NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Picks – Friday, March 24, 2017

March 25, 2017 on 12:56 am | In College Basketball | No Comments

The 2017 NCAA Tournament continued on Thursday night with Sweet 16 play, where three of the four games went right down to the wire.  First it was Oregon scoring the final four points of the game to edge Michigan, 69-68.  Gonzaga outlasted West Virginia 61-58 in a slugfest, scoring the final six points to eliminate the Mountaineers.

Not to be outdone for a thriller was Xavier/Arizona, appearing for a while that Sean Miller would get the best of his old school.  Instead, Xavier closed the final 2:40 on a 9-0 run for a stunning 73-71 upset.  There would be no ‘upset’ in the Kansas/Purdue game, although the Jayhawks erased an eight-point deficit late in the first half and steamroll the Boilermakers from there, winning 98-66.

The lineup for Friday should produce more excitement, including with a much anticipated Kentucky vs. UCLA showdown of two heavyweights in the sport…

Hat’s Friday Night Picks:

#4 Butler (25-8) vs. #1 North Carolina (29-7)… Even though North Carolina is 0-2 all-time against Butler, the Tar Heels are plenty confident.  Roy Williams is 12-1 in the Sweet 16 as a #1 seed, including winning twice before in seasons where UNC won National Championships.  His Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks able to clean up misses, just as they did in their 72-65 comeback win over Arkansas in the Round of 32.  This UNC team has a 38-14 advantage in offensive rebounding in the NCAA Tournament.  Butler is no pushover, however, and must be taken seriously.  The Bulldogs have not trailed yet in the NCAA Tournament, the only team that can say such at this juncture, and they featured an experienced group with three senior starters, none more reliable than 6′7″ junior forward Kelan Martin.  George Washington transfer Kethan Savage gives them another steady vet in the backcourt.  Defensively, they kept down Middle Tennessee’s top scorer in Giddy Potts – 19.7PPG over the previous six games – and held him scoreless.  Containing all the weapons UNC has, including ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, will be a different story.  Keep an eye on the health and effectiveness of guard Joel Berry – who has gone from 14.4PPG to 6.5PPG and is 3-for-21 from the field in the tourney – for UNC.  He’ll be needed to produce in a big way to get to the Final Four.  Pick – UNC 78, Butler 70

#7 South Carolina (24-10) vs. #3 Baylor (27-7)… What a story this South Carolina team, which just barely missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago, has been.  Frank Martin’s Gamecocks made their first trip to the Big Dance since 2004, notched its first victory in the tourney since 1973 and then followed up an impressive 93-73 win over Marquette with a commanding 88-81 come-from-behind win over ACC Tournament Champ Duke.  In that game against Duke, they overcame a 7-for-35 shooting start to scored 65 second half points.  Senior Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year, is putting up over 26 points per game to go with 8.5RPG and 3.5APG in the NCAA Tournament.  He’s a big guard at 6′6″ and is complemented b 6′6″ sophomore P.J. Dozier quite well.  To beat Baylor, they’ll need 6′9″ sophomore forward Chris Silva to rebound well against a Bears team that can control the inside against most foes.  In fact, in their opening round win over New Mexico State, Baylor finished with a 50-28 advantage when it came to points in the paint.  But versus a South Carolina zone defense that has gotten better lately, Baylor will need the likes of Al Freeman (21Pts. 3-3 on 3’s in that first round), Miami transfer Manu Lecomte and others to knock down shots from the perimeter to take pressure off the front-court players.  Pick – South Carolina 73, Baylor 69

#2 Kentucky (31-5) vs. #3 UCLA (31-4)… This is a National Championship caliber matchup in the Sweet 16.  Back in December, these two teams met and it was UCLA winning 97-92, despite a bevy of turnovers, at Rupp Arena.  Kentucky is playing at a different level than back then, but so too are the Bruins, who lead the country in scoring at 90.2 points per game.  UCLA is also tops in the nation in field goal percentage (52%) and assists (21.6 per contest).  John Calipari is 5-0 in the Sweet 16 at Kentucky, which comes in riding a 13-game winning streak that is longer than anyone else still playing.  Meanwhile, Steve Alford has not advanced past this round as a Head Coach at any of his stops.  Neither defense is probably going to be able to shut down the other, so it’s likely going to become a game full of dunks, lobs and 3’s where whoever outscores the other in a shoot-out is left standing.  Nobody has dazzled more in College Hoops this season than 6′6″ freshman Lonzo Ball, a guy that shot 7-of-10 from the field with 18 points, nine assists, seven boards and just one turnover in a 79-67 win over Cincinnati in the previous round.  Kentucky has the inside presence with 6′10″ freshman Bam Adebayo, who had four second half jams in their 65-62 white-knuckler with Wichita State.  Bam, a virtual Dwight Howard clone, also blocked the game’s final shot.  There are so many talented players on the floor for both teams, many of whom will go on to the NBA.  The guy Kentucky is hoping can put them over the top is Malik Monk, who earlier in the season scored 47 points on UNC, yet is just 6-of-21 from the field in this NCAA Tournament.  As good as 6′3″ senior guard Bryce Alford is on the offensive end of the court, UCLA may look to hide him some defensively and knows a strong performance skilled 6′10″ freshman T.J. Leaf in the post is paramount.  Pick – UCLA 91, Kentucky 89

#8 Wisconsin (27-9) vs. #4 Florida (26-8)… Making their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance are the Wisconsin Badgers, led by the veteran play of senior forward Nigel Hayes, who scored the game-winner in the team’s 65-62 comeback win over defending National Champ Villanova.  In that game, Nova led 57-50 with 5:16 to play, but the Badgers fought back with timely plays from tourney tested players like Hayes, senior guard Bronson Koenig, senior forward Vitto Brown and sophomore forward Ethan Happ.  The Badgers won thanks to that 15-5 run and largely because they finished +10 in the paint.  Will they be able to get similar results on a long and athletic Florida team coming into its own?  No one is flourishing more on the Gators than 6′8″ junior Devin Robinson, fresh off a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds in a 65-39 rout of defensive-minded Virginia.  Robinson had a career-high of 24 points in the game before that, an 80-65 win over East Tennessee State where the Gators shook off an 0-for-8 start from three-point distance.  Given that Florida can be hold from three-point range, it’s essential that 6′1″ senior guard Kasey Hill penetrate with success and finish on the drive as well as set up others to score.  While many eyes will be on the UCLA/Kentucky game in the second window, and understandably so, don’t be surprised to see this one produce a buzzer-beater or get decided on the final possession.  Pick – Florida 66, Wisconsin 65

No Comments yet »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Powered by WordPress with Pool theme design by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS. ^Top^