Who Says the South Only Cares About Football?

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2009

The NCAA is starting to scare us a little bit with the news today that the Final Four will be held in warm-weather venues from 2011-13.  Surely they don’t expect us to stay in our rooms during the interminable wait from F4 Saturday night to Monday night’s championship.  Don’t they know that basketball is a cold-weather sport?  That you should see your breath as you huddle outside the arena waiting to get inside, where the scents of metallic air ducts mix with wet clothing and hot dogs in an olfactory orgy of late winter sensations?    Where’s my Minneapolis, my Detroit, my St. Louis?  No, now we’ll actually be forced to enjoy some early April outdoor air in three fun cities where 70s and 80s (before the oppresssive summer humidity hits) are common that time of year.  This means that you, the readers of this site, will pay for our folly.  We’re not happy with you, NCAA. 

The 2010 Final Four is in Indianapolis, IN.  Here’s the list for the next four years…  make your travel plans now.

Which Venue Will You Attend?  (photo credit: NCAA.org)
Which Venue Will You Attend? (photo credit: NCAA.org)

2010 NCAA Tournament

  • F4 – Indianapolis, IN
  • Regionals - Syracuse, NY (East); Houston, TX (South); St. Louis, MO (Midwest); Salt Lake City, UT (West).
  • Sub-Regionals – Providence, RI; Buffalo, NY; Jacksonville, FL; New Orleans, LA; Oklahoma City, OK; Milwaukee, WI; San Jose, CA; Spokane, WA.

2011 NCAA Tournament

  • F4 – Houston, TX
  • Regionals - Newark, NJ (East); New Orleans, LA (South); San Antonio, TX (Southwest); Anaheim, CA (West).
  • Sub-Regionals – Tulsa, OK; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Tampa, FL; Tucson, AZ; Washington, DC.

2012 NCAA Tournament

  • F4 – New Orleans, LA
  • Regionals - Boston, MA (East); Atlanta, GA (South); St. Louis, MO (Midwest); Phoenix, AZ (West).
  • Sub-Regionals – Albuquerque, NM; Columbus, OH; Greensboro, NC; Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; Omaha, NE; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR.

2013 NCAA Tournament

  • F4 – Atlanta, GA
  • Regionals - TBD (East); Arlington, TX (South); Indianapolis, IN (Midwest); Los Angeles, CA (West).
  • Sub-Regionals – Dayton, OH; Auburn Hills, MI; Lexington, KY; Salt Lake City, UT; San Jose, CA; Austin, TX; Kansas City, MO; Philadelphia, PA.

A few quick reflections on the next four years of March Madness venues:

  • ACC fans who bellow from the mountaintops that Duke and UNC always “get to play at home” in the first two rounds (we’re also guilty of this) and/or the regionals won’t have much to complain about the next four Tourneys.  There are two subregional sites (Charlotte in 2011; Greensboro in 2012) within the friendly confines of North Carolina, but a grand total of zero regionals and certainly not a F4. 
  • On the flip side, the West Regional looks EXTREMELY friendly to a certain blue/gold team from SoCal, with locations in Anaheim in 2011 (34 miles), Phoenix in 2012 (368 miles) and downtown LA in 2013 (11 miles).  Egads. 
  • We can’t recall the last time an NCAA Tournament game was in Louisville, and we always wondered why Freedom Hall stopped doing it.  Good to see the River City back on the list with its planned new 22k-seat arena. 
  • What’s with the NCAA renaming a region the “Southwest” Regional for one year only (San Antonio: 2011)?  Regardless of that, you can’t tell us that Rick Barnes hasn’t already circled the Tulsa/San Antonio/Houston pathway in his Iphone calendar as something to shoot for. 
  • Newark (2011 East Regional), really?  Looks like Cory Booker’s doing better than we thought there. 
  • Other than that, mostly the usual suspects.  We all know that it doesn’t really matter where the games are played – they’ll be exciting regardless.
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Sweetest NCAA Memories #2: The Open Road Leads to the Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2009

memories

RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory,  something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today.  Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month.  We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

Roadtrippin’ to the Alamo City  (submitted by John Stevens)

March 1998.
 
98-ncaa-f4-logo
I was living with two friends at the time in an apartment befitting three guys in various stages of their education: one of us a few years out of college and still not playing it too fast and loose with his new income, most of which was being put toward his upcoming wedding; another fellow who was finding no stimulation in graduate school and was looking to upgrade his life; and me, breezing through the last two easy months before my college graduation, working enough at my cake-walk part-time job to keep me in pizza, beer, and the occasional night out (which usually involved pizza and beer).
 
It was also tournament time.  Our favorite time of year.  Feeling the wanderlust that an emerging springtime brings, my grad-school roommate and I decided that instead of watching our favorite event on TV as we’d done for most of the previous two weeks, we’d empty our bank accounts and take a road trip to one of the regionals — say, given the snow outside our window in mid-March, the one in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Not exactly a tough sell.  Turned out to be one of the best road trips I ever took.
 
Until the next week.
These F4 Fans Weren't As Lucky

These F4 Fans Weren't As Lucky As John

 
We got home from St. Pete and were going through several days of unopened mail when I noticed an envelope bearing the emblem of my college.  Specifically, the Office of Billing and Financial Aid.  99 times out of 100, that means a bill.  Not exactly something I wanted, having just blown a wad of cash to travel to an NCAA regional.  It was about as welcome as a positive syphilis test.
 
But wait, what was this?  Weeeeell, evidently some of the grant money awarded me many months ago never found its way to my account, so now that the mistake had been found, a check had been cut for me in the amount of $1500.  My buddy and I had just spent the last half hour reminiscing on what a great road trip we’d just had, but still sad because we didn’t know when our next one would be.  When I opened that envelope and saw that check, I looked at my friend and told him, “Don’t bother unpacking.  We’re going to the Final Four.”
 
He said he couldn’t part with the cash needed for such a trip, but I reminded him that I owed him a few hundred bucks from a previous debt and that we’d sort out the rest later.  To his credit, it didn’t take much persuading. The Final Four that year was in San Antonio, a city I’d heard too many great things about, so there was no way I was going to defy fate and pass up this opportunity.  I’d never been to Texas, never even been anywhere near that part of the country.  And it’s one of my favorite things to do any time of the year, but as the weather gets warm, is there anything better than packing up a bag and a cooler and hitting the open road with a friend? 

(photo credt:  interstate-guide.com)

Three days later, we were doing exactly that.  We bought tickets from a newspaper ad, left in the middle of the night, and drove for hours and hours.  Nothing on the radio but people talking Final Four basketball.  Constant analysis, endless interviews with coaches, former players, etc.  The farther south we drove, the warmer it got.  We started out wearing sweaters and jeans, and in a few hours we were in t-shirts, shorts and sunglasses.  It was one of the ugliest drives I’d ever been a part of.  It involved two dudes who reeked from being in a car too long.  But in its own way, it was paradise.
 
We found living quarters (we thought we were going to be shacking as far away as Austin, but avoided that thanks to the generosity of my buddy’s family) and went to find the epicenter of activity for the weekend.  We found the San Antonio Riverwalk by following the noise of the crowd, the sounds of  mariachis doing  renditions of college fight songs, and, um, Dick Vitale’s voice.  Every once in a while as you walked this gorgeous underground pedestrian street along the banks of the San Antonio River, you’d see groups of tourists floating by on large rafts, looking back at the walkers who were looking at them.  Sometimes the raft drifting by you would contain a school’s cheerleading or dance team squad, or part of its band, or the CBS studio crew (if Bill Raftery’s big smiling mug floating by on a raft doesn’t bring a smile to your own face, you need to visit your local neurologist, because you are officially incapable of smiling), and so on.  The biggest crowd response always happened when Dickie V would come floating by, waving and gesturing to the masses like a big kid.  I mean, my God, he’s been doing this for how many years?  And there’s not a doubt in my mind — he was still having as much fun as we were.

(photo credit:  c21unitedgroup.com)

We made our way to the Fan Jam and just owned the two-on-two shootout for a while, calling ourselves The Shammgods — the insiders applauded the name, much respect — and scoring many notable (and even upset) victories, including a single-shot victory over a couple of prepsters from NYC and an absolute trouncing of two cocky 14-year olds from Tennessee.  In our eighth — that’s right, you heard me, eighth — game I hit a cold streak and a couple of local college kids got the better of us; I still relive this cold streak in my mind every so often and the blood still boils.  We considered it an upset on the level of ’85 Villanova, but at that point I think we were such big favorites in Vegas, it wasn’t worth it any more.  We met former College of Charleston coach John Kresse who actually took a few moments from strolling with his wife to talk hoops and take pictures with us.  Near the ESPN set, we bumped into Steve Lavin who acted like he didn’t see or hear about our exploits at the two-on-two shootout; both of those guys couldn’t have been nicer.  It wasn’t just celebrity-sighting — when talking college basketball with them, they weren’t celebrities any more, just regular guys talking about the thing they love the most.
 
We all know the games from that particular Final Four were fantastic, no matter for whom you were rooting – Kentucky, Utah, UNC or Stanford.  There’s simply no way to describe the atmosphere at a Final Four game.  The best comparison I can think of is watching the end of a Pink Floyd concert when they’re doing the last number (Run Like Hell) and there are pyrotechnics and lasers like you never imagined and the stage is basically on fire.  Imagine that over three days of basketball.  The fireworks are constantly taking place on the basketball floor, and the energy and emotion of the crowd is every bit as urgent and electric. 

The Alamodome Has Hosted Several F4s
The Alamodome Has Hosted Several F4s

I had fallen in love with college basketball long before this road trip.  Even though I never possessed the skill to play it at that level, the sport has been a favorite distraction of mine ever since I’ve had functioning neurons in my brain.  But watching those games at the Alamodome and being part of the overall atmosphere of the Final Four that year… well, it was one of those few watershed times in a person’s life, like when you hear a piece of music or meet a person you know from the first nanosecond will always be part of your existence.  My friend and I drove the 20+ hours back to the humdrum rhythm of our everyday lives, and as I walked around my campus and worked at my job I saw people who probably once had similar watershed moments in their lives, but whose realities had become relegated to the process of just getting through the days, just surviving things — whatever those sticky, sinister things were.  Those were the days when I looked back on my trip as I looked at these people, and I decided — I will never fall victim to those things.  Whatever it entails, as often as I possibly can, I’ll always go to be a part of that event.  I will always have this in my life.

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Final 4 Preview: UCLA-Memphis & UNC-Kansas

Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2008

UCLA vs. Memphis (6:07 PM): Coming into the tournament UCLA was picked by most analysts to win the championship, but after close games in the 2nd round and Sweet 16 several pundits (including your favorite college basketball blogger) wrote them off. The Bruins responded with what may have been their best performance of the year, a 76-57 beatdown of #3 seed Xavier. While super-frosh Kevin Love has given them consistent performances throughout the tournament (hence the West Regional MOP designation), the rest of the team has been up-and-down. The one thing that has carried this team has been that they play great D the entire 40 minutes. However, if the Bruins want to cut down the nets on Monday in San Antonio Ben Howland’s crew will need solid performances out of Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp, who has played poorly in 6 of his last 7 games.

On the other side, Memphis was getting ripped apart by every analyst the entire season for their poor free throw shooting heading into the Sweet 16. It’s true that nobody will confuse the Tigers for a bunch of J.J. Redicks at the free throw line, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re up 50-20 at half (on Michigan State). The Tigers followed up that massacre with a demolition of #2 seed Texas, who was playing a virtual home game in Houston. In that game, Derrick Rose established himself as the premier point guard in college as he totally dominated 1st team All-American D.J. Augustin. Despite all the athleticism this team has, Rose is really the catalyst for everything and that’s certainly saying something on a team that features C-USA POY and 1st team All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts. However, the key for Memphis may be Joey Dorsey who has a penchant for picking up quick fouls (note: Final 4 games tend to be officiated closely; see last year’s semi where Oden and Hibbert barely played in the first half). If Dorsey can avoid foul trouble, he will be a force inside. If he gets in foul trouble, the Tigers will have to rely on Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggert. (Fortunately for Dorsey, there is nobody left in the tournament who can dominate Dorsey on the inside if he decides to run his mouth like he did last year before playing Greg Oden.)

This is the part where I normally would feature the key matchup, but in this case there are just so many interesting matchups: Derrick Rose vs. Darren Collison; Chris Douglas-Roberts vs. Russell Westbrook/Josh Shipp; and Joey Dorsey vs. Kevin Love.

- Rose vs. Collison: Collison is an outstanding college PG, but he’s out of his league here. We all saw what Rose did to Augustin and Texas. He’s just at a different level than any of the PGs in college. While he can get a little out of control at times, his physical skills (size, speed, and strength) would put him near the top of NBA PGs in those categories, which means he’s a nightmare match-up for almost any PG. In addition to this, Rose has shown that he can hit the outside shot and create havoc defensively because of his physical skills. Rose will have to watch out for Collison’s outside shot because he shoots a high percentage even if he doesn’t pull the trigger that often. If Rose is making his jump shot, he’s basically unguardable and could dominate this game. If he does, Ben Howland may have to switch things up and put Westbrook on him. I don’t think it will matter. Advantage: Rose.

- Douglas-Roberts vs. Westbrook/Shipp: This will be an interesting match-up as it features several really athletic players. Douglas-Roberts usuallly has a big edge in almost any match-up, but I think that the UCLA guards have the length and athleticism to bother him. I think Shipp will spend most of the night against CDR, but UCLA might use Westbrook on him occassionally. Westbrook is one of the most athletic players in the country, but CDR’s 4″ height advantage and long arms might be too much for Westbrook to overcome. The key to this match-up is whether Shipp can score. If he does, this match-up might shift more towards a neutral decision, but he hasn’t done it lately and that’s what we’re going with. Advantage: Douglas-Roberts.

- Dorsey vs. Love: This will be a battle of contrasting styles as Dorsey is more of a bruiser in the paint while Love has an excellent all-around game. There is no question as to who will “win” this match-up in terms of the box score and individual match-up. The big question is whether Love will get Dorsey in foul trouble early taking him out of the paint to open up the basket to UCLA’s perimeter players’ drives. Advantage: Love.

The real key to this game is the pace. If Memphis can turn this into a running game in the 70s or 80s, they should win. If UCLA can keep it in the 50s, it will probably come down to free throws and. . .well you’ve heard it a million times in the past month.

Opening Line: Memphis -1.
Prediction: As we said, this game will likely decided by the pace of the game. Everyone likes to talk about the Bruins’ defense, but the key may be the Tigers’ defense. While they are more known for their athleticism and dribble-drive motion offense, the Tigers can play phenomenal defense. If you need evidence, ask Tom Izzo about the first half of their Sweet 16 game when the Spartans looked terrified to bring the ball up the court. The Tigers use their athleticism to put a lot of pressure on the dribbler and fill passing lanes. Collison and Westbrook will be pressured all night, but should provide more resistance than Michigan State or Texas provided. It will be interesting to see how UCLA utilizes Love and his ability to throw the outlet pass to try and avoid this pressure. In the end, I just think Memphis is playing on a different level than the Bruins right now. This all depends on whether the Tigers can carry over their momentum from Houston to San Antonio. I’m going with Memphis pulling away midway through the 2nd half to win by 5 as they hit enough free throws at the end to advance to the championship game to face the winner of. . .

Kansas vs. North Carolina (8:47 PM): The juicy and delicious backstory to this game is ol’ dadgummit Roy coaching UNC for the first time against his former employer Kansas. Although Roy didn’t recruit or coach any of the current players on the KU roster, there are still numerous friends and acquaintances associated with the program who remain stung by Huckleberry Hound’s quick 180 from not giving a sheit about Carolina to taking the job one week later. Naturally, we tend to side with the KU boosters when they rail on Roy because it’s true – he can’t have it both ways. Like Pitino when he took the job at Louisville, you dance with the devil you came with, and both of these gentlemen made professional decisions that they undoubtedly knew would lead to their sanctified statuses at KU and UK being called into question.

So what does this mean for tomorrow’s game between a bunch of players who were all in high school when Roy Williams alighted for Tarheel blue? Not much. We expect that the Kansas players know how much this game means to its fans, and they might come out a little stronger than they otherwise would have, but in terms of the effects on the game over forty minutes, we don’t see it mattering all that much. As always, it comes down to the matchups.

In looking at the numbers and the talent on the floor at positions 1-5, it’s difficult not to like Kansas. Their offensive and defensive efficiency are both in the top five in the nation. Their scoring balance creates a conundrum (whom to stop?) for a defensively-challenged UNC team, as four starters average between 12.7 and 13.1 ppg. And their experience (2 srs, 2 jrs, 1 soph in the starting five) also trumps the younger Heels (2 jrs, 3 sophs).

The player by player matchups tell a slightly different story, though. On the perimeter, we love the way that Kansas guard Mario Chalmers and forward Brandon Rush have been playing, but nobody in college basketball has the quickness and wherewithal to stay with UNC’s Ty Lawson when he ignites the engine on fast breaks. The x-factor we see in the backcourt is Carolina’s Wayne Ellington. He has a tendency to run hot/cold, but when he’s hitting his outside jumper the Heels are damn near unbeatable. In their only two losses of the year Ellington went 9-30, and KU’s guards must make sure to rotate out on him to eliminate his open looks.

In the post, nothing more needs to be said about Tyler Hansbrough. The way he’s playing right now we’re going to just pencil him in for 25/12 and wonder how Kansas plans to counteract him. The trio of Darrell Arthur, Darnell Robinson and Sasha Kaun collective are talented enough to challenge Hansbrough, but once again, the x-factor will be whether UNC forward Deon Thompson can hit his open looks that will come as a result of triple teams on Hansbrough. Whether x-factors Thompson and Ellington will knock these shots down will go a long way to determining who will ultimately win this game.

Opening Line: UNC -3
Prediction: In our view, this game will be a test of just how good Kansas’ defense actually is. Assuming they let Hansbrough get his numbers, will KU then be able to put the clamps down on everyone else, especially the two x-factors mentioned above – Ellington and Thompson? Should Kansas limit those players to poor shooting nights while also corralling Lawson’s fast break opportunities, then the Jayhawks will have a very good chance and probably should win the game. But this is a weighty task, and we have a feeling that there are too many things that need to happen for Kansas to win this game. Therefore, our prediction is that either Ellington or Thompson will have a good game, Lawson will break free enough times to get some easy points, and the Heels will run away with the game early in the second half, winning by 10+ points. Part of the reason for our assessment here is that we simply think UNC is purring too well right now to be denied, but what most worries us about Kansas is what they exhibited last week against Davidson, the same thing we’ve seen throughout the Bill Self era. KU played tighter than a Promise Keeper’s new wife on their wedding night, and it’s that tendency that is pushing us to lean toward the Heels.

FYI – Vegas Watch has its breakdown of the odds for the F4 games here. Pretty interesting reading, and we’re not a “sharp.”

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Bad break for Rodrick Stewart

Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2008

It looks like Andre Allen won’t be the only senior reserve to miss the Final 4. At the end of the Jayhawks practice session today, several players were attempting dunks. Unfortunately, for KU senior Rodrick Stewart one of his dunk attempts went awry and he fractured his patella.

Sad way to go out. . .

Although the article doesn’t specify if it was just a routine dunk at the end of practice, I really hope he wasn’t trying to show off for the fans attending the practice. Having witnessed the tank job that was the Boston Celtics 2006-2007 season, I can’t help but think back to Tony Allen’s knee injury, which occured well after the whistle had blown.

At that point in the season, the Celtics weren’t going anywhere, but Allen was developing into a solid NBA player. He appears to be recovering from the injury and has contributed at times this year for the Celtics, but his numbers are well off his production before the injury (note: may have something to do with less playing time because the Celtics are slightly better this year). We hope Stewart a speedy and full recovery as the Final 4 would likely have been his last meaningful basketball games (2.8 PPG in 11.6 MPG this year as a senior).

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Chalk City

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2008

It looks like Clark Kellogg will have bragging rights over the CBS Sports studio for the next week as for the first time in the 64+ team era the Final 4 will be composed of all #1s. In the end all four of these #1 seeds definitely seemed to be the best teams in their region.

All Chalk

East: UNC absolutely dominated every game they played. Louisville made it close for a little bit in the 2nd half, but Rick Pitino had no answer for Tyler Hansbrough, who apparently developed a great outside game sometime this year as he started to hit fall-away jumpers against good defense to put the Cardinals away.

West: So we got this game wrong. Out of all the #1 seeds, UCLA appeared to be the most vulnerable during their march to San Antonio. The Bruins looked very beatable between their drubbing of Mississippi Valley State in the 1st round and their beatdown of Xavier in the Elite 8. The one constant for the Bruins during the entire tournament has been Kevin Love, who has made himself several million dollars during this tournament if he decides to leave after this season. While everybody else on the team had at least one horrible game, Love showed up every night and is the reason that UCLA is in the Final 4. This didn’t hurt either.

South: After a shaky game in the 2nd round, Memphis looked like the #1 team in the country. After cruising in during the 2nd half of their win against Michigan State, Memphis dominated Texas in Houston. It seems like almost every analyst had Texas advancing out of this region. I certainly did although I was smart/fickle enough to change my mind and prediction before the Elite 8. Everybody picked on their inability to shoot free throws, but like Shaq they make them when it matters. In the Elite 8, Derrick Rose controlled the game winning the head-to-head match-up against D.J. Augustin ensuring he will be a top 2 pick in the draft if and when he declares (Beasley will be #1 unless a team really needs a PG). They will be a tough match-up for pre-tournament favorite UCLA.

Midwest: After rolling through the first 3 rounds, Kansas finally ran into a challenge in the Elite 8. Davidson put up a great fight, but in the end Kansas just had too much as they dominated the Wildcats on the inside the entire game. Stephen Curry and Brian Barr had great games for the Wildcats, who did a phenomenal job of getting back on defense to prevent Kansas from running the way they like. The Jayhawks took the lead for good on a 3 by Sherron Collins with 6:35 left. Davidson had a chance to win on the last possession, but Stephen Curry made a rare mistake for him in this tournament by taking too much time leaving Jason Richards to attempt a desperation 3 at the buzzer. Tip of the hat to Davidson and Curry who had a great game and tournament. It seemed to me that Curry ran out of gas at the end as he had a great first half, but did not have his usual second half explosion or one of his best shooting days today (4/15 from 3). Congrats to Bill Self for finally getting to the Final 4.

We’ll be back later with a preview of the Final 4 along with some shots at Roy Williams going against his old school Kansas in the late game on Saturday. Check back throughout the week as we’ll be making more posts.

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Elite 8 Preview: UCLA-Xavier & UNC-Louisville

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

- #1 UCLA vs. #3 Xavier (6:40 PM): Both teams are coming off hard-fought victories in the Sweet 16. Xavier obviously was challenged by West Virginia, who took them into OT and may very well have won if Joe Alexander had been able to hit a FT at the end of regulation (81% FT) or not foul out early in OT. The Bruins were challenged by Western Kentucky, who came back from 21 down at half as Tyrone Brazelton scored 31 pts abusing Darren Collison (before Collison fouled out with 5:39 to play). The Bruins held strong at the end and won with big efforts from Kevin Love (29 and 14–no surprise) and James Keefe (18 and 12–huge surprise).

The Bruins can count on a big game from Love who finds a way to get his numbers because he knows where he needs to be. What the Bruins can’t count on is Keefe coming anywhere near those numbers. They need Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp to really step up their games this round. If they can get this inside/outside balance, they should control this game, but they haven’t looked that good since their opening round game against Mississippi Valley State. However, I’m not sure if that was more UCLA or their opponent. In either case, the Bruins haven’t looked like the team that most analysts predicted would cut down the nets in San Antonio.

As noted earlier, Xavier escaped with a win in their Sweet 16 game with Joe Alexander’s mistakes and some clutch 3 point shooting from B.J. Raymond. Even though Josh Duncan dominated the scoring last round, the Muskeeters are usually pretty good at spreading the ball around leading to their extremely balanced scoring averages. It will be interesting to see how they try to match up against Love, Collison, and Westbrook as that may be the key to the game.

Opening Line: UCLA -6.
Prediction: As Kevin Love said after their last game, the Bruins play has been “unacceptable”. I think that on paper (and when they are on) UCLA has all the makings of a championship team with a nice mix of experience, talent, and an inside/outside game. If they’re firing on all cylinders, the Bruins could blow this game wide open like they did in the early part of their Sweet 16 game. Unfortunately for Ben Howland, they have not been able to do that consistently. I think UCLA has have played with fire one too many times and tonight it will catch up with them. I’m going with Xavier in a hard-fought game earning a trip to the Final 4.

- #1 UNC vs. #3 Louisville (9:05 PM): This is probably the best match-up of the weekend on paper. Both teams are absolutely loaded and appear to be playing at their peak. The Tar Heels have been the most dominant team in the tournament so far while the Cardinals have matched them in dominance the past 2 rounds. Both teams absolutely crushed their very capable opponents (Washington State and Tennessee, respectively) on Thursday night.

The Tar Heels’ calling card this season has been their phenomenal offense, but in the last round they showed Tony Bennett’s Cougars that they know how to play a little D too. Offensively, Tyler Hansbrough has been solid if not spectacular although he hasn’t needed to be so far in the tournament. One of the major drivers of the Tar Heels dominance in the tournament has been Ty Lawson who appears to be back near 100%. When he gets in the open court, I’m not sure if anybody can keep up with Lawson. Although those two get all the hype, I think the key to the game for UNC will be if Wayne Ellington can hit from outside. He’s the only great outside shooter that Roy Williams has and his ability to hit from 3 will be very important against Rick Pitino’s 2-3 zone. If he is hitting, Pitino will have a decision to make: let him bomb away or go man-to-man and risk having Psycho T go off.

Louisville is peaking at the perfect time. They made a very good Tennessee team look very bad on Thursday night although the Vols PG issues certainly contributed. They don’t have quite the star power that UNC has, but Pitino’s boys (David Padgett & company) are no slouches. Padgett has a lot of help offensively as the Cardinals have another half dozen guys who can get in double figures on the right night. The key for the Cardinals will be how their defense controls UNC. It will be interesting to see how their press is able to handle Lawson and how their zone matches up against Ellington’s outside shooting.

Opening Line: UNC -5.5.
Prediction: I’m going with the Tar Heels tonight. They’ve been the best team in the country in the first 3 rounds and they weren’t even clicking offensively against Washington State. Louisville has a great team and that line is ridiculously high, but I don’t think Hansbrough will let the Tar Heels lose. He’s had a very good college career so far, but he hasn’t been able to get his team over the hump. This will be a tight game, but I think that Hansbrough will come up big down the stretch giving the Heels the slight edge. The Tar Heels were on the verge of going to the Final 4 before collapsing against Georgetown and I can’t see them letting it happen again. As an added bonus, this sets up a potential national semifinal of Roy Williams versus Kansas. . .(more on that set of Elite 8 games later)

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