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What We Learned and Who I Got Moving Forward
We will start with what we learned....
First of all we learned that coaching is huge in the tournament. Great coaches can take ok teams very deep and their seeding means nothing. Brad Stevens did it with Butler and now you see a sub par Izzo team, an offensively challenged Louisville team, and the new Butler, Wichita State, moving on. Then you got the old guard of Coach K, Roy Williams, Calipari, Bo Ryan, Sean Miller, Mark Few, Lon Kruger, and Mike Bray. Coaches who have been in the tournament a lot and know how to advance.
Second, we learned that the Big 12 and Big East were severely overrated. The Big 12 loses much higher seeds on day 1 and its worse because since they were highly seeded, they were playing teams that barely got in. I thought the Big East was trash, and I was proven right. They are down to one team in Xavier that has played two pretty easy games to get here and in my opinion is gonna get run off the court by Arizona.
Pac 12 rise up! After only getting 4 teams in, and those teams being underseeded (except for UCLA) they Pac 12 went 5-1 with the loss of Oregon to Wisconsin and they gave them a run for their money in that game. Arizona has a legitimate shot at the Final Four and the National Championship, and Utah should give Duke all they want on the other side. UCLA just gets to have another week of practice, show up for a game, and then call it a season. Speaking of UCLA, it is interesting to me how the team tackled Bryce Alford after the goaltending shot to win the game vs SMU. He literally airballed it so far to the right that the SMU guy jumped up to catch it, and in one of the worst calls in history, they call a goaltend. So his teammates tackle him? Why? Cuz he won the game? Really? I guess they couldn't tackle the SMU guy that would be bad sportsmanship. While I am a fan of UCLA, common sense should have taken over and that shot should not have been allowed. While on the subject of UCLA, I still don't think they deserve to be in. They luckily got by SMU in a game they really didn't win, and then beat a really low seed who had a big upset in the first round. If they compete with Gonzaga, lets say its a 4 point game or less, then I will say they deserved to be in.
ACC is the best conference in the country yet again. While they do have like 20 teams in their conference, they do have 5 teams left in the field which is the most of any conference.
ACC- 5, Pac 12- 3, Big 10- 2, Big 12- 2, Rest- 1 per.
I will be shocked if there is not an ACC team in the final four, but i think there will be no more than 1. They all have really tough games and I think at most 3 advance to the Elite 8.
No Cinderellas this year. While there were a couple miracle wins by the little guys, none of them made it to the sweet 16. Wichita State is not a Cinderella, they are a quality team. Also interesting there were only a couple buzzer beaters (or shots made in the final seconds) to win a game, and they were all made by the little guys. Unless I forgot one, I don't remember one of the powerhouse teams hitting a miracle 3 to win a game. But stay tuned folks, its gonna happen.
Finally, Big Blue will have no resistance until the Final Four. West Virginia doesn't have the offense to stay with them, and Notre Dame doesn't have the defense, while Wichita State doesn't have the size. Sorry.
And to keep it short and sweet, here are my picks for the next two rounds.
Kentucky, Notre Dame
This might seem chalky but Wichita State is actually favored in the Notre Dame game. Notre Dame played horribly in both games and still advanced. I have noticed in past years that the winner of the ACC tournament really struggles the first weekend of the tournament. I think this is because of playing 3 or 4 very high intensity games in the ACC and winning it is so exhausting that they can't get there legs back. Also, especially the first game, you are looking at a real let down. They beat Duke and UNC on back to back days and then look across at Northeastern. Hard to get the guys to believe they might lose and have to play their best. I think they bounce back with a close win over Wichita.
I had these picks from the beginning and I don't plan to change them now. I actually think Wisconsin may be the most vulnerable team in this region. UNC is playing well, and I know losing Kennedy Meeks will hurt, but if they can get out and run and speed up this game, they have a solid chance for the upset. They are probably more athletic than Wisconsin, and if Paige gets hot from the perimeter, this team could beat them. But for arguement sake lets say it is Arizona/Wisconsin, I think this is a really tough game as well for the Badgers. First off the game is in Los Angeles which means it will be all Arizona fans who travel well. Arizona should have a relatively easy Sweet 16 game and be more rested while Wisconsin may have to play a faster game with a much more athletic team in UNC. Also, as long as Wisconsin is, Arizona is much longer. And they play the best defense outside of Kentucky in the country. A lot of what Wisconsin thrives on is getting to the free throw line and outsmarting their opponents with great cuts, ball fakes, up and unders, etc. I don't think they will be able to get away with much of that against Arizona. Finally, as much as the talk is Wisconsin wanting another shot at Kentucky, Arizona probably wants Wisconsin just as badly. It was Wisconsin that knocked out Arizona last year when Arizona had a team that thought they could win a title.
NC State, Oklahoma
If you had these four in your Sweet 16 then your the man. (or less likely, woman). I like NC State because they were able to beat Louisville earlier this year at Louisville and it wasn't really that close. They had a great game plan and were ahead the entire game. They have the size and athleticism to match Louisville's, but they have better scoring. Also, they play Louisville every year so they are familiar with their tempo and press. Also, Louisville has almost stopped pressuring the last few weeks of the season. I'm not sure if they are out of gas or if its not working very well so they decided to scale it back. If they can't turn NC State over, then I don't think they can beat them. As great as Izzo is manipulating his teams and getting them deep in tournaments, I think this is where it ends. I think they have overachieved so much the last few weeks that they are bound to have an average game. And an average game won't be enough to beat a good Oklahoma team who will be ready. All the talk this week is about how great Michigan State is, so I look for Oklahoma to come out want to make a statement.
Again I had these picks earlier and will stick with them. I think Duke has the toughest tests by far. Utah is really good, and the question will be if Utah can slow down Duke's offense which no one has been able to do so far in the tournament. Coach K always has little wrinkles for big games, so it will be interesting to see what the adjustment will be.
Duke vs Gonzaga will be the other marquee game of the weekend if it happens. This one is so hard to pick. Gonzaga is bigger and more experienced but Duke is more talented. Coach K has been there before while Mark Few really hasn't. As long as Gonzaga's big guys are, they usually only play two of them at a time, and Duke can counter with Okafor and Jefferson. The scary part for Duke is when Okafor goes out, or gets in foul trouble and Plumely is in there gangling around dropping balls out of bounds. Its two teams who score at a really high rate and should be a really entertaining game. As before, I'm picking with my heart and HOPE Duke can make it to the Final Four.