Over the next few days we’ll be previewing the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It will involve less Georgetown talk than we were hoping for, but hey… what can you do?
I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I — yes, the guy in charge of the sports section — have managed to fill out what is probably the worst bracket I’ve ever seen in 12 years of college basketball fandom. I haven’t actually won a pool since 2000 (thank you, Mateen Cleaves), but I usually manage a respectable finish. Nope. Not this year. The guy whose analysis you’re about to read is lurking near the bottom of literally every 2012 NCAA pool he’s entered.
But there is good news: I’m writing about the South. The South is unique in that it is the only region from which my Final Four pick is still alive. Sure, the rest of my bracket is a disaster of nearly unprecedented proportions, but it appears that I sort of know what I’m talking about here. Players to watch, matchup analysis, advice and predictions after the jump.
NO. 1 KENTUCKY VS. NO. 4 INDIANA
If you paid any attention to the college basketball regular season, chances are you heard something about these teams’ first meeting, which occurred at IU’s Assembly Hall in December. Indiana forward Christian Watford did his best Jimmy Chitwood impression, nailing a buzzer-beating three to hand then-unbeaten Kentucky its only loss of the regular season. The Wildcats still spent most of the year atop the national rankings, but the game sent a clear message to the nation: The Hoosiers are back.
So what should we expect in Friday’s game? Look for Indiana to hit Cody Zeller early and often and attempt to get Kentucky star Anthony Davis in foul trouble (the player of the year candidate played only 24 minutes and had 4 fouls in the teams’ December meeting). The ’Cats, meanwhile, will likely look to pressure the Hoosiers — who are missing point guard Verdell Jones III due to injury — into lots of turnovers. If Watford can continue his hot shooting (6-of-8 from long range in this year’s tournament), this will get very, very interesting. I’m standing by Kentucky, my only surviving Final Four pick, but Indiana has proven before that it’s capable of standing up to Calipari & Co.
The Pick: Kentucky, 70-66
NO. 3 BAYLOR VS. NO. 10 XAVIER
While this matchup lacks the dramatic background of Kentucky-Indiana, it could end up being just as exciting. The flashy and talented Bears, led by much-hyped NBA prospect Perry Jones III (yes, there are two unrelated “Jones IIIs” in this region), are the clear favorites. But Xavier has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years — albeit with help from some creative officiating — and senior Tu Holloway can take over a game as effectively as any point guard in the nation.
The game will likely come down to who has a bigger day: Xavier’s speedy guards or Baylor’s athletic bigs? The eye test suggests that Xavier’s bigs won’t be able to keep up with Jones III and frontcourt running mate Quincy Acy (who likes to dunk), but Jones III is notoriously inconsistent and has scored a combined nine points in two tournament games. One potential wild card is sharpshooting Bear Brady Heslip, who has hit the long ball at a 50 percent or better clip in each of his last four games, including a 27-point barrage against Colorado. A similar performance against Xavier could turn an otherwise decent matchup into a laugher quickly.
The Pick: Baylor, 80-68
A final note: To our lucky few readers who still stand to earn money on these games, I
hate you congratulations. But for me — and for many of you, I suspect — coming back to win a pool right now seems about as likely as getting this song out of your head. So accept the fact that your roommate’s girlfriend is going to dominate your pool. Come to terms with Georgetown’s loss. Cheer on the lovable underdogs who’ve made it this far, and marvel at the show the top seeds put on.
This is about the time of year a wise man I once knew would inevitably toss his bracket on the table and declare, “It’s a stupid tournament.” Then he would sit down and enjoy every last minute of it [ed. note: Offer doesn't apply if Butler and UConn play in the title game].
Photo Credit: These Guys.