Thursday, March 27, 2003


After three long painful days off, the NCAA Tournament resumes today. Since I failed to recap the first weekend results, I've decided to preview the Sweet Sixteen games and include my assessment of the tourney thus far. We'll start with today's games.


[5] Wisconsin (24-7) vs. [1] Kentucky (31-3)
7:10 PM ET Minneapolis, MN

The Kentucky Wildcats have carried their regular season and conference tournament dominance right into The Big Dance. It's been so long since they lost, they have a lot of people believing they may be unbeatable. This is a team that went undefeated in SEC play during the year, plays unselfish basketball, has a nice inside-outside balance and a reliable go-to player in Keith Bogans, and boasts the stingiest defense in the nation. Maybe they are unbeatable.

Wisconsin showed some serious survival skills by coming away with a second round victory against Tulsa. A bounce here, a bounce there, and it very well could have been Tulsa playing against Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, after they took out Dayton, a weak four seed in the first round. Wisconsin played a solid game in round one against Weber State, a dangerous team that knows how to pull off first round shockers, upsetting Michigan State in 1995 and North Carolina in 1999. As usual, the Badgers play great defense, but they've also been very aggressive on offense, frequently taking the ball to the hole.

Because both teams play such good defense, this one should be close for awhile. But I expect Kentucky to pull away and win fairly easily to claim their rightful spot in the Elite 8.

Pick: Kentucky

[3] Marquette (25-5) vs. [2] Pittsburgh (28-4)
9:30 PM ET Minneapolis, MN

As a number three seed, the Marquette Golden Eagles were favored to reach the round of 16. Despite that, I don't think a lot of people expected to see them here. They played a tight first round game against upset-minded Holy Cross and survived, then needed overtime to beat Missouri in the second round. In the overtime, the basketball nation got a chance to see why Marquette is a special team. Coach Tom Crean drew up some smart plays and the Golden Eagles executed them to perfection, hitting all of their shots in the overtime period to finally put some distance between them and the pesky Missouri Tigers. Travis Diener has been sensational shooting the ball in the tournament thus far, and Marquette has one of the best players in the country in Dwayne Wade.

I really think Pittsburgh got shafted in this tournament. I believe by winning the Big East and hovering around the top five all season long, they deserved to land a number one seed and stay home to play in the East. Instead, they were completely disrespected by being given a number two and placed in the same region as tourney favorite Kentucky. So far, the Panthers have wiped out Wagner by 26 points and blown out Indiana by 22. They' held six of their last seven opponents under 60 points, giving up 61 to Wagner in the opening round. Pitt's defense just may be as good as Kentucky's. And they have size and speed.

Both of these teams have something to prove and because of that, I think this is going to be a great game. It's a tough one to call, but I'm going to go with Pittsburgh to pull it out and set up an outstanding matchup with Kentucky in the Regional Final.

Pick: Pittsburgh


[5] Notre Dame (24-9) vs. [1] Arizona (27-3)
7:27 PM ET Anaheim, CA

The Fighting Irish are lucky to be in the Sweet Sixteen. Wisconsin-Milwaukee had a great chance to win that game, getting a shot from the paint to win it, but as their coach Bruce Pearl said, "The ball just didn't go in." Hence, the fifth-seeded Irish avoided losing to the twelfth-seeded Panthers and moved on to the second round. There, they controlled the game against Big Ten tournament winner and weak four seed Ilinois and came away with a 68-60 victory to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in 16 years. Chris Thomas is the heart and soul of the team and Torin Francis has rebounded the ball extremely well in their first two games, but Notre Dame relies on the outside shot to win games. If their shots aren't falling, this game could get ugly.

Arizona is also lucky to be in the Sweet Sixteen. In the best game of the tournament so far, the Wildcats outlasted Gonzaga in double overtime in their second round game. Both teams showed tremendous heart in a game that felt very similar to a heavyweight fight, and Arizona has got to be feeling as if they have a shot at the title after coming away with a victory. Gonzaga outmuscled Arizona and continuously beat them to the offensive boards. Arizona is stacked with Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, and Channing Frye. Notre Dame doesn't seem to possess the weapons to give them a war like Gonzaga did.

Notre Dame should be pleased that they made it this far, because it doesn't look like they're going any further. It could be close if the Irish are hitting the three-ball, otherwise Arizona should win comfortably.

Pick: Arizona

[3] Duke (26-6) vs. [2] Kansas (27-7)
9:50 PM ET Anaheim, CA

The Blue Devils are coming off what might be their best performance of the season. They shot 62% from the field and did everything right in demolishing Central Michigan 86-60 in the second round. Central Michigan had upset Creighton, the number six seed, soundly in their opening round game, but couldn't keep up with the hot-shooting Dukies. However, their big man, sever-footer Chris Kaman had 25 points and 10 rebounds against Duke and looks like he should be a pretty good NBA player. Duke struggled in their opening round game against Colorado State, but this team seemed to grow up against Central Michigan. Dahntay Jones and Chris Duhon bring a lot of big-game experience, but other than that, this is a young team. I think freshman J.J. Redick may be the X-factor in getting past Kansas. He seems to ignite Duke's offense with his shooting, and man, can he shoot. When he squares up his shoulders to the basket, it's like radar lock. Count it. If he knocks down some trifectas and gives them momentum at key points in the game, this young Duke team could find itself in the Elite 8.

The Kansas Jayhawks badly want another shot at Arizona. In a late-January game in Kansas, the Jayhawks were killing Arizona until the second half started. Arizona came all the way back to win that game and proceeded to go on a long winning streak. But before Kansas can get their rematch, they have to beat Duke. No small task. Kansas was tested in the first round, holding on to beat Utah State by three points. But they looked great in a thirty-two point blowout of Arizona State in the second round. This is obviously a very talented basketball team that went to the Final Four last year and could do it again, but they seem to be prone to lapses in concentration. Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich are going to have to play well for the Jayhawks to win this game. If those two don't show up, Kansas won't be getting their rematch with Arizona.

This is the tourney at it's best. Duke against Kansas to potentially play Arizona for a trip to the Final Four. Kansas might have the edge in talent. Duke is a little deeper and they have Coach K. I'm not really sure who wins. I'm going to go with Kansas because of the bloodlust factor. They're out for revenge against Duke and Arizona.

Pick: Kansas

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