KAZ’S KORNER

Pablo Torre, a regular panelist on ESPN afternoon show “Around the Horn” can legitimately say “I told you so” to the millions of viewers and fellow panelists who laughed at him for harping on his theory that this is the year a No. 16-seeded team will knock off a No. 1 in this year’s NCAA Men’s basketball tournament.

Torre was adamant whenever the topic was mentioned on the daily 4 p.m. show for the past two weeks and sticking to his guns about a No. 16 upset victory has made him some sort of a psychic among his peers.

In Thursday’s first round, the No. 16 team in the South Regional, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers which is unknown to 99 percent of college basketball fans, not only upset No. 1 Arizona, but humiliated the Wildcats by 20 points 74-54.

However, the Retrievers’ good fortunes lasted only one game as they were defeated 50-43 by ninth-seeded Kansas State in the second round Saturday.

And just to show that eliminating a No. 1 seed before the Sweet Sixteen begins, the Xavier Musketeers—the top team in the West Regional—fell victim to the Florida State Seminoles 75-70 Sunday night. Xavier blew a double-digit lead in the second half and couldn’t find their momentum late in the game.

I counted 14 upsets in the first two rounds, including a No. 9 that beat a No. 8, but last weekend saw most of the brackets busted before the Sweet 16.

Most notable and closest to home are the No. 7 Texas Aggies who fought off a determined Providence team in the opening round and then overpowered second-seeded defending national champion North Carolina 86-65 to earn a berth in the Sweet 16 this weekend.

The Aggies were in command of the Tar Heels the entire way, leading 42-28 at the intermission and out-shooting North Carolina 52 percent to a meager 33% for the Heels (22-12) and will meet third-seeded Michigan (30-7) tomorrow (Thursday) in Los Angeles.

Texas A&M is only one of two Texas teams making it to the Sweet 16. No. 3 Texas Tech beat a determined Stephen F. Austin Southland Conference team 70-60 and then came back to edge past sixth-seeded Florida 69-66. The Red Raiders will face No. 2 Purdue Friday in the East Regional.

Some of the well-known Sweet 16 teams that seem to always make it to this level include Kentucky, Gonzaga, Purdue, Syracuse and my personal favorite Duke plus the remaining No. 1 teams–Villanova and Kansas.

Match-ups for Thursday’s first round of the Sweet 16 include Kansas State vs. Kentucky and Loyola-Chicago vs. Nevada (both in the South Regional), Florida State vs. Gonzaga and Texas A&M vs. Michigan (both in the West Regional).

Friday’s four games find Villanova vs. West Virginia and Texas Tech vs. Purdue (both in the East Regional) plus Clemson vs. Kansas and Syracuse vs. Duke (both in the Midwest Regional).

The University of Nevada’s surprising success so far could make the Texas Longhorn fans feel a little better about their 87-83 overtime loss in the first round in a game they could have and should have won.

I’m looking for my favorite team Duke and Coach K, my favorite fellow Polack head coach, to get by Syracuse Friday and then have to somehow beat top-seeded Kansas to reach the Final Four. My other Final Four choices include Villanova in the East, Kentucky in the South and Gonzaga in the West.

Some of the familiar names who had their brackets busted include George W. Bush who picked Virginia in the Final Four, Sen. John McCain who had Virginia losing but unfortunately had Arizona to win it all, President Barack Obama who had Michigan State to be national champion, former FBI director James Comey who picked Virginia to win it all and Super Bowl champion Chris Long who also picked Virginia.

I wonder if Chris’ dad, TV sports analyst Howie Long, had anything to do with his choice?

KWICKIES…The No. 1-seeded Baylor Bears were shocked by fourth-seeded Mississippi State Sunday in the National Invitation Tournament 78-77 on a three-pointer with five seconds left that got a friendly bounce off the rim.

There was an unbelievable amount of wheeling and dealing by most of the 32 National Football League franchises in an effort to shore up some weak spots on their respective rosters. The Houston Texans picked up several free agents that should make them a better team in 2018.

In somewhat of a surprising move, Charlie Morton, who got the final out of the World Series, will start the home opener of the Houston Astros according to manager A.J. Hinch. “I think that’s something special that he’s earned,” Hinch commented. Ace Justin Verlander will pitch the first game of the season against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, followed by Dallas Keuchel on March 30. Hinch tabbed Lance McCullers to start Game 3 on March 31.

JUST BETWEEN US…Tiger Woods gave his millions of fans more hope that he is returning to form as he fired four rounds of par or below in last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill course in Orlando. Tiger made one of his patented charges in the final round, reducing his five-shot deficit to a single stroke before watching his drive on the Par-5 No. 16 hole go out of bounds to shoot himself out of the hunt. Irishman Rory McIlroy made five birdies on the final six holes for a 64 to win by three strokes over Bryson DeChambeau to collect the $1.6 million winner’s check.