No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 SDSU — Long, athletic San Diego State that has nevertheless struggled with tempo teams this year faces a long, athletic Alabama team that goes faster than anyone in the country. Mountain West Mississippi State figures to try and gum this up and turn into a foul contest, but the Aztec’s thin bench vs. the Tide’s deep one is probably another mismatch in favor of the Tide. This is a game where you figure that Rylen and Pringle, Gurley and Clowney, Angry Chuck and Burnett will shine. And especially Miller — Alabama’s longer, more physical guys. SDSU has devoured smaller guards this year, so look for a quiet day from Sears and Q.
Our Pick: Crimson Tide, fairly comfortably
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 15 Princeton — Can the Tigers keep up their torrid postseason play, where they’ve stood toe-to-toe with, and outpunched far more talented teams? I suspect this is where the party ends. The Jays are Top 25 in adj. offense and defense, can batter you in the post, pop and shoot, and are comfy with games played in the mud or at a decent pace. Princeton needs everything to go right and to dictate tempo. Can they do it? The Jays are more physical than Arizona and Mizzou — it won’t be as easy. And since neither team does a good job at forcing turnovers, you lean into the one with the most firepower. That’s likely going to be Creighton, inside and out.
Our Pick: Creighton...on paper, at least.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 9 FAU — You’d like to say that FAU has no chance vs. the lockdown Vols, but then a pattern jumps out at you in many of UT’s ten losses: They’re 3-6 vs. fast teams, and two of those wins came at home. Duke is the only up-tempo club they’ve beaten on the road or on a neutral floor. They’ve lost to some teams that on paper shouldn’t even be a contest too (Mizzou twice. Vandy twice, Colorado etc.). FAU is big for a fast team, and they’ll launch on sight from the perimeter. Coupled with a spirited, fast defense, the Owls are being written off here for no good reason that I can tell. This smells like a Rick Barnes-March-Power-Outage waiting to happen.
Our Pick: FAU Owls
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Kansas State — If you want to beat the Wildcats, you better have physical guards that can disrupt that offense. Conversely, you better be able to hit some makeable jumpers and manufacture ugly points. That sounds like it’s right in Izzo’s wheelhouse, doesn’t it? Nowell is likely to be the best player on the floor, but the Wildcats veteran roster, good shooting, superior interior presence will allow KSU to win that battle even as they claim the war.
Our Pick: Michigan State Spartans, by half a dozen
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Xavier — If you want to win in March, you better dust off some elite defense. The ‘Horns have it; the Muskies do not. And while Xavier has survived without Freemantle so far, Texas is not Kennessaw State or a play-in Pitt: The Longhorns are Top 20 in both offense and defense, and have gone through some wars, including shelling Gonzaga. I don’t think it’s the comfortable win some people see, nor the upset that others do either, but I do think eventually losing Freemantle winds up costing XU down the stretch here vs a veteran UT team. This feels like a great game for Marcus Carr to go off and is the potential shootout of the weekend.
Our Pick: Texas, close.
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 5 Miami — The ‘Canes have one of the best offenses in the tournament...and a middle of the pack defense. Against teams with competent offenses, they’ve tended to not fair too well. They lost 2 of 3 vs. Duke, split vs NCSU and Pitt, swept by Maryland...you get the picture here. And don’t look at those rebounding numbers: On a good day, they’re middle of the pack. Houston has the kryptonite with their ugly but highly efficient offense. If anyone can outwork the Hurricanes on misses, and force a one-dimensional team to become even more so, it’s the Cougars. Can’t snag defensive boards, can’t force turnovers, bad floor efficiency defense. Just an all around bad matchup, it seems.
Our Pick: Houston pretty comfortably, which for them is like 8 points or something
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Gonzaga — Teams lose to Gonzaga by falling into one trap: trying to match them score-for-score. The teams that have beaten the Bulldogs refuse to play that game. Instead, they slow the game down, make it deliberative, make it patient, and hustle and scrape and dive for 40 ugly minutes: Xavier, Alabama, TCU, UNC all fell into the former trap. But look at those Ls: Purdue, St. Mary’s, Loyola Marymount, Texas — none are particularly fast, and many are downright glacial. Now, look at their opponent this week: Alongside Houston, Alabama, and Tennessee, this is the other defensive juggernaut. The UCLA Bruins. But here’s what makes this interesting. Against exactly the sort of high power, high tempo offense that we’ll see on Friday, the Bruins have been miserable. They lost to Baylor and Illinois and Arizona and USC — all fast teams. That tells you they have a hard time forcing athletic shooters to get down in the mud with them. And I suspect that happens again this week. Gonzaga tempts the fates, and upends everyone’s trendy Final Four pick.
Our Pick: Gonzaga
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn — You’d be hard-pressed to find two more baffling, high energy, intense teams than this pair. There is no reason for two potential Final Four teams to have a combined 21 losses. On paper, this should be a Huskies win. They’ve got the better defense. They rebound a bit better. They shoot a bit better. But they do turn it over a bit more too. And they do not force defenses as much either. That means whoever can make this game chaotic, the one to force mistakes, figures to take home an Elite 8. The battle of backcourts will be interesting as well. Both teams want to body you up outside the perimeter and keep banging and banging and banging. But Arkansas just gets more mistakes out of people doing so. With a game set up to be so predictably off the rails, that plays right into the hands of the Agents of Chaos who have no business winning this game, but nevertheless may just find a way.
Our Pick: Chaos. You can’t tell me you know who will win here and why. UConn should. But the Hogs have been remarkably dangerous in the stretch run, and they thrive in pandemonium. Let’s say Big, Dumb Arkansas Basketball either gets it done, or makes UConn so broken down, that they roll over in the Elite 8 game.
Best Sweet 16 game:
This poll is closed
UConn vs. Arkansas
‘Bama vs. the world
Texas vs. Xavier
Gonzaga vs. UCLA