King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NCAA Sweet 16: Underdogs, overdogs, in-betweens. You want it? It's here.


Salon Staff
March 23, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

The fabulous first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament have given us a Sweet 16 with a little something, as they say on TV, for everybody.

Not for people who don't like basketball, of course. Or, I'm guessing, for a healthy portion of the populations of Columbus, Chapel Hill, Knoxville, Lawrence, Iowa City or Champaign-Urbana.

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But the rest of us get four living top seeds, all trying to make this year's the first Final Four with nothing but No. 1s. Three of them are playing expected opponents, the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, and all of those games -- Duke-LSU, UConn-Washington and Villanova-Boston College -- offer tough matchups, with a lower-seed win hardly qualifying as an upset for the ages.

But if you like upsets for the ages, there's No. 13 Bradley trying to pull one off against the other No. 1, Memphis.

We also get one tough 2-3 game, UCLA-Gonzaga, a couple of intriguing mild-upset possibilities -- West Virginia-Texas and Georgetown-Florida -- and a whoda-thunkit matchup between No. 7 Wichita State and No. 11 George Mason.

Here's a look at the eight games coming at you over the next two nights. All times EST.

Thursday

(1) Duke vs. (4) LSU, Atlanta Region, 7:10 p.m.
I love this game. What a way to kick off the Sweet 16. Duke's big guys Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts and star guard J.J. Redick against LSU's big guys Glen -- and I do mean big -- Davis and Tyrus Thomas and star guard Darrel Mitchell.

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Duke's the better team and Williams is the best of the big guys, though Davis might be better someday, and I think big guys are the key in the NCAA Tournament. But I'm taking LSU. I just think the Tigers have this upset in them.

Maybe I'm just rooting against Duke and for "Big Baby" Davis, with his sparkling persona, to reach the Final Four. OK, I'm definitely rooting against Duke and for "Big Baby" Davis to reach the Final Four. You just can't get this kind of analysis anywhere else.
Prediction: LSU

(1) Memphis vs. (13) Bradley, Oakland Region, 7:27 p.m.
I wouldn't have thought it possible that a 13 seed could be better publicized than a No. 1, but here you have it. Patrick O'Bryant, whom you probably had never heard of a month ago, will try to lead his team to become the first No. 13 ever to make the Elite Eight.

Memphis -- it's in Tennessee, in case you're wondering, and the team is called the Tigers -- has gotten to the Sweet 16 by winning the weak Conference USA and then beating Oral Roberts and Bucknell.

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They haven't really been tested since the leaves were still falling, while Bradley was busy resurrecting its season, almost winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and beating Kansas and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds.

The Braves jumped on the Jayhawks and Panthers, getting them out of their game. I think the Tigers, despite cruising to this point, are going to be too poised and too ready for that to happen again. It's been a great run for Bradley, but Darius Washington, Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams will put an end to it.
Prediction: Memphis

(2) Texas vs. (6) West Virginia, Atlanta Region, 9:40 p.m.
The Longhorns committed 24 turnovers against West Virginia in November and still won the game. That's because the Mountaineers practically commit a turnover every time a rebound is in the air. They almost never get it.

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West Virginia makes up for that with a tough 1-3-1 defense and a wild, 3-point-shooting offense. If the shots are falling for tattooed 6-11 center Kevin Pittsnoggle -- who missed some key free throws down the stretch in that November game -- and company, West Virginia can beat anybody.

Conversely, the Longhorns, who may have one of the best starting fives in the nation, can lose to anybody. Or they can go all the way. They're not deep, once you get past the big five and freshman guard A.J. Abrams, who has been playing well lately. So foul trouble is always a concern. But West Virginia's a jump-shooting team.
Prediction: Texas

(2) UCLA vs. (3) Gonzaga, Oakland Region, 9:57 p.m.
I'd love to see Gonzaga and Duke meet each other in the Final Four, so the two leading candidates for Player of the Year, Duke's Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, could go at it basket for basket.

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And I'm picking both teams to lose this round, so there's a good chance we will see that.

Morrison is twice the player Redick is, inevitable postseason awards aside. He can rebound, pass and create his own shot as well as shoot, which is Redick's only outstanding skill, though it's very outstanding.

And Morrison teams with 6-9, 270-pound beast J.P. Batista to form a formidable frontcourt. But the Zags just don't seem to have it this year. They've been surviving and surviving, and Morrison's capable of putting the team on his back by scoring 40 or more, but I think they're in for it against UCLA.

The Bruins are led by an outstanding backcourt, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, and listen, Arron and Mr. Farmar, our copy editors will thank you to spell your names more conventionally in the future.

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Even though everybody says the NCAA Tournament is all about guard play, I disagree, which is I guess why I have the Bruins going to the Final Four.
Prediction: UCLA

Friday

(1) Villanova vs. (4) Boston College, Minneapolis Region, 7:10 p.m.
Speaking of guard play being overrated, Villanova starts four of them. So of course I have the Wildcats winning the Tournament.

What's that you say? No, haven't had a drop all day. Why do you ask?

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Villanova forces opponents to react to its speed and ball-handling, but the Wildcats' secret weapon is that coach Jay Wright is willing to get some big guys up off the bench if the other team is having its way inside.

That happened in the win over Arizona, and may have to happen against Boston College. The Eagles' Craig Smith and Jared Dudley have combined for 90 points and 40 rebounds in the wins over Pacific and Montana. This game may come down to which team is able to enforce its style on the others. But Villanova can adapt to B.C.'s style better than the reverse.
Prediction: Villanova

(7) Wichita State vs. (11) George Mason, Washington Region, 7:27 p.m.
Here you go, your personal guarantee that a Cinderella team will reach the Elite Eight.

George Mason will be playing with very nearly a home-court advantage. The Fairfax, Va., campus is 20 miles away from the Verizon Center. The Patriots beat North Carolina on a neutral floor last week and they beat the Shockers in Wichita last month. They're tough to pick against down the road from their own beds.

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Wichita State may be more the Cinderella here, having been blessed with a second-round matchup against the weakest second seed since Michael Dukakis. That's not to say the Shockers can't play. They were impressive in beating Seton Hall and struggling Tennessee. But I think the Patriots will get 'em again.
Prediction: George Mason

(3) Florida vs. (7) Georgetown, Minneapolis Region, 9:40 p.m.
Georgetown pretty much plays Georgetown basketball, the way it was played in the era of coach John Thompson III's dad. They slow the game down, play tough defense and ride a talented 7-footer, in this case Roy Hibbert.

Florida's best player is also its center, 6-11 Joachim Noah, who has quickness, though not speed, that I think will be a big problem for Hibbert. Noah also has a nice shooting touch and is a fierce shot-blocker.

The Gators have been underachievers for the last half-decade and the Hoyas have already overachieved a little bit by getting here with their second-round upset of Ohio State.

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This time around, Florida looks like it's going out of its way to change its image, pounding South Alabama and upset-specialist Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first two rounds.

The Gators have a balanced attack, with all five starters averaging in double figures. That's another thing I think is overrated, because it often means a team doesn't have a go-to guy. But Florida has several. Aside from Noah there's Corey Brewer, who scored 23 against UWM, and Lee Humphrey, who had 20 against USA.
Prediction: Florida

(1) Connecticut vs. (5) Washington, Washington Region, 9:57 p.m.
Prediction: The Huskies will win.

Sorry, hack columnists union rule that I make that joke.

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UConn, like Texas, has a spectacular starting lineup and is capable of losing pretty much any game you'd care to name. The Huskies -- the UConn ones, still talking about -- are also capable of winning the championship, which they're favored to do.

Washington, with its quickness and its leader, stellar guard Brandon Roy, is the kind of team that can upset UConn, by which I mean the Huskies -- Washington, that is -- have five living players. But really I mean that UConn has to establish its physical dominance, particularly inside. If the UConn Huskies can do that, they shouldn't have a problem. But that's just the thing they have a tendency not to do.

I've got UConn going to the Final Four, but you just never know with that bunch.
Prediction: Connecticut

Saturday and Sunday

It's borderline Sports Illustrated-level hubris to offer predictions for these specific Elite Eight games, because unless my Sweet 16 predictions are perfect, some of them will never happen. And my Sweet 16 predictions have as much chance of being perfect as Bradley has of winning the Tournament.

At least I don't try to predict the final scores.

Atlanta Region: LSU over Texas

Oakland Region: UCLA over Memphis

Washington Region: Connecticut over George Mason

Minneapolis Region: Villanova over Florida

Previous column: Pool o' Experts, fantasy baseball

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