Well, just like that, the opening weekend of the Big Dance is in the books, and it certainly did not disappoint. It was filled with the usual exciting factors such as double-digit first round upsets, powerhouse conference favorites going up against mid-major Cinderella’s, and even a buzzer beater here and there. The opening weekend also graced us with a few surprises as well—spotlighted by a 15 seed finding its way to the Sweet 16, so much so, that it has been nicknamed “Dunk City” thanks to some serious white-boy alley oops.
Now, we look ahead to some potentially very exciting matchups in the Sweet 16. I will breakdown each matchup, as well as give my prediction on who will advance to the Elite 8.
We will begin by looking at Thursday’s games, and I will be back tomorrow to breakdown Friday night’s slate.
No. 3 Marquette vs No. 2 Miami (6:15 CT, CBS)
Our first matchup of the Sweet 16 brings us to the East Region for a very exciting matchup between two very-skilled teams. The biggest news coming from this one is that Miami will be without starting center and leading rebounder, Reggie Johnson. This is blow to the U. Offensively, Miami posts a 1.14 PPP with RJ. Without him, it drops to a 1.01. Even without Reggie, Miami is just the better basketball team. Marquette is well coached and has a star in Vander Blue (who BTW is playing on another level so far in this tourney), but at the end of the day, Marquette has been the luckiest team in the country. They like to do a lot of scoring inside due to their poor outside shooting, and no RJ gives them a decent shot, but Larkin and Co. will be too much at the end of the night.
Prediction: Miami 70-63
No. 6 Arizona vs No. 2 Ohio State (6:47 CT, TBS)
This game brings us an intriguing matchup between two college hoops powerhouses who both boast coaches who were assistants together at Miami (OH). The game is being played in Los Angeles, which means there are going to be a lot of Zona fans in the house. Location is often overlooked in NCAA Tourney games, but they really do play a factor, especially in games of this magnitude (Just look at Oregon’s run so far – both games played in San Jose). The big time matchup in this one is between two of the tourney’s hottest point guards in Mark Lyons and Aaron Craft. Craft is known for his outstanding pressure defense which should cause problems for Lyons and company, but what most do not know is that against high pressure teams, Nick Johnson does a lot of the distributing, leaving Lyons on the wing and Craft in an unfamiliar spot. Arizona has a height advantage in the frontcourt making OSU vulnerable on the glass, and Ohio State has struggled at times in finding a second scorer behind DeShaun Thomas. I’m calling for the upset in this one.
Prediction: Arizona 65-63
No. 4 Syracuse vs No. 1 Indiana (8:45 CT, CBS)
Indiana came into the tournament being one of the favorites to win the whole thing, but after trailing late against Temple, some fans are concerned if they really have enough consistency to cut down the net in a few weeks. Their matchup with Syracuse should bring fans some relief come Thursday night. Teams that have beaten Syracuse this year have either been able to knock down the 3-ball or rebound the ball, offensively, at a high rate. Luckily for Indiana, they do both well. Also, if Indiana can push the ball in transition avoiding Syracuse to get into a comfortable zone, then good things will happen for the Hoosiers. Temple showed what you could do to an Indiana offense by forcing them to play in their half court offense – make them look LOST. If they do, this will be a low scoring, grind it out ball game that will be close. If not, it could get ugly. Either way, I like the Hoosiers to take home the W.
Prediction: Indiana 71-61
No. 13 La Salle vs No. 9 Wichita State
The final game of the nightcap brings us a fun one between two teams who were not expected to still be playing at this point – and one will be in the Elite 8. La Salle has made it this far due to the fact of 3-pointers falling for them at a ridiculous rate. Another common theme from La Salle has been their pathetic post defense. Wichita boasts a huge advantage in rebounding as Wichita ranks 27th while La Salle sits at a whopping 292nd. Wichita is very similar to Ole Miss, who had the game in the bag if it wasn’t for the moron we all know as Marshall Henderson chucking up shots at will, when they were successful at scoring inside. Ramon Galloway is a fantastic scorer, but Wichita’s guards should be able to out-physical him and make him uncomfortable. As long as La Salle doesn’t get unconscious from deep, Wichita should have no problem getting the win here.
Prediction: Wichita State 68-59
By: Lyon Brown