Saturday, March 24, 2012

Elite 8 - The Top Seeds move on but the armor is exposed

The round of 16 was sweet for some and sour for others, but by night's end on Friday, the men's college basketball field was narrowed yet again, providing what has the potential to be an epic Elite 8.

7. Florida vs 4. Louisville
Pick: Florida. Sure, my bracket had the Gators losing in the first round, but hey, I've since changed my tune! Bill Donovan and his kids have looked fantastic since this tournament started, killing their opponents with little fanfare to go along with their stellar performances thus far. The Gators have outscored their opponents 223-153 but Louisville should make this game much more difficult for Florida. Rick Patino's Cardinals play outstanding defense which will make it interesting. The match up between big men, Florida's Patric Young and 'Ville's Gorgui Deng gives this contest an old-school feel, taking us back to the days when centers dominated the game. I'm going with Florida because there is something to be said for momentum and while both teams have obviously won the same number of games in this tournament, I see Florida winning bigger and doing so with ease, probably because the only people with expectations for the Gators are themselves.

2. Ohio State vs 1. Syracuse
Pick: Ohio State…Begrudgingly. Despite being the lower seed, Ohio St. is the favorite to win this game as the Buckeyes beat Cincinnati badly in the Sweet 16 while Syracuse has struggled throughout the tournament. As if being without 7-footer Fab Melo for the Orangemen's first three games wasn't bad enough, going up against the Buckeyes' Jared Sullinger is going to be the biggest challenge yet for 'Cuse who is playing without their center, ruled academically ineligible for the duration of the Tournament. It seems like Syracuse has played down to their opponents (which I also think was the case with UNC against Ohio on Friday), a luxury they will be unable to afford against Ohio St, which might inadvertently kickstart their game. A statistic that makes me worry for Syracuse is the fact that Ohio St. out-rebounds opponents by nearly eight boards per game, while the Orange are the exact opposite, averaging almost two fewer rebounds than opponents. Even without Melo, I think Syracuse is the more talented team and if they have the heart to match, can pull an "upset" over Ohio St. Will Syracuse beat the odds? I'm not picking them to do it but they are certainly more than capable of punching their first ticket to the Final Four since 2002-2003, back when a different Melo ruled the roost.

3. Baylor vs 1. Kentucky
Pick: Baylor. Part of me thinks this may FINALLY be John Calipari's year to win it all. The other part of me won't believe until I see it, which is part of the reason I'm picking against Kentucky. The primary reason for choosing Baylor to pull the upset is because their ridiculously bright neon uniforms blind opponents, surely giving the Bears an advantage. Okay, no, not really, but kind of. Like Florida, I think there is something special about Baylor. They aren't the most popular kids in school, but they are plugging away, working on something big and might just end up as the biggest winners of all, Mark Zuckerberg style. Can Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III possibly play as well as they did against Xavier AGAIN, much less repeat the performance against a team like Kentucky? I think they can. It's going to be tough as hell, but I think the Bears can do it. They'll have their work cut out for them in trying to slow Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis but it can be done. Baylor is on a roll and if there is anyone who can roll over the Wildcats right now, it's the Bears.

2. Kansas vs 1. North Carolina
Pick: Kansas. This one is simple. If Kendall Marshall were healthy and playing in this game, I would pick UNC in a heartbeat, but that isn't the case, so I have to go the other. I think the main reason for the Tar Heels' struggles against No. 13 Ohio on Friday was the nerves and the learning curve of playing without Marshall, their injured star point guard. Although they escaped with a win over the Bobcats, doing so while being only one free-throw away from losing to a 13-seed probably won't instill the kind of confidence necessary to beat Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Yes, Tyler Zeller was on another planet, keeping his Tar Heels from spinning into a hoops Black Hole with a 20 point and 22 rebound performance, but the likelihood of finding that kind of success on the boards against the Jayhawks is slim. Kansas will get the best of UNC this time around.

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