Top Left Regional:
No. 2 Michigan State (-1.5) vs. No. 3 Kansas
I'll admit it:
- I have the less of an idea about this game of any of the eight matchups this round.
- Neither team has really impressed me thus far this tournament.
- I haven't picked an upset yet, and am probably going with Kansas just for that reason.
- And, oh yeah, I picked Kansas to lose to North Dakota State in the first round.
So call it a makeup call (we came kind of close, Bison), but here's why I like Kansas:
They're better defensively than they are offensively, and are especially strong at forcing opponents into missing twos (allowing just 41 percent on twos), which I think is the single most important stat in basketball, akin to yards per carry allowed in football.
State's solid everywhere, but they don't stand out at anything, save for rebounding, where they rank in the top ten on both sides of the court. Plus, they lost by 25 to UNC, and haven't played any other top-20 teams. I think State's incredibly well-coached but not all that talented – they're akin to a scrappy, Taj Finger of a senior really maxing out their potential. That's great against the Robert Morrises (Morrisi?) of this world, but just like well-disciplined Stanford teams would routinely get run out of the gym against top-10 opponents, Michigan State is susceptible to a team that is simply too athletic. I think Kansas is such a team, and like the Jayhawks to win by three in the Round of 16's most exciting game.
Michigan Nick says:
I don't like Michigan State. But, that's not going to stop me from picking them here. There is one thing they do exceptionally well, and that is grab rebounds (fourth on offense, sixth on defense). We can be sure that Kansas will not be getting many second chances from offensive rebounds. If you're not getting rebounds, you better not turnover the basketball, but Kansas rates 223rd in turnover percentage. So, Kansas will have three options on offense: make a shot, throw up a brick and get back on defense, or cough up the ball to the Spartans.
Unless the Jayhawks hit an insane percentage from the field and get to the line while forcing the Spartan big men into foul trouble, Bill Self will have to be satisfied with his memories from last year's epic title game. MSU just has to play slightly above-average on offense, as they have all year, and Michigan State makes it to the Elite Eight – where they'll get soundly humiliated by Louisville. Savor it while it lasts, little brother.
No. 1 Louisville (-8.5) vs. No. 12 Arizona
The Pac-10 has covered itself in glory this Tournament, and Arizona really is one of the most consistent teams in the conference. Oh wait, it's Louisville who's the No. 1 overall seed and consensus best team in the nation's best league, and Arizona that shouldn't have made the Tournament in the first place, and then beat a #10 seed in a five-seed's clothes (Utah) and a #13 seed (Cleveland State) to "earn" a Sweet 16 berth.
What would it take, Nick, for Arizona to pull this upset? Hail? Locusts? Duct tape over the Cardinals' basket? Earl Clark (remember him from Lexington, Stanford fans?) and Samardo Samuels, both 6'9", will be enough to shut down Jordan Hill, a.k.a. half the Wildcats' offense. Nic Wise is putting up great numbers this year, but I can't forget how badly he STUNK last season – my brain simply cannot process the idea of Wise getting the best of Edgar Sosa (who also had a heyday against the Cardinal two years ago in that 11-6 matchup which shall not be discussed ever again.) Louisville has won 12 straight and KenPom has them in the top ten on overall defensive efficiency, blocks and steals.
Arizona's strong enough offensively, ranking eighth overall and in the top 50 in a variety of categories, but is just 122nd overall defensively, where they are susceptible to give up lots of offensive rebounds and two-pointers. Louisville should therefore excel inside, and should have the edge too outside, given my lack of faith in Wise and Arizona's utter lack of backcourt depth. Sorry for running straight chalk here, but that's the way the Tournament's going, and Louisville's clearly the better team. Louisville by 20, in a game Tom Hansen wishes were buried on some Fox Sports Arizona package.
Michigan Nick says:
You can almost see the dollar signs in Jordan Hill's and Chase Budinger's eyes every time they make a play in the tournament. Don't underestimate the power of tricking NBA scouts and execs into falling in love with prospects at the tournament. I can see shades of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah in each game Arizona has played so far in this tournament. Hill and Budinger will be on their best behavior for this game, so maybe it won't be as big a win for Louisville as you would expect. Don't get me wrong, Arizona will not win this game, but they're going to put up some points on Louisville. Boosting your NBA draft stock can be a potent motivator, and the Wildcats have loads of talent in their starting lineup. Arizona has too many weaknesses (no D, no depth, and no teamwork) to beat a quality team, but every year we see teams like Arizona overperform during the tournament. Chad Ford is going to go bananas when the Wildcats keep it close in the first half and Louisville wins by only five.
Bottom Right Regional:
No. 1 North Carolina (-8.5) vs. Gonzaga
As someone who picked UNC to win it all, this game scares me to death. Entering the tournament, I thought Gonzaga was one of the nation's most underseeded teams, as they took Connecticut to overtime and beat Oklahoma State and Tennessee (twice). The Zags did lose to Memphis by 18, however, and have no wins against top-25 teams. They also allow opponents to make 34.5 percent of threes, and opponents score 35 percent of their points from the three-point line, which could be dangerous going against North Carolina.
Ty Lawson (47 percent) and Danny Green (42 percent) both are strong deep, and if the Zags have to collapse on Tyler Hansbrough inside, the nation's No. 1 offensive team could be off to the races. I think the key matchup is Hansbrough, 6-9, 250, versus Josh Heytvelt, 6-11 and 260, but probably a step slower. Hansbrough has the range to drag Heytvelt out of the paint, but if he can successfully post up Heytvelt and attack the biggest strength of Gonzaga's defense head-on, this game is all but over. My respect for Gonzaga and general belief that offense-first teams are overrated has me picking the Zags to cover, but I do like UNC to move on to what should be an easier matchup for a Final Four berth.
Michigan Nick says:
Fresh off a win over Trent Johnson's Future And1 Mixtape All-Stars, UNC faces a tough matchup. Jeremy Pargo is Ty Lawson-Lite, Josh Heytvelt is a slower, bigger, and more psychedelic Tyler Hansborough, and Danny Green and Austin Daye are fighting to see who can be the first-round pick who has achieved the least in his college career. I had the Zags beating UNC in my original bracket, and I think Daniel might want to fill up his tank with gas, because this game is looking like a great chance for an upset.
Gonzaga has great size, especially on the interior, which is really going to bother Tyler "below the rim" Hansborough. With Ty Lawson not up to full speed because of his toe injury, you can probably call the Lawson-Pargo matchup a wash. I don't really see why the guys in Vegas have UNC as such heavy favorites. At the very least, the Zags will cover, and this game is ripe for an upset. The most rewarding part will be seeing the tears in all the media members' eyes when they realize they can't gush over Hansbrough's grit, determination, and hustle anymore.
No. 2 Oklahoma (-1) vs. No. 3 Syracuse
Oklahoma is a one-man team, winning or losing on the back of Blake Griffin, mock drafts' unanimous No. 1 pick. Think a more athletic Brook Lopez with better touch and a passing ability. He was literally splitting double-teams and drawing the and-one foul last round. He makes 64 percent of his twos, but is susceptible on the free throw line, where he's just 59 pecent on the season.
The rap on the Sooners' backcourt, like last year's Cardinal, is that it is just along for the ride, but the Sooners not named Blake Griffin impressed me against Michigan. Tony Crocker and Juan Pattillo play great defense, Crocker can't create his own shots, but he and Willie Warren (the team's best driver and projected top-ten pick) are serviceable enough knocking down the wide-open three, and Taylor Griffin cleans up his brothers' rare misses and is a strong enough post player in his own right (think a smaller Robin Lopez here).
Syracuse, meanwhile, is my least favorite team in the tournament, between Jim Boeheim picking on a college reporter a few years ago, Eric Devendorf (another guy who couldn't create a shot if his life depended upon it) running his mouth at every opportunity, and a plurality of the ESPN personalities you love to hate having attended their journalism school. So I'm totally biased, but I do think Syracuse is a tad overrated. They went on a 3-7 stretch through the meat of the Big East and are nothing special against top competition: 8-6 against the top 50, versus 11-4 for Oklahoma. I think Oklahoma's underrated guards will be able to shut down Syracuse's gunners, I know Syracuse won't be able to stop Griffin en route to his 25 and 10, and so I like the Sooners by six.
Michigan Nick says:
Blake Griffin is coming off a monster performance against Michigan. Double- and triple-teams were of no use, as Blake Griffin made it look so easy a caveman could do it. But, I disagree Daniel, Oklahoma did show one weakness in their win over Michigan: the rest of their team. If Blake Griffin gets into foul trouble, you can stick a fork in the Sooners.
Syracuse should be able to score on the Sooners; they have the ninth most efficient offense going against Oklahoma's 39th most efficient D. And as far as Eric Devendorf goes, the Bay City, Michigan native makes Amy Winehouse look like a class act. He has singlehandedly setback the NCAA's student-athlete agenda 10-15 years. I want Syracuse to lose for no other reason than to never see E-dorf again.
The officials could play a major role in making this happen. The
Sooners get to the line frequently (third in nation) because of Griffin, while
Syracuse does not commit very many fouls (ninth in nation). You can look
for Blake Griffin to get the star treatment on Friday, however, and that's going
to be the difference in this game. I like Daniel's pick of the
Sooners by six, and I'll set the over/under of camera shots of
Mrs. Griffin at 54.3.
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