teams recovered from February slumps to finally find their rhythm at the right time. Especially Tennessee, which escaped Iowa in overtime to enter the field of 64, then took down No. 6 Massachusetts before overwhelming Mercer.
The freshness factor is sure to come up with the Vols as they face the Wolverines, who looked impressive against Texas in the third round.
The highest-seed combination will collide in Memphis for a South Region meeting between Dayton and Stanford.
The only other time in NCAA tournament history that No. 10 and No. 11 seeds met was VCU’s overtime victory against Florida State in 2011. Each already had defeated a blueblood to arrive.
Stanford had to topple No. 2 seed Kansas, while Dayton defeated No. 3 Syracuse.
Fourth-seeded UCLA faces a stiffer challenge than Sunday when it disposed of No. 12 Stephen F. Austin. The efficient-shooting Bruins face defensive-minded and top-seeded Florida in the South Region.
As does the entire tournament, the Sweet 16 spotlight introduces casual fans to new stars.
Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier has already introduced himself to the nation with 49 points in the first two games. The seventh-seeded Huskies upset No. 2 Villanova to arrive and face third-seeded Iowa State in the East Region.
The Cyclones are not without a challenge since losing Georges Niang to a broken foot, but they fought off North Carolina Sunday to advance. Guard DeAndre Kane made up for the big man’s absence with 24 points, 10 rebounds and the winning layup.
Few saw third-seeded Creighton and scoring machine Doug McDermott leaving so early or so quietly. Baylor, a No. 6 seed, held McDermott to only 15 points — 12 below his season average. The Bears face second-seeded Wisconsin in the West Region.
Drama has ensued already in the opening rounds of the tournament. At least one seed higher than a 10 is guaranteed an Elite Eight slot. With so many familiar faces gone, it’s time to make new tournament memories.