Last night’s games got us the fix we needed, but everyone’s looking forward to the late slate tonight. The early games aren’t shabby either. Every game tonight has a spread of less than 4.5 points, and three are under 2.5. I can’t wait til tip time.
Midwest Region: #2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – 7:15 p.m.
A quick look at the KenPom rankings reveals it’s Tennessee and not Michigan that has the better ranking. You’re probably as confused as I was given that the SEC was a much weaker conference this year and Tennessee didn’t look very good until the last week. But Tennessee is talented and worthy of high consideration because the players on the team. Michigan will struggle with Tennessee’s two-headed monster up front. Glen Robinson certainly can’t match-up with Jeronne Maymon, but Michigan can’t switch to a zone defense without getting killed on the boards. There’s also some concern about Nik Stauskas being guarded by more athletic players. Michigan will likely have to use their regular bag of offensive tricks to push them in the right direction. Tennessee is only 147th in the country in three-point field goal defense, so Michigan should still get the opportunity to drain their shots. They also have the coaching edge with John Beilein against Cuonzo Martin and that small edge should make the difference.
Midwest Region: #4 Louisville vs. #8 Kentucky – Approx. 9:45 p.m.
The marquee game of the night features two rivals and two head coaches who hate each other. Boy, is this gonna be a good one. The Kentucky bandwagon is buzzing after their defeat of Wichita State. They played better in that game than they’d played in any other game this year. Had they played that way the whole season, we’d be talking about Kentucky about a top-10 team in the country. Louisville looked the exact opposite, yet they still beat Saint Louis by 15. (Admittedly Saint Louis kind of sucks.) Kentucky’s bigger guards might cause the smaller Russ Smith and Chris Jones problems, but those young bigger guards are also liable to get caught up in the moment and make some mistakes. Montrezl Harrell going head-to-head with Julius Randle will be a knock-down, drag-out battle on the post. Louisville fans have reason to be scared, but I think this hype machine will get to Kentucky. They’ve been hearing how good they are for the last week, while Rick Pitino uses that as motivation to get his older team moving in the right direction.
East Region: #3 Iowa State vs. #7 Connecticut – 7:27 p.m.
You can bet the UCONN faithful will swarm to Madison Square Garden for tonight’s game. It’s pretty nuts that the team with the highest remaining seed in the region gets home-court advantage over everyone else. Luckily for Iowa State, they’ve been through adversity already with the loss of Georges Niang. They survived against North Carolina thanks to the stones of Naz Long and now they get a better match-up for their talents than the previous round. Connecticut isn’t brimming with the same athletes in the frontcourt as North Carolina had. They’re a guard-dominated team led by the always confident Shabazz Napier. Napier’s had a great first two games of the tournament, channeling his inner Kemba Walker, but it’ll be interesting to see if he thrives under the Garden lights. It’s very possible that the spotlight makes him more selfish and takes away from his team’s performance. DeAndre Kane is ready to go toe-to-toe with Napier in a battle between great senior guards and I like the Cyclones’ complementary parts better than Connecticut’s.
East Region: #1 Virginia vs. #4 Michigan State – Approx 9:57 p.m.
Virginia’s not getting any respect as the #1 seed in the region, coming in as two-point underdogs to the Spartans. Michigan State has actually played at the Garden already this year, but that team was missing two key players in the loss to Gerogetown. This won’t be a high-scoring affair as both teams are tight on the defensive end and methodical on offense when they need to be. Virginia’s beaten Duke twice and Syracuse once, but Michigan State is a different beast. They’re firing on all cylinders and won’t be affected by Virginia’s style given their time in the Big Ten. In a game between comparable styles that’s very close to a coin flip, the veteran coach in Tom Izzo and Michigan State’s talent will win out.
Vegas Best Bets:
Iowa State -2 over Connecticut – Iowa State can match all of Connecticut’s strengths and Naz Long will make another big time shot.
Louisville and Kentucky Under 138 – Shooting in football domes never goes off well. These teams are both good defensively to begin with and the dome shooting will only make the offenses worse.
[Image via Kim Klement/USA Today Sports]