Previewing Friday’s Sweet 16 Games

Posted: 03/29/2013 by levcohen in NCAA

Yesterday’s games were pretty disappointing as only one of the four (Ohio State and Arizona) ended as a single digit game. Anyway, half of the elite eight is set. On Saturday, Wichita State will face Ohio State and Syracuse will face Marquette. The other half of the elite eight will be set after tonight’s action, with the South and Midwest regional semifinals.

The first game of the night is between #1 overall Louisville and #12 seeded Oregon. Louisville has been terrific all season, and the tournament has been no different. Unlike their fellow #1 seeds, they left no doubt in their first two wins, blowing out NC A&T by 31 and Colorado State by 26. The Cardinals have a very skilled big three in Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, and Peyton Siva. Not only is Smith scoring 18 points per game, but he is also a key part of the Louisville press, adding 2.2 steals per game. Smith is tough to defend and will generally “get his.” Dieng is the leading interior presence for Louisville, as he is nearly averaging a double-double to go along with 1.3 steals and 2.4 blocks per game. Peyton Siva is by far the most inconsistent player on the Cardinals. Siva has scored four points or fewer in seven games, and three of those games were Cardinal losses (Louisville has five losses overall). Siva will always be a tenacious defender and a good passer, but it’s not difficult to take him out of his offensive rhythm and that’s a key to beating Louisville. As for Oregon, it’s going to be very tough for them to beat Louisville, but it’s possible. For them to win, they need to take care of the basketball (not easy, the Cardinals force 19 turnovers per game). The Ducks are led by a pair of freshman starters at guard: Dominic Artis and Damian Dotson. I think it’s going to be really tough for them to keep their calm. If they can keep shooting the way they did against St. Louis (8 of 11 threes), they could keep it close. They are a better rebounding team than the Cardinals, if only slightly, and if they can somehow slow the game down a little (the problem is, Oregon likes playing fast too) they could have an advantage. Louisville is favored in this game by 10 and a half, and that isn’t an indictment of Oregon. Louisville has just been by far the best team in basketball this year.

My prediction: Louisville- 68, Oregon- 54
Louisville covers

The second game of the night is between the other remaining #1 seed- Kansas- and #4 Michigan. Kansas is favored in this game, but by only two points, so Vegas expects this to be a close game. I do too. Kansas had three below average halves to start the tournament, barely winning their second round matchup by seven before falling behind by nine to UNC in the third round at the half. They did look a lot better in the second half against Carolina, blowing them out to the tune of 49-28 in the second half. I think that for Kansas to win this game, star Ben McLemore will have to bounce back from two sub-par games. In the second round (really the first) against Western Kentucky he scored just 11 points (he averages close to 16). Then he put up a stinker against North Carolina, going 0-9 from the field and scoring just two points. Not only is this awful for Kansas, it’s bad for McLemore’s draft stock as well. McLemore will probably jump to the NBA after this year, and he has been rumored to be in the running for the #1 overall pick. He won’t be if Kansas loses thanks to another bad outing. As for other key Jayhawks players, Jeff Withey might be their X factor. Against a smaller Michigan team, the seven foot Withey could have a great game offensively if the 58% shooter gets it going early on. As for Michigan, the Wolverines start three freshman, a sophomore, and a junior. This is a very young team, but not an inexperienced one, as they’ve played many of the best teams in college basketball this year. Their top player, guard Trey Burke, is the favorite for player of the year. He averages 19 points per game, but adds seven assists, proof that he is a great floor general. As mentioned above, Michigan is smaller than Kansas, and they’ll be going against the best interior defender in college basketball (Withey). They’ll need Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas to hit threes at their normal rate (those three average a combined six threes per game) so they can open up a little space down low for big men Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary, and Jordan Morgan.

My prediction: Michigan- 73, Kansas- 67
Michigan covers

The third game is a #2 seed vs #3 game between possibly the two best coaches in college basketball. Duke is still led by the iconic Mike “I can’t spell his last name” Krzyzewski and that guy Tom Izzo for Michigan State is pretty good as well. As for actual players, both teams are stacked. Duke has big men Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly (although Kelly has struggled since returning from injury) to go along with leading scorer Seth Curry. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaiman can also take games over. Duke never turns the ball over, and are just overall a great offensive team, although Plumlee struggles against bigger defenders like MSU’s Derrick Nix. As for their problems, the Blue Devils don’t have any major issues other than their rebounding. Against the larger Michigan State, Duke is going to have a tough time on the boards, and could give up multiple second chance buckets. As for the Spartans, their strengths are Duke’s weaknesses and vice-verca. Michigan State is big (with huge Derrick Nix and skilled Aderian Payne) and tremendous defensively (held offensive minded Valparaiso and Memphis to a combined 102 points). But they do have troubles with ball security, as they turned it over more than any other contending big 10 team. In a contrast of styles, this is an intriguing game, but I see Michigan State winning and thus covering the spread, as Duke is the 2.5 point favorite.

My prediction: Michigan State- 67, Duke- 62

Michigan State covers

Last but not least is by far the most lopsided sweet 16 game. On paper, at least. Florida does everything well. They have off the charts shooters and also tremendous defense. Really the only question people have about the Gators is whether they can close games, as they are 0-6 in games decided by single digits. Luckily for Florida, I don’t see this game ending in single digits. On the other side is “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast. There aren’t many stats that say that FGCU is better than Florida- in fact, I haven’t found any- but perhaps they can put pressure on the Gators and cool UF’s hot shooters. If they can do that, this might be a much closer game than I anticipate. I just don’t think it is going to happen. I think Florida’s defense will rattle Brett Comer and Florida Gulf Coast, and Florida will easily cover the 13.5 point spread. Who knows, maybe FGCU is a team of destiny. I’m not buying it.

My prediction: Florida- 80, Florida Gulf Coast- 62
Florida covers

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