Wow, what a great weekend that was. First, I want to thank those of you who followed along and chimed in on Friday’s live blog. I wish it could have been more entertaining, but apparently all the fun was reserved for later. Anyways, here’s a quick recap of what we learned from the first four days of the tournament along with an expert’s opinion on what we can expect for the Sweet 16 games on Thursday and Friday.
Let’s start off in the most predictable region this year, the East. Top seed North Carolina was easily the most impressive team in the field this past weekend. Wins by 40+ and 30+ showed that this Tarheel team is on a mission this year. Not once was a game of theirs in question. Dogg and my’s favorite non-Minnesota team, the Washington State Cougars, also looked impressive as the defense we’ve been telling you about all season on this site was in rare form. Wazzou held a very good Notre Dame team to only 41 points as they coasted into the Sweet Sixteen. As for Indiana, well, Hoosier fans are probably just thankful that this season is finally over. After all of the turmoil that they went through this year, some believed that they’d come together in honor of Sampson and the seniors. Not so. They were thumped in the first round and now must get to restoring a once proud university. Not surprisingly, both Tennessee and Louisville also looked very good in their two wins on the opening weekend. I guess that’s what you get when the top four seeds all advance to the second weekend.
The South region was also surprisingly routine, as the 1, 2, 3, and 5 seeds emerged victorious over the weekend. One of the biggest stories in the tournament comes from the suddenly vulnerable Memphis Tigers. While they looked strong in their opening round victory, John Calapari’s squad almost squandered away their second round game against Mississippi State. They shot under 50% from the free throw line and their struggles showed up the most at the end of the game when State almost completed an amazing comeback. Even more amazing is Calapari’s defiant attitude whenever he’s questioned about their poor free throw shooting. It’s like he’s actually convinced himself that they don’t matter. Regardless, the Tigers are officially on upset watch for their matchup with Michigan State. The only other game of note from this region was the allegedly fantastic back and forth battle between Marquette and Stanford. I wouldn’t know about that because the worst place in the world to watch college basketball—Tiffany’s Sports Lounge—refused to break from their precious Kansas game for 35 seconds so we could see the end of either regulation or overtime. I’m still too mad about this to go on.
The Midwest region provided some serious drama in the opening games. We saw two major upsets with Villanova taking out Clemson (many people’s darkhourse), and Siena shocking Vanderbilt (and beating the tar out of them in the process). This all sets up a great 1 vs. 12 matchup in the top half of the bracket as Nova will now get a shot at the Kansas Jayhawks. KU was apparently impressive in their two wins on Thursday and Saturday, though no one cares because Kansas fans are annoying, unintelligent, and selfish (yes, still bitter about the MU thing). On the bottom half of this region we find America’s new favorite underdog, the Davidson Wildcats. Now, I seem to remember reading on some website way back before the season started that this would be a great sleeper team to keep an eye on. Where oh where did I read that? Oh yeah…RIGHT HERE! That’s right bitches, we tried and tried to tell you about Stephen Curry and his Davidson teammates, but no one would listen. All we got was comments about Arizona and Butler. How are those two doing right now? That’s what I thought. Our boy Curry has been unstoppable (especially in the second half of games), dropping 70 points in his two games. Now they try to play giant killer once again against the painfully boring Wisconsin Badgers.
With equal amounts of drama, late game heroics, sketchy officiating, and America’s Least Favorite College Basketball Team, the West region pretty much had it all through the first four days of the tourney. In yet another region, we saw both a 12 (Western Kentucky) and a 13 seed (San Diego) advance to the second round, and both on simply amazing endings. Western Kentucky’s collapse at the end of regulation and then miracle three point winning shot in overtime was arguably the best game of the tournament. Meanwhile, San Diego’s back and forth battle with UCONN was won on a step-back fade away jumper with just a second left on the clock. Both were amazing games that are the epitome of March Madness. In another sort of madness altogether, UCLA barely escaped their second round game against Texas A&M thanks to a mysterious no call against the Bruins late in the game that led to their victory. That no call, combined with the 3-4 other terrible calls that have gone in favor of UCLA late in the season are fueling rumors that sketchy is going on with LA’s favorite college squad. Be on the watch for more “interesting” officiating this coming weekend that manages to help Captain Outlet Pass and Co. into the Final Four. Finally, in a complete shock to absolutely no one, the Duke Blue Devils lost in the second round to West Virginia. In fact, they were extremely lucky just to get out of the first round, relying on a last second layup by Gerald Henderson to thwart mighty Belmont. Good lord they’re terrible and the country as a whole celebrates their exit from the Dance.
So we are now down from 64 to 16 and by this time next week we will have the 2008 competitors for the Final Four. Who’s going to win you wonder? Well considering my expertise has been proven over and over this year, I think you should listen to what I tell you will happen in the eight matchups on Thursday and Friday:
North Carolina vs. Washington State--Despite my love for the Cougars and their lock-down defense, the Tarheels are going to take this game. That said, Washington State will be the first team to hold UNC to under 100 points in the Tourney (I know, not the most impressive feat of all time) and I think the final score will be closer than most will predict. Heels by 7.
Tennessee vs. Louisville--There will be a ton of running and points scored in this game, with both teams likely to be in the 80’s or higher. Ultimately, the Volunteers’ lack of a consistent inside presence coupled with their poor free throw shooting will be the difference as the Cardinals emerge victorious. Louisville by 3.
Memphis vs. Michigan State--A lot is going to be made in the media this week about the Tigers inability to make free throws. More than one talking head will tell you that they are going down. And Calapari, being the brilliant coach that he is, will use this as motivation for his squad and they will roll the Spartans. Memphis by 16.
Texas vs. Stanford--Warning, now entering the DJ Augustin Coming Out Party. Please have your ticket and id ready at the door. That’s right kids, this will be the individual performance that everyone will be talking about over the weekend. DJ and his Longhorn teammates have just enough interior defense to handle the brothers Lopez and move on to an Elite 8 game against Memphis. Texas by 9.
Kansas vs. Villanova--A lot of media folks are going to try and convince you that Nova has a legitimate chance in this game because their guards can matchup well with KU’s. That’s simply not true. Kansas, despite my newfound utter destain for them, has too much depth in their backcourt and will find enough inside scoring to win. Jayhawks by 11.
Wisconsin vs. Davidson--Well, I have a feeling that I better gloat about my preseason Davidson call while I can. As impressive as Curry and his Wildcats have been, I think that Bo Ryan will have a defensive game plan in place to keep him in check as the Badgers grind out yet another ugly win. Wisconsin by 8.
UCLA vs. Western Kentucky--Two words: blowout city. Nuff said. UCLA by 19.
Xavier vs. West Virginia--Back and forth this game will go. The Mountaineers will grab hold of an early lead, up by as many as 13 at one point. Then the Muskateers will slowly work themselves back into the game thanks to some timely three’s and break out layups. Xavier by 1.
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