John S Picks The Friday Games

If there was any remaining doubt that this was the best NCAA Tournament ever, last night’s Xavier-KSU game (which I declared would not be close) should have cemented that status. Anyway, here are some more picks you can take to the bank….

2 Ohio State vs. 6 Tennessee

Original Pick: Georgetown over Ohio State

What I’ve Learned: Obviously, if the Volunteers are going to win this game, they are going to have to shut down Ohio State’s leading scorer in this Tournament: Jon Diebler. Diebler tore up UC-Santa Barbara in the First Round, dropping 23 points, and everyone knows that as goes Diebler, so go the Buckeyes. In all seriousness, Evan Turner has been the best player in college basketball this year and—notwithstanding what Denis Clemente, Terrell, Holloway, Jordan Crawford and Jacob Pullen all did at various points last night—the player who can most take over a game in this Tournament. Thanks to Georgetown’s early loss, Tennessee got to face Ohio in Round 2 and dispatched them fairly easily after struggling against San Diego State. But the fact that the Volunteers haven’t played a good team yet should make anyone wary of their ability to contain Turner.

The Pick: Ohio State 

3 Baylor vs. 10 Saint Mary’s

Original Pick: Villanova over Baylor

What I’ve Learned: Saint Mary’s is a legitimately good basketball team, and one that is actually fun to watch. Omar Samhan has attracted the most attention with his dominant play down low, but it was Mickey McConnell’s three-pointer after nearly falling down that put the Gaels ahead of Villanova to stay in Round 2. McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova have been able to capitalize on Samhan’s presence, making the Gaels a great inside-outside team. Baylor has the resources to contain Samhan inside—it will mostly come down to the play of Ekpe Udoh, but also Anthony Jones and Josh Lomers, who add size to the Bears. If Saint Mary’s, one of the best shooting teams in the country, can shoot over Baylor’s zone defense, then I think they can give the Bears real trouble.

The Pick: Saint Mary’s

5 Michigan State vs. 9 Northern Iowa

Original Pick: Kansas over Michigan State

What I’ve Learned: UNI proved once again against Kansas that, if you can control the pace of the game and play good defense, then you can hang with any team in the country. The UNI upset of the Jayhawks, and Ali Farokhmanesh’s gutsy three-point shot to seal the game, were the game and moment of the Tournament’s first weekend, but that shouldn’t distract from their game against MSU. This is a very intriguing game, as it sets up Tom Izzo, a great Tournament coach, coaching a team that just lost its best player, Kalin Lucas, to injury. Normally, I’d pick the Spartans based on my faith in Izzo, but Michigan State has won two games in this Tournament by a combined five points and will need to rely on Korie Lucious for a whole game now, against a team that everyone is now realizing is a lot better than the committee thought. The weaknesses of the Panthers that were exposed down the stretch—not being able to handle the press, not being able to keep up with Kansas’ speed—in their last game won’t be nearly as big of a factor against MSU. Expect UNI to win this game without the heroics they needed against Kansas.

The Pick: Northern Iowa

1 Duke vs. 4 Purdue

Original Pick: Duke over Texas A&M

What I’ve Learned: Chris Kramer is way better than I thought. Well, I don’t really think that’s true. In the absence of Robbie Hummel, Kramer stepped up, taking more shots against Texas A&M than he had in any game this season and scoring more than he had in all but one. I don’t really think he’s going to do that again. The Boilermakers have played surprisingly well without their best player in this Tournament, and credit should go to Matt Painter for that. But I feel like this team has proved what it needed to prove—that it’s more than just Hummel and friends—and I don’t think they will be as motivated or playing with as much as a chip on their shoulder as they have been.

As for Duke, well, Tim gave us a pretty solid rundown of his opinion on this team, but suffice to say that I was never as down on the Blue Devils as he was. Obviously very few people saw the leap in Brian Zoubek’s performance coming, and Nolan Smith’s play over the course of the season has probably surpassed what anyone realistically expected from him. Even so, I thought Duke would remain atop a weak ACC, which it did; I thought it would beat UNC twice for the first time since 2004, which it did; I thought they would, as per usual, over-perform in the regular season and gain a higher seed than many people thought they deserved, which it did. I’m not claiming to be clairvoyant with any of this—this has more or less been true about Duke for the last half-a-decade.

The point is that Duke hasn’t done anything yet that I hadn’t expected them to do. To do that, it’ll have to beat Purdue and probably win one more game, which I’m not sure it can do. The Boilermakers are playing with very little margin for error now, but Duke may have a tough time against a team that wants to slow the game down. The Blue Devils defense has been stifling so far, but Jon Scheyer’s 1-for-11, seven point performance against Cal was by far his worst game of the season, bringing his March FG% to 31.8, over eight points lower than his season average. So far, Singler, Smith, and Zoubek have been able to pick up the slack, but if the team has a dip in its shooting against a team, like Purdue, that can hang with it on the boards, then it’ll be in danger.

Having Said That, I still think Duke will make the Final Four.

The Pick: Duke

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Douglas on March 27, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    hahaha what is your overall record now?


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