After a first two rounds that matched the drama of any in recent history, we are but 48 hours away from Sweet Sixteen play. I don’t know if it’s ideal for ratings, but the most rabid sports fan couldn’t have scripted it any better. You have elite, “blue blood” programs (Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, Michigan State), a good mix of major conference up and comers (Tennessee, Kansas State, West Virginia), and perhaps the strongest batch of mid-major upstarts ever (Butler, Northern Iowa, Cornell, and St. Mary’s). In short, it’s perfect TV drama for the college hoops junkie.
Northern Iowa’s stunning upset of Kansas, combined with a devastating injury to Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas have blown this quadrant of the bracket wide open. Anything could happen at this point. Michigan State could rally around their fallen teammate, and Northern Iowa could have a bit of a hangover to shake off. That said, I think the Panthers charge into the Elite Eight. I think they would likely beat Tennessee (which could easily stop Ohio State), but in the end, I think the best player in the region – Evan Turner – pulls the Buckeyes across the finish line in two very close games.
BJD’s Pick: Ohio State
Different coaches, same result. Doesn’t Xavier always seem to make the round of sixteen? Well, they’re back to face the tough, athletic Kansas State Wildcats. In the other semifinal, the Syracuse Orangemen (you can’t make me call them the Orange, damn it) looked like a runaway freight train in their first two wins, seemingly destined to face Kentucky in an incredible final. Butler has yet to play its best, but is still alive and kicking. They have enough skill to keep up with Syracuse offensively, and at least give them a good scare. In the end, though, the freight train’s momentum is enough to derail Kansas State for a trip to Indianapolis.
BJD’s Pick: Syracuse
If Kentucky is to be stopped, I think it will happen in regional play. Cornell has enough weapons to keep up in a track meet offensively, and enough size not to let UK bully them. Will the young Wildcats get frustrated and start to press against the best Ivy League team in at least 30 years? If so, they could easily lose. And that’s a credit to Cornell – in any non-UK/Syracuse region, I’d pick them to make it to Indy. West Virginia is the kind of athletic, defensive-minded team that could bruise the Wildcats a bit, keeping the game close and disrupting UK’s preferred up-tempo style. Again, this could make a young team press a bit. Still, UK has been punched in the mouth before, and has always found an answer. I haven’t discuss the hot Washington Huskies yet. They could certainly score too much for WVU to keep up, but even if they did, Kentucky would massacre them. Punch a ticket for the Shadow Pack!
BJD’s Pick: Kentucky
Duke couldn’t have asked for a better draw. No #2 seed Villanova (past Blue Devil nemesis and tough matchup). No #5 Texas A&M with a raucous homecourt advantage in Houston. Duke should breeze past a depleted Purdue squad, which has to be happy just to make it this far. Although Baylor will also like playing in Houston, they don’t have the giant, rabid fanbase that Texas or Texas A&M would bring. So, I think Blue Devil fans want to fade the Cinderella St. Mary’s Gaels. In my view, the Gaels are the best team in the region when they are on (as they have been all three times I’ve watched them play). And I can’t pick a Final Four that’s all chalk, especially with a mid-major field this strong. I think they will have a tougher matchup with Baylor’s athleticism than Duke’s solid overall game – but I think they pull out both games by the skin of their teeth. As in the Midwest, I’m backing the region’s best individual player, throwback center Omar Samhan.
BJD’s Pick: St. Mary’s
I look forward to following the action with the SFN community!