I went three for four in my predictions on Thursday, which I’ll take every day of the week. Let’s see if we can’t go perfect today.
No. 12 Arizona vs. No. 1 Louisville
The Wildcats qualify as a Cinderella this year, though its a pretty big stretch to call Arizona an underdog. This “Cinderella” has three potential NBA players in Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise and have the longest streak of consecutive tournaments made at 25. Many people rued Arizona’s inclusion into the field this year, but they seem to have risen to the challenge.
Can Arizona keep its roll on. The Cardinals have struggled a bit in the tournament, taking more than a half to break away from play-in game winner Morehead State and having to fend off Siena late. Louisville hasn’t played its best, but its depth and athleticism will get it through to Sunday.
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 2 Michigan State
This is a rematch of a January matchup in East Lansing won convincingly by the Spartans. It might be harder for Michigan State this time around, as the defending champion Jayhawks looked impressive in outscoring North Dakota State and subduing Dayton. Sophomore center Cole Aldrich has been dominant thus far, though he’ll be matched up with a Michigan State team with a lot of big men, though only Goran Suton is a scoring threat.
The big key to the game is how Kansas handles the penetration of Kalin Lucas and if Michigan State can get production from athletic wings Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers and Chris Allen. That happens, the Spartans cruise. If not, MSU struggles like it did against USC. I think Sparty has enough to move on.
Pick: Michigan State
We’ll move our focus along to the East Region, which went pretty much to form during the first two rounds. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a little seed variation here.
No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh
Xavier probably was the most overlooked No. 4 seed coming into the tournament, but the Musketeers proved their chops pretty nicely during the opening weekend, running past Portland State in the first round while toughing out Wisconsin in the second.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has looked vulnerable, as No. 16 seed East Tennessee State pushed them late, as did No. 8 Oklahoma State. The Panthers have also never beaten a team seeded higher than fourth in program history. Will the Panthers break that string? I’m going to go with yes.
No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke
For a while there, it looked like my pick of Villanova as a team to watch out was going to go poof in the wind, as the Wildcats were down 14 points in the second half to No. 14-seeded American. However, Villanova righted the ship to cruise past the Eagles and added a rout over UCLA in the second round for good measure.
Duke also looked pretty decent in its two wins over Binghamton and Texas, holding off a charge from a talented Longhorn team. This should be an interesting matchup, as both teams are talented on the perimeter with a wide array of options. However, I think the game could come down to how the big men – Dante Cunningham of Villanova and Kyle Singler of Duke – match up. I kind of like the Wildcats to pull a mild upset here.
After a relatively successful first round of predictions, I’m going to make a stab at it again. It will be a little more conventional this time around, as I’ll be going with straight-up predictions from here on out.
No. 5 Purdue at No. 1 Connecticut
You never know how motivated the Huskies will be from game to game, but if the first two games are any indication, UConn is taking the tournament seriously. Sportsmanship was a bit of an issue in the Chattanooga game, but the Huskies were impressive in trouncing Texas A&M.
Purdue, on the other hand, has won its two games in a variety of ways, subduing Northern Iowa in a half-court, possession game while outlasting Washington in a back-and-forth, fast-paced 76-74 donnybrook. Purdue will give the Huskies a game, but UConn is on a roll now.
No. 3 Missouri at No. 2 Memphis
This game should be a fun one. Missouri’s full-court press, “40 Minutes of Hell” offense can erupt at any time and the Tigers have a bevy of scoring threats led by forward DeMarre Carroll. Memphis, meanwhile, might have the most athletic team in college basketball.
The key to this game will be Memphis’ outside shooting. The Tigers have been torrid from 3-point range in their first two games, with Roburt Sallie going for 10 3-pointers against Cal State Northridge and Doneal Mack leading the rout of Maryland. If that continues, then bye, bye Missouri.