By Chris Carlson
What an outstanding first weekend of the NCAA tournament highlighted by a #16 seed destroying #1 overall seed Virginia. It happened after 135 tries University of Maryland-Baltimore County finally broke through as a 16th seed. Highly-touted Arizona fell by the waste side as well, along with a variety of upsets and very tight games. I can’t wait to see what the Sweet 16 and the rest of the tourney produces.
#1 Kansas vs. #5 Clemson: This current Kansas Jayhawks roster is nowhere near the most talented team in school history. However, it does have a mix of experience, guards, & big men, all the ingredients to take home the chip. Nice story by Clemson, an elite football program made strides in the basketball department this year.
The Pick: Kansas
#2 Duke vs. #11 Syracuse: If you take away the lopsided seeds, most year’s this would be seen as a marquee matchup. Once again the play-in, 11th seed advances deep into the tourney, when most experts didn’t think this Syracuse team belonged in the field of 68. After struggling with man-to-man defense for most of the year, Duke installed the 2-3 zone which is obviously ironic considering the Orangemen recruit based off the same zone coverage. The top-tier talent on Duke has finally jelled and will overpower the Cuse.
The Pick: Duke
The Midwest Final Four Representative will be Duke.
#5 Kentucky vs. #9 Kansas State: Not much to see here as far as upset. Coach John Calipari has steered his 5th seeded Wildcats to the Sweet 16 7 times in his 9 years at Kentucky. The young Cats are clicking at the right time. Kansas Stare will have to play over their head in order to keep it close.
The Pick: Kentucky
#7 Nevada vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago: You have to love seeing these two high-seeded teams getting a shot at the elite 8. In what looks to be a flip of the coin type outcome, this blogger will side with Loyola-Chicago to make a certain 98-year old nun (along with the rest of the fan base) proud by advancing. On paper I favor the all-purpose offensive threat of Nevada but that’s why they play the games.
The Pick: Loyola-Chicago
The South Region Final Four Representative will be the Kentucky Wildcats halting an inspiring run by Loyola-Chicago.
#1 Villanova vs. #5 West Virginia: The Mountaineers are one of the most intense defensive units left in the tournament. Villanova is probably the best all-around team in the Sweet 16. West Virginia has to hit some outside shots early in the second half to keep pace. Nova finds a way to close this game out in the last two minutes.
The Pick: Villanova
#2 Purdue vs. #3 Texas Tech: Really stuck on this side of the bracket especially this individual tilt. Both teams get after it defensively and are capable of knocking down 3’s. The Boilermakers have enough battle tested veterans but may be without their center Isaac Hass. That alone is good enough reason to lean towards the Red Raiders.
The Pick: Texas Tech
The East Region Final Four Representative will be Villanova squeaking by Texas Tech.
#3 Michigan vs. #7 Texas A&M: The Aggies have found their November/December swag and with most of their adversity in the rear view the skies is the limit. The frontline for Texas A&M is nothing to play with making them a difficult out for anyone. That said the Wolverines fared well recently against the big-man of Michigan State and Purdue, giving this hack of a scribe a boost of confidence. It won’t be easy but Michigan will advance to the Elite 8.
The Pick: Michigan
#4 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State: The Zags looked mediocre early to mid-season, but closed extremely strong heading into this surprise pairing with FSU. Florida State’s coaching and the forward/center position will be a handful to say the least. The Seminoles will fight tooth and nail but come up short to Gonzaga.
The Pick: Gonzaga
The West Region Final Four Representative will be Michigan, making it 13 victories in a row.
Quick Hits & Sweet 16
-FSU beat #1 Xavier using an 18-4 run to close the game after being down by 12 points with 10 minutes remaining.
-Nevada’s 22 point miracle rally with 11:43 remained in the game was the 2nd biggest comeback in NCAA tourney history.
-2nd seeded Duke advances to the Sweet 16 giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski the most Division I basketball wins (1,099) in history
-No wins for the PAC-12, marking the 1st time in history a Power-5 conference didn’t win a game in NCAA tournament.
-Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one other underdog as large as Buffalo (+9.5) won by at least 20 points. Prior to this major upset over Arizona, Buffalo had never won a tournament game. That stat held for less than 24 hours, when UMBC shocked #1 Virginia.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of the College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ ropeadoperadio & TheGruelingTruth.Net. Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio