Semi-Expert Sweet 16 Picks – East & West [LIVE UPDATES]
One week ago, the greatest weekend of the year occurred, and out of an initial field of 68 teams (who am I kidding, we only care about 64), we are now down to the "Sweet 16," only three games away from a national champion. There being no games to write about for the past few days, there is a chance you have forgotten what this whole semi-expert picking thing is all about. In a nutshell, I have no expertise in basketball other than my distinction for watching quite a bit of it, my bench-warming prowess on a high school varsity team, the honorary captain title for a freshman team, and the heavily-laden-in-street-cred-6th-grade-nickname "Downtown."
After the first four days (48 games) I predicted the correct winner in 75% of them, a respectable number certainly worthy of semi-expert status.
Four teams from Ohio are in the Sweet 16, four teams from the Big Ten, there are four games today, four games tomorrow, and four days of hoops (beginning today) until we have our final four teams. Also, I really like Huey Lewis... Here are my predictions in order of the tip-off time.
- Syracuse over Wisconsin 64-59 I don't care if Syracuse is indeed playing without a starter who is legitimately named Fab, they are still the deepest team in the field in my mind. Wisconsin plays a strictly regimented style of play that will dictate the pace of this game, but I like Syracuse's versatility to alter a lot of Badger shot attempts. Wisconsin plays one of the best team defenses of anyone, let's not forget this fact, but I think Syracuse has the ability to hit a few more shots than Wisconsin in the end. (That is a ridiculous cliche, obviously, the team who hits more shots will win, let me re-word it then to say, Wisconsin will not make enough shots to win this one. Better?) Also, every Big Ten team will not advance- I do not see it happening, so if any of them have to lose, it might as well be Bucky.
**I claim bragging rights for accurately calling Syracuse's final score. Bucky knocked down many more shots than I saw coming, and as a result, the Orange won 64-63 in a game that easily makes the top 5 I've seen so far in this tournament. Both teams had impressive moments of offense, and intimidating moments of defense. I found it interesting that Syracuse's defense had moments where they seemed to be slacking, which is especially surprising when Wisconsin was going to rely on (and found a great deal of) success from their outside shooting (Badgers hit 14 three-pointers yet still lost the game... never seen that before). Also, I thought Alabama had won the trophy for worst clock management of the 2012 tournament back in the round of 64, but I was wrong, Wisconsin got the ball back with more than 10 seconds trailing by one point. They even had a timeout to spare, and the best they could muster was a 30+ foot shot that bricked. I can almost give them the pass for heaving a 3-attempt since they had made so many to that point in the game, but I choose not to. Great game with a disappointing ending- even the Boilermakers were able to draw up something better than that! Looking ahead though, both Ohio State and Cincinnati will make great competition for the Orange. Don't forget- Cincinnati knocked Syracuse out of the Big East Conference Tournament... 1-0 for the day, 1-0 for the round of 16, 37-12 overall, 75.5%**
- Michigan State over Louisville 67-59 Of the 8 teams playing tonight, these are the only two who won their conference tournaments and did not get in with an at-large bid. Louisville has a six game winning streak, compared to a five game streak for the Spartans. Also on Louisville's side is that, despite being largely regarded as a small-guard, offensive driven team, the Cards have slowed their roll lately, and proven that they can beat you with defense. I like Louisville's scrappy style of play as late, it's what you need in this tournament, but Michigan State is playing well, Draymond Green is the best player in this tournament, and Tom Izzo has almost been unstoppable through the National Semifinals for the last decade. This will be a tough game for either team, but I think free throws build the lead late for MSU.
**I hate when I say something with a great deal of confidence and it ends up making me look arrogant and really dumb. For example, when I alluded to my belief that Tom Izzo was a better coach in this match-up, and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit himself told me to shut up and respect my mediocre-NBA coaching elders. I also want to punch myself in the face for complimenting Louisville's defense while predicting that they would give up 67 points. Cardinals got into the heads of MSU tonight and appear to be the best defensive team in the tournament. In this month alone, Louisville has played 8 games, giving up an earnest 55 points in each contest (not getting a ton of help on offense either, only 61.625 points per game this month). That defensive ppg average was aided tonight when the Red Birds won 57-44. It is rare for a team to score less than 60 points in the Sweet 16 and still win by double-digits; and I cannot see a score like that and such a mentally debilitating defensive performance without thinking that the team who put on that show is one you don't want to play against. Seven straight wins for Coach Pitino... look out, America. 1-1 for the day, 1-1 for the round of 16, 37-13 overall, 74%**
- Ohio State over Cincinnati 70-63 I have said this since November: When Ohio State plays their best, they are the best team in the tournament. I love that this tournament matchup happens 50 years after one of their legendary NCAA Championship meetings but I do not love Cincinnati. I think Ohio State's defensive savvy led by Aaron Craft slows the momentum seen lately by the Bearcats guards, and I think the unguardable Deshaun Thomas goes for 20+. Also, Jared Sullinger is being given low expectations by the mainstream media (making me the back-alley media), and because of the lowered expectations, I think he shows Yancy Gates what is what, efficiently going for at least 15 points and 8 rebounds.
**Much more dominance for Ohio State than I predicted. Defensively, they were incredible and as expected, that front was led by Aaron Craft. Offensively, Thomas and Sullinger had huge games, knotching 26 and 23 points respectively (Sullinger added 11 rebounds for the Bucks). I thought Ohio State's offense was well balanced with great interior success coming steadily from the previously mentioned tandem plus strong outside shooting by Thomas as well, with assistance from Lenzelle Smith, Will Buford and occasionally, Aaron Craft. OSU came out exceptionally flat at halftime and Cincy took advantage, jumping to a 4-point lead in the second, but defense carried the Buckeyes back into the game, and then vastly ahead, on their way to an Elite 8 birth and a 81-66 victory. If Thomas and Sullinger play like this, I might favor OSU against Syracuse on Saturday... that was a tease- you'll have to come back to see what I end up picking... 2-1 for the day, 2-1 for the round, 38-13 overall, 74.5%**
- Marquette over Florida 78-74 Offense. More offense. Halftime. A little more offense. Some dry spells with under ten minutes to go. Offensive flurry to end the game. That is how this one will go (with Marquette scoring more points than Florida in those numerous moments of offense). Florida has the largest total margin of victory through their first two games, but they played a Virginia team who had checked out for the final 20 minutes of that game, and a Norfolk State team who doesn't count. I like Marquette to give the Gators a wake-up call, and get an early lead. I think Florida charges back in the second half, making it very interesting, but the Golden Eagles soar to victory in what will be a ridiculously entertaining conclusion to the night. Something to watch in this one: Buzz Williams, Marquette head coach's post game comments. If they are only 1/10 as emotional as the comments that came after Marquette's last win, they will still be Must-See-TV.
**Not at all how I anticipated this one to go, and I am left with a number of thoughts (2), which is all very confusing. I stand by my belief that Marquette was better, however I am now pondering Florida. Option 'A' is that thanks to their two nobody opponents thus far in the tournament, they added swagger and stayed exceptionally fresh. Another thought, option 'B' is that maybe Virginia and Norfolk State were a lot better than we thought, and thus Florida's level of greatness is on par with the '95 Rockets. More likely than anything, let's say maybe like 40% of what happened was option A, 5% was option B, and 55% was me not knowing what I'm talking about. I liked Marquette's momentum, and despite having only four games to discuss tonight, I was somehow able to foolishly leave coaches out of legitimate discussion in two of them. Obviously, I made no mention of Pitino earlier, and in this game, if it comes down to coaches, I chose Buzz Williams over Billy Donovan. Unless the competition at hand is, who looks better bald, I'm taking Williams, but even in that discussion, having not seen Donovan rocking the chrome dome, I can't confidently say that he might not look terrific sans hair. Either way, I didn't look at this game from a coaching angle, and as a result, I chose it wrong- not saying that this is how to predict every game, but in hindsight, it looks stupid to not choose Billy Donovan. Final score was Florida 68, Marquette 58- how dare they play defense?! 2-2 for the day, 2-2 for the round, 38-14 overall, 73.07%**
50% for the day is pretty bleak, it's the reason I am only a semi-expert, and more importantly than anything, mediocre performances like this are the reason that I warmed one heck of a bench for two years (Well, that leaves out a lot, like how I'm only 5'11," 165, boast a vertical leap of approximately four and three-quarter inches, and can likely run a 40 yard dash in a shade under 7 seconds). Sorry for letting you down on these picks tonight folks- I'll do it better tomorrow.