Thursday, March 27, 2014
2014 March Madness (South and West Regions) - Sweet 16 and Elilte 8
#11 Dayton (25-10) vs. #10 Stanford (23-12)
I don't think anyone predicted this matchup when brackets came out a week and a half ago. The Flyers defeated Ohio State and Syracuse with their defense. The Buckeyes and Orange each made Dayton play to their style but the Flyers were able to persevere and come out on top. The Flyers don't have any premiere offensive threats but what they do have is a well-rounded team. Their best player is F Dyshawn Pierre, who leads the Flyers in rebounding and scoring, but their most well rounded player is F Devin Oliver. Oliver can score, rebound, and find the open man. Guard Jordan Sibert was flawless against the Buckeyes committing zero turnovers. He did have four against Syracuse but that is commendable when having to face the Cuse zone.
The Flyers will be hard pressed to stop Cardinal guard Chasson Randle. Randle was careless with the ball in the win over Kansas but made up for it on the defensive end with 6 steals. Senior F Josh Huestis doesn't provide much of a threat offensively, but defensively he makes life hell for opponents that try driving it the lane. After a dreadful 0-8 performance against New Mexico, F Dwight Powell was a beast against the Jayhawks, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Center Stefan Nastic and G-F Anthony Brown are two other big bodies the Cardinals can throw at you.
These teams match up pretty evenly in most statistical categories and I expect this to be one of the more physical games of the eight Sweet 16 matchups. The key to this game will be how the Flyers defense handles Randle. If Randle is able to go off that will give the Cardinal a huge advantage at the guard position. However, I expect the Flyers defense to remain stout, and them to move on to the Elite Eight with another ugly victory.
Prediction: Dayton 62, Stanford 56
West Regional Semi-Final in Anaheim, CA
#6 Baylor (26-11) vs. #2 Wisconsin (28-7)
The Bears are one of the hottest teams in college basketball and they were at their absolute, unbeatable best when they dominated Creighton in the Third Round, winning by 30. Every Bears starter was in double figure and even more impressively, the Bears defense held the Blue Jays Doug McDermott to just 15 points. Guard Brady Heslip has improved his three point shooting exponentially in his senior year after a tough junior year shooting the ball from long range. When not shooting from deep, the Bears like to pound it inside to 7'1 C Isaiah Austin and 6'9 F Cory Jefferson. Throw in 6'8 Rico Gathers and you can quickly see why the Bears are one of the most imposing and toughest teams to play against in the country.
The Badgers seemed down and out against Oregon after getting blown out in the first half. But they played with a sense of urgency in the second half and were able to pull off the comeback victory. They proved those right that had said this edition of the Badgers was the best offensive team Bo Ryan has had as coach. Junior guard Traevon Jackson is so good at finding ways to score, whether is it by hitting shots, or driving to the lane and drawing fouls. Jackson is also a superb rebounder and easily Wisconsin's most important player on the floor. Senior guard Ben Brust is consistent, if not spectacular. F Sam Dekker is the Badgers biggest inside threat, and it is clear that a game between these two teams is a major clash in styles.
The Badgers will have to be hitting their shots because they will be no match for the Bears on either the offensive or defensive glass. I think playing in Milwaukee helped propel Wisconsin to victory last weekend, and they won't get that same lift playing in Anaheim. Baylor is playing too well and is just too big for the Badgers to contend with.
Prediction: Baylor 75, Wisconsin 68
South Regional Semi-Final in Memphis, TN
#4 UCLA (28-8) vs. #1 Florida (34-2)
This is easily the best game of Thursday night's lineup. The Gators draw opened up quite a bit with Kansas and Syracuse being knocked out, but first they have to get past the red hot Bruins. UCLA has won four of their past five games in double digits, and that non double digit win came against the #1 seeded Arizona Wildcats. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams was sensational last weekend, averaging 20 points in the Bruins two wins and committing just two turnovers. The Bruins other impressive guard is Norman Powell. Powell shot over 50% this season and that was even with shooting just 29% from downtown. G-F Kyle Anderson doesn't shoot from three all that often, but when he does he is almost 50 percent from three point land. In fact, the Bruins are one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranking 12th in points per game and 10th in field goal percentage.
The Florida Gators last lost in November and after a sluggish performance against Albany, they were much more impressive in blowing out Pittsburgh. The Gators are a senior laden team with contributors all over the floor. Casey Prather is the Gators leading scorer, and he didn't even have to do much in the win over Pitt. That is because guys like senior guard Scottie Wilbekin were there to pick up the slack. The Gators also have a monster inside with senior Patric Young. Young changed the entire complexion of the Pittsburgh game with a monster rebound and dunk. Their other big man is F Dorian Finney-Smith. Smith was one of the few Gators that showed up for the Albany game.
I expect this game to be a tight one, with constant lead changes and momentum shifts. Ultimately, I believe the Gators experience will win out over the Bruins youth. I think this game could mirror the Wichita State/Kentucky one in that you will see a lot of future pros, making excellent play after excellent play.
Prediction: Florida 75, UCLA 72
West Regional Semi-Final in Anaheim, CA
#4 San Diego State (31-4) vs. #1 Arizona (32-4)
This is a rematch from when these played in early November at San Diego State. Arizona earned an impressive road victory, 69-60. In that game, the Wildcats took control early and then held on for the win in the second half. Arizona dominated the boards in that matchup and the Aztecs had no answer for G Nick Johnson and freshman F Aaron Gordon. T.J. Connell is the Cats facilitator but he also can score if need be. After being held scoreless in the Wildcats listless win against Weber State, Connell had 12 in the blowout victory against Gonzaga. The Wildcats have been more up and down since losing Brandon Ashley for the season, but they saw some real positive signs from his replacement Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in last week's tournament games. Jefferson dominated the Zags, scoring 18, grabbing 5 rebounds, handing out 4 assists, and blocking 4 shots.
Aztecs guard Xavier Thames scored 19 in the first matchup, but how he got there wasn't efficient. He hit just 5 of 16 shots and encapsulated the shooting struggles San Diego State had that night. Forward JJ O'Brien went off for 19 points in that game, which is odd because he only averaged 7 points a game this season, and scored just 11 points total in the Aztecs first two tournament games. The Aztecs play best when their defense creates offense, and it has to be easy offense since San Diego State is not a good shooting team. Winston Shepard is San Diego State's most well rounded player, but he hasn't played well as of late.
While their last meeting was four months ago and some of the personnel has changed, I don't expect the result of the game to much different. The Aztecs don't have the athletes or the shooters to keep up with the Wildcats, and their defense won't be good enough to stop Arizona at the level needed to win.
Prediction: Arizona 74, San Diego State 64
On Saturday, Dayton's Cinderella run will come at an end thanks to the Gators who will finally exorcise their Elite Eight demons. Arizona and Baylor will play a great, intense game, with the Wildcats coming out on top and sending at least one Miller to the Final Four.