A Three-Pac of Teams in the Sweet Sixteen Party

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 25th, 2015


Four of our friends were invited to this party last weekend along with a bunch of other people. It’s been a crazy, crazy time. If I told you about everything that went down, it would probably burn off both your ears. We’ve got some stories we’ll tell the next time this group gets together, but for now, three of our crowd are still going strong. And the way things are going, there’s a chance at least one of this cast of characters closes this party down. Before we get to those party animals, let’s pay tribute to the one we lost along the way.

Oregon Is The Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early (USA Today)

Oregon is the Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early. (USA Today)

Oregon came into the year a complete mess. The offseason was literally scandalous. There was a whole new group of players to meet. Expectations were low. The whole thing could have gone off the rails at any time. Instead, chalk up a Pac-12 Player of the Year award, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, a second-place conference finish, an NCAA Tournament win and another chance to throw one hell of a scare into Wisconsin before fading late. By any reasonable measure, this season in Eugene will go down as a resounding success. Joseph Young’s trailblazing two years came to an end, but a fine young group of talented players remain in his stead. And frankly, a changing of the guard could be the breath of fresh air the program needs. Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks will headline a group of talented sophomores, while Snoop Dogg Dwayne Benjamin will be the scrappy play-making veteran he established himself as this year. As long as Dana Altman returns along the sideline (which, given that previous scandal, is not exactly a 100 percent sure thing), there’s no reason to expect anything less than another strong upper-division finish next year from the Ducks.

UCLA is the surprise of the bunch. We’re not quite sure how these guys got invited to this party and we figured they’d pass out before things got really interesting. But danged if the Bruins aren’t still hanging around. They’ve also been a fun invitee, pulling off their fair share of wacky stunts over the weekend. After Bryce Alford had already hit eight three-pointers in UCLA’s opening round game against SMU, he got credit for another one late – this one the game winner – when Yanick Moreira was called for a controversial, albeit correct, basket interference penalty. Really, what else do you expect from Alford? The kid can’t catch a break. He turns in the best shooting game of his career prior to a late collapse and all anyone remembers is a forced attempted game-winner that turned into an actual game-winner following the call. Nobody remembers that freshman Kevon Looney was there for the rebound with a point-blank look at a game-tying layup. And even a Round of 32 win over UAB was dismissed because the Blazers were a surprise #14 seed. Still, head coach Steve Alford has been in Westwood for two seasons and has already pulled off two Sweet Sixteen appearances, regardless of the opinions of his persnickety fan base.

We all suspected Arizona would still be going strong at this point. When they show up to party, they generally don’t screw around. Even when they finally leave, it is usually while they are being dragged kicking and screaming out the door. But this could be the year the Wildcats hang on until last call. They’re the same bunch we’ve come to expect from this program – big, strong, athletic, loaded with future pros. But what makes this club different may well be senior point guard T.J. McConnell. He’s the consummate floor general – Aaron Craft with a jump shot. And honestly, Aaron Craft with one hell of a better supporting cast. This group seems to be playing with a chip on its shoulder, a team committed to righting the self-committed wrong of an early exit from last year’s party. They’re not perfect. Freshman Stanley Johnson, even with his numerous physical gifts, is still raw and offensively inconsistent. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a terrific defender and fantastic in transition, but he is also a jumper shy of becoming a complete player. The other bigs can alternate between hot and cold, sometimes even within the same game. But for all the problems they have had with zone defenses, Arizona has likely seen the last of a team spending a big chunk of time doing anything but playing man-to-man. This party animal has a chance to continue deep into the night.

And then there’s Utah. They’ve been somewhat erratic this year. At times we’ve loved them. At times we’ve been ready to count them out. But they’re still dancing, and good god, do they have some great moves. If there is a recipe to beating Utah’s next opponent, Duke, it involves a few of the Utes’ main ingredients. First, size — like, for instance, a trio of centers in the seven-foot range. Then there is great defense — the Utes certainly have the ability to turn up the D. And lastly, the key ingredient is senior point guard Delon Wright. Duke has had issues with quick, athletic, penetrating point guards, and Wright is definitely that kind of player. He’s also got plenty of size, something that could come in handy against the Blue Devils’ relatively small guards. The Utes showed their mettle in handling a tough one/two combination of Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown this week, but so far they’ve really only done roughly what they were supposed to do. For the Utes to turn this season from a pleasant expectation-meeting season into a great season which fans will remember for a decade or more, Wright needs to play up to his potential and drag the rest of the supporting cast along with him. This is a very reasonable possibility.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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