Friday, March 26, 2010

Degenerate Friday - Sweet 16 Part II

Yesterday I didn’t get a chance to get to the gym and in order to maintain this Adonis physique that I fuel with scotch, beer and wings, I decided to combine a workout with watching the games. I would do 10 push ups for every made three point shot during the games that were on television (meaning if they did a look in and showed a 3 pointer, it’s push up time). It started slowly with Syracuse turning the ball over more than they made shots, but unfortunately for me they turned it up in the second half. Combine that with the ridiculous 3-point bombs Xavier and Kansas State traded late in regulation and both overtimes, and I ended up doing 370 push ups last night. So if my typing becomes as clear as why Kei$ha uses a dollar sign in her name (or why she’s a pseudo-celebrity), it’s because I’ve lost feeling in my arms. At least I was able to get the two late games correct to end up 2-2 last night. And I’m especially happy to see Cornell head home after they finally cooled off from behind the arc and faced an athletic team that could switch on screens (something Wisconsin and Temple could not do because their bigs are not athletic enough to keep up with the Cornell guards). Anyway……on to the Friday games.

Game #1: #2 Ohio State (-4.5) vs. #6 Tennessee

The Volunteers are easy to root for because they have a lovable coach in Bruce Pearl, play an inordinate number of walk-ons, and have gotten better after dismissing one of their more talented players because he was a jag off. Scottie Hopson can fill it up from the outside and Wayne Chism is a tough match up inside if he is plugged in. Unfortunately for the Vols he gets frustrated too easily and disappears for long stretches. Against a well-rounded but thin Ohio State team, they can’t afford to allow the Buckeyes to come up for air. William Bufford will likely have the assignment of controlling Hopson and Dallas Lauderdale will try to slow Chism, though Lauderdale is way too slow to stop him on the perimeter. If Tennessee can stay hot from outside the arc, they have a chance to make a game of it, but if they have even an average game, the Buckeyes will be more than they can handle.

And we haven’t even mentioned Evan Turner, the best player in the game. Turner will face a difficult matchup against JP Prince because Prince is long and quick defensively. In a previous collumn I already compared Turner to Marissa Miller with a supporting cast of the rest of the Victoria Secret models. I’m going to stick with that theme and I guess that makes Bufford, Lighty and Jon Diebler the Miranda Kerr, Candice Swanepoel and Alessandra Ambrossio of the big dance. The Victoria’s Secret models are enough to distract Bruce Pearl and Vols, giving the Buckeyes the edge they need.

Gambler’s Delight: Ohio State (-4.5)

Game #2: #3 Baylor (-5) vs. #10 St. Mary’s

If a game is played Houston and no one pays attention, does it really happen? This is the most overlooked game of the sweet 16 because it pits an underdog from a small western conference against an upstart team from a big conference that doesn’t have the tradition of its big conference colleagues. Yet Omar Samhan has arguably been the most dominant player in the entire tournament during the first weekend for St. Mary’s and Baylor has quietly taken care of business all season. The Bears rank in the top 12 of the nation in field goal percentage, field goal percentage allowed, rebound margin, blocks per game and scoring margin. Pretty impressive stats for a team of mostly unknown players outside of the Big 12.

Baylor has the size inside with Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers to do battle with Samhan, something that neither Villanova or Richmond had. Baylor also has strong guards in Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn to compliment the inside game. Will that be enough to overtake the Australian sharpshooters of St. Mary’s? The Bears are like Talulah Riley - successful, well-rounded, yet it might just be the name that is holding them back from being an a-lister.

Gambler’s Delight: Baylor (-5)

Game #3: #5 Michigan State (-1) vs. #9 Northern Iowa

Everyone is jumping on the Northern Iowa bandwagon after they knocked off Kansas and Michigan State lost their best player to injury. Yet something tells me that the experience of Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the tournament gets more valuable as the tournament progresses. (Yes, Kansas had experience as well, but they had Bill Self) Northern Iowa returned home to be treated like rockstars and their coach Ben Jacobsen was given a well-deserved 10-year contract extension. All of that adds up to a little loss of focus and an Izzo team only needs a crack to force their way in the door.

I think Korie Lucious learned a valuable lesson when Kalen Lucas was out earlier in the year and I expect him to play much more in control than he did in his start against Illinois. I also expect the Michigan State guards to harass the Northern Iowa backcourt more than Kansas did and not allow as many open looks from beyond the arc. I really like the story of Northern Iowa, but in the end, the experience, poise and physical play of the Spartans will be too much for the Huskies, setting up an all-Big Ten Regional Final. When it comes down to it, I’d take George Clooney’s injured ex-girlfriend, Sarah Larson, over Miss Iowa.

Gambler’s Delight: Michigan State (-1)

Game #4: #1 Duke (-8.5) vs. #4 Purdue

This game matches up the team that everyone wants to get eliminated (Duke) against the team that everyone thought already would be eliminated (Purdue). Yet both teams continue to win and are just two wins away from the Final Four. Duke has many similarities to Jude Law because you hate him for having blown it with Sienna Miller the first time around, yet you have to admit the guy has talent and his movies draw you to the theatre and are successful over and over again. Duke is playing extremely well and has an experienced backcourt, solid shooting and Brian Zoubek has given them an inside presence they were missing. They have all of the ingredients to continue marching to Indy.

Purdue was among the teams to beat with Robbie Hummel and seems to have figured out how to play without him in wins over Siena and Texas A&M. The Boilermakers are a difficult matchup for Duke because they play physical stingy defense which can throw off the usually soft Duke squad (see their loss at Wisconsin early in the year). The Boilers also have the right personnel to match up, with Chris Kramer attached to Jon Scheyer’s hip pocket, E’Twaan Moore blanketing Kyle Singler and JaJuan Johnson able to match Zoubek. The Purdue defense will keep them in the game and make it close at the end, but expect Duke to pull out the straight up win.

Gambler’s Delight: Purdue (+8.5)
(take Duke to win straight up)

Saturday & Sunday Games:

#1 Kentucky vs. #2 West Virginia

Expect the young Wildcats to complete their march to the Final Four in a game that may not be pretty on the eyes. West Virginia wants to ugly up the game the way Sarah Jessica Parker does to any show, movie or photo she appears in. Like a New Jersey frat guy in a spring break club, the Moutaineers prefer to grind it out ugly-style. Kentucky should be able to break down the Mountaineers offensively and stymy the WVU offense. John Wall is as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen with the basketball in his hand and is an automatic one-man fast break when he gets a rebound. Look for Kentucky to get to the Final Four.

#2 Kansas State vs. #5 Butler

I have been a hater of Butler ever since my first college basketball breakdown column. I still don’t really know what they do well. They didn’t shoot well against Syracuse, had too many turnovers, and allowed a poor playing Orange team to stay in the game too long. Yet they keep winning. Can they keep it up against K-State? No. Look for the Faces of Frank Martin to march on to Indianapolis behind the sharpshooting of Denis Clemente and Mos Def look-alike, Jacob Pullen. The unsung hero for the Wildcats has been the UConn transfer Curtis Kelly who displayed a great array of moves around the basket and the ability to face up and knock down a jumper against Xavier. He could be the difference maker against Butler.

Assuming I’m correct in picking Friday night’s games……..

#2 Ohio State vs. #5 Michigan State

Ohio State is too familiar with the Spartans to not be ready for their physical play and lack of offense without Kalen Lucas. Izzo’s motivation and schemes can only carry a gimped team so far. Buckeyes Victoria Secret fashion show rolls to the Final Four.

#1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor

Baylor has the athletes to keep it close, and will have the home court advantage with the game being played in Houston. Yet their lack of experience will prove too much to overcome and the Blue Devils make their reservations for Indy.

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