This time of year usually leads to quite the coaching carousel and this year has been no different. There have been a ton of firings and a few hirings thus far and we will get to that next week but for now we are staying focused on the Sweet 16 and beyond.
Since I am yet to announce what my Final Four was heading into the tournament, I guess I will do that now just so that I can say â€œI told you so,â€ when it does occur. Florida, Kansas, Georgetown and Texas A&M are the teams I feel are the best in the field and are also my Final Four picks with Kansas taking down Georgetown in the finals. Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the action.
West Regional (San Jose, California)
#1 Kansas vs. #4 Southern Illinois: Southern Illinois’ trademark all season long has been their defense. Unfortunately for the Salukis, that defense was dealt a major blow when F Matt Shaw went down against Holy Cross in the 1st round with a sprained ankle. Shaw is not expected to play and that is relevant because he was one of the Salukis’ bigger bodies. The size advantage went to Kansas to begin with and this injury is not going to help matters. Nonetheless, Kansas plays quite well on the defensive end too and should be able to outmuscle and outplay Southern Illinois. This one is going to be a lot easier for the Jayhawks than most people think.
Kansas 74 â€“ Southern Illinois 61
#3 Pittsburgh vs. #2 UCLA: Interesting match-up here as UCLA Coach Ben Howland takes on his old squad, the Pittsburgh Panthers. This has all the makings of a great game but in the end I feel that UCLA is just a little bit better. Pittsburgh tends to struggle when they play teams who play defense and surprise, UCLA plays great defense. If Aaron Gray decides to show up for Pittsburgh then he could very well cause problems for UCLA at both ends of the floor but then again, when was the last time that Aaron Gray showed up on offense? This one shouldn’t be as boring, errr low scoring, as the UCLA-Indiana game but it should be in that range.
UCLA 62 â€“ Pittsburgh 57
South Regional (San Antonio, TX)
#1 Ohio State vs. #5 Tennessee: These two teams met earlier in the year in Columbus, Ohio and the Buckeyes were able to walk away with a two-point victory. At that point, Greg Oden had only played a handful of games and was still in the beginning stages of his recovery from off-season wrist surgery. Fast forward to this game and Oden is as healthy as he has been all year and the Buckeyes are coming off of a wake-up call against Xavier. Tennessee, on the other hand, should be watching this game from home but was fortunate in that Virginia guard JR Reynolds was limited with an ankle injury in the second half in their 2nd round game. As Chris Lofton goes, so goes Tennessee but even he won’t be able to do enough to stop the mighty Buckeyes on the inside.
Ohio State 79 â€“ Tennessee 66
#2 Memphis vs. #3 Texas A&M: When typing the match-up, I accidentally wrote â€œ#2 Memphis at #3 Texas A&Mâ€ and the truth is I was not far off. The Aggies will no doubt be the home team here as the Alamodome will be filled with people from the Lone Star State cheering on Texas A&M. Whether this game is being played in the state of Texas or not, I still like A&M’s chances. The Aggies play terrific defense and are led by the most fearless guard in America, Acie Law. Memphis’ leading scorer, Chris Douglas-Roberts, is expected to play after spraining his ankle against Nevada but may not have enough in the tank, healthy or injured, to propel the Tigers past A&M.
Texas A&M 65 â€“ Memphis 59
East Regional (East Rutherford, NJ)
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 USC: Before we get to this game, a quick round of applause for Texas coach Rick Barnes, who made this one all possible. Barnes’ inability to coach led to multiple stretches where Kevin Durant didn’t see the basketball and as a result, USC was able to run away with it. USC has had a very nice run this season but this should be where that run comes to an end. I honestly did not see them beating Texas but then again I didn’t expect Kevin Durant to not have any plays called for him. North Carolina is just far too talented for USC and probably just views this one as an appetizer before their big game against Georgetown.
UNC 81 â€“ USC 62
#2 Georgetown vs. #6 Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt does have the ability to knock off good teams (Florida, Washington State) but like USC, I think their run comes to an end in East Rutherford. Vanderbilt lives and dies by their shooting so if shots fall, an upset here is not out of the question. Having said that, I think Georgetown might be too much for the Commodores defensively with Jeff Green being matched up against Vanderbilt’s Derrick Byars.
Georgetown 72 â€“ Vanderbilt 63
Midwest (St. Louis, MO)
#1 Florida vs. #5 Butler: While at the Florida/Purdue game this past Sunday, it baffled me why the Gators did not pound the ball inside more and take advantage of their size. Billy Donovan and company will no doubt review the tape of that game as well as tapes from previous Butler games and probably realize that should they pound it inside against the Bulldogs, this one could be over quickly. Butler’s offense is among my favorite to watch in America because of their European style, concentrating on ball rotation, but Florida appears to be far too quick and far too strong for Butler to pose any real threat to the Gators.
Florida 75 â€“ Butler 59
#3 Oregon vs. #7 UNLV: To say the least, this one should be quite interesting. Out of the eight Sweet 16 games, I can honestly say this is the only one I can see going either way. Oregon is certainly the more athletic team of the two but may rely on their guard play a little bit too much to pencil them in against Florida in the Elite 8. UNLV is one of those max effort teams that we love to watch but if they take their foot off of the gas pedal for a little bit, Oregon might be able to run away with this one. Despite a hiccup against Miami (Ohio) in the 1st round, Oregon comes into this game smoking-hot and I think I have to go with the momentum in this one.
Oregon 67 â€“ UNLV 64
Alright, well that is all for today. Enjoy the games this weekend and good luck to you and your brackets.