From 65 to 32 to where we stand. Cindarella slippers were out of stock this year so what we are left with is a Sweet 16 for the ages. Every matchup has the potential to be an instant classic and picking winners is like picking a good watermelon at the grocery store (and don't give me that knock on them junk, either... it's hit or miss). Without further adieu, here's a quick look at the Sweet 16 match-ups.
(2) Duke vs. (3) Villanova
‘Nova is going to have a tough game against Duke. I love ‘Nova ,but it’s not a great matchup. They play ultra aggressive in the passing lanes and will give up open looks against a fundamentally sound passing team. Texas would have been a better matchup for ‘Nova, but they will play hard so this one could go either way. I hate Duke, but I give them the edge (I had ‘Nova beating Texas in my bracket… as a Philly boy, you know that I will be rooting for ‘Nova).
(1) Pitt vs. (4) Xavier
Pitt will have their hands full against an ultra athletic Xavier team that will not be intimidated. This is my upset alert. I have Pitt making it to the final four in my brackets, but I think that Xavier can pull of the upset. Athletically, Xavier has the tools and plays a defensive scheme that should limit Pitt’s second chance points (they pack-it-in and make ‘em chuck ‘em up from the cheap seats). They can shoot the three as well as anyone in the nation (almost 40 percent on the season) and they are an experienced squad, one year removed from an elite eight appearance. I like Xavier in this one, especially if Levance Fields starts trying to force the ball into cramped spaces.
(2) Memphis vs. (3) Missouri
I think that the Memphis/Missouri game is probably the most interesting game in the sweet 16. Two teams with similar styles and measurables. Memphis certainly has the edge with their athleticism, but Missouri is better than people think. They play tough defense and can score points. Memphis will need to ratchet up their defense again and get the ball up the court… they’ll need to bring their legs for four quarters. I think that they survive, but if Missouri can create some turnovers in the backcourt, they could keep it close.
(1) UConn vs. (5) Purdue
UConn appears to be playing the best basketball, but over-confidence often leads to an early exit (just ask Roy Williams and the 2008 Tar Heels). Purdue is a scrappy team with talented forwards. Their defense can be suffocating and frustrating. Purdue’s guards don’t particularly matchup well with UConn’s and Thabeet is a mismatch for just about anyone.
However, their defense plays up to the level of their competition. Open shots should be tough to come by in this one. If the “scrap” spells foul trouble for Thabeet and if Purdue’s ultra-talented forward, JaJuan Johnson, can play within himself, they’ll have a chance. I think that UConn survives, but it’s going to be a nail biter.
(1) Louisville vs (12) Arizona
Louisville has the easiest draw against No. 12 seed Arizona. It’s pretty clear to me that Arizona is playing inspired basketball. Also, they boast possibly the best three player assault in NCAA with two NBA prospects in guard Nick Wise, forward Chase Budinger, and the on-court emotional leader, center Jordan Hill. Arizona has all of the tools, but has clearly lacked focus at times throughout the year and their role players haven’t proven that they can step up.
Louisville’s guards should be able to handle the backcourt of Arizona and their height advantage inside makes the matchup a favorable one for Louisville. If Terrence Williams is hitting shots, Arizona doesn’t stand a chance. If he isn’t, Arizona still has to figure out a way to keep Clark and Samuels off of the glass. Louisville should find their way into the Elite Eight.
(2) Michigan State vs. (3) Kansas
Michigan State hits the glass hard. They have out-rebounded 22 consecutive opponents heading into this matchup. Kalin Lucas is ultra-talented, but was largely ineffective against USC. Sherron Collins is one of the best scorers in NCAA, but not as adept on the defensive end.
The inside matchup should be fun to watch as fundamentally sound Goran Suton bangs against Cole Aldrich. Michigan State is trying to represent for the Big Ten and Kansas is trying to live up to the expectations set by the 2008 National Champion squad.
This is what March Madness is all about. Flip a coin… I like Michigan State. Their role players are simply more capable of stepping up (a big reason why they made it this far).
(1) UNC vs. (4) Gonzaga
UNC has the edge against Gonzaga… regardless whether Ty Lawson plays. Gonzaga is deep and talented across the board, but they haven’t played anyone like UNC this year. UNC has the athleticism to keep up with the Zags. When the Zags begin to question whether they can keep up with UNC, watch for UNC to smell the blood and pounce. One or two big runs should separate the two.
(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Syracuse
As the big east champ, Syracuse is playing with pride. Of course, they’ll have to contend with superstar Blake Griffin, so pride might not be enough. Make no mistake, Jim Boeheim will have his guys ready. Oklahoma has no answer for the Orange backcourt. The trio of Flynn, Devendorf, and Rautins will try to push the ball. If they try to force the issue, there will be opportunities to create turnovers for Oklahoma.
As long as the Sooners guards can stay on their feet and get a hand in the face of the Orange shooters, they have enough of an advantage inside to win this one. I’ll take Oklahoma in this one.