We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend. Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.
- The Honda Center Has a Great Regional This Year
New Favorite: #1 Duke, 32-4. Duke was the original favorite, and they’re still the favorite. And with the addition of Kyrie Irving since the last time we spoke, they’re even more of a favorite, even if the freshman point guard is clearly not back to the level he was at prior to his injury. With Nolan Smith on the top of his game, Kyle Singler ready to do whatever he’s asked to do for the team, and a variety of role players ready to fill in around the edges, the Blue Devils remain the team to beat.
Horse of Darkness: #2 San Diego State, 34-2. When, exactly, can a team that is a #2 seed, with a top-10 national ranking and a 34-2 record be considered an underdog? Well, when that team has won two NCAA Tournament games in its history and is in a regional with three teams that have won a combined 183 games in the Tournament, including 22 Final Four appearances and seven championships. Throw in the timidity with which the Aztecs played down the stretch in their third round double-overtime victory over Temple, and despite SDSU’s prodigious talent, they’re a pretty significant underdog in this region.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #5 Arizona, 29-7. Well, given the Wildcats are the only team in the region to outperform their seed to this point, they’re the obvious choice. But even more surprising is how they got here, advancing to the Sweet 16 with a one-point win over Texas in a game where All-American candidate Derrick Williams had one of his worst games of the season, hitting just four-of-14 field goals, missing an additional six free throws (although he did get to the line 15 times), turning the ball over four times and fighting through some second half foul trouble. But other Wildcats stepped up, sophomore Solomon Hill and freshman Jordin Mayes in particular, and the Longhorns stepped aside, and Sean Miller’s club is still alive.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): San Diego State. The more I think about it, the Aztecs are the only choice here. Duke’s first weekend was somewhat unexpected from the start, once it was announced that Irving would return, and their closer-than-expected win over Michigan was another bit of a surprise. Connecticut surprised a bit by showing no signs of slowing down after a grueling Big East Tournament, destroying Bucknell before pulling away from Cincinnati late. And we talked about Arizona above. By comparison, it wasn’t all that big of a surprise that the Aztecs, with no history of success in the NCAA Tournament, might falter a bit in closing out a good team. And the fact that they got through that game anyway is just about what we expected.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: If you listened to me, you set aside a block of time on Friday afternoon to focus on Arizona and Memphis, and you were rewarded with an excellent game that had a little bit of everything you could want in a NCAA Tournament game, with the underdog getting out to an early lead, the favorite making a big charge to get back into it, and a back-and-forth, edge-of-your-seat battle down the stretch, ended by a great player making a great play in the waning moments. And the fact that it was not without a little bit of controversy is all the better.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: Like taking Oakland as a Sweet 16 sleeper. While the Grizzlies played Texas close enough to make it interesting, they just didn’t have the ability to keep the Longhorns from scoring at will against their defense.
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