On Thursday night, the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tips off. While arguably not as exciting as the previous two years because of the lack of low seeds making it past the opening weekend, the match-ups will feature one of the strongest Sweet 16s, as six of the eight games will pit power conference teams against one another. So let’s get started with the analysis of these games.
#4 Wisconsin vs. #1 Syracuse – I have picked against Wisconsin all tournament long, and I don’t think I’m stopping now. Yes, Syracuse is still playing without Fab Melo, and yes they probably should have lost in the first round. But they had a solid second half against Kansas State. But what Syracuse will need to do throughout the game is to fullcourt press Wisconsin, which likes to set their halfcourt offense and slow the game down. I think Syracuse has a better chance of throwing their weight around in this game than Wisconsin does. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Badgers could slow down this game, but I don’t expect it to happen. Wisconsin is the second leading team in fewest turnovers per game, with 8.7, so Syracuse is going to have to force Wisconsin to play outside their comfort level. I like Syracuse to advance to the East Regional.
#6 Cincinnati vs. #2 Ohio State – I really thought Florida State would be playing in this game, which I think would have made for a more intriguing match-up, but that’s irrelevant now. It’s great news for the Buckeyes, because I don’t think Cincinnati can contain Ohio State’s offense as well as the Seminoles could have. Florida State also, in my opinion, contributed to their own demise with horrible turnovers in the last minutes of that game. I think OSU puts on a clinic here and is able to advance to the East Regional.
#4 Louisville vs. #1 Michigan State – In a rematch of the 2009 regional final, the uptempo Louisville Cardinals will take on the Michigan State Spartans. There are coaches that I just don’t pick against in March, and one of them is Tom Izzo. The team started the year unranked, and now is just two games away from going to their third Final Four in four years. I know that they almost were picked off by Saint Louis, but I don’t see Michigan State losing against Louisville. Granted, Louisville has won six game in a row, and another win may have some people remembering UCONN going on a tear through the Big East Tournament and then the National Tournament, but I think Draymond Green and Keith Appling shut down Peyton Siva and advance to the West Regional.
#7 Florida vs. #3 Marquette – I really like Florida in this game. Now I know Marquette has gone on a great run through the first two games, and Jae Crowder has lived up to his Big East Player of the Year honors, but I think it comes to an end here. Florida has been getting solid guard play from Boynton and Earving Walker, and if Erik Murphy can have a productive night inside the paint, he may be able to shut down Crowder. Look for Billy Donovan to keep the pace of the game free and flowing, and see if they can tire out Crowding and Marquette by running him up and down the floor.
#10 Xavier vs. #3 Baylor – I have not liked Baylor all year, so I won’t even try to hide that. I also think Xavier had a glimpse of their demise when they fell behind Lehigh by 15 points in the first half on Sunday night, but they fought back and were able to survive. This is a team that has dealt with adversity all year. Now, I think they are the only Cinderella left with a chance in the Sweet Sixteen. I think Tu Holliday controls this game for the Musketeers and wills them to a victory.
#4 Indiana vs. #1 Kentucky – In a rematch of arguably the greatest ending in college basketball, Kentucky will have a chance at revenge against the only team that defeated them during the regular season. And I think Kentucky will make good on the opportunity. Indiana was lucky to survive against VCU, and I don’t think they’ll be as lucky against the most athletically gifted team in the tournament. Kentucky, and probably, Kentucky big.
#13 Ohio vs. #1 North Carolina – If there’s any chance for Ohio, it is that Kendall Marshall’s status for the game is doubtful. Roy Williams plans on Marshall not playing in Friday’s game, and as we saw with Syracuse playing without Fab Melo last week, the first game without an important player (especially one as important as the point guard) is the toughest. But North Carolina is still pretty well set. They still have Harrison Barnes, they still have Tyler Zeller. They still have a more talented team. The first few minutes of Friday’s game will say a lot – can the Tar Heels play without their point guard. I think they can, and although it will be more scarier than anticipated, they will win.
#11 NC State vs. #2 Kansas – Too many weapons for Kansas in this game for NC State to handle. Tom Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor is a lot for NC State to guard against, and I don’t think they will be up to the task. The Wolfpack has surprised me all tournament long, but I don’t think they’ll surprise me on Friday. Kansas advances to the Midwest Regional.
So here is my Regional Finals match-ups.
East: Syracuse vs. Ohio State
West: Michigan State vs. Florida
South: Xavier vs. Kentucky
Mid-West: North Carolina vs. Kansas