We have ourselves quite a weekend in front of us, don’t we? It’s always good once you get to the “Sweet 16”, but I can’t remember a year where there was more intrigue in the match-ups as there is this season. The first #15 seed ever, another #13 a #12 and a #9 seed still remain. Yet the field still carries three each of powerful #1’s, #2’s and #3’s, while #4 seed Michigan might be the most dangerous team in the field and I have #6 seed Arizona going to the Final Four! With all that in mind, we have to rank these games out to let you know what we’re most looking forward to this Thursday and Friday, so here we go in reverse order
- 8: #13 LaSalle Explorers vs #9 Wichita State Shockers – West Region at Los Angeles
Mar 23, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; The Wichita State Shockers bench celebrates after guard Fred Van Vleet (23) hits a three point late in the second half of the game during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Witchita State won the game 76-70Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Neither team figures to go any further than the Elite 8, but that doesn’t mean this can’t be a polarizing game. I still can’t believe LaSalle outlasted Kansas State and Ole Miss and they had to play three games in five days in the process. WSU had to beat a bigger and talented Gonzaga team after handling Pitt, so they haven’t had an easy road to this point either. With Syracuse/Indiana on CBS at the same time (basically), I expect this game to be the least watched game of the tournament. Maybe it shouldn’t be though, when two underdogs get together to advance in the NCAA Tournament, it’s always fun basketball.
- 7: #3 Marquette Golden Eagles vs #2 Miami Hurricanes – East Region at Washington
Mar 24, 2013; Austin, TX, USA; Miami Hurricanes celebrate the win over Illinois Fighting Illini in the third round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at Frank Erwin Center. Miami won 63-59. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Both of these teams barely survived in the round of 32 and this promises to be a great game. Marquette probably shouldn’t have made it past their first game, shooting their way out of a 9 point deficit with about a minute remaining just to claim their ticket to round three. Then they staved off a Butler miracle to advance again, while the Canes managed to absorb Illinois best shot and move on. While I fully expect this to be a close game throughout and wildly entertaining, this 2/3 matchup is so second to last because of the potential for blowout. If Marquette doesn’t shoot extremely well, the Canes could pull away in a big way.
- 6: #6 Arizona Wildcats vs #2 Ohio State Buckeyes – West Region at Los Angeles
Mar 21, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Belmont Bruins forward Blake Jenkins (2) is fouled by Arizona Wildcats center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) in the first half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
As I thought when I was making my bracket, Arizona is one of the most athletic overall teams in the tournament. However they’ve had the easiest two games of anyone so far, so it’s also fair to say we haven’t seen them challenged to the point of having to play under any pressure or play elite defense. Ohio State will change all that by the first media timeout in this one. Buckeye PG Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders in the nation and when the Cats play badly it’s because they turn the ball over. Contrarily, when they play really well they get out in transition, so this is a match up of will power and basketball security. Winner become automatic favorite for a Final Four berth, with LaSalle or Wichita State on the docket.
- 5: #12 Oregon Ducks vs #1 Louisville Cardinals – Midwest Region at Indianapolis
March 23, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks guard Damyean Dotson (21) celebrates with guard Dominic Artis (1) after a play against the Saint Louis Billikens during the second half of the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at HP Pavilion. Oregon defeated Saint Louis 74-57. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
So how good are the Cards anyways? I get the feeling we’ll find out in this game. Rick Pitino said at halftime of their game against Colorado State that they were playing a “great team, not a good team, a great one”. If he thought that was “great”, he’ll be totally blown away with Oregon. Not only are they a solid outfit, but they also match-up with Louisville tremendously at every position. It will be fun to see two of the most explosive backcourts in the tournament go at it and the only way the #1 overall seed will survive is to play their best basketball for a full 40 minutes.