Sweet 16 Analysis: Thursday's Action

Call it blind luck. Call it a broken clock being right twice a day. Call it what you will, but The Bootleg's Tournament analysts were en fuego through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Now, they're back for some more handicapping as we preview Thursday, the start to a weekend that will see the Sweet 16 whittled to four.

Thursday's Action
Upper Right Regional
No. 2 Duke (-2.5) vs. No. 3 Villanova

Daniel says:
Why do they name the Regionals by their location in the country, when 99 percent of the viewing public better knows them by their location on the bracket? Boston? Phoenix? Buffalo? It's all CBS-46 to me down here in Atlanta, so I'm going to name my Regionals as I see fit.

After a humbling weekend of picking up Nick at parties, picking up Nick's girl at her apartment, picking up Nick at sports bars, picking up Nick's tabs at sports bars, picking up Nick's dirty laundry at the cleaners – largely because of his performance to-date in NCAA prognostication – I know this week's stakes are high. So I'm going with five tried and true principles in this game:

1. The favorite (be it by seed or by line) has been just unconscious in this Tournament.
2. Duke has alums and bandwagon fans in every corner of the country, and will get every borderline call from the officials.
3. Duke will choke in the NCAA Tournament, but probably not this early.
4. The NCAA Gods will not miss on any opportunity to poke it in Stanford's eye. See, Bohannon, Jason in the First Round. ("Gee, that Zoubek kid looks pretty good." "Gee, the Devils seem to be doing just fine without that assistant Dawkins.")
5. Go with your gut. My original bracket had Duke over Nova in this round, and I see no reason to change that.
I will never say this again, but let's go Duke, who wins by nine.

Michigan Nick says:
You forgot to mention you were using my aura to pick up girls wherever we went in addition to me, my food, and my drinks, so I don't feel too bad about the chauffeur/sugar daddy service. Onto basketball:

Even though all signs point to Duke in this one, I'm going to stick with my pick of Nova over the Flying Krzyzewskis. A couple of things in my favor:
1. Villanova looked very good in their win over UCLA, while Duke squeaked past Texas in the 2nd round.
2. Villanova went 2-1 against Marquette, which is a very similar team to Duke.

It may not be soundest of logic, but it would kill me to take Duke in this one, so I have to go with the Wildcats. Suck it, Jay Bilas.

No. 1 Pittsburgh (-7) vs. No. 4 Xavier
Daniel says:
I think Pittsburgh is the one seed that's going to be first to lose, but picking against them here is fool's gold. Xavier is a team that wins with physicality and defense, not by scoring 90 against anyone else. Hmm, kind of sounds a lot like Pittsburgh.

No one is going to out-physical DeJuan Blair and the Panthers, and the Musketeers' style of play plays right into Pittsburgh's hands here. The favorite is a favorite for a reason – I like Xavier to cover in a game where points will be hard to come by, but Pittsburgh to win relatively easy, at least until they meet a team that can out-quick or out-shoot them and make things a little bit dicey for the Panthers.

Michigan Nick says:
I think Pittsburgh is a lock in this one. Xavier excels at keeping its opponents off the offensive glass and forcing them to take tough two-point shots, but as Daniel says, DeJuan Blair can't be stopped. He has the ability to become the next "round mound of rebound" with a 7'3" wingspan, a great motor, and a construction-worker physique. The only thing I see preventing Pitt from winning is Blair getting into foul trouble, and I wouldn't bank on that because Blair commits four fouls per 40 minutes, which is about average for an interior player.

Bottom Left Regional
No. 2 Memphis (-4) vs. No. 3 Missouri
Daniel says:
Memphis is my national runner-up to UNC and won their second-round game by 19. Last year's Tigers had a reputation for being less a solid, fundamental team than an amalgamation of superior athletes, but that's simply not the case this year. The Tigers allow a nation-low 41 percent effective field goal percentage, and opponents shoot under 40 percent on two-pointers, the second-stingiest mark in the nation.

Missouri, meanwhile, rallied to beat Marquette by four in the second round, and is a three seed more by default than by merit. To my eyes, there are something like 10 really good teams with a chance to win it all (say, the one seeds, Memphis, Gonzaga, Villanova, Duke, Syracuse and Oklahoma.) Missouri is Team No. 11.

They are No. 7 team in the country to KenPom, our statistical genius who, admittedly, is taking a bit of a beating this postseason, and the Big 12 has done okay for itself in the Tournament, with Oklahoma State and Texas putting up good fights and Oklahoma continuing to win big. But let's not reinvent the wheel here. Memphis is clearly the better team, there hasn't been an upset of note the entire Tournament, and so I like the Tigers big.

Michigan Nick says:
You're going with the Tigers? Really?? Bold choice there. Let's just hope that Arizona and Villanova don't meet in the Final Four or this tournament could get very confusing. [Daniel: Touche. Memphis big.] Taking Mizzou is an interesting choice, they have a great shot at pulling off the upset. Mizzou values the rock on offense (eighth in turnover percentage) and creates havoc for ballhandlers with their full-court press. Memphis has a shaky turnover percentage on offense (81st), and they rely on getting a lot of steals on D, so Mizzou could present a tough match for Calipari's squad. Nonetheless, I think the length of Memphis (the second tallest team in the nation) will be the difference in this game. Mizzou has not fared well against teams who are long on the interior, losing to Kansas and Illinois. So, I'll take the Tigers (of Memphis) in a close one.

No. 1 Connecticut (-6.5) vs. No. 5 Purdue
Daniel says:
Vegas sees five of this round's eight games as having clear, four-point-plus favorites, and the remaining three (MSU-Kansas, Villanova-Duke and Oklahoma-Syracuse) as virtual tossups. KenPom sees the top nine college basketball teams thusly: Memphis, Connecticut, UNC, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, Missouri, Duke, Kansas. It has Purdue at 18th. The Boilers haven't beat a top-15 team, losing to Oklahoma, Duke, and Michigan State, not to mention Ohio State, Illinois (twice), and Michigan. Plus, conference tournament winners are historically overrated, and Purdue might be in the same position after winning the Big Ten Tournament, despite being a clear second-fiddle to Michigan State over the course of the season.

Connecticut, meanwhile, has beat West Virginia, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, and Marquette, plus fellow Big Ten heartthrob Wisconsin – by 19. The Huskies are best in the country at not fouling, and in the top-ten nationally in block percentage, two-point percentage allowed, and offensive rebound percentage. The latter three categories all serve testament to 7'3" center Hasheem Thabeet, who will be five inches taller than anyone Purdue throws at him. I see Thabeet and the Huskies winning by 15.

Michigan Nick says:
I picked UConn to win it all and I'm feeling pretty good right now. UConn has cruised through the first two rounds, while Purdue has struggled against Northern Iowa and Washington, neither of whom are even close to UConn's class. The Huskies will cover the spread easily. They just have too many weapons. Thabeet and Adrien dominate the post while A.J. Price can light it up from outside and Stanley Robinson is a disciple of the Tyrus Thomas "I will dunk no matter where I am on the court" school of thought. This is not looking like a pretty tournament for the Big Ten.


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