Wichita State over Gonzaga: I followed my debacle of picking UNM to reach the Final Four from this region by picking Gonzaga to reach the Elite Eight. And you know what? They deserved to lose this game. They played terribly in the first round, and had some moments in taking the lead in the second half of this one, but they just don't look like a great team. They got into the bonus with 12 minutes left in the second half and then couldn't consistently get to the line for easy points, something a veteran team like Duke focuses on when you have to win so many tough games. Late in the second half when Pangos got hot (Wicihta made the mistake of losing him in their defense), the Shockers answered with big threes of their own from Cleanthony Early and Baker. Gonzaga's bigs did feast on the Shockers inside (Olynyk and Harris), and without Olynyk's Jedi mind trick pump fakes and offensive rebounds, this one wouldn't have been close. I called the Shockers to win this one before the game, and was not surprised in the least that they made great shots and beat the number one team in the nation.
La Salle over Mississippi: I was watching the Duke-Creighton tilt with a lot of interest while this one was going, so only got pieces. I was a bit surprised that, given that Ole Miss has been in a lot of shootouts during their season, they couldn't come up with this one. While this one came down to the wire with Tyrone Garland driving for the final La Salle score, Ole Miss did not make it easy by missing 11 of 21 free throws, with an atrocious 1 of 5 performance from Reginals Buckner. Shockers or Explorers in the Sweet Sixteen? I think the Shockers are playing slightly better.
Arizona over Harvard: New Mexico had more size than Harvard but weren't necessarily more athletic and got some tough breaks. Arizona is more athletic, longer, and bigger than Harvard, and it showed.
Ohio State over Iowa State: What a thriller. Korie Lucious was really balling for ISU in the second half, and LaQuinton Ross did a good job busting ISU's zone for the Buckeyes. However, the Cyclones missed some rotations on defense, and Ohio State can hurt you in multiple ways. I thought Craft was terrible down the stretch. Craft is a player that I love/hate. I love him because he plays like I do: a relatively unathletic point guard that still uses great moves to get his team in good situations. But he is also streakier than he needs to be and can let his team down, which a point guard shouldn't do. He had big turnovers and huge missed free throws down the stretch. Niang, one of my tournament favorites, was great, playing good defense, finishing well, even driving and dishing. But the ISU defense just wasn't tight enough, and Lucious couldn't do it well enough. And that Craft three over Niang to win it? If you're Iowa State, I think you live with that shot. ISU is good: they will be back next year, it just didn't work out this time. I think Ohio State is going to be in a dog fight against Arizona, and I actually think Arizona has a good chance with their athleticism.
Louisville over Colorado State: Too much Louisville, too much Big East experience. Rick Pitino's teams usually translate regular season success into tournament success, and that is the case this year. And I love Gorgui Dieng. His injury early in the season was scary, but he is just so fundamentally solid, he is a joy to watch. On defense, he contests, is strong in the posts, and stays home. On offense, he knows how to facilitate from the post, using pass and head fakes to move his defender and throw off the double team. I'll have more about him know that my other pet post, Niang, is out.
Oregon over Saint Louis: Oh and, you know how my bracket is over? Take a look at this. I had Saint Louis in the final. I knew Oregon was under-seeded, but this was a disaster in terms of my sports analysis cred. Saint Louis put up a 38-14-64 shooting %s in the biggest game of their season, though the Oregno defense had something to do with that.
Michigan State over Memphis: I thought the Spartans may be in trouble with Memphis' size and Stephens shot blocking, and I thought the Tigers' defense had its moments, but they just couldn't score and the Spartans are a surprisingly good offensive team.
Duke over Creighton: This was a nail-biter for a Duke fan. With 12 minutes left in the second half, both Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee had four fouls from guarding Dough McDermott, who didn't shoot well but was a beast inside. I thought the game was over for the Dukies. They historically struggle when the opposing team has a great NBA-level player (Derrick Williams, anyone). And McDermott is going to make an NBA team needing an offensive post very happy (can the Rockets land him?). Shooting, back to basket, face up driving, dishing, he can do it all. But the Dukies started throwing out some junk defenses, and guys like Tyler Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon, and especially Josh Hairston, a highly regarded recruit that has gotten lost in his days at Duke, stepped up. Hairston did a fantastic job denying McDermott the ball, and it seemed like even with their tremendous advantage in terms of the foul situation, the Bluejays just couldn't take advantage of it. You have to be able to get your best player the ball in these situations. On offense, Sulaimon kept the Dukies in it long enough for Seth Curry to start getting hot (I think it was tough for him playing these two tourney games so close together), and the Dukies won a very close game. I think they'll play better against Michigan State as Curry will have a week to rest the shin, and I'm sticking with my Duke to the Elite Eight pick.
Kansas over UNC: I thought Kansas would struggle with UNC after their meltdown against Western Kentucky. I know that it can be dangerous to place too much emphasis on first round matchups, but I just didn't like Kansas' basketball IQ in that game, and the same problems showed in the first half of this game. they are lucky that VCU is out: turnovers are killing this team. Then the Kansas bigs went to work. In the second half, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, and Kevin Young took over the game. The bigs passed brilliantly to each other through the key to beat UNC's zone defense, and when they made their run, the Kansas City atmosphere felt like Phog Allen. Ultimately, the Kansas bigs were too much for UNC, though they will have their hands full with Michigan.
Michigan over VCU: Michigan's ball handling was great. Outside of a few instances, VCU just couldn't create havoc with Tery Burke, as he used his size and strength to bully VCU's defenders and keep them from reaching across his body for the ball. More than anything, he looked like the game had slowed down for him: he was patient and in-control, something that makes great point guards like Chris Paul. VCU just couldn't generate enough points with the defense not creating turnovers. I thought the winner of this game will beat Kansas, and I stand by that. Wolverines for the Elite Eight.
Florida over Minnesota: Florida was too good and athletic for the Golden Gophers, and Tubby was Tubby. Now Tubby will have to be Tubby somewhere else.
Florida Gulf Coast over San Diego State: SDSU made it a game, but FGCU is good. They aren't winning games with fluke strategies, they have guys that can shoot, drive, dunk, and are just good. Forget the seed. These guys can play with anybody. Against Florida? Yes! FGCU to the Elite Eight! Go Eagles!
Indiana over Temple: What a game. I'm saying that a lot. Indiana did not play better than the Owls in this one: Khalif Wyatt scored 31 points, after all. Read that again. 31 point. In a tourney game. Oh, and he did it in the first game, too. What happened late in the second half was very interesting. Indiana started having Victor Olipado face guard Wyatt, denying him the ball, and it seemed like Wyatt was a little too worn out to fight hard and cut to the ball. In fact, Wyatt would take entire offensive possessions off, standing closer to the half court line than the three point line. While he took Indiana's best defender in Olipado away from the play and the Owls could go 4 on 4 (usually a win for the offense), Temple just couldn't find enough offense. In fact, they only had two others besides Wyatt hit a field goal. THE WHOLE GAME. I understand that Temple's identity is to play through Wyatt, but this is extreme. On defense, Wyatt also looked gassed, and while Temple tried to hide him on the Hoosiers' weakest player, he did lose Olipado on that game winning three. Please don't think I'm ragging on Wyatt. He was fantastic. Again, Temple had only two other guys hit field goals, and he still kept the Owls in the game against a number one seed. But ultimately, you can't win six tournament games like this, and the Round of Eight was probably their ceiling (which is why I picked Indiana to win this game in the bracket). At the end though, he wasn't enough, and that last offensive play was an abomination (air-balled 3). I will always remember Wyatt play this year, however, and will miss him.
Syracuse over Cal: Cobbs and Crabbe picked a bad night to be cold offensively, though preparing for Syracuse's defense is hard. I thought the Orange would be at a geographic disadvantage, and now they have to fly back to the East Coast to play Indiana in D.C. Will the Orange be jet lagged? I say yes, and I think Indiana survives.
Marquette over Butler: Too much Vander Blue, though he will need to be careful with not forcing too much hero ball and trusting his teammates. Butler was up for a lot of the game, but I thought they were relying on the three a little too much, and sure enough, when Marquette made their move, Butler's shooters started getting a little cold. And Marquette's pressure really did a number on the Bulldogs. This really came back to bite them at the end, when they had only one timeout after wasting several trying to inbound the ball, including an inability to inbound under their own basket. Marquette kept the pressure up, but Butler runs some great plays to get guys the ball going to the basket (Kampen and Smith were key). But the Marquette pressure just wouldn't relent, and the Golden Eagles forced Rotnei Clark into some bad decisions (he was up and down this game), not the least of which was that last shot. After an incredible turnover by Marquette (up 2), Butler had 2.4 seconds to make something happen. I agree with the 3: the percentages are way better. But going to his left, Rotnei Clark, that wasn't the play you wanted with the season on the line.
Miami over Illinois: Miami's veteran experience helped it in the crunch, but the loss of Reggie Johnson may really hurt the Hurricanes. Their defense was fantastic: Illinois had a 4-minute scoreless stretch early in the first and a 5-minute one later in that half, and that turned out to be too much to overcome. Miami Marquette will be a fun game, and I think the Hurricanes will pull it out, though having an NBA-type player in Blue will make things dicey. Both teams are veteran, but I trust Jim Larranaga a litle more than Buzz Williams and his crazy substitution scheme.
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