– #1 UCLA vs. #12 Western Kentucky (9:40 PM): Already more than one analyst has declared that WKU is going to pull off the monumental upset in this game. And one UCLA blog is seriously tempting the Weauxfgods with its rather brazen mocking of the Hilltoppers’ chances in tonight’s game. (Retracted strikethrough: rtmsf thinks he is the Dennis Miller of the college basketball blog world). So we ask ourselves – is this possible? Could UCLA lose to a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16?
One thing we know for certain is that the Bruins will not score enough points to obliterate the Hilltoppers. The question is whether the Toppers will be able to score enough points to put enough pressure on the Bruins to make something interesting happen. The answer lies in WKU’s backcourt of Courtney Lee (20/5/2) and Tyrone Brazelton (14/3/4), who have collectively averaged 44 PPG in the NCAAs thus far. UCLA’s perimeter defense is notoriously good at shutting players down, but will have their hands full with this pair.
On the other side of the ball, the Bruins have talented guys at every position. While uber-frosh Kevin Love has taken most of the headlines, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Russell Westbrook have provided solid perimeter play to compliment the Pac-10 POY along with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the inside. The Bruins cruised in their first round game, but ran into a stiff challenge in the 2nd round against Texas A&M. In the end, they survived with some timely shooting from Love and a little help from the stripes. One of the concerns for the Bruins is that while their Ben Howland-designed defense has been as good as advertised, they have struggled offensively in the tournament outside of Love and Collison, who combined for 40 of the team’s 51 points versus the Aggies. UCLA is talented enough and this region is weak enough that they probably can get to San Antonio without bringing their “A” game, but eventually they will need more from Shipp and Mbah a Moute, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle.
Opening Line: UCLA -13
Prediction: I think that UCLA will eventually get pissed off at all the press they have gotten for getting away with calls (looking around . . .). This is a really big spread for a Sweet 16 game, but I guess it is a 1 vs. 12 so maybe it isn’t that big of a spread. Maybe Vegas Watch knows what a typical 1-12 spread is although I don’t think it happens that often. Anyways, the Bruins should be too much for the Hilltoppers and advance by double digits pulling away at the end after a hard-fought game. Even if their offense isn’t clicking, their intensity and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball will rattle Western Kentucky.
– #3 Xavier vs. #7 West Virginia (7:10 PM): The Musketeers may be the least heralded #3 seed of all-time and could be considered a mid-major of Cinderella of sorts, but after West Virginia knocked out Duke I’m pretty sure the Mountaineers have enough national goodwill that the crowd won’t be rooting that hard against them.
As I noted in an earlier preview, Xavier throws out a deep lineup with 5 players now averaging between 10.1 and 12.1 PPG to go along with a solid defense. For those that still doubt they are a legit team, I would suggest that you look at their wins over teams from power conferences in the first 2 rounds. Yes, Georgia’s record was mediocre at best, but they were hot coming off their SEC tournament run while Purdue had been a solid team the entire season in the Big 10, which admittedly isn’t having a great year.
West Virginia will counter with Joe Alexander, a rtmsf favorite, and a set of players who have adjusted well to the contrast in styles between current coach Bob Huggins and former coach John Beilein. As anyone who watched this team come from behind to beat #2 seed Duke in the 2nd round knows, Huggins has a nice stable of guys who can really play as they controlled the 2nd half of that game.
Opening Line: Pick ’em
Prediction: I’m going with the A-10 champs. These two teams are pretty evenly matched. Xavier doesn’t have a “star player” like Alexander, but they probably have a little more depth and experience and I’m going with that for the win.