March Madness 2011 Predictions: Breaking Down Every Sweet 16 Matchup
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The NCAA Tournament has been memorable as usual with its upsets, controversial calls, last-minute baskets and last-minute defensive stands.
The Goliaths live on, as three No. 1 seeds remain among the 16 teams that are left standing after this weekend.
Is anyone going to challenge Ohio State on their way to the Final Four?
David is still very much alive in the tournament as there are several more teams with 12 or more losses that are among the teams in the field of 16.
Did anyone really see Virginia Commonwealth playing Florida State?
While my bracket suffered some key losses, my final four picks are still in play. Let's see if I can continue to avoid catastrophic losses in the NCAA Tournament, as I give my predictions for the Sweet 16 round.
Ohio State Vs. Kentucky
If David Lighty stays on fire, the tournament is over
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In their first game of the tournament, Kentucky needed a layup from Freshman sensation Brandon Knight with two seconds remaining to put away Princeton 59-57. It was Knight's only two points that day.
Knight however bounced back strong against West Virginia, scoring 30 points as the Wildcats put away the Mountaineers 71-63.
Ohio State came out on fire, hitting 12 of 24 shots from beyond-the-arc in their 75-46 win over UT San-Antonio.
The Buckeyes then stayed hot as they pummeled George Mason 98-66 and made an NCAA Tournament record 16 three-point shots.
If Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty play at the level they have for the Buckeyes during the first two games of the tournament, no one is going to beat Ohio State.
Prediction: Knight will get few good looks with Lighty and Craft guarding him. If Kentucky is going to win, Josh Harrelson will need to have a great game in the post against Jared Sullinger. Ohio State is peaking at the right time and with the experience of their seniors, they are too much for Kentucky.
Marquette Vs. North Carolina
Harrison Barnes has raised his game to another level
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Marquette was likely the last team from the Big East conference to make the tournament and they have made the most of their opportunity.
The Golden Eagles beat Xavier 66-55 by using tough defense to shut down Xavier’s scoring leader Tu Holloway—limiting him to only five points on just 1 of 9 shooting.
Marquette, in a true team effort, then stunned Syracuse, beating the Orange 66-62 as a result of getting 34 points from their bench.
The Tar Heels are very comfortable playing in a fast-paced game. In their first tournament game, North Carolina beat the Long Island Blackbirds102-87 in a track meet where the score at halftime was 53-42.
In a game with a frenetic pace, the Tar Heels outlasted Washington 86-83. North Carolina, however, once again to Roy Williams' chagrin, got off to a very poor start shooting the ball.
Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller both move very well in transition and in an up-tempo game. Marquette will need to make this game a half-court game or risk getting blown out.
Prediction: Marquette could upset North Carolina given their penchant to start slow, while the young Tar Heels might be looking ahead to a possible matchup against Ohio State. North Carolina however, will find someone to pull the rabbit out of the hat in the final minutes of the game.
Duke Vs. Arizona
The Plumlee boys are going to cause problems for Arizona
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Hampton provided a nice scrimmage for Duke and Kyrie Irving to get his legs back under him after his long layoff as the Blue Devils beat Hampton 87-45.
Duke, the reigning NCAA Champion, then survived Michigan 73-71 after blowing a 13-point second half lead against the Wolverines.
After the game some questioned Duke’s intensity on the defensive end, but the game really underscored the reemergence of Michigan’s program. The Wolverines will be a very good team next year as every player who played against Duke will return.
Arizona played two tough games to get to the round of 16 and the star for them has been Derrick Williams.
Williams scored 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a potential game-tying shot at the end to preserve Arizona’s 77-75 victory over Memphis.
Against Texas, Williams converted a three-point play with just 9.6 seconds remaining to give Arizona the final lead of the game at 70-69.
Arizona is one of the most athletic teams left in the tournament and this game might be one of the most tightly-defended games at the perimeter in the tournament.
The question will be whether Arizona will be able to effectively keep Duke’s big men off the glass.
Prediction: Duke’s front line size with Kyle Singler, Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly off the bench will be too much for Williams and Arizona.
Connecticut Vs. San Diego State
Walker is a handful to stop
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Kemba Walker has continued to impress as he put up 18 points and 12 assists in Connecticut’s 81-52 win over Bucknell.
Walker then took apart Cincinnati as he went for 33 points, five rebounds and six assists as the Huskies won 69-58 over the Bearcats.
When Walker is playing well, the Huskies are a very tough team to beat because he can create so many opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Many basketball fans wondered if the Aztecs truly deserved a No. 2 seed in the tournament. Two games in, those who questioned the Aztecs are likely still searching for answers.
San Diego State easily dispatched Northern Colorado 68-50 to begin the tournament. The Aztecs however struggled in their next game and needed two overtimes to put away Temple 71-64.
Coach Steve Fisher commented after Temple that, “We’re good. We know we’re good, but you have to have a bit of good fortune. And I said to them after the game, we probably had a little bit of that tonight.”
Aztecs Kawhi Leonard has 37 points and 19 rebounds in his first two NCAA Tournament games and may pose some unique matchup problems for Connecticut.
Prediction: The key to beating Connecticut is to make Walker work for all of his points. Walker has shot less than 38 percent in eight of Connecticut’s nine losses, yet averaged 21 points in those same nine games. With a week to prepare for Walker, San Diego State should find a way to get by the Huskies and demonstrate why they were worthy of a No. 2 seed.
Kansas Vs. Richmond
Bill Self looks to be headed back to the Final Four.
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Richmond has played with a lot more confidence in the tournament than what their No. 12 seed would suggest.
In their first game, Richmond rallied behind Kevin Anderson’s 25 points and upset No. 5 Vanderbilt 69-66. Richmond then used their size and defense to manhandle Morehead State 65-48.
The Spiders go eight players deep and six of those eight players shot better than 38 percent from beyond-the-arc for the year.
Kansas quickly dispatched Boston University 72-53. Against Illinois, Kansas was tested before finally defeating the Illini 73-59.
In both games the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, provided the rugged inside play that made the difference and erased last year’s memory of Northern Iowa.
Kansas doesn’t appear to be overlooking the remaining teams in the region. “There’s a reason they’re in the Sweet 16...They’re good teams.” said Kansas guard Tyrel Reed.
In the only meeting between the two programs, Richmond beat Kansas 69-68 in Lawrence in 2004.
Prediction: The Spiders will need to make their three-point shots to spread the floor to have a chance to upset Kansas. The Jayhawks did a good job taking away easy three-point looks for Illinois. This game will be close but Kansas should advance as they have their swagger back with the Morris boys.
Virginia Commonwealth Vs. Florida State
Kitchen and the Seminoles trounced Notre Dame
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Virginia Commonwealth is trying to become the first team in NCAA history to win seven games to win the championship.
The Rams beat USC 59-46 in the “first round” of the NCAA Tournament. Virginia Commonwealth then shocked Georgetown 74-56. The Rams then went out and beat Purdue 94-76.
Trying to figure out the Rams is maddening, as they are likely the most inconsistent team in the country.
Purdue Coach Matt Painter summed it up best saying, “If you watched VCU a certain time in the season you wouldn’t see what you just watched out there, then you watch them during a four or five game stretch and you literally think they can beat any team in the country.”
Florida State used their stifling defense to get to the Sweet 16 round. The Seminoles beat down Texas A & M 57-50, limiting the Aggies to a shooting percentage of just 32 percent.
Florida State then knocked out Notre Dame 71-57 with smothering defense. The Seminoles led by as many as 23 points in the first half on the strength of knocking down seven three-pointers.
“If we can stay consistent on the offensive end, I like our chances,” said guard Derwin Kitchen. “We’ve just been so up and down and inconsistent on the offensive end, it allowed us to stumble at times and lose a few games. If we can stay consistent and execute on the offensive end, I like our chances because we play so well on the defensive end.”
Prediction: Both teams will likely be flat on the offensive end after being showered with praise all week long. Florida State is the choice because they have been the more consistent team on the defensive end.
Butler Vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin could be ready for a Final Four performance
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Butler has gone down to the wire in its first two games and the team is vying for the honor of being the cardiac kids of this year’s tournament.
The Bulldogs slipped past Old Dominion 60-58 on a last second tip-in. Butler then upset No. 1 seed Pittsburgh 71-70 by making the go-ahead free throw with less than two seconds in the game.
Wisconsin methodically dispatched Belmont 72-58, in a game where the Bruins fell behind by 10 points with 9:28 left in the game and were never able to threaten the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s 70-65 victory over Kansas State was a different story, as Jacob Pullen scored 38 points to keep the heat on Wisconsin until the very end.
These teams have a very similar style of basketball and they are comfortable playing a slow, deliberate game. They are both led by an experienced guard/forward combination.
Butler is led by Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard; Wisconsin is led by Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer.
Prediction: Wisconsin and Butler playing in a slow deliberate game favors the Badgers. The Badgers are on pace to set an NCAA record with just 7.56 turnovers a game and are close to setting another NCAA record with their free throw shooting, which is currently just over 82 percent a game.
BYU Vs. Florida
Jimmer Fredette has been impressive
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BYU has played well in its first two games, defeating Wofford 74-66 and then blasting Gonzaga 89-67.
Jimmer Fredette played like a National Player of the Year candidate averaging 33 points in the first two contests. Fredette has put on a shooting display in the tournament so far, draining three-point shots from well beyond the arc.
BYU has gone with a three guard set so far in the tournament, with 6’8" 230-pound Noah Hartsock being the biggest player on the court at the start of the game.
The Gators were bad hosts to the teams from California, first destroying UC Santa Barbara 79-51 and then outlasting UCLA 73-65.
5’8" point guard Erving Walker, who is nicknamed "Big Shot Erv," made some big shots for Florida including the decisive three-point shot with just 1:14 left in the game against the Bruins.
Florida has big front line players that include 6’10" Chandler Parsons and 6’10" Vernon Macklin. The depth of their front line players will likely give the Cougars problems. Coach Billy Donovan has the luxury of maintaining a size advantage on the court throughout the game with 6’9" Patric Young and 6’10" Erik Murphy coming off the bench.
Prediction: Fredette puts on another great performance but he simply can’t score enough points to offset Florida’s size advantage. Florida advances in the tournament by wearing down BYU in the second half.