Much is made of the seeding process, who should be where, who should be ranked higher and so on. This time, the NCAA committee seems to have been on the mark.
After a relatively tame first weekend in terms of upsets (Wake Forest aside), the Sweet Sixteen prepare to do battle on Thursday and Friday of this week.
All of the #1, #2 and #3 seeds advanced. Two #4’s, a #5 and a #12 round out the remainder of the field. Not altogether unusual as all four #1’s advanced to the Final Four last year, but a little lacking in the Cinderella story department.
There were some “upsets” but not the types that make you shake your head and tear up your bracket. The biggest was Cleveland State’s dismantling of Wake Forest.
Strangely, many people were all over this, including coaches John Calipari of Memphis and Rick Pitino of Louisville. They offered their upset “specials” courtesy of Yahoo! Sports and cited the youth of the Demon Deacons as their potential downfall.
They must have played this script out before, because they were bang on. Wake fell behind early and struggled to keep the game as close as it was. Sadly, State’s epic run ended two days later with a loss to fellow underdog Arizona.
I don’t know if you can say that Arizona’s win over Utah was all that surprising. The Wildcats are a good team provided they don’t get into foul trouble.
Western Kentucky has shown on a number of occasions that they are a trendy upset pick, but Illinois, without starting point guard Chester Frazier, was the one team seeded far too high.
Twice this year they scored less than 40 points in a game, which doesn’t cut it in any league. The Hilltoppers came within a hair of taking out Gonzaga in the second round, but they too have been sent packing.
Pittsburgh tried desperately to become the first No. 1 seed to go down to a sixteen seed. East Tennessee State outhustled, outworked and essentially outplayed the Panthers but couldn’t overcome game-long shooting woes in a game that was much closer than the 10-point margin.
No. 10 seeds enjoyed success in the first round as Michigan, USC and Maryland all won. All are on their respective (un)happy trails home.
One of the best games of the weekend saw the Siena Saints take the Louisville Cardinals to the wire in the second round, coming back from a 12-point deficit to lead by four with seven minutes left.
But, as is often the case with a short bench, the Saints eventually wore down against the Cardinals and lost 79-72.
What’s left is essentially the best of the best.
1 UConn vs. 5 Purdue
The Boilermakers won a tight game against the Washington Huskies. They aren’t likely to be as fortunate against these Huskies. UConn has looked very impressive in its first two games. Purdue will be the best team the Huskies have faced so far, but they will romp.
4 Xavier vs. 1 Pittsburgh
The Musketeers keep grinding out wins, including a methodical 11-point win over Wisconsin in the second round. Pitt has looked, well, un-Pittlike.
They were lucky against ETSU and were marginally better against Oklahoma State, who scored 49 points in the first half against a normally tough defense. In spite of this, Pitt has escaped and has some time to prepare. The Panthers win this one.
2 Memphis vs. 3 Missouri
This could be a very interesting game, in an all-Tiger affair. Missouri can score and like to force the pace by pressing and trapping. Memphis hasn’t been as stingy defensively as they were in the regular season. This game will come down to turnovers.
If Missouri gets more than they give they have a shot. The problem is, Memphis has shown they can score as well. Tigers win - Memphis, that is.
2 Duke vs. 3 Villanova
Best game of the night. Villanova absolutely hammered UCLA and Duke banged out a win against Texas in the second round. If everybody gets into the act for Nova, watch out.
The Blue Devils have to limit Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds and force the supporting cast to beat them. I don’t think they can do this. Villa Nova wins in a close one.
12 Arizona vs. 1 Louisville
Louisville’s depth and the ability of Terence Williams to take games over when it matters will keep undermanned Arizona from advancing any further. They have done a good job to get here, but use only six players.
Jordan Hill may be a tough matchup for Samardo Samuels in the post, but overall, Louisville is too strong everywhere.
3 Syracuse vs. 2 Oklahoma
I honestly didn’t think the ‘Cuse could get past Arizona State, but they did so easily. Blake Griffin will be a different story. This will be his last season in college and it is clear he wants to go out in style.
Syracuse will have no answer for him inside and has to hope that their outside shooting and transition game is sharp.
Jonny Flynn is one of the best to watch in all of college basketball, but he might be playing his last college game also. The Sooners prevail.
3 Kansas vs. 2 Michigan State
Rematch of the Jan. 10 game won by State, 75-62. The Spartans have size, experience, speed and defensive tenacity. The Jayhawks have size, defensive tenacity and speed. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich provide the experience.
Kansas has done well to get to this point but can they get past the top squad from the Big Ten? Probably not. State pulls away at the end in a war.
1 North Carolina vs. 4 Gonzaga
Carolina looked good when they responded to LSU’s second-half run on Saturday. Gonzaga looked terrible against Western Kentucky, despite advancing. They have the players to match up against the Tar Heels and they will score.
The question is: Can they rebound enough to stay competitive. If they do, the Zags will match their furthest foray in the NCAA tournament (Elite 8, 1999). If they don’t, Carolina wins in a romp.