So the first weekend is done, and the Sweet Sixteen is finally upon us.
All top three seeds from each region are still alive, with no cinderella or Davidson in sight.
While the other 48 teams are at home watching the games on television, the remaining 16 continue dancing, with the ultimate goal of making it to the Final Four.
With a couple of great marquee matchups, this round is sure to be a dandy, and here's how I look for it to turn out.
(1)Louisville vs. (12)Arizona
Arizona keeps proving me wrong. I don't know how, but for some reason Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill have finally decided to play up to their potential.
These Wildcats we've seen in the first two rounds could possibly knock off the top-seeded Cardinals if Pitino's group isn't careful. However, Pitino is the more skilled and experienced coach, and the Cardinals are the more talented team with Clark, Sosa, Williams, Samuels, and McGee all playing well so far this postseason.
Louisville is the first team that can match the athleticism of Arizona, so the Wildcats will likely be headed back to Tuscon this weekend. Of course, I've been wrong about them twice so far.
Louisville 83, Arizona 75
(2)Michigan State Vs. (3)Kansas
This will be a fine matchup, indeed. However, I give the slight edge to Tom Izzo's group because of their bench production down the stretch. Kansas has been impressive so far in the first two rounds, but they have relied heavily on the stellar play of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to push them into the Sweet Sixteen.
The Spartans counter the Jayhawks' attack with 11 players that average at least 24 minutes a game, and the key to good defense down the stretch is fresh legs. They also have great scorers in Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton, Durrell Summers, and Raymar Morgan.
Michigan State will be more rested in the second half, and unless Aldrich and Collins can light up the stat sheet and play great defense, I don't think Bill Self's team will be defending its title any longer.
Michigan State 69, Kansas 60
(1)Connecticut vs. (5)Purdue
Every ounce of hoops fan in me is screaming to take the upset and go with Purdue. However, I just can't pick against a team that is playing as well as UConn, or players who are dominating like A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet are. Calhoun or no Calhoun, this team means business and are here to get the job done.
On the other side, the Boilermakers have won two thrillers to get past Northern Iowa and Washington behind the play of E'Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson. Add Robbie Hummel to the mix and you've got yourself a solid, determined group of guys.
This one is tough, it really is. I think it will have the feel of a Final Four matchup, coming down to whoever limits mistakes better. Advantage, UConn.
Connecticut 75, Purdue 68
(2)Memphis vs. (3)Missouri
John Calipari has his team playing good basketball down the stretch, and could very well ruin UConn's hopes of getting to the Final Four this year. However, they need to get past a confident Mizzou team first.
Leo Lyons, Demarre Carroll, Matt Lawerence, and Kim English have been solid so far this tournament, and if you're going to stop them from scoring you need to do one thing well—make your shots.
Marquette shot a lowly 38 percent from the floor against the Tigers, and Mizzou answered with sheer athleticism as they were able to push the ball down the court and get easy baskets.
Memphis, on the other hand, is not Marquette. These Tigers shot 58 percent from the floor, 77 percent from the line, 52 percent from behind the arc. Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier have been great complementing each other all season, and their first two games of the tournament have been even more fun to watch.
This one is simple. If Memphis shoots like they did against Maryland, Missouri has no chance. If they don't, the score will almost be as similar as their mascots.
Memphis 85, Missouri 69
(1)Pittsburgh vs. (4)Xavier
I haven't had much of a chance to sit down and watch Xavier play so far in the tournament, but from what it looks like, their road hasn't been the most difficult one. Beating a 13 seed and then a 12 seed doesn't exactly mean you're on a roll—but then again, wins are wins.
Pittsburgh, however, just does not know how to pound their opponents early. Yes, they prevailed in both their opener against East Tennessee State and then in the second round against Oklahoma State, but some would say they have not played as good as they should have so far in the tournament.
Either way, I think DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields are just too much for the Musketeers—and if there is anything the Panthers have learned so far in the first two rounds it's how to win the close ones. Pitt rolls, again.
Pittsburgh 76, Xavier 65
(2)Duke vs. (3)Villanova
Villanova is a team that nobody should sleep on. The Wildcats did have an advantage in the first two rounds by playing in the Wachovia Center, but that does not take away from the fact that they play solid, fundamental basketball.
On the other side, Duke has three great scorers in Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, and Kyle Singler, along with super-freshman Nolan Smith. Just because the Blue Devils don't have much of an inside presence, don't think they can't beat you by shooting three-pointers all game—because they will.
The deeper into the tournament you get, the more fundamentals come into play. I really like the presence of Dante Cunningham down low for the Wildcats, along with the shooting of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. It's going to be very hard for Duke to make it any further if Villanova plays their game.
Villanova 73, Duke 64
(1)North Carolina vs. (4)Gonzaga
Player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough is hungry for a national title, and Ty Lawson seemed to put all doubts about his injured toe to rest with his 23-point performance against LSU.
On the other side of the ball, the Zags have played some of the best basketball I have ever seen at points throughout this tournament, and their last-second win over Western Kentucky was one for the ages. With Heytvelt, Bouldin, and Daye leading the way for the Bulldogs, Mark Few could see his team make an even deeper run this year.
I think North Carolina has what it takes to win it all, but lately they just haven't shown it to me. I'm not saying they won't beat Gonzaga, because the odds are heavily in their favor. However, I still like the upset in this one because every year the Tar Heels seem to be the favorite to win it all, yet they still find a way to disappoint.
Gonzaga 85, North Carolina 82
(2)Oklahoma vs. (3)Syracuse
Yet again, we are witnessing a Jim Boeheim team that played mediocre basketball all season long all of a sudden turn it on in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn are absolute studs, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find a duo that is playing better than these two right now.
The verdict is final: Blake Griffin is a monster. His 33 points and 17 rebounds lifted the Sooners over Michigan in the second round, further proving he is the front-runner for the Naismith Award. However, it is worth noting that Blake Griffin, Willie Warren, and Austin Johnson combined for 61 of Oklahoma's 73 points against Michigan, which is not good.
In order for Oklahoma fans to see Griffin for one more game before going to the NBA, the Sooners will have to reach into the magic hat and find some depth on that bench. Syracuse is just too well rounded and is playing the best basketball in the nation right now. Heck, they've even got me seeing Orange.
Syracuse 77, Oklahoma 68
So there it is. The Elite Eight awaits Thursday and Friday's winners this weekend, and I think this year will be just as good as any. Even though there is no cinderella story, all remaining teams are playing good enough to make every minute interesting and worth watching.
I'll be back this weekend with a Sweet Sixteen analysis, along with Elite Eight predictions.
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