Sweet 16 - How Sweet it is!
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Sweet 16, where the men separate themselves from the boys. Twelve games from Thursday through Sunday will determine this years Final Four.
There are many intriguing match-ups in store since most of the top-seeds have made it past the first week of action. In fact, the West brings together the top four seeds as number one Kansas and number four Southern Illinois hook up in the first contest, while the two-three match-up pits UCLA against Pittsburgh.
The latter of the two could be a classic. UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland grabbed the Bruin job after leading Pitt to an 89-40 mark from 1999-2003. UCLAs mission this year is simple: Win the title. Nothing else matters after having fallen short in last years championship game to Florida. Weber State and Indiana have been cut down, but defeating those two clubs is nothing compared to having to knock off the Panthers.
Pittsburgh got by Wright State fairly easily before receiving the scare of its life from VCU. Now, the Panthers must travel from Buffalo, NY out West to San Jose, CA, where the majority of fans will be rooting for the Bruins.
This contest has the look of a 65-60 game, as both defenses will have the advantage over the two offenses. In the end, UCLA will be too tough for Pittsburgh, and Howland will be thankful once again that he made the move out West.
The other game features top-seeded Kansas vs. Southern Ill. The Jayhawks have been the most impressive of the 16 teams remaining, clubbing Niagara and Kentucky in the first two rounds. They have the balance, depth and most importantly, the talent to reach the Final Four, but first, they must fend off the challenge from the Salukis.
Chris Lowery has won 78 games in three years as head coach at Southern Ill and is 3-2 in the NCAA Tournament. The Salukis stifling defense held Virginia Tech to 48 points on 41% shooting and Holy Cross shot only 33% from the floor in the first game. For Southern Ill to reach the Elite Eight, it needs to keep this game in the 60-point range, as three of the Jayhawks' four losses have come when they have scored less than 70 points. However, even if the Salukis can contain the wide array of weapons Kansas possesses, its highly unlikely that they'll be able to score enough points themselves to pull off the upset.
In what could very well be the best game of the week, the Bruins put an end to the Jayhawks 14-game winning streak with a 68-65 win to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row. UCLA plays the best combination of offense and defense and will throttle the Kansas offensive attack. Two other key factors will work in the Bruins' favor: Experience and home-state advantage.
Texas A&M, seeded third, is favored over second-seeded Memphis. Its true that Memphis leading scorer, Chris Douglas-Roberts, is questionable after having sprained his left ankle in the second half of the win over Nevada, but A&M is the more polished club, regardless of Roberts condition.
The Aggies had to play their second-round match-up vs. Louisville in Lexington, KY, and still prevailed. They are tournament tested, having played the likes of Kansas, UCLA and Texas during the regular season. They went 2-2 in those contests, with the two defeats coming by five points.
Memphis, on the other hand, owns the nations longest winning streak at 24, thanks in large part to playing only one top-20 team, and that was Nevada. The Tigers lost to Georgia Tech, Arizona and Tennessee by a combined 33 points. A&M advances to the Elite Eight, especially with this game being played in the state of Texas.
Speaking of Tennessee, the Volunteers will have a second opportunity to knock off Ohio State this season when the two teams meet in San Antonio. The first game saw the Buckeyes pull out a 68-66 win in Columbus. Tennessees full-court press kept the contest close, as the Vols had 11 steals and forced 20 Ohio State turnovers. However, Ron Lewis nailed a three-pointer with 11 seconds left, which gave the Buckeyes the two-point victory.
Look for a similar game this time around, with Tennessee having a legitimate chance to pull the upset. Regardless of which team wins, Texas A&M will move on to Atlanta and a date with destiny.
UNLV will try to move forward when it faces Oregon in St. Louis on Friday. Although not quite the same Cinderella story as George Mason, the Runnin Rebels are the closest thing that this years tournament has to the Patriots. UNLV should not be taken lightly with a 30-6 record, but most of those Ws came against less-than-stellar competition. The Rebels played one game against a Pac-10 opponent, and Arizona crushed them, 89-75.
Oregon has been blessed with having to face a 14 and an 11-seed so far and avoided the number two-seed Wisconsin Badgers due to UNLVs win on Sunday. However, the Ducks are lethal when they are on their game, and the only way they lose this contest is if they get caught looking ahead, especially if Florida loses to Butler earlier on Friday.
Can the Bulldogs pull off the upset of the tournament by defeating the Gators? At first glance, the answer is no due to a lack of an inside game and having to go up against Joakim Noah and Al Horford. However, the perimeter game favors Butler, and if the Bulldogs can stay hot from beyond the arc, this game has the potential for a tight finish. Florida should come out on top, but definitely take Butler with the points.
Florida has looked beatable in parts of both games so far. Butler could give the Gators trouble from the outside, and Oregon has a legit shot at knocking the defending champs out on Sunday.
It doesn't get any better than Georgetown-North Carolina. Just ask Dean Smith, John Thompson, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan and most importantly Fred Brown, who cost the Hoyas a chance to win the 1982 title game when he passed the ball to the Tar Heels' James Worthy.
The last time these two superpowers met was in the third round of the 2002-03 NIT. Georgetown prevailed in Chapel Hill, 79-74, and that gave the Hoyas a split in the eight all-time games. Can they meet for the ninth time? It will happen if both teams can stave off upset bids by Vanderbilt and USC.
The Commodores already have lost to Georgetown this season, 86-70 at home in a game in which Vandy was favored by one point. The Hoyas shot 53% to the Commodores' 42%, and Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert combined for 37 points and 18 boards.
Georgetown is favored by seven this time around and look for the Hoyas to walk off the court with a double-digit victory. Can UNC close the deal in the second game so that America can see this dream match-up? USC has stormed through Arkansas and Texas and will not go down without a fight. The Trojans will keep this game close throughout but will fall a tad short in the end. The Tar Heels move on but fail to cover vs. Southern Cal.
If it all plays out the way the oddsmakers have it laid out, then G-Town and North Carolina will match-up with a trip to the Final Four at stake. The Hoyas' experience and defense will prevail, setting up a match-up with Texas A&M to see who will reach this seasons championship game.