After four action-packed days, March Madness takes a break before the Sweet Sixteen. Second round match-ups wrapped up today, and there were some dandies. No upsets, but a couple of close calls and scares. I'll recap today's contests, and then give a Sweet Sixteen preview with my picks to advance to the Elite Eight.
Two #1's were back in action today. First up, Pitt took on Oklahoma St. This one was even at halftime: 49-49. However, the Panthers used some of Sam Young's game high 32 points to pull away for the 84-76 victory. Pitt almost let the Cowboys take it, as they squandered an 11-point second half lead. However, a double-double from DeJuan Blair, and clutch shooting from Levance Fields sealed the win. In the late game, Lousiville clashed with Siena. The Cardinals led 42-35 at halftime, but allowed Siena to go on a run and take the lead in the second half. However, Louisville was determined not to be the first #1 to fall, and pulled out a 79-72 win. Terrence Williams had a monster game: 24 points and 15 rebounds, including 4-6 from 3. A lone #2 played: Michigan St. The Spartans squeezed out a 74-69 win over USC in a thrilling game. Michigan St. was up 40-37 at halftime, and held on in a back-and-forth contest. Neither team ever gained a large lead, and the outcome wasn't clear until the final minute. Three #3's had games. The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks defeated Dayton 60-43. Despite remaining close in the first half, the Jayhwaks never trailed after the opening minute. Kansas increased its lead in the second half, and played stingy defense throughout. Syracuse had few problems with Arizona St winning 78-67. The Orange were up 41-32 at halftime and never looked back. Pac-10 player of the year, James Harden, was held to 10 points. The Sun Devils fired off 35 3 attempts, and actually drained 13 to avoid being blown out. The final #3, Missouri, played a thriller with Marquette. Unexpectedly, Dominic James returned for the Golden Eagles, and even though he was held scoreless his presence motivated the team. Jerel McNeal had 30 points but it wasn't enough. Missouri pulled out the close 83-79 win. Xavier was the lone #4 in action. The Musketeers squared off against Wisconsin. Many had not expected the Badgers to beat Florida St., and Xavier made sure they wouldn't win this one by holding Wisconsin to 29% shooting. Despite being up 27-25 at halftime, the Badgers couldn't hold onto the lead as Xavier won 60-49.The final match-up pitted #12 Arizona against #13 Cleveland St. in a game almost no one expected. Cleveland St. never got going, as the Wildcats were up 35-25 at halftime and never trailed. Arizona eventually won 71-57 in a game lacking drama. This concluded the second round. Now for my Sweet Sixteen picks.
On Thursday, #1 Connecticut squares off with #5 Purdue. Unfortunately for Purdue, the Huskies are playing better than anyone else in the tournament and were the only team to win each of their games by 20 or more points. The Boilermakers have had a good run but it ends here. Look for U-Conn to advance into the Elite Eight. Their opponent in the West regional final will be either #2 Memphis or #3 Missouri. Many have Memphis in the national championship game, which is fine, but I'm not buying it. The Tigers are good, but they haven't played a team as fast as Missouri, This should be an excellent game. I expect Mizzou to squeak out a close win over Memphis, but this one could go either way. However, I'm going to send Missouri into the Elite Eight to face U-Conn. In the East Thursday's two other games take place. At 7:27, #1 Pitt will do battle with #4 Xavier. So far neither team has looked especially great. Pitt played poorly against East Tennessee State, and needed 32 from Sam Young to beat Oklahoma St. Xavier comfortably beat Portland St, but didn't look impressive against a mediocre Wisconsin team. It's difficult to say how this one will go. Pitt has a terrible history of losing in the Sweet Sixteen, but this is the most talented Pitt team this decade. As a result, I'm ignoring history, and putting the Panthers into the Elite Eight. Xavier will have trouble will DeJuan Blair, and Sam Young will once again have a good shooting day. Pitt's opponent will be either #2 Duke or #3 Villanova. Villanova looked very impressive in their win over UCLA, while Duke almost fell to Texas before pulling a victory in the final minutes. Duke can shoot from the perimeter, but so can the Wildcats. This should be a close, hard fought, game. However, I look for Villanova to win and advance to face the Panthers in an all Big East final. Friday presents the final four Sweet Sixteen contests. In the Midwest, overall #1 Louisville faces off against #12 Arizona. Although the Cardinals were not impressive today, look for a fired up Louisville team to dominate Arizona. Many felt the Wildcats shouldn't have been in the tournament, and this will be the game where they prove the doubters correct. It won't be close as Louisville will advance to the Elite Eight. In the night cap, #2 Michigan St. faces off against #3 Kansas. This proves to be a very intriguing match-up, as the defending national champs will look to get one step closer to a second consecutive title. Even though they probably won't get it, they will move on to face Louisville in the Elite Eight. It will be close, but in the end the Jayhawks will pull it off. Finally, in the South, #1 North Carolina battles #4 Gonzaga. The Tar Heels are considering anything less than a national title a letdown, and will be pumped up to face a sweet shooting Gonzaga team. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, Ty Lawson is back and dangerous as ever. His return to the line-up makes UNC very dangerous, and the Zags aren't going to be able to pull off the upset. Look for North Carolina to once again move on to the Elite Eight. The late game features their eventual opponent, either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse. This promises to be, one of the most, if not, the most exciting game in the Sweet Sixteen. Probable player of the year Blake Griffin facing off against Syracuse's fantastic shooters. If Griffin is limited the Orange will be moving on to face UNC. However, if Griffin has a game similar to the one against Michigan it's anybody's game. In the end, I look for Syracuse to contain Griffin enough to win and advance to the Elite Eight. Although this game should be fantastic nonetheless.
These are my picks and I'm sticking to them. I'll be on basketball hiatus until Thursday, but I'll have a recap of the action that night. LET'S GO PITT!!