Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1600 Words on the Sweet 16

There’s so much buildup to the NCAA Tournament.  Teams have been practicing since October and playing games since November.  For 68 teams, the success of the season comes down to six games in March.  The tournament always flies by.  Before we know it, we’re watching the national championship game on a Monday night, and can’t wait until next November to start it up again.

There’s only one team that will win their last game, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a successful season for the 67 teams who don’t cut down the nets in New Orleans.  Now that we’re through the first full weekend, we’re down to the final sixteen.  Here’s my Sweet (and Sour) 16.

WINNERS

1.       Kentucky
Freshman Anthony Davis has become more of an
all-around player this year.
There is no denying that the Kentucky Wildcats are the best team in the tournament.  Their number one overall seed was no fluke, and they only lost once before the SEC Tournament championship game.  They’ve annihilated both teams they played so far in the tournament (although Iowa State kept it close for 25-30 minutes before I blinked and Kentucky went up by 20).  Indiana was the only team to beat them in the regular season, on a last second three in Bloomington.  It pains me to say that I think the Wildcats get their revenge on Friday night.

2.       Kansas
The Jayhawks had no trouble with Detroit in the Round of 64, but they ran into an, in my opinion, underseeded Purdue team playing with a chip on their shoulder.  Having watched Robbie Hummel play his entire career in West Lafayette, I can say that he’s one of those kids I would pick for my team anytime, anywhere.  They’ll take on a pretty decent NC State team who (patting myself on the back here) I predicted would make it this far.  I think the Jayhawks’ athleticism gives them the clear advantage here.

3.       North Carolina
They’ve shown that they can be the best team in the country.  They’ve also shown that they can run and hide with the best of them.  The Tar Heels come in banged up.  John Henson sat out their second round matchup against Vermont, and point guard Kendall Marshal had wrist surgery on Monday.  Marshall may try and play, as the wrist he broke is on his off arm.  There’s just no way he can be as effective as he needs to be though, especially as the primary ball handler.  They can probably beat the Bobcats of Ohio without him, but an Elite Eight matchup with Kansas would be different.

4.       Syracuse
What a season for the Orange.  Bernie Fine, eligibility issues, drugs, and now Fab Melo won’t play for the rest of this season.  To say it’s been a roller coaster for the Orange is an understatement.  It’s been more like Apollo 13.  Give Jim Boeheim credit for keeping his team on the right track through all the distractions.  Say what you will about the end of their second round matchup against #16 UNC-Asheville, but the Orange are one of the best teams in the country, even without Melo.  That being said, the loss of Melo most likey will derail their ultimate goal—the National Championship.

5.       Marquette
Buzz Williams is one of the best coaches to watch on the sidelines.  He’s got to be the most hyperactive coach in college basketball.  If I were him, I’d buy 35 new shirts every season, because he sweats so much during a game it probably ruins the shirt.  Nevertheless, he’s got the Golden Eagles playing at an extremely high level.  Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom makeup one of the best one-two combos in all of college hoops.  I’ve got them in my Final Four, and they could find themselves playing in the championship game.

6.       Ohio State
The Buckeyes fall this far down on my list because I don’t fully believe in them.  Don’t get me wrong, they can be one of the best teams out there, but there’s just something about them that I don’t like, and I can’t put my finger on it.  Get Jared Sullinger in foul trouble, and their advantage on the block goes out the window.  On the other hand, I believe that one of the ingredients to winning in March is good guard play and Aaron Craft provides that, especially on the defensive end of the floor.  If William Buford gets hot, the other team had better run and hide.  They take on in state rival Cincinnati in the Sweet 16.

7.       Michigan State
Gotta love a Tom Izzo team in March, right?  This group of Spartans is no different.  While the injury to Brandon Dawson hurts, Draymond Green is the type of player, the type of senior, who will do ANYTHING to make sure his team wins.  Keith Appling provides strong backcourt play.  Travis Trice and Adreian Payne are part of the young core.  Add in the Izzo effect, and the Spartans will be a tough out the rest of the way.

8.       Baylor
The Bears are a good team, and they’re certainly capable of making the Final Four.  But personally, I haven’t been super impressed with them.  They struggled with South Dakota State, and beat a Colorado team that won the very weak Pac 12.  Perry Jones III can be one of the best in college hoops, but he has games where he doesn’t show up at all.  The Bears will settle for jump shots, and that’s when they struggle.  Quincy Acy needs to play well, and Brady Heslip needs to shoot well for the Bears to have a chance.

LOSERS

1.       Ohio
The Bobcats are the most qualified to be dubbed Cinderella.  That being said, I think the ball is over and the glass slipper won’t fit anymore.  I won’t pretend to know anything about Ohio basketball.  Good for them, though.  They upset a good Michigan team, and then were able to escape South Florida.  They’re at the big boy table now, though, up against the Tar Heels.


2.       NC State
The Wolfpack are a good basketball team.  Mark Gottfried is one of the best coaches no one knows about.  CJ Leslie is a spectacular player who can fill up the stat sheet and take over a game.  He has some decent supporting players around him, but ultimately not enough to go any further.  I expect a close game with Kansas, but as I said earlier, the Jayhawks are just too athletic, and too good.

3.       Xavier
Think back to December.  December 10th to be exact.  The opponent was crosstown rival Cincinnati.  What ended up being a blowout win for the Musketeers turned ugly when a brawl erupted with just a few seconds left in the game.  Then Terrell “Tu” Holloway dropped this gem.  Xavier lost five of its next six, but somehow they’re in the Sweet 16.  Holloway made a shot that big time players make to beat Notre Dame, then they put Lehigh back in their place.  Wouldn’t be totally shocked to see them beat Baylor, but I don’t think so.

4.       Cincinnati
Mick Cronin is a good coach.  He handled the Xavier brawl situation with class.  Some say his suspensions weren’t enough based on the actions of his players, but that’s beside the point.  The Bearcats start four guards, and I worry about Yancy Gates’ ability to stay out of foul trouble against Jared Sullinger.  The Bearcats’ run ends here.

5.       Wisconsin
Wisconsin basketball reminds me of Big Ten football.  They’re great in conference, but when it comes time for postseason play, they can never get over the hump.  They haven’t been past the Sweet 16 since 2005, when they lost the regional final to the eventual champion North Carolina.  Bo Ryan is a good coach, and they play their game all the time.  They want to slow it down, but that’s not to say they can’t run.  I think, though, they’ll have trouble with guarding Syracuse, even without Fab Melo.  Badgers out.

6.       Florida
Billy Donovan knows success in March.  Three Final Fours and two National Championships.  They got by Virginia in the second round, then caught a break when Norfolk State knocked off Missouri to advance to the round of 32.  The Gators quickly put them back in their place, opening a 47-19 halftime lead.  They’ll face significantly better competition in Marquette, who as I mentioned earlier has a legitimate shot to get to the final game.

7.       Indiana
As a Hoosiers fan, it’s been an incredible season.  Tom Crean has done a great job with the team.  Quite frankly, they’ve already far exceeded my expectations for the year.  I thought that they’d be an NIT team for sure, maybe on the bubble of the Big Dance.  I guess I underestimated the effect Cody Zeller would have.  It’s not just Zeller, though.  It’s the improvement of Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, along with Christian Watford.  That all being said, they’re up against a Kentucky team that is playing their best ball of the season right now, and they’ll be out for blood.  Watford’s game winner at Assembly Hall in December is a moment I’ll never forget, but Indiana must play this game in Atlanta.  The Hoosiers won’t get blown out, but I don’t think they’ll win, either.

8.       Louisville
The only question you have to ask yourself about Louisville, is “How did Peyton Siva do?”  He plays well, they usually win.  He doesn’t play well, they usually lose.  This game against Michigan State is as much a toss-up as any of the games this weekend.  Can’t decide…but I did pick MSU in my bracket, so I’ve got to go with Sparty.

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