With the next games coming on Thursday (we don’t count the NIT or CBI), we figured you might want a preview. Since we have more than the usual 4 hours between games and sleep that we usually have before games the first week, we can offer you a little better preview. That doesn’t mean we will do any better with our admittedly awful predictions, but they will be more in-depth. I’ll cover the East Region first with the West Region to come later today and the Midwest/South tomorrow so check back later for our thoughts on the games.
– #1 UNC vs. #4 Washington State (7:27 PM): This game should be a battle of contrasting styles. During the first two rounds, no team has been as impressive offensively as the Tar Heels have been (scoring 113 and 108 points). On the other side of the ball, no team has been as impressive defensively as the Cougars have been (allowing 40 and 41 points).
Normally, we would argue that the team who wants to slow the game down could control the pace and consequently the game. However, the Tar Heels have looked unbelievable in the first two rounds. They appear fresh and may be coming together at the right time. Tyler Hansbrough is pretty much a guaranteed 20/10 at this point and Ty Lawson appears to be getting close to 100% (0 turnovers the first weekend). If the Tar Heels have a (relative) weakness, it is that they don’t have a lot of great shooters. Wayne Ellington can certainly fill it up from the outside, but if he is off they do not another reliable shooter. Given the Tar Heels other strengths (including the ability to play defense as shown at the end of the game at Cameron), they can usually make up for it, but they are vulnerable if another team is hitting from the outside.
We would really like this Washington State team to advance to the Final 4 if they were in any other region. If they are to advance to the Elite 8, they will need solid defense and hope that Aron Baynes and the other inside players can find a way to slow Hansbrough and company down. On top of that, they will also need to be hitting their outside shot because UNC will dominate them on the inside even if they do a good job. Fortunately for the Cougars, they have 3 excellent perimeter players who all shoot over 38% from 3. Tony Bennett will need big games out of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Taylor Rochestie to pull off the upset.
Opening Line: UNC -7.5 (O/U 142.5)
Prediction: Tar Heels by 10+. The Cougars have played well so far, but the Tar Heels are on a completely different level than Winthrop or Notre Dame. I think Washington State will keep it close for most of the first half, but the Tar Heels will start to pull away just before half and cruise in the rest of the way. A lot of the “experts” have been telling everyone who will listen that they think the Cougars can beat UNC, but I just don’t see it happening. Of course, you can look at my predictions from last week and draw your own conclusions. . .
– #2 Tennessee vs. #3 Louisville (9:57 PM): In my opinion this is the most interesting of the Sweet 16 games. Tennessee has been one of the top teams in the nation all season and in my opinion is/was the top #2 seed in the tournament. Louisville was one of the hottest teams in the country late in the season. Both teams would be legitimate Final 4 threats in any region and against any team. Obviously, potentially having to beat the Tar Heels in Charlotte will be a very tall task. Before they do that, they need to get by each other (and UNC has to win to, but we’re assuming that as almost a given with how good UNC looked last weekend).
While the mainstream media has had fun hyping this up as Rick Pitino in his Colonel Sanders suit versus Bruce Pearl in his orange blazer, the more important point is that they both have really good teams. The Cardinals have done an excellent job rebounding from a shaky early season start when they were slowed by injuries. While David Padgett is their “star” player, it is more of a committee of stars as 4 players average between 10.5 and 11.4 PPG and that isn’t counting the more well-known players like Edgar Sosa, Derrick Caracter, and Juan Palacios. However, the Cardinals calling card may be their defense that holds opposing teams to a meager 38.2% FG (6th in the nation).
The Cardinals will need that strong defense against the Volunteers, who are one of the most athletic teams in the nation averaging 82.5 PPG. While Tennessee doesn’t have a traditional low-post presence, they have plenty of guys who can get to the rim and finish. The Vols are led by preseason All-American Chris Lofton, who to be perfectly honest never really displayed the national POY level of play that he was predicted to provide before the season began as his numbers are down across the board most notably scoring from 20.8 PPG on 1.51 PPS (points per shot) down to 15.5 PPG on 1.32 PPS, a career low. However, he has picked up a lot of additional support from transfer Tyler Smith who averages 13.7 PPG and 6.8 RPG, who is as close to a low-post presence that Bruce Pearl has. With how good Pitino’s 2-3 zone has been, Pearl will need Lofton and JaJuan Smith to hit their outside shots. If they start hitting from 3, I wonder how long Pitino will wait before going man-to-man. One area of major concern for the Vols is their point guard play, which has been spotty at best lately.
Opening Line: Louisville -2.
It looks like Vegas isn’t giving the higher-seeded Volunteers any love. Neither will I. The Vols had a tough 2nd round game against Butler (a team that was much better than its #7 seed), but I just can’t shake the feeling that the Vols just haven’t raised their game to a March level quite like the other teams have. Of course, Bruce Pearl’s boys could come out and drop 100 on Pitino, but I just don’t see it happening. I’m going with Louisville in a close game (less than 5 pt victory).