After a ton of awesome games, including upsets that some of us saw coming but didn’t realize would all happen at once, it seems as though more realistic picks are on the horizon as the Sweet Sixteen games kick off tonight.
Wichita State vs. Notre Dame. Neither team has some of the kind of NBA prospects that the other game features. But what they do have is seasoned vets that play well in a given system and play their roles well. Jerian Grant leads Fighting Irish squad that is a little shaky on defense and yet still manages the rebound well given their lack of size and/or depth in size. Wichita State has a big enough roster but no real inside scoring (then again what team besides Kentucky scores inside well?). Lead guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker have to force the issue while playing a pivotal role on defense. The key for the Shockers will be whether they can find a reliable 3rd option in this game. And if Grant doesn’t show up for Notre Dame, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton are two leading candidates to have big games. This game will be higher scoring and will come down to defense in the end. For all the reasons I don’t want to pick Notre Dame (mainly defense and depth), there’s just something about this team that feels promising…for now. Fighting Irish 77, Shockers 71
Wisconsin vs. North Carolina. If we were basing this game solely on high school player rankings, who do you think would win? Well the Tar Heels are hands down the best team this side of Kentucky when all that is considered. And yet, the Tar Heels just have never looked like much of a threat. Maybe it’s because they played in a stacked ACC this year. Maybe it’s because of all the impending NCAA violations doom that is likely headed their way after the African American studies debacle (big ups to Rashaad McCants). Or maybe it’s because they just haven’t been too consistent. Whatever the reason, this team should have the depth, athleticism, and size to run the Badgers out of the gym. Instead, Wisconsin will come in with Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes, and Sam Dekker (all three have been impressive the past month) and impose their will with a short bench and limited playmaking at the guard position. Badgers 82, Tar Heels 73
Kentucky vs. West Virginia. As if West Virginia wasn’t already facing a daunting task of beating a team with a historically-perfect record, Daxter Miles Jr. thought it was smart to make a guarantee for victory. Now I don’t have a problem with what he meant to say, which is that he is confident WVU will win (because what was he supposed to say?), the problem I have is with how he said it. The only “guarantee” that counts for me is Broadway Joe from back in the day. Social media has made it easy for small-time roleplayers (even though he’s a starter) to make a name for themselves. Would be better to actually see it on the court. Which won’t happen. Kentucky is just too deep and talented to lose to a team like West Virginia. The Mountaineers have a swarming full-court press that made my Terps look silly (mostly because they only really had one main ballhandler). But there are several different guys that can and will take the ball up when faced with defensive pressure. When they break the press, watch out. Wildcats 74, Mountaineers 58
Xavier vs. Arizona. Not really sure how we got to having these two teams left in the tournament. I know, I know. If Arizona is playing their best they can beat pretty much any team in the country including Kentucky. But when they are playing their worst they lose to teams like Arizona State. Stanley Johnson may be the most talented player, but Brandon Ashley is the key to success. Xavier needs their frontcourt to show out most of the time to win. If Ashley and Tarczewski and the rest of their bigs are playing well down low, then it might a tall task for bigs like Stainbrook to compete with. TJ McConnell will be as steady as ever and as long as Arizona gets some bench help they should be okay. While Blueitt and Davis are the smoking guns, look for Jalen Reynolds to be the “X-factor” if Xavier pulls off the upset. Wildcats 67, Musketeers 63