NCAA Tournament Bracket 2012: 5 Potential Third-Round Matchups to Watch for
That's right, the tournament is here!
As I write, the first game is underway, but what I'm really looking forward to is the so-called "third round"—that's when the teams that have proven they can win a tourney game face off for a visit to the Sweet Sixteen.
But, the round of 32 could prove to be the sweetest of the tournament.
There are several potential matchups that could have us on the edge of our seats this weekend. These are just five of many possibilities that could be fun to watch this Saturday and Sunday.
South Region: (1) Kentucky vs. (9) Connecticut
Just one year ago, these two teams played for the opportunity to go to the Finals against the Butler Bulldogs. Kemba Walker was able to push UConn through, during their memorable run against the Brandon Knight led Kentucky Wildcats.
But now, those two are gone, leaving their Final Four teams to join the worst two teams in the NBA (Kemba with the Bobcats and Knight with the Pistons). Kentucky has bounced back perfectly, getting the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, while UConn has struggled, almost missing the tournament before having a good finish to the season.
But anything can happen in March. Even though Anthony Davis was arguably the Player of the Year, Jeremy Lamb and his supporting cast may have a few tricks up their collective sleeve to upset one of the best teams we've seen in several years.
This game will be close throughout and it could come down to which Shabazz Napier comes to play. Regardless, this rematch could be one of the most interesting in the round of 32.
West Region: (3) Marquette vs. (6) Murray State
This is easily my favorite matchup of this round and it features my favorite team of the tournament, the Murray State Racers.
The Marquette Golden Eagles were some people's champion pick before their embarrassing loss in the Big East tournament. And Murray State boasts the best record of any team in the NCAA, only having one blemish to Tennessee State.
The consensus "Butler" of this year, Murray State looks to make a miracle run behind their 3-point shooting, ranked fifth in the nation at 40.6%. Their excellent shooting is led by star point guard, Isaiah Canaan, who is shooting an astonishing 47.3% from behind the arc.
But, Marquette has their own superstars in forward Jae Crowder and guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who are especially hard to keep under wraps. Overall, the Eagles rank in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency.
They aren't very good at rebounding and three-point shooting, and they've often had to crawl out of sizable early holes, but this is a dangerous, unflappable club with the potential to make a deep run.
This game looks to be a shootout until the end, with it most likely coming down to a final shot or play to decide the outcome. Whichever team wins, though, will be a tough team to knockout in the West and, maybe, in the Final Four.
South Region: (5) Wichita State vs. (4) Indiana
Murray St. may be everyone's favorite mid-major darling, but the Shockers might be the most powerful. Incredibly balanced on both ends of the floor, Gregg Marshall's team won the Missouri Valley regular-season title before getting upset by Illinois State in the conference tournament.
Still, they won't have an easy road to the Sweet Sixteen, as Indiana will look to get to a possible matchup with Kentucky, who they upset earlier in the year. The Hoosiers are capable of big things, with freshman stud Cody Zeller, the school's leading scorer and a force in the middle, kicking in 15.5 points and 6.4 boards per game.
And that is not even considering how much of a matchup nightmare he is, or the fact that his Hoosier teammates are skilled enough to pull their own weight in this tourney.
Both of these teams have the ability to upset Kentucky if the Sweet Sixteen matchup plays itself out. But first, they will have to duke it out for the chance to play the Wildcats.
East Region: (1) Syracuse vs. (8) Kansas State
A matchup that didn't seem to be too close just this morning, suddenly became a fantastic one. Kansas State has gained confidence ever since their enormous win at powerhouse Missouri. As usual, defense and rebounding are the Wildcats' primary strengths.
Beefy up front, they attack the glass with considerable power. Finding a rhythm offensively will ultimately determine how far K-State will extend its season.
The Orangemen of 'Cuse will now have to find new ways to win after the grades of arguably their most important player just didn't allow him to be eligible.
Syracuse could be the first No. 1 seed to get bounced if they don't step up their game. The lack of interior toughness could lead to 'Cuse's demise, especially if matched against an opponent active on the offensive glass, which is K-State's specialty. Look for a great game between two skilled clubs.
West Region: (2) Missouri vs. (7) Florida
The final potential game that has me salivating is between two future SEC foes, the Gators and the Tigers.
When describing Mizzou, there are many words that can be used: lightning-quick, slashing, experienced, relentless from three; relatively undersized, the Tigers are a guard-heavy squad that can pile up points quickly. On the season, they've netted 1.25 points per possession, which was the best in college basketball. However, they're a bit suspect on the opposite end, a consequence of their lack of interior brawn.
When raining the threes from behind the arc, the Gators are juggernauts, but their thin frontcourt and sketchy defense raise major red flags. This matchup with Missouri would pit two teams with weak forwards and very talented guard play against each other.
This will be an interesting, equally-matched battle between two extremely efficient offensive teams. If one team can bear down on defense and play well overall, they could walk away with another tournament win under their belts