Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March madness; Sweet 16 Preview

Although there are sure to be some classic games on tap for the first round of the Sweet 16, I will most likely miss most of the action Thursday night due to the fact that I am chaperoning a field trip with my son's 4th grade class to historic old St. Augustine, Florida (be prepared, there will be a quiz when I get back!)

Since the bus is leaving at 5:00 a.m. and it takes 4 hours to get there, by the time we do get back i don't know if I will be psychically able to watch the games, let alone want to.

So I am just gonna give a quick preview here, and I'll check back sometime on Friday, after I emerge from my 4th grade field trip-induced hangover.

-4 Southern Illinois vs. 1Kansas, 7:10 EST@ San Jose
The Choke-hawks are always good for an earlier-than-expected gag job (see: Bradley, first round 2006), but the way Bill Self has got this team clicking right now, it's hard to envision them repeating that feat this year. Yet if any team can slow down the rock chalks it's the Salukis, owners of the nation's third stingiest defense (56 PPG all'd) and a 15-out-of-16 winning streak.

My Prediction: It'll be a low scoring, close, and possibly an OT game, but the 'Hawks are too talented not to move on

-3 Texas A&M vs. 2Memphis, 7:27 pm @ San Antonio
This one could be a flat-out classic. Memphis is the hottest team in the land, possessors of a scorching 24-game winning streak, but the Aggies are toasty right now, too, having won 11 of its last 14, many of the nail-biting variety. The Tigers have rarely been tested during the streak, facing C-USA lowlifes like Marshall, Rice, Tulane and UTEP, but its 78-62 win over Nevada in Round 2 proved it can compete with top-flite teams.

One thing's for sure: if the game is close the Aggies should win, because nobody is more clutch when a game is on the line than senior guard Acie Law IV. He has a plethora of game-tying, OT-making, and game-winning shots on his resume, and if this one comes down to the wire, I want the Law on my side.

My Prediction: The Aggies have a stingy D (37.3 FG% all'd, 2nd in NCAA) have the huge benefit of playing just 2 1/2 hours from its campus. That plus Law's penchant for late-game heroics make the Aggies the pick here

-3 Pitt vs. 2 UCLA 9:40 EST @ San Jose
The teacher & the pupil, mentor & protege, Jedi master and padawan... if you haven't heard any of these comparisons associated with UCLA (and former Pitt) coach Ben Howland and current Pitt coach (and former Howland assistant) Jamie Dixon, then you haven't been paying attention to the tourney.

Although that storyline is attractive to mindless drone reporters, the real story here is the brutal battle that is going to be waged by these two defensive-minded squads from opposite coasts. Both teams average nearly the exact same number of points (Pitt- 71.1, UCLA- 72.5) and allow almost the same amount of points per game (Pitt-62.4, UCLA-60.6), so my Spidey senses tell me this will be another low-scoring, close game that might go to overtime, but I'm not sure who will come out on top.

My Prediction: The audience falls asleep for most of the game but wakes up in time to see Arron Afflalo nail a three at the buzzer to send UCLA to the Great 8 by defeating the Panthers 46-45.

-5 Tennesse vs. 1 Ohio State 9:40 @ San Antonio
The Tortoise and the Hare, Big 10 slugfest vs. SEC scoreathon, milquetoast coach vs. chest-painting sweat ball; these are just a few of the dramatic opposites at work in what promises to be an entertaining battle.

Of course Buckeye manchild Greg Oden will be the focal point of the game for both teams, but don't sleep on the Vols. It is a hungry, talented and underrated squad that has been through the fires of SEC play and come out as one of the premier teams in the conference, thanks to the attitude and gameplay makeover flamboyant coach Bruce Pearl has brought to Knoxville. And we all know that if Oden had been whistled for a flagrant last week the Bucks probably wouldn't even be here.

Will that new life allow OSU to play looser, smarter and use Oden as a more dominating presence in the middle, or will the Vols draw Oden to the perimeter like Xavier did so successfully last week, frustrating Oden into committing silly fouls like his 5th one in that game?
My prediction: the Buckeyes boast two of the best frosh in the land (guard Mike Conley, Jr. will be a player of the year candidate after Oden leaves), but we saw what happened to txas with a similar compilation of youngsters; I like Pearl's take-no-prisoners Vols to knock off yet another overrated, underachieving Buckeye squad

Enjoy the action, and wish me luck ( and I don't mean with my predictions or bracket!)

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