I've decided that my first article would be about something that's pertinent to today's headlines: The Sweet 16. My bracket is going pretty well heading into this round. I'll give some matchup analysis and a little peak at who can go the distance, after seeing the first two rounds.
Louisville vs. Arizona
This is an interesting matchup. After the scare against Siena, I think bracketologists would make the easy mistake of assuming the Cards' confidence is shot. I disagree. Siena had all the momentum they needed to win, and Pitino got his kids' heads on straight and rallied them for a win.
The "Darlings of the Dance" aren't able to hold up an offensive front against the Cards, but give them another close, hard-fought game. Louisville over Arizona, 67-61.
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Kansas underwhelms me. The defending champs are missing major star power from last year, but have remained competitive regardless. On the other hand, Michigan State is led by a coach that consistently reaches the Final Four and has a National Championship under his belt.
Call me a homer, but I like the Big Ten's Conference Champions. Lucas and Suton have some of their best performances, as MSU bests Kansas, 78-72. This is a possible OT game.
Purdue vs. UConn
Looking to my home school, by all accounts Purdue has a fighting chance. Jajuan Johnson has shown his prowess in standing up to some of the best of the best big men in the country (See: Washington game in Round Two vs. Jon Brockman, more of an animal than a true human being).
On top of that, Robbie Hummel is "healthy" and more importantly, performing. E'Twaun Moore is having some great shooting games, and Lewis Jackson has never been better at the point. It looks like Purdue is peaking when they need to.
However...they'll need all of that, and maybe more, to take down a UConn squad that has been uncontested throughout the tournament. Hasheem Thabeet makes up in size for what he lacks in skill down low. They are dominant in most aspects of the game, even without a coach. This is going to be a tough game. Call me a homer; I'm giving Purdue a slight edge for the "nothing to lose" factor. 76-74 in OT.
Memphis vs. Missouri
Wow, what a battle. This is going to be intense. Memphis, winners of C-USA for how long? Does anyone even keep track anymore? My concern with Memphis is a weak out-of-conference schedule and a low number of top-50 wins going into the tournament, but everyone still says they're the hot ticket team right now...despite a first round scare against a team they had no business letting in the building.
On the other hand, Mizzou is a tempo-controlling team that will smoke you in transition. They play "the fastest 40 minutes of basketball" out there. This is going to be a score fest, but I give it to Mizzou for being able to control the tempo, 84-79. Another possible OT game.
Pittsburgh vs. Xavier
This one is an easier call for me. I have Pitt taking the title. Dejuan Blair...what else is there to say? I'm interested to see how the two teams' efforts in the second round will affect them going into this game. Pitt was a one-seed-scared, but put resolve together (just like Louisville) to pull away for the win.
Xavier had a considerably close game compared to what the final score shows. They'll need to bring the same defense that held Wisconsin to under 50 points, and they'll need to find a good counter to Dejaun Blair. If Pitt's guard play is good at all, though, I don't see them having much of a problem in this game.
Villanova vs. Duke
This game will be interesting. I think both teams will come out swinging, and we'll see a lot of action in the first half, but no real advantage to either team. Nova plays quality basketball, but they'll have to control Singler and Scheyer to play well...and I think they can do it. I'm taking Nova over the Dukies with Jay Bilas' suggestion, 67-61.
UNC vs. Gonzaga
Another of the two dominant one seeds so far in the tournament (but widely considered one of the weaker sans Ty Lawson), UNC looks to take on the Zags. This is a game that should go well for either team...partially depending on Lawson himself. If he plays 100 percent, the kid controls the court, the ball movement, and the offense for UNC. They could be a contender for the title if he is up to snuff.
However, without him, the Tarheels are much less efficient on the offensive side of the board. That's a weakness that, given Lawson being healthy or not, the Zags can exploit. If they can isolate him and keep him from contributing, they have a chance. On that note, I'll take Gonzaga in a dogfight, 68-64.
Syracuse vs. Oklahoma
This game will be one for the ages. You heard it hear first. It may not be the Syracuse/UConn Epic from the Big East Tournament, but mark my words: Blake and Taylor Griffin, Willie Warren, Jonny Flynn, and Eric Devendorf will come to play. Rautins will have a surprisingly big game. I see Syracuse outlasting the brute strength of Mario and Luigi Griffin. I'll take Syracuse in an advantage of endurance, 77-74.
Points of Interest
1.) All four No. 1 seeds making the Final Four again this year? Don't count on it. The cinderellas may not be dancing anymore, but the strength of the pack comes from the 2-3 seeds. Look for teams that have plenty of tournament run experience to make legitimate cases for getting to Detroit.
2.) The Big East makes a huge presence in the Elite Eight. I feel like Pitt and Louisville are almost shoe-ins for the next round, and Syracuse, Villanova, and UConn can get in kicking and screaming. I wouldn't be surprised if we had three teams representing the Big East in the Final Four.
3.) Foul Trouble. This could be the deciding factor for teams that rely on one person to lead them, or a few to control the game. We've seen this throughout the season and even into the tournament with injuries, but the referees are calling games very tight.
4.) There are some games where players are accruing four fouls with almost eight minutes remaining. Look out for some interesting foul-out situations, and some bench-reaching during OT.
I'll be in Glendale for the Purdue game, so look for updates on my blog during the game. First-hand perspective is a great supplement to television. Go Boilers!
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