Sweet 16 Points
As the ranking fanatic of March Madness I’ll admit that this year’s Thursday/Friday games in the first round were uncharacteristically dull. None worse than Cardinal-Cardinals. Stanford and the Lopez brothers (or as I like to call them, the twinny-twin-twins) got absolutely pasted by Louisville. This game was such a thrashing I wouldn’t be surprised if the NCAA selection committee received a case of Cristal courtesy of their counterparts over at the NIT. Thanks for givin us ‘Cuse suckers!
It wasn’t just Stanford, though. George Washington did its fair share in attempting to take the spotlight of embarrassment away the Cardinal, bowing to Vanderbilt by a trendy 33. Long Beach State (sans-Snoop-support) scored 86 and still lost by 35 (yes, that means Tennessee dropped 121 on the LBC). Marquette, meanwhile, didn’t score a point until the 10:00 mark of the first half against Michigan State.
The first round was still a bundle of fun, for one glaring reason. Duke lost!!! It’s always fun watching Mike Krzyzewski get bounced from the tournament. It’s even more fun when it’s in the first round against a school (VCU) whose acronym Coach K probably can’t even decipher. And it’s downright satiric when the kid he gets beat by turns out to be a North Carolina-product who got no recruiting love from Tobacco Road. Throw in the priceless look on the face of that flopper Josh McRoberts, and you have yourself a recipe for one game saving an entire round. Well that, and the fact that amid all the yawning Gus Johnson still found a way to have multiple coronaries. So you see, it wasn’t really all that bad.
And it certainly got better. Saturday was fantastic, and made up for the let down of the first two days. Pitt-VCU, Lousiville-Texas A&M, Vanderbilt-Washington State, and BC-Georgetown were all classics. VCU clawed back from 19 down in the second half to take the Panthers to overtime. A freshman from the Cardinals made 15 straight free throws and owned the game against A&M before losing the Midas-touch in the waning seconds. The free-spirit-Cougars went two OT’s with Vandy before falling. And Eagles-Hoyas was just a backyard brawl.
Now, with 16 still standing, let’s take a glance at what’s to come…
North Carolina-USC I’ll tackle this one first but I really have little ground to stand on. The Longhorns needed something from D.J. Augustin and got nada (6 points, 6 turnovers) against USC. So much for my national champs, as the Kevin Durant era (I hope) has come to a close at UT. Looking ahead to this matchup I just can’t envision USC having the legs or the bodies to run with Carolina. Tyler Hansbrough tore off that mask and tore Michigan State apart in the second round. With Ty Lawson sustaining his current level of play the Heels take this one relatively comfortably.
Vanderbilt-Georgetown After GT-BC I can’t honestly say you’re going to see a grittier game in the round of sixteen, but Vandy is at the very least resilient, and won’t be swayed by Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green in the trenches. These two teams met at the very beginning of the season (an 86-70 Hoyas win) so there will be no aspect of unfamiliarity. For the Commodores, Derrick Byars has emerged this tournament as that senior leader who has refused to let his team go down. Don’t expect this game to move higher than the 60s. Georgetown is one of the best closing teams in the country. This will be a tightly contested match but the Hoyas will prevail late.
Ohio State-Tennessee Indisputable fact about March Madness: every would-be champion has a scare. You can say what you want about Greg Oden’s controversial mauling of Xavier’s Justin Cage that was not deemed an intentional foul. Cage still had a chance to ice the game but missed a free throw. And the Musketeers failed to defend the three point line on the Buckeyes’ last possession, allowing Ron Lewis to get a great look and tie the game at the buzzer. There’s something reassuring about surviving in the face of imminent demise. So much about this tournament is believing, and I think Ohio State finally believes. Good run, Vols.
Texas A&M-Memphis The Aggies have been a chic Final Four pick, while the Tigers have almost been an afterthought as the two seed. No one really gave them a chance last year, and yet they got within a win of the Final Four. A&M on the other hand, really did struggle against pesky-Penn. In the end it was the Aggies’ athleticism that won out over the Quakers’ SAT scores. As the tournament progresses and the talent gap between opponents diminishes, coaching becomes more of a focal point. In my opinion the edge in that category swings to John Calipari. Tigers advance.
Florida-Butler Ho-hum, the Gators are in the Sweet 16. Now if someone can please wake up Joakim Noah, that would greeeeat. While Florida’s hoop-when-necessary approach has suited them well enough through the first two games, they better watch out. The Bulldogs are full of life right now and could build an early lead in this game. Regardless, at some point the Gators will take a big bite outta the dogs and send them home with their tails in between their legs. Another formidable run for Butler.
Oregon-UNLV All I know is that the winner of this game will have THE best after-party on campus…
Pittsburgh-UCLA I’m certainly not the first, but I’ll go right ahead and declare it myself: this will be the ugliest basketball game you’ve ever seen. Yes, I did watch the UCLA-Indiana game. While that was the most horrid first half of basketball you’d ever want to see, the last ten minutes were pretty thrilling. This game will be played on more of an equilibrium of ugliness. Ben Howland coaches UCLA, where he has trademarked Ugly Hoops Inc.. In case you forgot, he started the enterprise as an entrepreneurial endeavor at…none other than Pitt! His disciple there? None other than Jamie Dixon, current head coach of the Panthers! Let’s just hope the winner of this one cracks 40.
Kansas-Southern Illinois The Salukis’ grind-it-out approach has become well-documented, and America has met another Falker, who goes by the name of Randal. All and all a heck of season for a school from the Valley, which is a conference that has undoubtedly shed the “mid-major” tag after the last two tournaments. Unfortunately, going up against a team as talented as Kansas, well, there’s only so much a Falker can do…
Enjoy the games.