|I can't see KU losing before the Final Four (USA Today Sports)|
The Sweet 16 is set to kick off Thursday with a slate of four games. Here is a brief synopsis of the teams, a breakdown of the matchup, and the my picks to go on to the round of the Elite 8. All numbers are from ESPN.com and sports-reference.com/cbb.
|Angel Rodriguez has averaged 26 ppg this first round. Not bad (Getty Images)|
University of Miami vs Villanova University
Miami is a veteran team with two stars, Angel Rodgriguez and Scott McClellan. They are lead by Jim Larranaga, a coach with March experience (he led George Mason to a surprising run to the Final 4). Moreover, they survived and thrived the bite of the jungle of ACC basketball this year. They have everything one would want in a formidable team. The team’s offense has never been a problem,( they rank 25th in the country in terms of points per possession) it is their defense that has failed them at points. In fact, their season was littered with as many peculiar losses (Northeastern, Clemson) as impressive wins.
This Villanova team is the prototype of a Jay Wright squad. The starting lineup is essentially a four guard, big forward group. They rely on spacing opponents out and exploiting their quickness with dribble drives that strike at the heart of their opponent. The team features four players that shoot above 35% from 3. While no one shoots north of 40% from behind the arc, the balance in scoring (five guys that average right at 10+ points per game) make them a formidable team.
UM played Duke (another kick and drive team) well, and held them to 69 points. If they can come up with another defensive performance like that, they should win. For Villanova, they will try and use their aggressive defense to take the ball from Miami. They rank 28th in the country at forcing turnovers.
Result: Miami has too many factors I deem necessary for winning come this time of the year. Give me the Hurricanes to continue their run and get Larranaga back to the elite 8.
|It's been all smiles for Bill Self as KU has rolled thus far.|
Kansas University vs University of Maryland
This is arguably the most talented team in the tourney, and they have surely played like it to this point. Whether it is Wayne Selden soaring over the competition, or Perry Ellis’ old-school post moves, or local product Devonte Graham running the show, the team has legitimate college stars on the floor at all times. Keep an eye on Landen Lucas as well, who is a skilled big that has a burgeoning comfort with knocking down a jumper and a penchant for handling the dirty work inside.
There won’t be a lot of teams that can match talent for talent with Kansas, but UMD is pretty darn close. The backcourt is sensational with Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, two combo guards that can get their shot and shots for their teammates whenever the mood strikes. Diamond Stone has played well especially considering the Freshman’s minutes have been up and down with UMD occasionally going small.
This game will have an NBA feel to it because all of the potential future pros that will litter the hardwood. Kansas has been rolling along without a real test thus far in the tournament…which cold be a bad thing. How will KU perform in a tight spot against a good team? I like UMD a ton, but I can’t bet against Goliath. I wonder if David will show up adorned in red, black, white, and gold.
|Brandon Ingram is good #Analysis (Winslow Townsend/USA Today Sports)|
Duke University vs Oregon Universtiy
The number one seed that everyone had going out early keeps hanging around. They weren’t especially dominating in their win against St. Joe’s, but the tag line is “Survive and advance” and they have done just that. One thing is clear from the jump, the team is athletic and knows it. They use that athleticism to get to the free throw line and turn the ball over (they rank top 20 in the nation in both statistics). They aren’t particularly strong from outside, with only Tyler Dorsey shooting better than 40% from behind the arc.
The team started out as just Grayson Allen and some talented freshmen. Since then, Brandon Ingram has become a dark horse candidate for the first pick in the NBA draft and Luke Kennard is as good a third option as there is in the country. They aren’t very deep, but even in the best of scenarios Coach K only employs a 7 man rotation. They drive. They kick. They score. Their problem all year has been on the other side of the court, they were 230th in points allowed per possession this season.
There isn’t a better two-headed combo than Ingram and Allen. What’s more, the team has already traveled to the site of the game and has had several days to recover, virtually negating the tired legs that can accompany playing a short bench. Give me Duke in this one, which I don’t think will be a particularly close contest.
Texas A&M vs Oklahoma
First off, kudos to winning their last game. Yes, Northern Iowa collapsed in dazzling fashion, but the Aggies were right there to pick up the pieces and carry the comeback to a fruitful conclusion. Still, they will need to be much better in the body of the game if they plan on advancing in the tournament. Perhaps they will employ the press that led to their surprising finish, earlier in the game. This team thrives on defensive stops and attacking in transition. They have forced the 14th most turnovers in the nation.
I was wrong twice on this team. I thought 1) buddy Hield was a great shooter and athlete, but not capable of getting his own shot against set defenses. 2) I thought that if Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard didn’t play well, Oklahoma couldn’t win. With Hield made a liar out of me by getting his own offense and scoring 29 of his 36 points in the 2nd half as the rest of the team’s offense stalled. Great players shine biggest when the lights are the brightest.
I’ve officially been Hield, and I won’t bet against the young man in this spot. A&M got gifted its last game, I don’t see the Sooners being that generous.