After going four for four in last night's picks, which wasn't exactly rocket science, I venture into more difficult territory with a busted bracket in one region and the only remaining double digit seed in the other. But first, it's probably appropriate to make some comments about Thursday's action. All of that talk about West Virginia's press and tenacity lasted about three minutes into last night's game. The Mountaineers stumbled out of the gate and Kentucky made sure they stayed down. Not that it made a big difference, but perhaps West Virginia freshman Daxter Miler learned a bit of a lesson in providing opponents with some bulletin board motivation. Miler commented earlier in the week that Kentucky didn't play hard and that after Thursday's clash with West Virginia they would be 36 - 1. Well, not quite. After managing just 18 points in the first half, the Mountaineers managed to better their offensive performance, but still failed to get to 40, eventually getting doubled up in the 78 - 39 loss. I'm not sure what games some analysts are watching, but it's fairly absurd to me to think that anyone left in the tournament has a very good chance of beating Kentucky. Arizona? It took a scoring drought by Xavier, a team that lost nine Big East games this year, for the other Wildcats to prevail. Wisconsin? Big, but not as big as Kentucky, they struggled to get out of the North Carolina game with a win. Duke? After Okafor, not really a lot there to go up against what would be a 39 - 0 Kentucky team in the finals. Of course, it was 1991 when the Blue Devils defied all of the odds and took down undefeated UNLV in the national semifinals. But that was a team led by Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. The only constant is Coach K. Who knows if lightning can strike twice?
(8) N.C. State vs. (4) Louisville: With four of the dozen teams left, the ACC has shown itself to be a great league. Unfortunately, there will be no more than three of those squads in the Elite Eight, as the two facing off in this game hail from the ACC. Of course, that also guarantees that there will be at least a quarter of the next round comprised of ACC schools. Louisville has appeared to have advanced by using mirrors or some other supernatural method, while the Wolfpack has played solidly, especially in their win over top seed Villanova. N.C. State's sophomore guard Anthony Barber has been impressive since getting shut out by Duke in the ACC tournament. Meanwhile, Louisville hopes to ride Terry Rozier's offense to a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. I wasn't a big Cardinal fan at the outset of the tourney, and that hasn't changed. I'm going with State here.
(7) Michigan State vs. (3) Oklahoma: A popular darkhorse pick, Michigan State has seen its bracket open nicely. No one seems to be giving Oklahoma much of a chance, probably because they're the only Big Twelve team left, fueling the popular opinion that the entire league contingent was over seeded. The Spartans' systematic dismantling of Virginia is another reason, but I'm not going to be quite as quick to just assume Michigan State is on an unobstructed march to the Final Four. Virginia shot poorly last week and Michigan State played very well, especially early. Perhaps the Sooners will get some motivation from being a forgotten three seed. They've played well, especially in their win over a Dayton team that was deserving of far better than their eleventh seeding. I have no real reason to go with Oklahoma, other than I don't think Michigan State is good enough to get the Final Four.
(5) Utah vs. (1) Duke: I have to admit to not really knowing a lot about the current Utah squad, except that they took out one of my darkhorse picks, Stephen F. Austin in their opening game. Their defeat of Georgetown was no surprise, considering the Hoyas were one of those teams that was grossly mis-seeded. Duke is well known, led by player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor whose last college game will be the next one Duke loses, or the national championship match, whichever comes first. The freshman is over 18 points and almost 9 rebounds a game, but his contribution is far greater, as he forces double teams that free up the Blue Devils' outside shooters to get open looks at three pointers. If the Utes can find some way to neutralize Okafor without double-teaming, they may be able to contend. I don't think that will happen.
(11) UCLA vs. (2) Gonzaga: I was definitely a proponent that UCLA should not have made the NCAA tournament field. However, they've only lost three games since February 7 with two of those coming against Arizona. That's not really terrific news for the Bruins, considering that Gonzaga plays a similar game as the Wildcats, with their offense led by 6'10" junior Kyle Wiltjer, with a lot of help from 7'1" Przeneck Karnowski and 6'10" freshman Domantas Sabonis. That size gives Gonzaga a lot of close looks at the basket and they lead the nation in field goal percentage at better than 52%. UCLA will need to rely on their guards Norman Powell and Kory Alford, both 6'4" upperclassmen, for scoring punch. I just don't see this as a good match-up for UCLA and I see it turning midnight for the Cinderella Bruins.
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