The end of Tennessee's run, Arizona's advantages, more Sweet 16 picks
Dayton's calling cards are balance and experience. The Flyers' top four scorers average between 10 and 13 points per game, and their top six players feature three seniors, a redshirt junior and two sophomores. The Flyers don't rely on much back-to-the-basket post scoring, which is a good thing because Stanford's front line goes 6-7, 6-10 and 6-11. Stanford has been playing more zone this season than in the past, but given the way Dayton dissected Syracuse's zone, that is not much of a concern. So we've got two pretty evenly matched teams here. In the end, the difference will be that Stanford will have the best player in the game in 6-2 junior guard Chasson Randle, who ranked third in the Pac-12 this season in scoring (18.7 ppg) and was seventh in three-point shooting (39.6 percent). Randle played all 80 minutes in the Cardinal's wins in St. Louis last week, totaling 36 points, nine rebounds, eight steals and three assists.
Stanford 70, Dayton 60
I'll say it again because it can't be said enough: This has been a tough few weeks for the Scott-Drew-Can't-Coach Crowd. Drew did a terrific job holding his locker room together when the Bears fell to 2-8 in the Big 12. That's why they were able to capitalize when point guard Kenny Chery's turf toe healed. Drew's mix of zone defenses against Creighton stymied the best offensive player in college basketball. The difference in this one is that the Badgers don't have one player on whom the Bears can tighten their clamp. Not only are the Badgers ranked fourth in the country in offensive efficiency, but they are also second in turnover percentage, which means Baylor is not going to get many fast break opportunities. I also like that Wisconsin is ranked 11th nationally in defensive rebound percentage and second in defensive free throw rate. Though both teams play a slow tempo, neither likes to play much defense, so I expect this to be a relatively high scoring game. In the end, Wisconsin has a little too much offensive versatility for Baylor to overcome.
Wisconsin 74, Baylor 70
UCLA is one of the few teams in this tournament that can go toe-to-toe with Florida in terms of talent. In fact, if we're talking about who has more future pros, I'd give the edge to UCLA. However, this game is not being played in the future. While I like the Bruins' chances to handle the Florida fullcourt press -- mostly because their primary ballhandler, Kyle Anderson, is 6-foot-9 and smooth as a baby's bottom -- once they get into the halfcourt, the edge will go to Florida's strength, maturity and toughness. To beat the Gators, you have to be able to score in the post and keep them off the offensive glass; because the Bruins depend largely on skilled perimeter athletes, they are not well constituted to excel in those areas. Florida is a slower team than it has been in the past (320th nationally in tempo), and it has generally been a fourth-quarter team. So expect this game to be close heading into the final five minutes, at which point Scottie Wilbekin will do his thing and the Gators will pull away.
Florida 68, UCLA 63
The Aztecs have had a terrific season, but this should be the end of it. First of all, this will be one of the few times all season that San Diego State is not the better defensive team. Arizona might not be as physically imposing as it was before sophomore forward Brandon Ashley got hurt, but it still has a mighty big lineup when 6-7 freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is playing small forward. Meanwhile, Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell form the best defensive guard tandem in the country. On the other end of the floor, the Aztecs remain limited offensively unless senior guard Xavier Thames is playing otherworldly as opposed to just terrific (as was the case against North Dakota State, when Thames had 30 points and five assists). Thames shot just 5-for-16 when the Wildcats won at SDSU back in November. These are two really good teams with similar profiles, but Arizona is the better version, which means the Cats will move on and the Aztecs will go home.
Arizona 71, SDSU 61
For all the attention that has been rightly lavished on the Wolverines' core of sharp shooters, let us not forget the invaluable contributions of 6-8 senior forward Jordan Morgan, whose presence in the post kept Michigan from falling off a cliff when Mitch McGary went down with a season-ending back injury in December. Morgan had two double-doubles in the Wolverines' wins in Milwaukee, and he will have to come through again in his muscle-to-muscle battle with Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, a double-double machine himself. As magnificent as Stokes was in the Volunteers' win over Mercer (17 points, 18 rebounds), the reason the game was a romp was because Tennessee guards Antonio Barton and Josh Richardson, who have been limited offensively this season to say the least, were lights out from the perimter. Was that an aberration or the new normal? I say it's the former, which will give the edge to Michigan.
Michigan 76, Tennessee 66
Madison Square Garden is going to look and sound a lot like Gampel Pavilion, and the Huskies will need every one of those throaty fans because this is one of the rare occasions in which they will not have a decided advantage at shooting guard. Shabazz Napier is a dynamic player at both ends of the floor, but Iowa State's DeAndre Kane can also beat teams in a variety of ways (including going to the glass, where the 6-4 Kane averages nearly seven boards per game). Yes, the Cyclones will be short-handed without 6-7 sophomore forward Georges Niang, the team's third-leading scorer (16.7) who broke his foot in the second-round win over N.C. Central. However, they were still able to get by a plucky North Carolina team without him, and now Fred Hoiberg has had five full days to figure out how to play without him. That should enable the Cyclones to prevail in a de facto road game.
Iowa State 71, UConn 69
I don't know what we did to deserve such a delectable matchup, but the basketball gods outdid themselves with this one. The first difference between the teams is that Kentucky played its best game of the season in order to squeak by Wichita State, while Louisville played poorly in Orlando and still beat Saint Louis by 15. The key matchup in this game will be down low, where Cardinals' sophomore Motrezl Harrell will try to contain UK freshman Julius Randle without getting in foul trouble. That won't be easy considering Randle averages more than seven free throw attempts per game. If Harrell, 6-9 senior Stephan Van Treese and 6-10 freshman Mangok Mathiang can at least hold their own inside, that should turn the game over to the guards, where the Cardinals are better. As always, the X factor for Louisville will be senior guard Luke Hancock, but as he demonstrated with his 21-point effort against Saint Louis, not to mention his performance in last year's Final Four, Hancock is at his best in the biggest games.
Louisville 79, Kentucky 71
I sure hope the trainers bring extra ice packs, because these are the two most physical teams remaining in the tournament. You've heard all about Virginia's stout defense (first nationally in scoring defense, fifth in defensive efficiency, ninth in field goal percentage defense), but the Cavs are also clicking on offense or they wouldn't be in the Sweet 16. In its third-round win over Memphis, Virginia shot 55.6 percent from the field, made 5 of its 11 three-point attempts and committed just 10 turnovers against a quick, pressing defense. Still, I don't think the Cavs will be able to execute their offense quite as well against the Spartans. We know what a lethal weapon 6-10 senior Adreian Payne is in Michigan State's offense, but his best contribution is his ability to defend ball screens far away from the basket, where big men are often caught flat-footed. That, plus the presence of versatile defender Branden Dawson, a 6-6 junior, should enable the Spartans to hold Virginia's scoring down low enough to win. Of course, it would help if senior guard Keith Appling, who is nursing a wrist injury on his shooting hand, could make a shot or two to give the Spartans some breathing room. Appling attempted just six shots combined (making two) in MSU's two wins in Spokane last week.
Michigan State 66, Virginia 61