This is March Madness. Miami got smacked in the mouth by Marquette. Indiana's coach couldn't figure out Syracuse's zone, which led to his team scoring its lowest point total of the season and losing. Ohio State found their magic once again with a game-winning three against Arizona. And Wichita State continues to shock the country after blitzing La Salle to reach their first Elite Eight since 1981. Millions of brackets got thrown in the garbage. This is March Madness. Now let's see what tonight brings.
Midwest Region: #1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon – 7:15 p.m.
We all knew Oregon was seeded incorrectly when they found themselves on the 12-line. It gave them extra motivation to go with their talent as they blew through Oklahoma State and St. Louis in the first two rounds. The competition is a little tougher tonight against Louisville, still the national title favorite. Louisville certainly won’t be overlooking the Ducks at this point. The pressure will be on Dominic Artis and Johnathan to handle Louisville’s constant defensive pressure. I’m not sure the Ducks will handle the pressure well given that they rank 299th in the country in turnovers at 15.1 a game. Oregon’s defense is generally good, so they should be able to hold Louisville in the half-court. The turnovers will be the difference that keeps Louisville’s title hopes alive.
South Region: #1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – 7:37 p.m.
I looked at Kansas as a Final Four team when the bracket came out because of their ability to get scoring from many players, their defense, and Ben McLemore. McLemore was being rated in the top 3, if not #1 overall, for this summer's NBA draft. Unfortunately it doesn't look like Ben plays for Kansas anymore. Has anyone seen him? We're issuing an ABP for his whereabouts. Please contact local authorities if you have any information.
On a serious note, I'm not sure what the hell happened to McLemore. He's looked timid while disappearing for stretches in games. He's been unable to shoot well from distance. (Marshall Henderson this kid is not. He has a pure stroke and is known as a really good shooter, not a streaky good shooter.) He was even benched for 12 minutes in the second half during Kansas' win over North Carolina because of how he was playing. Have you ever seen a potential top 3 pick benched in the NCAA tournament because I haven't.
Ben still has time to redeem himself, but that time may be severely limited. Michigan played extremely well last weekend and is back to firing on all cylinders offensively. Then again, offense hasn't been their issues for most of the season. Their issues lie on the defensive end. They allow opponents to shoot a high percentage, don’t rebound that well (Kansas is a good rebounding team by comparison), and don’t force many turnovers. Kansas has a tendency to turn the ball over, so Michigan would be smart to turn up their defensive pressure in this one. I’m worried for Kansas, but I think they should be able to hold out because of their defense and rebounding advantage. Look for senior Kevin Young to kill Glen Robinson III on the glass with his energy.
Midwest Region: #2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State – Approx 9:45 p.m.
It’s a story we’ve seen before in the Midwest Region night cap. Coach K and Tom Izzo have faced each other twice before in the NCAA Tournament with each coach grabbing a win. Duke won the ’99 Final Four matchup when they had arguably the best team ever to not win a national championship. MSU won round 2 in the Sweet 16 of the 2005 tournament. This year’s version sets up as the most competitive version on paper. The key to the game should come in the front court where Adrien Payne and Derrick Nix will battle with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. If one group of those players gets into foul trouble, it will doom their team’s chances of winning. Somehow I feel like Plumlee is the most likely of that bunch to find himself on the bench with two early fouls.
A close game in the final five minutes favors Duke. I’ve been harping on MSU’s failure to execute in the final minutes for weeks now. Their last four losses have been by an average of 4 points. While that shows that they’re not going to get blown out, it also shows that they’re not sure who to get the ball to at the end of the game. I’m really torn on where to lean on this game, but I’m being persuaded to take Michigan State because of their rebounding edge and the likelihood Plumlee gets in foul trouble. It should easily be the best game of the night.
South Region: #3 Florida vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – Approx 9:57 p.m.
Unless you’re alumni of the University of Florida, you’ll be backing Florida Gulf Coast (aka Dunk City) in the last game of the night. FGCU coach Andy Enfield is easily winning the life competition right now. He’s got a model for a wife (to be featured later today in the Hottie Index), a multi-million dollar business, and he coached a #15 seed to the Sweet 16 for the first time. These Dunk City kids have been so much fun to watch over the first two games. The up-tempo game led by point guard Brett Comer and wings Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson shows that these kids are having fun out there and don’t give a damn who they’re playing.
They’ll need to keep up their high-flying style if they want a chance against Florida. Not only is FGCU effective in this setup, but Florida could have the wheels fly off rather quickly. Kenny Boynton is prone to chucking shots. Mike Rosario has been known to be a ball hog at times. An early lead for FGCU in a high-scoring game could lead to some problems for Florida. The x-factor here is Coach Billy Donovan. He’s smart enough to turn this into a half-court game and let his team’s great defense limit FGCU’s opportunities. He just might need to chain Kenny Boynton to the bench so his bad shots don’t lead to run outs.
Vegas Best Bets:
Oregon +10.5 over Louisville – Oregon’s defense should keep this game within reach even if they do turn the ball over a few times.
FGCU + 13 over Florida – I think Dunk City is capable of covering the spread and they won’t be intimidated. They’ll just come up short when it becomes a half-court game in the final minutes.