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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