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As expected, there were some upsets in the first few rounds of action. It’s not a surprise to anyone. Now that the Sweet 16 is here, things are starting to get real. Will the upsets continue or is it time for the favorites to shine? It’s almost a guarantee that there will be at least one upset on Thursday or Friday if not more, so let’s try and find out who that will be.
MARQUETTE (3) vs. MIAMI (FL) (2)
Even though they haven’t looked all that good, Marquette continues to hang around and find ways to win late in games. That’s kind of how their season has gone, though. Is an upset in the cards against the Hurricanes? Miami (FL) had some troubles with Illinois, but they came through in the end even without a great day from Shane Larkin.
It’s going to be very hard for the Golden Eagles to scratch out another win as Miami can score the rock from all spots on the floor (more so on the outside). The big news coming out of Miami is that their big man off the bench, Reggie Johnson, won’t be playing in this game due to a knee injury. That could open things up for Chris Otule and Davante Gardner in the paint which makes Marquette’s upset chances a little better. In the guard spot it’s going to be two of the better playmakers in the nation going against each other in Vander Blue and Shane Larkin. While the matchup looks even on paper, Marquette lacks true fire power outside of Blue which could be their undoing. Still, without Johnson, the Canes will find trouble trying to contain the Big East Sixth Man of the Year in Gardner.
Difference Maker: Kenny Kadji for the Hurricanes. He didn’t play all that well against Illinois but that should change in this game. His height, length and shooting ability will cause problems for the Eagles at the four spot.
Prediction: Marquette wins 65-63
ARIZONA (6) vs. OHIO STATE (2)
Due to all of the early round upsets in the West region, a lot of people are already putting Ohio State in the Final Four. Hold your horses because Arizona is for real. This is a team that dominated its first two tourney games and still hasn’t lost a game outside of the Pac-12. With a solid backcourt already, their freshman big men have come into fruition as of late. Led by the seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats are becoming a force down low.
One thing the Buckeyes lack is a presence in the paint. Their leading rebounder is Deshaun Thomas which doesn’t say a lot. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel will likely see more time than the previous game against the Cyclones. Will Aaron Craft be able to limit Mark Lyons who has a combined 50 points in the last two games? That’s going to decide a lot.
Difference Maker: Aaron Craft for the Buckeyes. He didn’t play great against Iowa State, but still came up big with the game-winner. His main assignment in that game was Korie Lucious who hit five threes. A much better game will be needed against the Wildcats, offensively and defensively.
Prediction: Arizona wins 70-69
SYRACUSE (4) vs. INDIANA (1)
The Hoosiers win against Temple wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done and that’s all that is needed in the tourney. Their defense hasn’t been great and struggle against teams that like to slow it down. Syracuse kind of fits that mold with their zone defense that has confused opponents so far. However, they went a stretch of 12 straight minutes against California without scoring a field goal. With that kind of drought against Indiana, the final result won’t be as nice.
Indiana should be able to utilize Cody Zeller inside with a plethora of shooters on the outside. The Orange have to keep their composure and not turn the ball over too much. That starts with Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche who need to play smart basketball which isn’t a given with those two. As long as Jordan Hulls is feeling no after-effects from his shoulder injury, the Hoosiers should be able to overcome the zone. However, Indiana’s defense needs some work and could be the talking point after this game.
Difference Maker: Cody Zeller for the Hoosiers. For Indiana to advance, Zeller needs to be a factor. When you take him out of the offense, they struggle to score and can’t get good looks. Zeller’s pro status has gone down this year, but he’s still crucial to this offense.
Prediction: Indiana wins 65-62
LA SALLE (13) vs. WICHITA STATE (9)
Not many will be paying attention to this game because, well, the combined seedings for these teams is 22. Both of them deserve some respect, though. Wichita State is coming off a dismantling of a solid Big East team and then a comeback against a No. 1 seed. La Salle took out the Big 12 regular season co-champs and then the hot shooting Ole Miss. If you’re dismissing these teams already from making the Final Four, you’re just being ignorant. Remember, Ohio State was a bad call and a late three away from losing to Iowa State. Upsets happen.
Both teams are led by strong backcourts, but the Shockers get the advantage due to their front court. That’s mainly due to Cleanthony Early coming off the bench as he is one of their best rebounders and scorers. He and Carl Hall will play a big role on the boards while Malcolm Armstead operates at point. Due to injuries, Jerrell Wright is La Salle’s sole big man. Although, the 6-11 Steve Zack still could return for Thursday’s contest which would be huge. If not, the Explorers will once again rely on their guard play. Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland have been a major surprise for opponents with their quickness and their ability to shoot.
Assuming Wichita State doesn’t hit five straight late three-pointers again, this one should be close.
Difference Maker: Malcolm Armstead for the Shockers. He needs to play tough defense and can’t turn the ball over. Armstead struggled with Gonzaga, but ran right through Pittsburgh. A repeat of that first game will be needed for Wichita State.
Prediction: Wichita State wins 73-70
OREGON (12) vs. LOUISVILLE (1)
The Ducks are beating good squads with ease at the moment, but it’ll be a whole new animal when they face the Cardinals. Louisville is ripping through opponents with their all-around play and in-your-face defense that can cause anyone problems. Oregon is shooting the lights out, but they have one problem that could turn this game into a disaster. They turn the ball over a ton. Oregon is 299th in the nation in turnovers per game and turned it over 18 times in each of their first two games.
With Russ Smith and Peyton Siva leading the charge, Louisville will make you pay for those turnovers. Those two are combining for eight steals per game right now in the tourney. Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd are solid, quick guards, but that won’t be enough if they turn it over half the time. Carlos Emory and Damyean Dotson will once again need to step up as those two have the advantage with size and speed.
With Gorgui Dieng in the middle for Louisville, it’s unlikely Arsalan Kazemi will continue to dominate the boards. Expect the Cardinals onslaught to continue unless Oregon doesn’t turn the ball over and makes more shots.
Difference Maker: Russ Smith for the Cardinals. Smith is Louisville’s best option offensively and has dominated the last two games. As long as he doesn’t get shot-happy, Smith’s smooth stroke and feisty defense should be enough to advance Louisville.
Prediction: Louisville wins 73-65
MICHIGAN (4) vs. KANSAS (1)
South Dakota State was supposed to give them trouble in the second round. Nope. VCU was supposed to confuse them with havoc. Nope. Jeff Withey was supposed to give them problems down low. Maybe?
Here we are and Michigan continues to impress the doubters. After a slow second half to their season, the Wolverines have looked like one of the better teams in the field through their first two games. Trey Burke hasn’t been the one to do it either. Tim Hardaway Jr. is hitting his shots while Mitch McGary has taken his starting role in stride, finishing with 21 points and 14 boards against VCU.
As for Kansas, they’ve been up and down, but when they were at their best, they outscored North Carolina by 21 points in the second half of their last game. They did all that with Ben McLemore going 0-9 from the field. Withey has been a monster defensively and one of their better players offensively. The Jayhawks have the best defensive field goal percentage in the country which is going to be key against the Wolverines.
Difference Maker: Jeff Withey for the Jayhawks. Withey has the size advantage and will give McGary something he hasn’t seen yet in the tournament. Expect Kansas to dominate the paint with Withey which should give them the edge.
Prediction: Kansas wins 67-64
MICHIGAN STATE (3) vs. DUKE (2)
The inevitable matchup of Tom Izzo vs. Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has the head-to-head advantage at 6-1 over the years, but 1-1 come tourney time. Both teams are looking good and rolled through minor problems along the way. Duke had their two bigs in foul trouble all game against Creighton, but their role players stepped up. Keith Appling popped his shoulder late in the Memphis game, but his backups stepped up. Who will step up in this battle?
The Spartans have dominated the paint in their first two games led by Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Duke presents a new problem with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, but it’s going to take a lot more muscle from the Blue Devils. Payne’s intensity will be too much to match for Kelly who hasn’t hit a three-pointer in four straight games. The battle between Nix and Plumlee will be back-and-forth with Plumlee getting the slight edge.
Shooters Seth Curry and Gary Harris will be the players to watch at the guard spot. If either one of them can get going, watch out because once they start, they don’t stop. Defense will be key in these situations. Curry is probably a better pure shooter, but Harris has the edge in size at 6-4. Keith Appling’s health is something to monitor as well, but he’s been active in practices this week.
The difference could fall on the bench. Denzel Valentine continues to be a problem for opposing guards with his 6-5 height. Duke’s sixth man is guard Tyler Thornton who rings in at 6-1. Valentine’s savviness and work on the boards could be the deciding factor in this game.
Difference Maker: Adreian Payne for the Spartans. This kid can play. He’ll have the athleticism and strength advantage on Kelly and should prove a menace to him on the defensive end. Payne finished with 14 points, 10 boards and five blocks against Memphis.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 68-65
FLORIDA GULF COAST (15) vs. FLORIDA (3)
Can the Cinderella run continue? It’s very unlikely at this point against Florida, a team that has been near the top of the statistical standings since the start of the season. The Gators have a great offense and defense which makes beating them harder than any of Florida Gulf Coast’s previous opponents.
Georgetown didn’t have enough offensive options and San Diego State just isn’t that good of a team. Florida is a great team with Final Four aspirations. That’s why the Gators are 13-point favorites in this game. FGCU has a leader in Sherwood Brown, but it’s his teammates that have stepped up in the tourney. Bernard Thompson has been unstoppable from outside with Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight providing emphatic alley-oop dunks.
Florida has the antidote for those players with a well-rounded squad starting in the backcourt. Kenny Boynton runs the show and only turns the ball over 1.3 times per game. Erik Murphy allows them to spread the floor which gives Patric Young room to operate in the paint. Off the bench, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather aren’t huge scorers, but they are physical enough to cause problems.
The Eagles are playing awesome right now with a ton of confidence, but this is going to be their toughest task by far of the tourney. The late runs they had in their first two games when they got out to big leads will be very hard to pull off against Florida.
Difference Maker: Sherwood Brown for the Eagles. Brown is a playmaker and causes problems with his height at the guard spot. If Florida can stop and confuse him, FGCU will be in trouble.
Prediction: Florida wins 74-65