Feeling Sweet, Hoopheads? Of course you are. It's our time of year, and this is another week to soak it up. I'm sure devoted readers of this space are not surprised the Sweet 16 includes all the number 1, 2 and 3 seeds for the first time in tournament history. I've been writing for weeks that, for all the tumult at the top of the polls, this was still a very top-heavy season in college basketball. It's too bad there aren't more Cinderellas to spice up the dance, but there's a payoff ahead as we get a weekend full of games played by the most powerful and recognizable brands in college basketball.
Here, then, is my breakdown of the bracket. As usual, any similarities between my predictions and the actual course of events is strictly coincidental.
As for my Deacs, who I picked to go to the Final Four (me and my big mouth), their first-round loss to Cleveland State underscores the importance of having experience playing under elimination pressure. Those kids from Cleveland State had already been through multiple Horizon League tournaments knowing that a loss would mean the end of their season. They were used to playing under those circumstances, but the youngsters from Wake Forest were not -- and it showed. Oh, and if
Meanwhile, Kansas sophomore center
Much like Arizona, Michigan State's Achilles' heel has been turnovers. That's why Louisville is such a bad matchup for them. I've wondered whether a team who is so suspect at the point can win a national championship, but Louisville has proven it has the chops to at least win two more games. The Cardinals will utilize their rapid pace and sprint to Detroit.
For the record, I think the pseudo-controversy about
On the other side of the bracket, Missouri is the worst kind of matchup for Memphis because a) the Tigers enjoy playing up-tempo, and b) they enjoy playing defense almost as much as Memphis does. These two teams also have the same weakness: outside shooting. In the end, this game will come down to who takes better care of the basketball and who makes outside jumpers. Getting lucky down the stretch never hurts, either.
There were more good games during the first two rounds in this region than any other. Probably the most interesting one was Duke's escape against Texas. This was exactly the kind of game Duke would have lost (and did lose) the last two years. The Blue Devils still have deficiencies at center and point guard, but if there was any question about this team's mental toughness, consider it answered. Also, I'm not normally a big believer your performance in a conference tournament correlates to how you'll play in the NCAAs, but I really think winning the ACC gave the Blue Devils a badly needed jolt of swagger.
Otherwise, East Tennessee State and Oklahoma State may have been tough matchups for Pitt because of their full-court pressure, but Xavier is not that kind of team. In fact, the Musketeers have much bigger problems at the point guard position than Pitt does. Since Xavier prefers a half-court, grind-it-out game, their mission now is to out-Pitt Pitt. That is hard to do.
Gonzaga's win over Western Kentucky was obviously the most exciting game in this region last week, but for my money the most impressive performance was turned in by Syracuse in its win over Arizona State. The victory wasn't spectacular, it was methodical -- and that's what made it so good. Syracuse is a great example that it's not always about having the most talent this time of year, it's about being the best team. Arizona State's primary weakness was a lack of inside strength next to