Four teams have punched their ticket to the Elite
Eight. Four more will on Friday night as
we’ll find out who gets to join Louisville, Florida, Ohio State and Syracuse
this weekend with a chance to play for a spot in the Final Four.
Before we get to the analysis and picks, let’s review the
records of how my predictions have gone to this point in the 2012 NCAA
Round of 64: 22-10 with 13-3 on Day 1
and 9-7 on Day 2
Round of 32: 14-2
12 of 16 Sweet 16 Participants Predicted before start of NCAA Tournament
Sweet 16 Picks on Thursday Night: 4-0
7:15 PM – #3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier: These are two programs on the rise with
Baylor from the Big 12 and Xavier in the Atlantic-10. Xavier started 8-0, and then went 15-12 after
the brawl, but they have come on after getting an at-large bid, led by talented
guard Tu Holloway (21.5PPG in March in six games). It is Xavier’s fourth Sweet 16 trip in five
seasons, so getting to this point in the tourney has become almost a routine
for them. For Baylor, the Bears have
enjoyed a school record 29 wins. They
have some players that could get some NBA looks for sure. Two seasons ago, Baylor made it to the Elite
Eight and then fell to eventual National Champion Duke. Scott Drew has a balanced attack with five
players averaging over 10 points per game.
Pierre Jackson, the junior college transfer, is a ton setter
for Baylor at the point. He’s really
driving it to the rack well, setting people up and using his quickness to be a
catalyst. Brady Heslip, who has
connected on 14-of-22 three-point tries and was simply unconscious from deep
against Colorado in the Round 32.
Heslip, the nephew of former Toronto Raptors Head Coach Jay Triano, has the
ability to change this game like he did the last one if he gets hot shooting
the three-point shot. If Baylor’s
front-court comes to play, then the Musketeers will have a daunting challenge. Perry Jones (only 4.5PPG, 7.5RPG in the NCAA
Tournament), Quincy Acy and company have to really assert themselves early and
often as well as Quincy Miller and 6-foot-10 senior Anthony Jones.
For Xavier, they got a great performance from Kenny Frease
the last time out. Frease had a
career-high 25 points and 12 rebounds versus Lehigh in the Round of 32, and
that was enormous because they trailed Lehigh by as many as 12 in the first
half and used a 18-6 spurt to close to break a 52-all tie. Two others will be critical as well. Holloway’s backcourt mate, Mark Lyons, is one
of the better shooters in the A-10 and hasn’t quite gotten off yet in the
tourney. Andre Walker is their main
utility guy, and he’s only shooting 53% from the foul line, so if it’s close
and he goes to the line, he has to deliver.
Dee Davis is a possible x-factor that offensively could be a real bonus
to go with Holloway, Lyons and Frease.
In the paint is where it will probably be decided. Xavier had its way inside with Lehigh thanks
to Frease, but Baylor’s front-line, particularly Jones, may be due to break
through. The Bears are able to do such a
good job of stretching the defense with Heslip’s shooting and Jackson creates
opportunities for his teammates running the point. The Musketeers rely so much on Holloway, and
you can bet the Baylor defense will look to take deny him as much as
possible. While they may not be
successful in that endeavor, it’ll be
Pick: Baylor by 6.
7:47 PM – #1 North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio:
North Carolina is 10-0 since 1993 in the Sweet 16 and their 25th
appearance in the Sweet 16 is the most all-time. Coach Roy Williams is chasing his third
National Championship for UNC since 2005.
Meanwhile, Ohio is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1964 when
they lost to Michigan in the region finals.
Coach John Groce has done a masterful job since taking over this program
in July of 2008. His Bobcats are the
first MAC school to make it this far in the NCAA Tournament since Kent State in
The storyline going into this game is the health of
sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall for North Carolina. Marshall broke his right wrist in the Tar
Heels’ 87-73 win over Creighton in the Round of 32 in a game where he was
superb out of the gate with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting with six assists in
the first half. In Marshall’s absence,
the Tar Heels turn to freshman Stilman White.
He’ll have weapons at his disposal as UNC features an imposing
front-line with Tyler Zeller (14PPG, 10.5RPG in the NCAA Tourney), John Henson
(94 blocks) and Harrison Barnes.
The bigger issues for UNC will be taking care of the
basketball and keeping Ohio’s playmaking point guard relatively in check. D.J. Cooper (20PPG, 4RPG, 6APG in the NCAA
Tournament) has been superb, and really is the focal point for this
perimeter-oriented Bobcats bunch.
Defensively, Ohio averages 9.5 steals per game, placing in the Top 5 in
the country, so they know how to turn defense into instant offense. One of the main questions for Ohio is will
they be able to get clean looks for sophomore guard Nick Kellogg (that’s TV
analyst Clark’s son) and Ohio State transfer Walter Offutt, who knocked down
four treys against South Florida?
In the end, UNC’s front-line is overwhelming to most every
team they play. The Tar Heels lead the
nation in rebounding margin, and that’s not an area that is a strength for the
Bobcats whatsoever. In fact, it might be
their weakness in this game. Ohio will
have to really catch fire from long distance and hope UNC is cold to be in
position to spring the upset late.
Pick: UNC by 11
9:45 PM – #1 Kentucky vs. #4 Indiana: These
are two of the best programs in the history of College Basketball. Seven National Championships for Kentucky and
five for Indiana. It’s the third
straight Sweet 16 trip for Kentucky, which is the only remaining Final Four
team from a year ago. John Calipari
continues to chase that elusive title; his Memphis team in 2008 came oh so
close to cutting down the nets, leading the entire game on that Monday night
when Kansas hit a game-tying three-pointer and ended their dream in overtime. Calipari is known for producing top draft
choices such as NBA point guards John Wall, Brandon Knight, Tyreke Evans and
Derrick Rose. In Indiana, Calipari’s
team faces a group with great resiliency, resolve and familiarity with the
Tom Crean’s Hoosiers beat Kentucky 73-72 back on December 10
on a buzzer-beater. Things have changed
quite a bit since then. Indiana has
gotten better, but Kentucky has vastly improved since that defeat. Kentucky was 8-0 before that loss, and then
the Wildcats reeled off 24 straight wins.
The matchup to watch is inside. Big
Ten Freshman of the Year Cody Zeller takes on SEC Freshman of the Year Anthony
Davis, who resembles Marcus Camby and could be a similar type of pro. Davis is putting up 15.5 points, 10.5 boards
and four assists per game in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s what he does on the
defensive end of the floor, blocking shots at will while staying out of foul
trouble, that has him being considered as the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Another player expected to go high in the NBA Draft,
somewhere in the Top 5, is fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a versatile
stat sheet stuffer for the Wildcats. Point
guard Marquise Teague has been great in the NCAA Tourney with averages of 18PPG,
61.9FG% and 5.5APG. Terrence Jones, a
6-foot-9 sophomore, can be the best player on the court against anyone in the
country or be Kentucky’s fourth best player.
Kentucky is simply loaded with so many weapons at every position; even
the likes of Kyle Wiltjer and Doron Lamb have size and shooting ability. Indiana will need Jordan Hulls to come through
in a major way, and he shot it much better against New Mexico State than he did
Christian Watford scored 20 points and shot 4-of-6 from
three-point range, including the game-winner when the Hoosiers beat Kentucky in
the first meeting. Meanwhile, Jones didn’t
play that great in the first encounter.
I’d look for those two players to have reverse type of numbers, and for
the Wildcats to capitalize on Indiana’s mistakes. Remember, the Hoosiers beat VCU despite 22
turnovers, and were very fortunate to erase a 12-point deficit and win versus a
quality Rams team. But if Kentucky loses
in this NCAA Tournament, it’ll probably be because they struggle to convert
from the outside and that is the way to beat them.
Pick: Kentucky by 8
10:17 PM – #2 Kansas vs. #11 NC State: One
team was expected to get to this point; the other was a bubble squad that
breathed a sigh of relief on Selection Sunday.
Kansas and NC State haven’t met in the NCAA Tournament in 26 years. It was the 1986 Midwest Regional Final when
Larry Brown was coaching at Kansas and the late great Jim Valvano was the Head
Coach of NC State. Kansas won, 75-67
behind 22 points from Danny Manning, a current assistant to Bill Self and the
Jayhawks. For NC State, this is their
first Sweet 16 since 2005. Kansas is
used to getting to this point in the Big Dance, winning the Natl. Championship
back just four years ago.
Kansas in many ways was fortunate to beat Purdue in the last
round. The Jayhawks rallied in large
part because of their stingy defense, holding Purdue to 29% shooting in the
second half. Thomas Robinson (13.5PPG,
13RPG in NCAA Tournament) is a Player of the Year candidate, although he’s only
shooting 36% from the field the past two games.
He’s not the only All-American caliber player they have as guard Tyshawn
Taylor is a steady senior who gets it done on offense and defense usually. Elijah Johnson really was the hero of that
escape for the Jayhawks with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 13 points in the
second half and a huge steal and lay-up to put KU ahead with under a minute to
play. They can’t expect him to play at
that level and get sub-par efforts from both Robinson and Taylor if they plan
on beating the Wolfpack.
Five players are averaging in double-figures for NC State in
year one under Coach Mark Gottfried. Lorenzo
Brown is averaging 14.4 points and over seven assists per game over the past five
games for the Wolfpack in making that transition from the two-guard spot to a
point man. C.J. Leslie has been terrific
in the NCAA Tournament with over 14 points and six boards a contest in the NCAA
Tournament while shooting over 47% from the field, and has become a much more
consistent performer during his sophomore season where he’s been arguably as
good as any ACC player in the last two months.
In beating Georgetown, NC State got 17 offensive rebounds and did damage
from the outside with 7-of-15 shooting on three-pointers. NC State has to be able to have success in
the painted area, and if they don’t, I think the Pack will find it hard to
knock off Kansas.
Like many teams that get to the Final Four and even some
that go on to win the National Championship, Kansas had their moment where they
could’ve and maybe even should’ve lost against Purdue in the Round of 32. After playing well under their potential in
that one and surviving, the Jayhawks ought to come out with a much sharper
performance against a dangerous NC St. squad.
Brown and Leslie probably won’t get off offensively versus the defense
of Robinson and Taylor, both capable of shutting someone down even when their
shooting is up and down.
Pick: Kansas by 4.
The Madness continues! We’ve reached the Sweet 16 round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. There has been plenty of excitement and storylines so far, headlined by the upsets that occurred in Friday’s Round of 64 where there was a single-day record of eight upsets. That included for the first time ever in the same tourney two #15 seeds knocking off #2 seeds as Norfolk State stunned Missouri and Lehigh knocked off Duke.
While there have been some surprises and Cinderella stories, there has also been a lot of chalk advancing. Case and point, the #1 seeds are 8-0 for the first time since 2009 through a couple of rounds in the NCAA Tourney.
Let’s take a look at Thursday night’s Sweet 16 matchups.
Hatfield’s Record: 12 of 16 Sweet 16 Picks Projected Correctly
7:15 PM – #1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin: Many speculated that Syracuse would be vulnerable without the services of one Fab Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a major part of their success this season. They survived a scare against UNC-Asheville in their NCAA Tournament opener, and then beat Kansas State by 16 in a game where the Orange’s depth, length and bench overwhelmed the Wildcats. The Syracuse bench outscored KSU’s 33-0 and they got eight blocked shots without Melo in the lineup. It’s a balanced attack with Kris Joseph, James Southerland, Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine all reaching in double-figures in each of the past two games. Jardine’s ability to get in the paint and distribute will be a major factor. He’s a really nice complement to Waiters, one of the nation’s best two-guards.
What Wisconsin does about as well as anyone is control tempo. They’re a well-oiled machine, and much like Syracuse under Jim Boeheim, a well-coached squad by Bo Ryan. Their switching defense gives teams problems as it becomes a game with fewer possessions, and the Badgers don’t beat themselves. In fact, last year Wisconsin set a new NCAA D-1 record for fewest turnovers per game at 7.59. A lot of credit has to go to guard Jordan Taylor, an All-American caliber player who knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer late in their win over Vanderbilt in the Round of 32.
Six-foot-6 junior forward Mike Bruesewitz can really shoot the ball from the outside, and Ryan Evans has stepped up as a guy that averaged less than 3PPG a season ago to one of their more prominent offensive players and a key ingredient. Where they can hurt Syracuse is by getting some offensive rebounds; the Orange sometimes fail to squeeze the orange and give up quite a few second chance opportunities.
In the end though, Syracuse is longer and more athletic at most every position. Their 2-3 zone should keep Wisconsin in check enough, and all it may take is a couple of transition run-outs to knock the Badgers out late.
Pick: Syracuse by 2
7:47 PM – #1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better coaching matchup than this one in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino of Louisville is a perfect 9-0 in the Sweet 16. Michigan St. Head Coach Tom Izzo has gone 7-2 in his career in the Sweet 16 round. Each has won a National Championship. Both have terrific teams this year with Michigan State capturing the Big East Tournament title and Louisville winning the Big East Tournament. Michigan State has one of the most unique players in College Basketball in Draymond Green, who joined Oscar Robertson and Spartan Great Magic Johnson as the only players in NCAA Tournament history to record multiple triple-doubles in a career. A versatile, inside-outside weapon, Green has 40 points, 25 boards and 16 assists through two NCAA Tournament games this year. The engine for Louisville is junior point guard Peyton Siva, who finished up with 17 points and six assists in the win over Davidson in the Round of 64.
Louisville wants to apply defensive pressure and get Michigan State out of its comfort zone. On the baseline, 6-foot-10 sophomore center Gorgui Deng is a superb shot blocker who’ll make it difficult on the Spartans getting quality shots up around the rim. The Cardinals are a pretty balanced team on offense, and a lot is going to depend on guys like Chris Smith, Russ Smith, Jared Swopshire and leading scorer Kyle Kuric being able to convert from the outside. Michigan State’s supporting cast has really rounded into form during the Big Ten Tournament and here in the NCAA Tournament where others like Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix have helped out Green inside on the boards, Austin Thornton has delivered at the foul line and senior Brandon Wood, a transfer from Valpo, has connected for some really huge buckets, both inside the painted area and away from the cup.
Offensive rebounding will be crucial for Louisville because are always one of the best defensive rebounding clubs in the country. Freshman Chane Behanan will be important in that effort. MSU’s guards have to be able to really come through so that the Spartans don’t depend so much on Green and the front-court. Sophomore Keith Appling has been extremely solid on the defensive end at the guard spot, and they’ll need some offensive production in this one.
If the Cards are able to knock down enough outside shots, and I think Siva’s penetration will open up good opportunities, they have a great shot to knock off an MSU team that is a serious contender to win the National Championship. In my opinion, Kentucky is the team to beat in this NCAA Tournament, but the winner of this game could be best equipped to keep the Wildcats from winning it all and upsetting this year’s favorite.
Pick: Louisville by 3 in OT
9:45 PM – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Cincinnati: Ohio State and Cincinnati had some great Tournament battles in the early 1960’s. These two in-state rivals haven’t met often in recent years, the last time coming in 2006, but this meeting will undoubtedly be for Ohio bragging rights. The state of Ohio has been great in this NCAA Tournament, posting a perfect 8-0 record to this point and sending four teams to the Sweet 16 for the first time. In the last round, Cincinnati outlasted Florida State 62-56 to earn its first Sweet 16 trip since 2001, while Ohio State defeated Gonzaga 73-66 behind a splendid performance from sophomore guard Aaron Craft (17 points, 10 dimes in that one).
For the third year in a row, Thad Matta has the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16 and this team has several big-time recruits and top-notch players. Against Gonzaga, they shot 64% from the field and made 4-of-7 from three-point land to start with a couple of treys from 6-foot-9 sophomore center Jared Sullinger. Cincinnati knows they have to do their best to get him in foul trouble to have a shot at winning this one. Sullinger isn’t a guy that will play above the rim, but he uses his body and hands so well. The Buckeyes aren’t an incredibly great outside shooting team, but William Buford is money from the perimeter, and DeShaun Thomas proved in the Round of 64 win over Loyola how dangerous of a scorer he can be when he dropped in 31 points.
Mick Cronin has done wonders at Cincinnati in a short period of time, notching 52 wins in two years and getting the Bearcats to recover after that ugly brawl with Xavier earlier in the season. Cronin decided to go with a four-guard lineup at that time, and it has paid dividends. Yancy Gates (11.7PPG, 9.5RPG) on the inside has been a force, and the backcourt parts have delivered, particularly Cashmere Wright and sophomore Sean Kilpatrick. Jaquon Parker had 11 rebounds against Florida State and he’s an x-factor in this one against an Ohio State team that won’t usually let you play sluggish for a stretch and win like the Seminoles did. Dion Dixon also scored 15 points in that game and Cincy shot 52% in the second half, which against a team that defends as well as FSU, should be plenty to prevail.
I don’t see Cincinnati shooting it all that well and a cold spell midway through the second might do them in against a Buckeyes team that really started to hit its stride in the second half of their hard-fought victory over what many feel was an underrated Gonzaga team. Sullinger’s strength and power can be a difference down low, and keep an eye on Craft, who defensively has proven to be capable of shutting down an opponents’ top guard.
Pick: Ohio State by 10
10:17 PM – #3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida: Making their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in seven years at the Florida Gators. They come to the Sweet 16 as a #7 seed this time and somewhat of an underdog against a Marquette squad under Buzz Williams that really grinded out a tough 62-53 victory over a pesky Murray State team that was 31-1 overall. Marquette used an 8-0 run late in that game, and the Eagles claimed their second straight Sweet 16 berth behind another brilliant performance from Jae Crowder (17.6PPG, 7.9RPG).
The Big East Player of the Year finished with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds. Crowder can do it inside and outside, he defends, rebounds and his versatility in some ways remind people of Derrick Williams from Arizona last year. Williams helped carry the Cats to the Elite Eight and ended up being the #2 overall pick in the NBA Draft. In the game before that, Crowder poured in 25 points, a career-high 16 boards and had four steals. There are some really nice complementary pieces around him on this feisty Marquette team, and especially imperative are guards Darius Johnson-Odom, who just looks like a tough cookie, and Junior Cadougan. Johnson-Odom, Crowder and Cadoughan can pretty much score from any spot on the floor. On the inside, Davante Gardner is a physical forward that will be a key matchup in this one, likely against Florida’s Patric Young.
Against Virginia, the Gators made 80% of their field goal attempts from inside the arc while they didn’t shot it that well from the outside (1-for-14 at the half in that game), but did get a great lift from their bench with a 22-3 advantage in that category. Florida screens so well, and Young was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field against UVA. Against Norfolk State, the Gators went on a 25-0 run and showed why they are so prolific shooting from three-point land and set a school-record for 3’s made this year. Billy Donovan’s teams are ready for tournament basketball. The Gators have gone 17-2 since 2006 in the NCAA Tournament, winning a couple of National Championships. Guardst Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton (16.3PPG) were the starting backcourt for a Florida team that made it to the Elite Eight last year, and they got even better with the addition of freshman Brad Beal.
The more popular pick is Marquette and that makes sense because there are very few teams in the field that can matchup with Crowder. Rather quietly though, the Gators have won two NCAA Tournament games by a combined total of 60 points. Marquette is the better team 1 through 5 in my opinion, but the three-point shot can be a great equalizer in these tourney games. Throw that in along with their guard play and depth, and Florida really becomes a tough out.
Pick: Florida by 5
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March Madness is here! The 2012 NCAA Tournament really gets going today with wall-to-wall action on CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV.
We saw dramatic comebacks in the ‘First Four’ from the likes of BYU against Iona, rallying from 25 down, and a Western Kentucky team with a losing record putting it together down the stretch to beat Mississippi Valley State.
Below are my Picks for the Round of 64 – and we’ll have Analysis to come later with Picks for the Round of 32 over the weekend as well!
HATFIELD SPORTS BRACKET:
FINAL FOUR CHOICES:
Kentucky – With shot blocker Anthony Davis anchoring the Wildcats inside, Kentucky is the favorite to win the tourney and you get no argument from me. John Calipari is getting it done with freshmen headliners again, and the impressive thing about this team is how committed they are to do defense and sharing the basketball on offense.
Louisville – This is kind of an outside the box pick to make the Final Four as a #4 seed since most people are leaning with Michigan State or Missouri in this Region. However, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals won the Big East Tournament and they have a playmaker at the point guard spot in Peyton Siva that can take the nation by storm in this tourney.
Ohio State – Led by 6-foot-8, 280-pound bruiser Jared Sullinger inside, the Buckeyes have a nice crop of sophomores that should be able to do a little bit of everything. With Fab Melo unable to play for Syracuse, Ohio State is now the favorite in the East Regional. Keep an eye no sophomore Deshaun Thomas to step up alongside Sullinger as the Buckeyes’ main shot maker from the outside.
Kansas – It wasn’t that long ago that Kansas and Bill Self won a National Title. They have a Player of the Year candidate in Thomas Robinson to make a deep run in the NCAA’s. The advantage the Jayhawks have over UNC in my opinion is we’re not sure how healthy Jon Henson will be for the Tar Heels, plus if the two teams meet in the Elite Eight as expected, it’ll be a heavy Kansas crowd with the game in St. Louis.
VCU – Remember, Shaka Smart and the Rams stunned the College Basketball world on its way to reaching the Final Four last year. They have a nice core of youngsters surrounding senior leader Brad Burgess.
Belmont – It won’t be easy to knock off Georgetown, but this is a team that has been close to springing the upset in the NCAA Tournament before. Their experience should pay dividends, and give the Hoyas fits.
Long Beach State – The 49ers got a tough draw in New Mexico, but senior guard Casper Ware can really play and this team has the potential to make some noise in the Big Dance.
NC State – After nearly beating North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, the Pack come in the NCAA Tourney with something to prove, and as a #11 seed, they have more talent across the board than #6 seed San Diego State. Don’t be surprised to see this squad make a Sweet 16 run.
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