In March, this is what you talk about. Dominating sports pages, front pages, and even the Wall Street Journal, the NCAA tournament is impossible to ignore. Everyone, from everyday basketball fans and alums to presidents fills out a bracket. Everyone also offers their two cents, explaining who will win and why. Well, now that we’ve finally reached the Sweet Sixteen, I’ll take a crack at it. Here’s a short little breakdown of tonight’s games:
Butler vs Syracuse
Butler has had an amazing year. Starting the season in the top 10, going undefeated in conference, and winning every game they “should win”, it has been quite a ride. They have good balance and play really well together. That being said, the mid-major’s great ride will come to an end tonight.
To me, Syracuse is the best team in the tournament. They are athletic. They shoot. They share. They have size. And more than anything else, they play a unique defense and play it really well. Despite not having Arinze Onuaku to anchor the middle, the Orange still have the size and depth making them very difficult to beat.
For Butler to win, they need to shoot well. They have a lot of three point shooters, but it will be even more important tonight because the length of Syracuse’s zone will bother smaller Butler guards from scoring on the interior. Butler is too good, too experienced to be blown out, but Syracuse will dominate this game.
Final: Syracuse 74- Butler 61
Side note: Butler continues to dominate the Horizon conference. Don’t you think it would be good for them to join a more competitive league… say the Missouri Valley? Even though the odds of this actually occurring are slim to none, hear me out. Butler is a small private school with a strong academic background, very similar to Drake and Creighton. So the other Bulldogs fit from a size standpoint. What is the major sport of the Valley? Basketball. Butler fits. Location? The Valley already boasts Indiana State and Evansville in Indiana, traveling a little further north and west to Indianapolis would hardly be a deterrent.
Butler also provides a larger media market, with what would be come the largest city in the conference. For Butler, this would offer better opponents, better exposure, and a meaningful conference tournament. Rather than strolling through conference, the other Bulldogs would be challenged every night, a better deal for fans and the players. So that means the Valley would have to expand to 11 teams or boot a current school. Evansville anyone? The Purple Aces are the smallest school in the conference and continue to struggle against the level of competition. Would they not be better served in the Horizon if traded straight up for Butler? I vote yes. Plus, both schools reside in Indiana, meaning it wouldn’t be a stretch. Oh, and Butler was a Valley member from 1932-1934. Just saying…
Washington vs West Virginia
There’s a lot of intrigue in the matchup. West Virginia is a deep, talented team that can beat you a lot of different ways. But, U Dub is athletic and hot. The early conference season was not kind to the Huskies despite lofty preseason expectations. Hitting their stride at the perfect time and winning 14 of 16, they have a great chance to be rare double digit seed in the Elite Eight.
West Virginia needs to deliver one of their best performances of the year to fend off the upset-minded Huskies. Losing point guard Darryl Bryant probably hurts more than many think, but opens the door for Joe Mazzulla to prove himself on the game’s biggest stage. If the 6’2″ can repeat his performance from the Big East tournament championship against Georgetown (6 pts, 2 rebs, 7 assts, 0 turns) then look out. However, if he struggles early WVU could struggle to find their rhythm for a full 40 minutes.
I pick WVU to win because of size, interior scoring and talent, but look out Mountaineer fans, this will be a bumpy ride. This is gonna be a fun one.
Final: WVU 83 – UWash 81
Cornell vs Kentucky
I was shocked by Cornell’s 18-point shellacking of Wisconsin, but see this as the end for the Big Red. To win, Cornell needs to build a 5-point lead in the first five minutes. Period. This team can play from ahead with their deliberate style. But, if Kentucky gets up early and Cornell is forced into more of an open floor game, look out.
Kentucky is too athletic and too talented to lose to a team like Cornell. They are deep and surprisingly play well together. Despite what many say about John Calipari, he again has proved to be a master motivator at the college level. John Wall may be the most unstoppable player in this tournament. Look for him to push the tempo and make life miserable for Cornell.
Final 1 (Kentucky gets off to a fast start): Kentucky 80- Cornell 60
Final 2 (Cornell ahead by 5 after 5 min): Kentucky 70 – Cornell 59
Xavier vs Kansas State
Despite two tough wins in the tournament so far, Xavier is an enigma. The talent, athleticism, and size are all there. They’ve proven they can beat the best, but are also very inconsistent. Star play Jordan Crawford averages 20 per game, but is very capable of laying an egg. He’s a great player but can detract from his team’s success. He takes bad shots and takes Xavier out of their offense. If he’s hot, Xavier is as good as anyone, if he’s not it could be like playing at Dayton all over again.
Even though they somehow lost to Iowa State at home (seriously, thats a bad loss, sorry ISU fans), Kansas State has great balance and is built to win in the tourney. Frank Martin’s aggressive personality ensures his team will be up to the challenge. Look for the Wildcats to be physical with Crawford and frustrate him from start to finish. I like KSU.
Final: Xavier 75 – KSU 82