Not the most overwhelming opening to the Sweet 16 last night, with Dayton and Wisconsin winning surprisingly easily in the early games. The late games went as expected also as Florida dispatched UCLA in the Sweet 16 or later for the fourth time in as many tries since 2007. Westwood has to be apoplectic about that. Finally, in the game for West Coast supremacy, Sean Miller's Arizona Widcats held serve against San Diego State and poor Steve Fisher , who 25 years later is still searching for a second taste. As I said yesterday, San Diego St deserved a two seed out West for their play this season.
Here is your vital data, as usual:
Friday NCAA Regional Semifinals
|MidWest||(2) Michigan Wolverines vs. (11) Tennessee Volunteers||Lucas Oil Stadium
|715p||CBS||Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson|
|East||(3) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (7) Connecticut Huskies||Madison Square Garen
New York, NY
|727p||TBS||Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce|
|MidWest||(4) Louisville Cardinals vs. (8) Kentucky Wildcats||Lucas Oil Stadium
|945p||CBS||Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson|
|East||(1) Virginia Cavaliers vs. (4) Michigan State Spartans||Madison Square Garen
New York, NY
|957p||TBS||Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce|
Let's get to today's games:
Can you believe they wanted Cuonzo Martin's head on a platter in Knoxville just three weeks ago? Cuonzo Martin has many friends in the game though, especially in the Big 10 and their comments cajoling any Martin detractors surely helped spark the team down the stretch. This is a team (as I'm sure you've heard repeatedly) whipped #1 seed UVA by 35 points. Their 12 losses include three to Florida, one to Kentucky, and one to Wichita. They're rangy and athletic and can give ANYONE a game.
Michigan attempts another final four, and is surely salivating for the opportunity to take on Louisville in the regional final. The selection committee flubbed this year's brackets so badly jamming so much into the midwest just to ensure Wichita St couldn't subvert the system and run that gauntlet on the way to a national championship didn't they? Anyhow, Michigan has been consistently good, and they can really shoot the ball. If they are to win it'll be because they control the pace, take care of the ball, and don't allow Tennessee to get up and down. Shooting the ball over the length of the Tennessee defense will be a challenge.
Tennessee made the final eight in 2010 under Bruce Pearl. They had lost five previous regional semis.
Here we are. Moment of truth for this guy. I have been shouting UConn from the mountaintops. I'll do it once more, and feel even better about my chances now that Iowa St is going to be forced to do battle with the Huskie interior without Georges Niang. Without Niang, I just don't see how Iowa St is going to battle UConn in the paint.
The Huskies are the Kings of outperforming their seed and making deep post-season runs. It has been this way since the program came into prominence around 1990.. Kemba Walker and the 2011 run through the Big East and NCAA tournament to the championship is still etched on Iowa State's mind I am sure as well. The Huskies have made four Final four runs, and won three. It is their getting there that can sometimes be the problem. They have lost five other Regional Finals. To Iowa State's chagrin, the Huskies have lost just four regional semis, meaning their success rate in Sweet 16 games is very high at 9 for 13.
The Cyclones are a resilient bunch, and have won 13 of their last 16 games. Iowa State had lost in the third round (round of 32) both of the past years after a several year tournament drought. If they win tonight, they'll be in their first regional final since 2000, before former head coach Larry Eustachy had his difficulties. Under the Mayor it's only been an upward trajectory. He is going to be in demand for NBA jobs win or lose.
Hokie fans get yet another opportunity to watch Montrezl Harrell and cry. His battle against Julius Randle is going to be one for the ages tonight. This game should have somehow been left open as a possibility for the national championship game and here it is in the Sweet 16. Who was in charge of the selection committee this year? FIFA? Sepp Blatter? Your Best Friend's Older Brother Who Gave You The Bad Car For The Electric Racetrack? The Basketball Refs at the Munich Olympics? You catch my drift, four exceedingly ridiculous examples later, you get my point.
In spite of the diluted consequences, this game represents so much to so many. These two met in 2012 in the Final Four, with Kentucky prevailing behind eventual #1 pick Anthony Davis. The history in this series is far too much to document in this space, but suffice it to say that this is probably THE GAME of the tournament to see. In Pitino's 12 years at Kentucky, a win here will give him six regional finals or better, just a dominant stretch.
Meanwhile Coach Calipari is just not feeling the love these days is he? An 8 seed? I'd be getting sent to the hole right now like Andy Dufresne for suggesting the warden is obtuse. The committee committed a sin this year, you can name any of several. On reputation alone, Kentucky deserved no less than a six seed, and if you look at their losses: #10 Michigan St, #20 Baylor, #18 UNC, #1 Florida (3 times). They even defeated this Louisville team once again back in December, with Louisville ranked 6th. There will be blood, make sure to stay caffeinated, the game won't start til 10 or later on the East Coast.
Here's that other number four, President Obama's favorite, Michigan State. The Spartans enjoyed some time at #1 earlier this year, and they are always a threat. Tom Izzo is the closest thing you'll find to Dean Smith in this day and age. He had made 11 Sweet 16s in the last 14 years. He has just the one title. It doesn't diminish his legacy, but at the same time you always look at his teams for some sort of critical limitations. What is their kryptonite?
This year's team may not have anything too specific beyond Shoulda Been National Player of the Year Adreian Payne's health. He is still noticeably hobbled getting up and down the court. His 41 in the first round should be more of a normal occurrence in my opinion, but with nursing that injury he can only give so much. I'm still not sure Virginia has enough to handle him with Mitchell and Tobey, especially if they have to track him out to the perimeter. And if he and Harris get a pick and roll going and one of them opts for the hard show, there won't be a second layer of Cavalier defense. If anything, keep an eye on that tonight as far as Michigan State's offense.
For UVA, Joe Harris showed some life after kind of easing back and facilitating this season. He allowed Malcolm Brogdon to step forward as the team's go to player on offense. It's been very successful, and a hat tip to Harris for being so aware as to the team's needs. But in order to beat Michigan State, he's going to need to go for 18-20 in addition to solid games from Brogdon, Mitchell, and Perrantes who must find a way to lock down Harris on the perimeter.
Tonight's games excite me more than last night's. I hope you found this exercise enjoyable. I feel ready now.
Mi Cassell es su Cassell.