Here are my thoughts on tonight’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen action.
UConn (+2) vs. Iowa State – If any team has flown under the radar so far in this tournament it has to be the UConn Huskies. They’ve quietly put together a nice run here as a seventh seed and are led by fantastic senior guard Shabazz Napier who has averaged 25 points per game this season.
The Cyclones enter this game doing three things very well; they score (6th in the nation), they assist like crazy (1st in the nation) and they kill the boards (2nd). The Huskies are very ‘middle of the road’ in most departments but they do block and alter a lot shots. That’ll be a big issue for ISU’s inside game.
The Key here is Napier. If Iowa State makes him work for everything at both ends of the court then I like ISU big, if they don’t I expect a tight game but will still take the Cyclones.
Michigan State (-2) vs. Virginia – I’m not sure how often this has happened but we have a number one seed as an underdog in the Sweet Sixteen. Top-seeded Virginia enters as a two-point dog against Michigan State. While the Spartans have been fairly impressive in wins over Harvard and Delaware, I’m not sure that would elicit such an advantage over a top seed.
I would expect this game to be a war. The Cavs are the top ranked defense in the country as they give up just 55 points per game, but MSU is very good with the basketball. They are the sixth best team in college hoops with over 17 assists per game and they rank 31st in field goal percentage.
If Virginia is going to continue this amazing season all the way to the Final Four then I think this is the biggest road block. Will State’s experience and guard play be too much? I think the Cavs move on.
Tennessee (+3) vs. Michigan – The Volunteers not too long ago were one of those teams forced to play in a ‘play-in’ game just to get to the actual tournament. They dismissed Iowa and have since beaten UMass and Cinderella wannabe Mercer in convincing fashion.
On the other side is second-seeded Michigan who has surprised no one by getting to the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolverines have had most of the season to figure out life without injured big man Mitch McGary and they did just fine in winning the outright Big Ten Title.
This promises to be a classic match-up of shooting vs. rebounding. The Wolverines knock threes down at the rate of 40% and their overall field goal percentage is pretty darn good as well. They will need to make those shots because Tennessee does a significantly better job of rebounding the ball than does Michigan.
I expect a Michigan victory but I will actually take the Vols and the three points in what should be a tight game.
Kentucky (+4) vs. Louisville – I can only imagine what life has been like this week in the Bluegrass State as these two longtime rivals meet in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. They met earlier in the season and the Wildcats grabbed the home court win 73-66.
Kentucky played much of the second half that game without Julius Randle who was being treated for cramps. The Cardinals only shot 23% from three-point range in the game which is considerably lower than their season average of 37%. Look for that to again be a huge stat in this one.
UK Head Coach John Calipari is 13-12 all-time against Rick Pitino and is 5-1 against him in the last six games. Despite the clear advantage in experience, I think the coaching edge Calipari has right now is too much to ignore. Take the Wildcats and the points.