March Madness: Sweet Sixteen Preview

Doug MurphyContributor IMarch 27, 2008

The Match-ups (listed in order from least to most intriguing)

Game 1: #10 Davidson  (+5.0)  #3 Wisconsin

Why to Watch: To see if Davidson can keep their dream run going into the Elite Eight.

Players to Watch: Stephen Curry has been the talk of the tournament so far with scoring outputs of 40 and 30 in rounds 1 and 2. The strange thing is that he’s been relatively shut down in the first half of both games, only to explode in the second half. Maybe Big Ten All-Defensive team guard Michael Flowers can keep Curry from going off.

My Original Pick: I had Georgetown beating Wisconsin.

Prediction: I like the Badgers to win and cover the spread, although I think taking Davidson straight up would be a decent bet if it paid out well.

Recent Record: Both of these teams are hot. The Badgers come in having won their last 12 games and Davidson has won 24 straight.

History: Davidson was a regular in the tournament in the late 60’s but they never won more than one game and after 1970 the program fell off and they didn’t make it back until 1986. Their next trip to the NCAA’s didn’t come until 1998 but after that they got back in 2002 and they have now made it to the tournament in 3 straight years. But this was their first year getting out of the first round since the 1960’s and they’ve never gotten to the Elite Eight. This is Wisconsin’s 10th straight NCAA appearance. They have been to 2 Final Fours and they have won National Title. They made it to the Final Four in 2000 and the Elite Eight in 2005.

Coaches’ History: Bob McKillop is now 2-4 in the tournament; Bo Ryan is 7-6.  

Game 2: #12 Western Kentucky  (+12.5)  #1 UCLA

Why to Watch: To see if the other remaining true Cinderella can survive and to see if UCLA bounces back from a near disaster in round 2.

Players to Watch: Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazleton need to have great games for the Hilltoppers to win. UCLA needs to get Josh Shipp going. He averaged 12.4 a game during the season but has scored just 6 points total points on 2 of 11 shooting in his first two games of the tournament.

My Original Pick: I had UCLA over UConn.

Prediction: I like UCLA to win this game but not to cover. They just don’t score that many points and that makes it harder to run away from a team in my opinion.

Recent Record: The Hilltoppers have won 8 straight and 19 of their last 20 games. UCLA has won 12 in a row and 17 of their last 18 games.

History: Western Kentucky is a common participate in the NCAA but their best finish has been losing in the Sweet Sixteen in 1993. UCLA has one of the greatest histories of any team in all of sports, with 11 National Championships and 17 Final Fours. The last two years they have come close to winning numbers 12 and 13 but they were thwarted by Florida in the championship game in 2006 and last year in the Final Four.

Coaches’ History: Ben Howland is now 15-6 in the tournament; Darrin Horn is 2-0 in his first NCAA tournament as head coach.

Game 3: #12 Villanova  (+11.5)  #1 Kansas

Why to Watch: Villanova isn’t a true “Cinderella” like Davidson or Western Kentucky but they are a 12 seed. I don’t know what the spread was when Nova upset Georgetown in 1985 but I can’t think it was much more than 11.5.

Players to Watch: Everyone knows about the Jayhawks’ depth and they have lots of guys who can share the load. But Scottie Reynolds basically has to have a great game for the Wildcats to be able to beat Kansas. He has not only maintained his level of play but kicked it up a notch so far in the tournament, scoring 21 with 4 boards and 2 assists against Clemson in the opening round, and going for 25 with 8 boards and 5 assists in a huge performance against Siena.

My Original Pick: I had Clemson beating Villanova so I was close.

Prediction: There’s no real reason to think Villanova can win this game. The spread looks high but it’s really not. The Cats have already lost by at least 12 points 6 times this year, and Kansas has 24 wins of 12 points or more. Kansas outscored opponents by an average of almost 20 points during the season. Then again, Nova has enough talent to win the whole tournament, they’re just very young. It might be worth putting a few bucks on Villanova straight up if the odds are 7 to 1 or something like that, but I expect Kansas to win and cover.

Recent Record: Nova has gone only 12-11 since the start of conference play; Kansas has won 9 straight.

History: Nova has a great basketball history. They’ve been to the Final Four twice but haven’t been back since winning their only National Championship in 1985. They have now made the tournament in 4 straight seasons and they’ve gotten to the Sweet 16 in 3 of 4 years, making it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2006. Kansas is among the top all-time college basketball programs. They’ve been to 12 Final Fours but have won only 2 National Championships. They have not advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2004.

Coaches’ History: Jay Wright has a record of 9-5 in the tournament; Bill Self has gone 18-9 in the NCAA’s.

Game 4: #4 Washington State  (+8.5)  #1 UNC

Why to Watch: For the match-up of UNC’s high powered offense against WSU’s shutdown defense.

Players to Watch: It seems like UNC has gelled and is peaking since Ty Lawson came back from his ankle injury and has continued to get closer to 100%. If he can be himself against Washington State it’s going to be tough for them to hold the Tarheels down.

My Original Pick: I had UNC over Notre Dame.

Prediction: It seems like Washington State is Princeton with a lot more talent. Whether you are a slow it down and play defense team or a run and try to score 100 team, there are downsides to either theory. If you can’t score quickly then you better not fall behind by much. If you are going to constantly run and gun then you better not go cold because your opponent is going to get a lot of chances to score as well. I think that’s what happened to UNC last year. They were rolling along with a lead and then they went ice cold. They stopped scoring and Georgetown came back. In this case, I don’t think it matters what kind of game it is. If it’s a low scoring game I don’t think WSU will be able to stop UNC enough; if it’s a high scoring game I don’t think WSU will be able to score enough to keep up. They went 0-5 against UCLA and Stanford and they didn’t play anyone else in the top 25 of the RPI. I like UNC to win and cover.

Recent Record: WSU is 12-8 in their last 20 games; UNC has won their last 13 games.

History: The two teams are opposites in this sense as well. Washington State has very little history in the NCAA tournament. They have only played in the NCAA’s 6 times and until last year they had made it just once (1994) during the 64 team era. This is their first trip to the Sweet 16. UNC on the hand has a legendary program. They have been to 16 Final Fours and have won the National Championship 4 times, the last time coming in 2005. Last year they lost in overtime to Georgetown in the regional finals.

Coaches’ History: The coaches are on opposite ends of the spectrum as well. Tony Bennett is 3-1 in his career in the NCAA’s; Roy Williams is 47-17.

Game 5: #5 Michigan State  (+4.5)  #1 Memphis

Why to Watch: A lot of people are picking Michigan State in this one and compared with the other #1 seeds, Memphis is not that much of a favorite according to Vegas. So, either all of those talking heads picking Memphis to lose will be right and we’ll hear about it for the next two weeks; or they’ll be wrong and they’ll just start shouting about how Memphis is going to lose in the next round.

Players to Watch: Drew Neitzel is really the key player in this game. If he shoots well he can carry the Spartans and this one could go either way. If he struggles, Michigan State will be in trouble. Robert Dozier needs to have a big game for Memphis. He might be a weapon against the Michigan State big men because he’s tall and athletic. Also, he’s actually a pretty good free throw shooter. Unfortunately, he seems to have problems staying out of foul trouble himself.

My Original Pick: I had Memphis over Pitt.

Prediction: I like the Tigers to win and cover.

Recent Record: Michigan State is just 8-6 in their last 14 games; Memphis is 35-1 on the season and has won 9 in a row since their only loss of the season which came against Tennessee.

History: Michigan State has become a college basketball power under Tom Izzo, making 4 Final Fours in the last 10 years, including 3 straight from 1999 to 2001. They have made 6 Final Fours in their history and have 2 National Championships. This is their first trip to the Sweet 16 since they went to the Final Four in 2005. Memphis has been to 2 Final Fours but has never won a National Title. In the last two years they have fallen in the Elite Eight to the eventual tournament runner up; losing to UCLA in 2006 and to Ohio State last year.

Coaches’ History: Tom Izzo is now 23-9 in the tournament; John Calipari has a 20-9 record in the NCAA’s.

Game 6: #7 West Virginia  (-1.5)  #3 Xavier

Why to Watch: Vegas sees this as the closest game of the Sweet 16. West Virginia is by far the highest seeded team favored to win this round.

Players to Watch: West Virginia needs Joe Alexander to have a big game. It’s unlikely that Joe “Montana” Mazzulla can be counted on for the 13-11-8 that he got against Duke, seeing as how he averaged 5.7-2.9-2.2 during the regular season.

My Original Pick: I had Xavier over Duke.

Prediction: This is a pretty good example of the gap between the BCS conferences and everyone else. The Atlantic 10 is one of the bigger non-BCS conferences and Xavier has been a consistently good program for years now. Xavier finished the season ranked 12th, they won the A-10, and they earned a 3 seed, and yet they are underdogs to a West Virginia team that was not ranked, finished tied for 5th in the Big East, and is a 7 seed. Xavier was 9-4 against teams in the RPI top 50 during the season while West Virginia was just 3-8. This figures to be a classic, down to the wire, but I like Xavier to win.

Recent Record: West Virginia is 11-6 in their last 17 games; Xavier comes into this one 15-2 in their last 17 games.

History: West Virginia has become a more familiar name in the tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 for the 3rd time in 4 years. They have been to 1 Final Four. Xavier is in the tournament for the 3rd straight year. Their best run in school history came in 2004 when they reached the Elite Eight.

Coaches’ History: Bob Huggins is 22-15 in the tournament; young Sean Miller has a record of 3-2.

Game 7: #3 Stanford  (+2)  #2 Texas

Why to Watch: This looks like a super match-up between arguably the #2 team from the Pac-10 and the #2 team from the Big 12.

Players to Watch: Guard DJ Augustin averages 19 points and nearly 6 assists for Texas and forward Brook Lopez averages 19 points and 8 rebounds for Stanford. 

My Original Pick: I had Texas over Stanford.

Prediction: I think this could be one of the better games of the tournament. I’m tempted to go with Stanford because it seems like they should be able to dominate Texas inside with the Lopez twins. But Augustin and Abrams are a deadly duo for the Horns. I don’t put much stock into location in the tournament because the atmosphere and the elements are totally different than a road game during the regular season. But since things are so even, I’ll use the fact that the game is in Houston as a tie breaker and take Texas to win and cover the 2 point spread.

Recent Record: Stanford is just 4-3 in their last 7 games; Texas comes into the game 14-2 in their last 16 games.

History: Stanford has been a very good college basketball school for the last 20 years. They have been to 2 Final Fours and have 1 National Championship in their history. This is their first time in the Sweet 16 since 2001. Texas may be known as a football school but they are also a consistently good basketball school. This is their 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. They have made 2 Final Fours but have yet to win a National Title.

Coaches’ History: Trent Johnson was ejected during last Saturday’s game against Marquette but he still gets credit for the win and is now 4-3 in the NCAA tournament. Rick Barnes has taken many teams to the tournament but hasn’t had that much luck there. He is just 17-16 in his career in the tournament.

Game 8: #3 Louisville  (-3)  #2 Tennessee

Why to Watch: A classic match-up between two schools from the southeast. The coaches of these two teams are difficult to like but they are good at what they do.

Players to Watch: Chris Lofton was going to be the key to the Volunteers’ success in this tournament no matter what. Then the news came out that he is battling a leg injury. How much Lofton is hampered by the injury and how well he plays will likely determine the outcome of the game.

My Original Pick: I had Tennessee over Louisville.

Prediction: This is another one of those situations where logic says that Louisville will win and it’s hard to think of a reason why they won’t. Louisville has been awesome so far in the tournament and Tennessee has been average. They were lucky to beat Butler in OT last week while Louisville blew out Oklahoma. It seems like everything is pointing towards the Cardinals in this match-up. But it doesn’t always work that way. Tennessee’s problem is that they get sloppy and bored at times and don’t put teams away. That won’t happen against Louisville. The Volunteers have another great game in them and Lofton does too. I like the Vols to win a nail biter.

Recent Record: Louisville is 2-2 in their last 4 games; Tennessee is 15-2 in their last 17.

History: Tennessee had only had marginal success in a few scattered seasons until Bruce Pearl took over. They have now made it to the tournament 3 straight seasons and this is their second straight trip to the Sweet 16. They have never been to the Elite Eight. Louisville has rich basketball history. They have been to 8 Final Fours and have won the National Title twice. Their last trip to the Final Four came in 2005.

Coaches’ History: Rick Pitino is a sparkling 34-11 in the NCAA tournament; Bruce Pearl is 7-4.


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