Sweet 16 (Friday Games)
Yesterday, I tried my hand at predicting the four regional semifinal games of the day and let’s just say I picked the wrong Big East team to take the gas pipe. No matter. I came out looking a little more intelligent (OK, it’s all relative, I know) on the evening games by picking Kansas State to eke by Xavier and also forecasting Cornell would keep it respectable against Kentucky.
It still added up to just a 2-2 evening as Syracuse definitely did not win by double digits against Butler and my hunch to take Washington over West Virginia, while promising for a while, also fell flat.
Today we move on to action in the Midwest and South regionals, including Ohio State’s scary matchup with giant-killer Tennessee and contests involving Big Ten brethren Michigan State and Purdue. Let’s see if we can do a little better handicapping these games.
The following is a blow-by-blow look at the third round of the tournament with a quick dissection of the four games on tap for Friday, which, of course, will be broadcast by CBS (I’ll check in again during the weekend with a more in-depth look at the Elite Eight):
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Friday)
Who: No. 2 Ohio State (29-7) vs. No. 6 Tennessee (27-8)
When: 7:07 p.m. Eastern
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Line: Ohio State by 5
What To Watch: The Friday night action tips off with perhaps the most entertaining pairing of the Sweet 16 – although the Buckeyes and Volunteers will be hard-pressed to reach the same drama level as Xavier-Kansas State did last night. Ohio State didn’t find its highest gear in wins over Cal-Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech in Milwaukee but the Buckeyes continued to play unselfishly and got lots of production from off-guard Jon Diebler, who canned 11 of 22 three-point attempts at the Bradley Center. Evan Turner also showed why he’s the best all-around player in the country by setting up plays, ripping down rebounds and scoring when needed. David Lighty, all 6-5 of him, continues to lead the charge defensively and prove he can hold up even while guarding lengthy post players. Also, center Dallas Lauderdale awoke from his slumber during the Big Ten Tournament and returned to his role as a shot rejecter, intimidator and high-percentage finisher when defenses are napping. Still, the key to the Buckeyes’ quest to reach the Final Four remains sophomore William Buford, who has the skill level to take OSU to a very high plane but has looked a little jittery at times during the postseason. For Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, the approach is obvious. He’ll try to wear down OSU’s six-man rotation with 10 athletic players who excel at defensive pressure and uptempo play. Swingman Scotty Hopson, power forward Wayne Chism and guard J.P Prince, all in the 6-7 range or taller, are the top performers. Hopson is the team’s leading scorer at 12.5 points per game but he’s capable of a big night when he’s feeling it. Chism, who played against Ohio State twice in 2007, is a pest on the boards and even shoots threes.
My Call: This is a frightening test for Ohio State given that UT has beaten Kentucky and Kansas this season and has the talent to take over. However, the Buckeyes get check marks in consistency and intangibles and they are much more effective on the fast break than in years past.
Ohio State by 6
Who: No. 5 Michigan State (26-8) vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa (30-4)
When: approx. 9:37 p.m. Eastern
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Line: Michigan State by 1
What To Watch: How much respect are the Panthers receiving after knocking off Kansas? Well, oddsmakers are calling this game as a near push even though MSU was seeded four spots higher and was the national runner-up last season. The administration at UNI also is impressed considering coach Ben Jacobson was just locked up this week with a new 10-year contract. Suddenly a 30-win team with momentum and prestige, Northern Iowa is the poster child for how to advance without a BCS-conference resume. The Panthers spread the wealth but when they need a big basket they look to guard Ali Farokhmanesh, who is never afraid to launch one in key moments. (You can almost hear CBS analyst Bill Raftery yelling “onions” now.) It’s hard to believe by postseason appearances but UNI has loses to DePaul ad Evansville, teams that have RPIs in the 200s. Still, it would be difficult to imagine this game being anything but close, especially considering how Michigan State nearly lets wins over New Mexico State and Maryland slip away. With star guard Kalin Lucas out with a torn Achilles tendon, the Spartans will need more firepower out of Durrell Summers and some consistency from forward Raymar Morgan. Draymond Green holds the fort inside despite being 6-6.
My Call: MSU can’t batter Northern Iowa inside the way Tom Izzo would like to and Summers and the Spartans backcourt are going to have to hit several clutch shots. They might just do it, but it won’t be easy. Apparently the Panthers are just this good.
Northern Iowa by 2
SOUTH REGIONAL (Friday)
Who: No. 3 Baylor (27-7) vs. No. 10 St. Mary’s (28-5)
When: 7:27 p.m. Eastern
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Line: Baylor by 4
What To Watch: The Bears have earned their way to Houston, which is about 3½ hours from the school’s Waco campus. That should be a built-in advantage, especially for a team in uncharted territory. Guard LaceDarius Dunn should be a steadying influence. He’s been right on his regular-season scoring average in the tournament so far at 19.5 points per game. The 6-4 Dunn gets lots of help in the backcourt from Tweety Carter, a 5-11 point guard who effectively runs the show and can pop for 20 points himself. But the key to the game for the Bears will be how well they hold up inside against the St. Mary’s post game that has been monumentally effective this season and in the tournament. In fact, 6-11 St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan has been as impressive as anybody through the first two rounds with 61 points and 19 rebounds in wins over Richmond and Villanova. He also has canned 24 of 32 field-goal attempts, which equates to 75.0 percent. The Bears, though, have an inside presence in former Michigan center Ekpe Udoh, who can alter and swat shots well enough to effect Samhan and friends. Therefore, the Gaels are going to need some outside shooting from Mickey McConnell and big man Ben Allen, another former Big Ten player (Indiana).
My Call: Samhan finally meets somebody who can slow him down in the lane and the Bears feast on a little home cookin’.
Baylor by 5
Who: No. 1 Duke (31-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue (29-5)
When: approx. 9:57 p.m. Eastern
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Line: Duke by 8½
What To Watch: This could be painful for Big Ten enthusiasts and those who can compare this Purdue team with the previous version – the true Final Four contender that included a healthy Robbie Hummel at forward. Without Hummel, PU coach Matt Painter has been forced to invent smaller and less dynamic combinations that include role players at guard instead of the 6-8 Hummel. What the Boilermakers have been able to do, though, since their embarrassing loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament is to stay in low-scoring games. That allows them a chance because center JaJuan Johnson can heat up at times and guard E’Twaun Moore often comes through in tight spots. Still, Duke is legit this season and is going to be hard to corral. Guard Jon Scheyer and forward Kyle Singler are big-game performers and the Blue Devils have been formidable on the boards of late, including center Brian Zoubek.
My Call: Purdue will do its best to “ugly up” and this game and hang around with fierce defense and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it work for a half or so. But the Boilers simply aren’t going to be able to hold up over 40 minutes, the last 10 of which could be severely one-sided.
Duke by 15