Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wichita State may have a bitter taste, but the rest of us have a sweettooth

All things being equal you’d rather be in Indy…………….. (11) Tennessee / (2) Michigan – The Wolverines can into the dance with a huge tail wind and could arguably make an argument for a top seed. Three weeks ago they calling for Cuonzo Martin’s head, then an incredible run from the First Four, to two games from the Final Four, the talk has turned from termination to extension. The Vols are peaking at the right time, and have looked as athletic and competitive as anyone in the tournament including the top seeds and they can’t say they’ve been doing it all year as they are not in the 150 in the country in any major category other than rebounding. Michigan is known from shooting anywhere in general vicinity of the arena, among the best in country from beyond the arch, and have some big wins under their belt, including two over final four sexy pick (4) Michigan state. If the 3 is their friend they’ll be moving on but if they go sub 40% from deep it’ll be a Rocky Top night. (4) Louisville/(8) Kentucky – The battle of the blue grass state that the NCAA really wanted to see, unfortunately at the expense of Wichita State. It’s the battle of the last two national champions, a civil war, and a rematch. UK beat the ‘Ville earlier this season 73-66 in a Dec. 28 clash. However, that game was at Rupp Arena in front of the Wildcats' faithful. Each team has progressed tremendously. For Kentucky, it's been the aforementioned maturity. For Louisville, it's been honing in on what they do extremely well, and that's defensive pressure, which can fluster even the savviest of guards. Kentucky has the freshman who are too young really grasp the magnitude of the moment, but may have emptied the chamber last week when the knocked off the undefeated Shockers. If they can dublicate that performance which was their best of the season by far, then we look for them to move on but in probability there will be a slight letdown and window may become a gaping hole that the Cardinal use to get to the Elite Eight. For a position that although prestigious, is certainly not glamorous, being on the NCAA Tournament selection committee must be also be a thankless position. All of us fans get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, at their expense, while lobbyist whine about their school’s omission from the dance, low seeding, travel destination, etc. and that’s before they toss up the ball at the First Four. However, unlike the BCS (may it lie restless for all eternity) in two weeks the NCAA will crown a Men’s Basket ball champion and no one will have a viable objection but that doesn’t stop many from trying. So far the loudest objection has come from the former undefeated and top seed Wichita State whom was matched up with an eight-seed that looked more like a one-seed, which is where Kentucky was ranked to start the season, however was seeded down at 8 despite losing by one-point in the SEC Championship Game to the eventual overall top-seed in the tournament Florida. Now normally I would back such an argument but don’t forget how bad UK was playing prior to the SEC Tournament and after coming out of the block as the top seed in the country to start the season with all the hype there was no where to go but down. Moreover, that was by far the best game they had played all season, they actually made their open shots including from 3 (43%) over 10% above their season average. By now you’ve heard the conspiracy theories and what the NCAA has wanted to see in the Sweet 16 and beyond, now I don’t know about all of that but you would be hard pressed to find anyone outside the state of Kansas who didn’t want to see a Louisville v. Kentucky matchup, and now they got it with stacks of checks in the center of the table. In addition to the history, Rick Patino, an interstate rivalry, there is a ticket to the Elite 8 waiting at will call for the winner. Not the only Sweet 16 matchup but the most intriguing, however there still may be better games if the first weekend was any harbinger of what’s coming over the next 4 days. (6)Baylor/(2)Wisconsin – Perhaps the best collection of athletes of the remaining schools, Baylor came into the dance with a ton of momentum and playing their best basketball of the year, while Wisconsin is the pillar of consistency with a methiodical style that takes teams out of their rhythm. This contrast in styles is another example of what makes the tournament great, and the winner will be the one who is able to enforce their will. (11)Dayton/(10)Stanford – The battle of the double digit cienderellas. Had Dayton had the year that many expected this wouldn’t be that big of a surprise but they muddled through the year and fell down to number at least 40 in the nation. Stanford has played their Pac-12 brotherin and Sweet-16 compeers Arizona and UCLA tough and can hang with most teams in the country. Look for this one to be close throughout and similar to the types of games we saw on opening weekend. (4)UCLA/(1)Florida – I’m not sure why no one is talking about this game and it’s flying under the radar, as this could also be the best game of the weekend. The number one overall seed in the dance, taking on a school that has won 12 of 13 including the conference tournament championship against Arizona who was the top ranked team in the nation shortly before. (4)SDSU/(1)Arizona – A West cost battle with a huge twist. On paper this looks like an Arizona 8 point win, but the game happened to fall in Anaheim, less than an hour from the SDSU campus which could make a huge difference. Arizona’s fan base has always traveled well but they will be hard pressed to match the numbers of Aztecs whom may get a 8 point boost themselves if the game is close and the fence sitters start cheering for the underdog. This game will be much closer than people think.

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