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.