Mar 22, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12), guard Daxter Miles Jr. (4), and guard Jevon Carter (2) react after the game against the Maryland Terrapins in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. West Virginia won 69-59. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
How are your brackets? In just 96 hours, we went from 64 teams all the way down to 16. And yes, I watched all 48 of the games. So I have no life. Don’t judge. I can assure you that I am not the only one that did the same thing. I am convinced that DVR’s were invented for the NCAA Tournament and the rest of the uses are just collateral damage.
What this does is keep me alive in the round-by-round picks. Whoever came up with this way to keep people in interested in the tournament after their bracket is long shredded deserves some recognition. And it gives me another reason to make some more predictions.
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So far I am 35-13 with the round by round picks, which is not terrible considering how badly I did on Thursday. This is much easier than the football picks! Then again, I’m not picking these games against the spread either.
Here we go with the Sweet Sixteen preview and predictions!
(1)Kentucky vs. (5)West Virginia at Cleveland, OH:
Kentucky had some problems with Cincinnati for the first 30 minutes of the game. Neither team shot well. This was the war of attrition that could end up benefitting the Wildcats in their regional semifinal matchup with another team of brutes in West Virginia.
Maryland managed to shoot 48% from the field, but they turned it over a whopping 23 times. When Melo Trimble was forced to leave the game in the second half, this game got ugly. Maryland didn’t have anyone else that could move the ball up the court, and West Virginia took full advantage of this situation. Dez Wells also spent most of the game in foul trouble, and only played 13 minutes before fouling out. Maryland fans will be wondering “what if” about this game for a while. They likely could have won if Trimble could have stayed in the game.
The key to the game is going to be Kentucky’s ability to break the press. They are not particularly good handling the ball. West Virginia could force 20 turnovers against them just like they did against Maryland. As the Wildcats showed against Cincinnati, they don’t have to make a ton of shots to win the game. West Virginia has the size in the middle to not let Karl-Anthony Towns have his way.
The home court advantage won’t really exist here. Cleveland is about the same distance from Lexington as it is from Morgantown. In fact, Morgantown might be a little bit closer. And you can bet that the fans that are there for the Notre Dame-Wichita State game are going to be fully behind the Mountaineers.
The bottom line is that I don’t trust Kentucky to take care of the ball well enough to run off with this. The longer that West Virginia is in the game, the more dangerous they are. The Mountaineers are going to need better guard play than they had against Maryland to pull the upset. There is also a good chance that that happens. This will be Kentucky’s toughest test of the season. Can they pass? Pick: West Virginia
(3)Notre Dame vs. (7)Wichita State at Cleveland, OH:
Butler’s size in the interior bothered Notre Dame all game. Luckily for them, Wichita State is a relatively small team. Butler shot just 33.3% from the field, which contributed to the loss more than anything. They only had seven turnovers and held their own on the glass. They actually had more offensive rebounds than the Irish did. Notre Dame’s guard play carried them in this one, and they will need big games from Steve Vasturia, Jerian Grant, and Demetrius Jackson again to advance.
Wichita State made Kansas look like a bunch of chickens. They beat them in convincing fashion. The Shockers got down early, but stormed back behind the hot shooting of Evan Wessel and Tekele Cotton. Kansas really missed Cliff Alexander on the interior, especially when Perry Ellis was forced to leave the game wtih a bloodied nose late in the first half. That is when the Shockers first took over. They never looked back.
Wichita State used an incredibly balanced attack to beat Kansas. All five starters scored in double figures. Notre Dame played an overtime game and couldn’t pull that off! The Irish also played just seven guys in the 45 minutes against Butler. Wichita State’s depth will be tough for the Irish.
The Shockers have proven that they can handle guard oriented teams like Indiana. They also stood up well to Kansas and their size in the middle. The Irish are more like Indiana. Once again, Zach Auguste will be the key to the game for Notre Dame. He needs to control Darius Carter and Zach Brown for the Shockers, and he needs to handle some scoring for the Irish. Wichita State defends well, and they have guys off the bench that can do the same. I like Wichita State’s depth, and don’t really think that Notre Dame has anyone that can shut down Fred VanVleet. Pick: Wichita State
Next: West Region
Mar 22, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players and cheerleaders and mascot Bucky celebrate after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at CenturyLink Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
(1)Wisconsin vs. (4)North Carolina at Los Angeles, CA:
Wisconsin had all it wanted with Oregon. Joe Young did everything he could to keep them in the game, but Wisconsin’s size and ability to get to the foul line made the difference. Wisconsin shot 29 free throws to just seven for Oregon. Wisconsin was just methodical like they always are in their handling of Oregon. Their aiblity to hit free throws down the stretch put the game out of reach.
Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls carried Arkansas like they had all season long. Both of them put up double-doubles in the loss. Arkansas dominated the offensive glass. They had more offensive rebounds than defensive ones! North Carolina’s good shooting and solid defense kept the game close until Marcus Paige went off in the second half. He scored twenty points in the second half to help the Tarheels pull away.
The fact that Carolina got dominated by Arkansas on offensive rebounds is not a good sign for them. Wisconsin is huge – all of their starters are taller than 6’3″ – and crash the boards as well as anyone. That said, the Badgers also like to run their half court set, which favors North Carolina. Their zone defense has proven to be hard for team to shoot against.
Marcus Paige will be a tough matchup for Wisconsin, but I tend to think that they will handle him the same way that they did Oregon’s Joe Young. They will shut off everything else and make him have to hit a bunch of tough shots to keep his team in the game. The Tarheels have the bodies to bang with Wisconsin, but their size and balance will still be a big issue. Pick: Wisconsin
(2)Arizona vs. (6)Xavier at Los Angeles, CA:
Arizona ran off and left the Buckeyes. They held D’Angelo Russell to just nine points on 3-19 from the field. That’s what Arizona does: they take away your best asset and make you try to win without it. That’s what makes them such a tough team to beat.
Georgia State’s run through March came to a halt against Xavier. The Musketeers were just on fire from everywhere on the court. They shot 67.6% from the field, 53.8% from beyond the arc, and 88% from the foul line. The Panthers weren’t much worse. They shot 56.5% from the field, 42.9% from three, but only 69.2% from the line. It was enough worse that Xavier was able to pull away at the end. Xavier will need to shoot like that again to have a shot at knocking off Arizona.
Arizona is one of the most complete teams in the tournament. They have the size to not get pushed around in the middle. They have a true point guard in T.J. McConnell. They have enough guards on the bench that they can sub one in for a forward if they need to. They play good defense, and are not easily knocked off of their game. Someone will have to make them disoriented to win, and Xavier just doesn’t have the horses to do it. Pick: Arizona
Stay tuned for the Friday picks!
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