Detractors of this year’s NCAA Tournament are bemoaning the fact there are no “little guys” left in the field.
No George Masons or Davidsons. In other words, Cinderella wasn’t invited to the dance this year.
This is the first time the first three seeds in each regional have all survived through two rounds. Arizona is the only double-digit seed remaining.
But for once, this may be good. Because we’re basically left with the best of the best, a variety of Ali vs. Frazier matchups.
When you look at it, are there any bad matchups among the eight on Thursday and Friday? Can you really look at one game and say, ‘this one won’t be close?’”
Though No. 12 seed Arizona did slip in, most experts will say the talent was there all year and that the Wildcats underachieved. They probably had to adjust in the coaching change from Lute Olson to interim Russ Pennell, who reportedly even with a deep run into the tournament won’t be the coach next year.
Here’s how we see the eight matchups playing out:
EAST
Pittsburgh vs. Xavier -- The Panthers didn’t roll through the first two rounds quite like we thought they would. They’re a team that struggles at times from the perimeter, but you have to like their toughness. Xavier may be the most unknown team left in the Sweet 16. We’re going with Pitt because it’s more battle-tested.
Duke vs. Villanova -- We have to admit we haven’t been high on Duke all year, but here the Blue Devils are in their customary Sweet 16 spot. They rely greatly on the 3-pointer and a team like Villanova, which like Pittsburgh features that Big East toughness, could make things difficult. Still, Duke wins a squeaker.
SOUTH
Oklahoma vs. Syracuse -- Here’s a game with real upset potential. All year Blake Griffin has put the Sooners on his back and at some point you have to wonder if the Sooners’ inconsistent perimeter play will catch up to them. And no team is playing harder than Syracuse, with that funky zone that may cause OU to fire up a lot of bricks. Orange point guard Jonny Flynn has been a warrior for a freshman and we think he’ll be the difference in a Syracuse win.
North Carolina vs. Gonzaga -- We’ve liked Carolina from the very first game of the season and while the Tar Heels appeared to have peaked about midseason, they have the experience necessary to pull it off. We still aren’t a big believer in Gonzaga, as its record has a lot to do with the conference it plays in, much like Memphis. This should be an entertaining game, but the Heels have too many athletes.
MIDWEST
Louisville vs. Arizona -- Louisville has been like Pittsburgh in that its two games hasn’t produced that “wow” factor. But the Cardinals are a terrific defensive team. Arizona, as mentioned earlier, underachieved all year and is the only long shot left. But the Cardinals should get it done.
Michigan State vs. Kansas -- Of course, we had KU going out in the second round, but it received a break when Dayton caught West Virginia at its worst. The problem with the Jayhawks is that Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are doing it all and if one of them is off against the Spartans, the margin will be double digits. KU’s youth will catch up to it, as it doesn’t have the physical maturity to cope with the rugged Spartans.
WEST
UConn vs. Purdue -- This could be the one mismatch game, as UConn has been the best-looking team so far. Purdue does it with cunning and guile, but doesn’t have the horses to keep up.
Missouri vs. Memphis -- This may be the most entertaining game of the eight. Both like to get up and down the floor, though neither has great shooters. This will be helter skelter at its best, but we like Memphis because it’s playing with a chip on its shoulder.
Like most people, we still have all four of our Final Four picks left. For those who don’t recall, we went with Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Michigan State and Memphis, with Norrth Carolina winning it all.