After the first weekend of March Madness provided some excitement, not as many “upsets” as usual in the first day due to horrendous mis-seedings (yeah, I’m bitter as a Dayton alumni) there is still a lot to look forward to. Each match-up broken down below.
What to look forward to:
UCLA v UK
In a rematch for what was arguably one of the best games of the regular season in which UCLA traveled across the country to end UK’s home winning streak at Rupp Arena, this game has all the makings to be a classic. You have multiple lottery picks in Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Two Blue Blood Programs facing off, providing the historical aspect of what makes college basketball great. You have Coach Cal, who sounds like the best salesman there never was when he discusses his program, recruiting, and how to improve the NCAA Tournament, battling against the newest Dad-turned-business man Lavar Ball who has made more headlines than President Trump lately. Is he helping or hurting his sons? Can you imagine if Lonzo went to UK? The possibilities would have been endless. You have a father-son combo in Steve Alford and Bryce, ready to take the role as the “feel-good” family story of the tournament. All in all, this is shaping to be the best matchup of the tournament thus far, and the nation will have their eyes glued to the television.
Pick: Rollin’ with Big Baller Brand
WVU v Gonzaga
Press Virginia makes their return to the sweet sixteen and Huggie Bear still holds his place as one of my favorite people on the planet. Everything about his style makes me smile. The guy is an absolute nut job, who throws himself to the floor in protest of calls, had his pacemaker act up on him mid-game and came back to finish the game, and continually produces on of the most in-your-face defenses in all of college basketball. Mark Few on the other hand, pretty vanilla. Few is trying to prove that he can in fact take Gonzaga to the next step, getting to the Final Four. They have more talent and a more balanced attack than they ever have with Nigel Williams-Goss leading the way with legit NBA talent, followed close behind by the closest thing I have ever seen to Bigfoot in Karnowski standing 7’1” and 300lbs.
Pick: Press Virginia
Wisconsin v Florida
Wisconsin has everything that I look for in a team while making my tournament picks and I still missed on them beating Villanova. They have high quality guard play in Koenig, who may be the most clutch shooter in recent memory in March. They have NBA Talent in Nigel Hayes (shameless plug: played against him in high school and we won on a buzzer beater). Hayes is not only super talented and solid, he’s one of the more interesting players in the tournament. Using his platform to speak out for other athletes and issues on pay-for-play in the NCAA, most notably through a sign with his Venmo username on College Gameday, the kid is intriguing to listen to. Not to mention his mishap in interviews during March, revealing his crush on a reporter live into the microphone. They have quality coaching and have been there before. Florida on the other hand is recovering from the post-Billy Donovan era, and so far has done pretty well. They rank in the top 5 in the nation defensively and enjoy a balanced attack on offense. They shoot it well from the free throw line, and rebound pretty well. Wisconsin also does these things, and in my opinion, they do it better.
Kansas v Purdue
Kansas has been the most complete team of the tournament thus far. They have everything I mentioned above about Wisconsin, but they have better quality in those areas. Frank Mason III is a hell of a point guard and will probably have his number retired after this year as a National Player of the Year candidate. Josh Jackson is a lottery pick, and Bill Self is a Hall of Famer. What they don’t have an abundance of is size, where Purdue thrives. Caleb Swannigan is also a National Player of the Year candidate, and is joined by fellow giant Isaac Haas to provide a definitive advantage inside. This could cause problems for Kansas. With both of them playing at the same time, my question is: Who guards Josh Jackson? That could be the difference. Also, in big vs small matchups, I always side with guard play. Rock Chalk.
Oregon vs Michigan
Oregon’s two-headed monster of Dorsey and Brooks go up against the team of destiny in Michigan. After 4 wins in 4 days to lock up the Big Ten Conference tournament and a bid to the big dance, the Wolverines made it to the Sweet Sixteen by winning their first two games by a combined five points. How? Destiny of course. Well destiny and unbelievable three point shooting. Unfortunately for them the road doesn’t get any easier as they face an Oregon team hot off a tough match-up with Rhode Island. Oregon’s interior defense was exposed in the second round as Rhode Island shot over 50% from inside the arc. Michigan will need to attack the paint to get past the Ducks high powered guard oriented offense. This should be a high scoring fun to watch game regardless of who comes out on top.
Pick: Team of Destiny
Xavier vs Arizona
After losing their sophomore star Edmond Summer (15 ppg) at the end of January the Musketeers future seemed cloudy and yet now Chris Mack has his team back in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in eight seasons. They are also the only double digit seed left in the tourney. Xavier had one of the more dominant second round performances as they ran a talented Florida State team out of the building with a 91-66 beat down. However Xavier now goes up against a familiar foe in Arizona coached by the Musketeers former coach Sean Miller. It’s also the second time these teams have met in the Sweet Sixteen in three years. The selection committee has a hell of a sense of humor.
Good guard play normally wins tournament games and Xavier has that in Trevon Bluiett (18 ppg) but he and the rest of Musketeers will have to deal with Arizona’s superior size and length to punch their ticket to an elite eight birth. If Arizona comes to play on defensive it will be their night and they’ll knock Xavier out of the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three years. One thing is for certain: Trevon Bluiett will have much more of an impact on this game than he did in the nine minutes he played as a freshman in the 2015 matchup.
BONUS: Xavier has been carrying around a jar of dirt symbolizing their month of February. Huge plus for the Musketeers there.
UNC vs Butler
Just because Brad Stevens left doesn’t mean Butler is still any less dangerous come March and especially this year. The Bulldogs don’t see themselves as an underdog and neither should you. This team beat Villanova twice this year but now they face a similar challenge in the Tar Heels. According to ESPN UNC has the best chance of anyone left in the field and for good reason. They can hurt you from all over with four players averaging over double-digits including their star Justin Jackson who is shooting 57% from beyond the arc in the tournament. In addition the Tar Heel’s guard and floor general Joel Berry only played one half of the team’s first round match up due to an ankle injury. He returned and was only somewhat effective in their second round match up with Arkansas. Look for a battle of styles as Butler will want a defensive knock down drag out brawl and UNC will want to run the floor.
Baylor vs South Carolina
Baylor flew under the radar the first weekend of the tournament due to a very inconsistent regular season that left the Bears in and out of the top 25 from week to week. South Carolina on the other hand had a program nowhere even close to being on the map when Coach Frank Martin came in and essentially built a program out of nothing. Now they are in their first Sweet Sixteen after an emotional game with Duke but don’t expect lighting to strike twice. The Gamecocks scored 65 points in the second half of their game with Duke. While they have some explosive guards that is an absurd number that won’t happen again this tournament. Baylor continues to fly under the radar into the Elite Eight at least.
Pick: Baylor Bears