Went 2-0 today, much to my dismay since the Pitt loss pretty much took me out of a high-money pool I was leading. Hopefully I’ll go zero for two today if you catch my drift.
Midwest Regional Final
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Louisville
The Spartans pulled out their bag of tricks to get past defending-champion Kansas on Friday, as point guard Kalin Lucas made a tough and-1 leaner to break a 62-62 tie. If Michigan State hopes to pull the upset, Lucas will have to have a big game, as point guard is one of the few positions that the Spartans have a personnel advantage over the Cardinals.
MSU will also have to slow the Louisville press-and-run attack quite a bit. The Cardinals played their best game of the tournament – and perhaps the best game of any team in the tourney – in killing Arizona 103-64. They are deep, quick, talented and motivated. If they force MSU into turnovers – an occasional bugaboo for the Spartans – the Cards win this going away.
South Regional Final
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 North Carolina
Just in case anyone was wondering if Blake Griffin was worthy of being the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, Griffin has gone for roughly 30 points per game in his first three games. He’s going to have to continue that type of production against the Tar Heels, who can score against and with anyone in the nation.
However, the key may be how the Griffins – Blake and older brother Taylor – deal with Hansbrough inside. They have the athletic advantage over the bullish Tar Heel senior and if they can frustrate him, they can keep UNC based on the perimeter. That, plus big performances from guards Willie Warren and Tony Crocker, would give the Sooners a chance. But I don’t see it.
Pick: North Carolina
Will we have four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four for the second straight year? The way this tourney has gone, I wouldn’t doubt it. But let’s see.
No. 3 Missouri vs. No. 1 Connecticut
The Tigers opened some eyes Thursday, running and gunning past Memphis while putting up over 100 points in the process. After that performance, which saw Mizzou up by as many as 24 points in the second half, confidence should be high.
But Missouri has never played in a Final Four. And UConn might be playing the most consistent basketball in the tournament to date. Expect Missouri to try to get the Huskies out of their game through the full-court press, but the Tigers will be hard-pressed to contain 7-foot-3 UConn center Hasheem Thabeet. Their best bet would be to get Thabeet in foul trouble and even the odds. Otherwise, the Huskies should win this convincingly.
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh
Pitt may be the No. 1 seed, but the Wildcats seem to be gathering most of the buzz going into this game. That makes a lot of sense, as Villanova has just wasted Duke and UCLA while the Panthers seem to be ekeing out victories over everyone they play. If you go by how each team is playing, Villanova should be OK.
A couple things could factor in Pittsburgh’s favor though. If DeJuan Blair can stay out of foul trouble, he provides a space-eating low-post scoring threat that Villanova has no real counter for. And perhaps like Louisville (which struggled at times in its first two games before destroying Arizona Friday), perhaps the Panthers have a big game in them. They’ve gotten big individual games from Blair (E. Tenn State), Sam Young (Okla. State) and Levance Fields (Xavier). They need a combo to win this game.
Lots of intrigue in this region, between title favorite North Carolina, Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, the overtime-heavy squad of Syracuse and an experienced Gonzaga squad. Fun stuff if you ask me.
No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 North Carolina
The Bulldogs might be one of the more tournament-experienced teams in the field, but they needed Jeremy Pargo to do his best impersonation of Tyus Edney to survive Western Kentucky and make this round. However, Gonzaga is tough being long, athletic Austin Daye, sharpshooter Matt Bouldin and the speedy Pargo.
North Carolina’s fortunes are based on how much defense it wants to play. The Tar Heels can score any day of the week, especially with Ty Lawson looking good, but their defensive intensity wanes and leaves them vulnerable during the course of 40 minutes. I’d expect Gonzaga to exploit this and even take a lead into the final 10 minutes before succumbing to UNC’s abundance of talent.
Pick: North Carolina
No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
This might be the toughest game to call in the Sweet 16. On one hand you have a Syracuse team that can score in a variety of ways – off the drive (Jonny Flynn), on the catch and shoot (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and inside (Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku). Add in a tough matchup 2-3 zone and the Orange are tough.
Oklahoma, however, has the most dominant player of the tournament in sophomore Blake Griffin. Griffin is a physical specimen and can eat up the Orange down low. However, the Sooner guards have to hit 3s to loosen up the Syracuse zone so they can drive with Willie Warren and hook up Griffin in the post. That’s easier said than done though. I like Syracuse’s overall balance to win out here.