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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How Sweet It Is

We now live in a world where either Wichita St. or George Mason will be in the Elite 8. Deal with it. Seth Davis on CBS has been saying all week long that the world of college hoops is "flat", and he may be right. The balance shown so far in this tournament is amazing. Whether its the Bradley Braves taking out both Pittsburgh and Kansas, or the Wichita St. Shockers dismantling two major conference schools in Seton Hall and Tennessee. There are plenty of interesting storylines to watch, including young big men making their mark. Whether it's Joakim Noah, Patrick O'Bryant, Glen Davis or LaMarcus Aldridge, one of these guys wants to lead their team to the top of the NCAA heap. You also have all four #1 seeds still alive, meaning their is still a chance that for the first time in history all of them could make the Final Four. And of course some of the nations best talent is still performing to its peak. Whether it's Reddik and Morrison still battling out for the scoring title, or All-Americans like PJ Tucker, Brandon Roy, Kevin Pittsnogle, Rodney Carney, and Craig Smith, their is still a lot of star power to wow us the rest of the way.

Sweet 16 Matchups
Atlanta
(1) Duke vs (4) LSU - The Dukies have been fairly solid and so have the Tigers, but neither team has been that impressive so far. Duke definitely has the experience, but some of LSU's athletes could give them some issues. Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas will give Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts all they can handle, and if McRoberts can match his performance against GW, Duke should be in good position. Look for JJ to continue leading Duke, for at least one more round.

(2) Texas vs (6) West Virginia - The Longhorns looked very dangerous, getting balanced scoring while routing NC State. West Virginia also looked good in taking out both Southern Illinois and Northwestern St., but this Texas team is at a whole other level. WVU will have to keep up their intensity on defense, and hope they are on target from 3-pt land to have any chance to hang with Gibson, Tucker, Aldridge and company. The Longhorns look as good as any team in the tournament right now. Add to that, Texas is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, while WVU is ranked in the 300s as a team. The Mountaineers will have to force a ton of turnovers to compensate and keep the game within reach.

Oakland
(1) Memphis vs (13) Bradley - Too surprises here. Many thought Memphis would be the first of the 1 seeds to fall, but instead the Tigers have the largest of margin of victory over the first two rounds, smacking both Oral Roberts and Bucknell. On the other hand, there are the Bradley Braves, who busted many a bracket by taking out Final Four pedigree teams in Kansas and Pittsburgh. Bradley has shown just how good the Missouri Valley is, and doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. If you thought Memphis was ripe to fall, then maybe this Cinderella is ready to dance all the way to the elite 8. If they are to do that, Bradley will have to run with the most athletic team they have seen all season, and deal with the likes of Darius Washington Jr, Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams. It's a tall order, but they have already proven they are up to the task.

(2) UCLA vs (3) Gonzaga - Two west coast teams that have played all of their games while most of us out here are in bed, and both crave a Final Four appearance to validate their seasons. Ben Howland has his Big East coaching methods working at UCLA, and his tough squad has battled injuries all year to a Pac 10 regular season and tourney title. They meet up with a Gonzaga team that finally made it to the Sweet 16 as a favored seed and is looking for a Final Four to finally shed the Cinderella image and establish themselves as a true top tier program. Whoever wins will have a huge home court advantage in the next round, that's for sure. I look for UCLA's much improved defense and multiple scoring options to prevail over the Adam Morrison show.

Minneapolis
(1) Villanova vs (4) Boston College - Former Big East mates meet up in a region where 3 of the 4 teams were in the Big East last year. As if the Big East didn't get enough bids, a former member has emerged in a somewhat down year in the ACC, and after almost stumbling out the door against Pacific, Al Skinner and the BC Eagles have a chance to make a real statement. Their season is probably validated by a Sweet 16 appearance, but to make the Elite 8 and knock off Villanova, would knock the Eagles up a notch on the power totem pole. Nova on the other hand, anything less than two more wins would make for a disappointing ending to a great year. I picked BC when the tourney started, but it looks like Allen Ray is back to normal, and if they can keep BC moving up and down, their guard play will be the difference in leading them to victory.

(3) Florida vs (7) Georgetown - One of the matchups I saw coming, and still don't know how it's going to play out. Georgetown has been playing their tough brand of ball, and sophomore big Roy Hibbert has continued to emerge as a serious inside threat. For the Gators, Joakim Noah has also been soaring, blocking everything in site, and just in general being all over the court. A win for the Gators can help erase all those years they choked in the tourney as early favorites, while a win for Georgetown will reward the hard work of John Thompson III and his seniors that have battled through some down times in Hoya land. Essentially, Florida may be a little too athletic for G'town, but if the Hoyas can keep the game in the half court, their ability to make shots and their defensive mindset will keep them hanging around.

Washington DC
(1) UCONN vs (5) Washington - Somebody call Rick Tocchet and put me down for 5 large on the Huskies. Ok so maybe that wasn't funny, but someone had to say it. This matchup has the much deeper UCONN having to again see if they have the motivation to advance. They are clearly the better team, and despite star guard Brandon Roy, Washington shouldn't have the fire power to hang with UCONN. After getting a lackluster effort from Utah St., Washington was able to roll an overrated Illinois squad, meaning that they are facing by far their toughest test so far. For UCONN, everyone knows the players, and everyone knows the issue, EFFORT. If Calhoun can get his boys to play a full 40 minute game, this one shouldn't be close.

(7) Wichita St. vs (11) George Mason - While both squads have to be loving their success in the tournament, their has to be the bittersweet reality that one or both of these teams will lose their coaches soon after their run ends. Everytime a mid-major teams makes a run in the tourney, they lose their coach. They get a bigger offer from a major school, and usually they can't help themselves. So we will call this one the "Promotion Game". Both teams had a taste of the top 25 at some point this season, and the Patriots beat the Shockers only a month ago in ESPN's Bracket Buster weekend. This rematch has a little more on the line, a trip to the
Elite 8 and possibly representing the mid-majors in the Final Four.

True Bracket Busters
(14) Northwestern St. - Jermaine Wallace's shot to sink Iowa was enough. They may have only won one game in the Big Dance, but taking out a #3 seed will almost always bust a couple brackets.

(13) Bradley - Now I have been a Bradley fan for about the past month as they played solid games in the Missouri Valley, and I was set to pick them as an upset winner in the tourney until they were matched up with the 4th seeded Jawhawks. Not only did basically nobody have the Braves in the Sweet 16, but many had either Pitt or Kansas making a big run. File this one under "Ooops".

(11) George Mason - One of the toughest decisions I had filling out my bracket was whether to have (3) UNC or (6) Michigan St. make a big run out of this region. Well the George Mason Patriots made that decision an easy one. Even without one of their main players (Tony Skinn) in the first round, GMU out hustled the Spartans and took that attitude into the 2nd round to do the same to the defending champion Heels. Next up? How about basically a home game against a #7 seed. These Patriots may be trying to start their own dynasty.

Air Balls
The Big 10 - Out of the 6 teams that made it to the dance, only 3 won their first round games and none advanced to the Sweet 16. Haven't you been listening to me all year when I told you the Big 10 was overrated? I sure hope so. They may have had the highest conference RPI, but nobody in the Big 10 could win games on the road the entire season. Usually doesn't bode well when trying to win multiple games in a row at neutral sites.

(2) Tennessee - Please tell me you saw this coming, because ESPN obviously didn't. Somebody in Bristol had to have lost their job for electing to pick the Volunteers, the weakest 2 seed in Big Dance history, to have all-access coverage to throughout the tournament. I think by "all-access" they must have meant "Greensboro coliseum we hardly knew ye".

(2) Ohio St. - Did it with smoke and mirrors all long in the Big 10. Had a chance to make a run, but a draw that included G'town in the 2nd round was too tough for the Buckeyes.

(3) UNC - Too young? Well I guess so. Didn't show up in the 2nd round against George Mason, which means Hansbrough and Co. will be watching the rest of the tourney from Chapel Hill.

(4) Kansas - I know I was impressed by this young squad and their run to the Big XII title. Turns out they were probably reading their own press clippings. No excuses here, the 'Hawks should have moved on, but instead face a long summer of wondering how many of their young blue chippers will return to Lawrence.

(5) Syracuse - Hope you didn't get caught up in the hype. The once NIT bound Orange showed their true form against A&M with a sloppy performance. Not a good way for McNamara to go out, but after that run in the Big East tourney, anything else would have been gravy.

(3) Iowa, (6) Michigan St., (4) Illinois - see Big 10

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