In case you missed it last weekend (my bracket sure did), there have been some interesting developments in the Southwest region, to say the least.
Kansas, the lone single-digit-seed survivor, is left with three relatively-unknown teams: one who lost to Georgia State by 10 (Virginia Commonwealth), another with five double-digit losses to their credit (Florida State), and another whose mascot is, of course, a Spider (Richmond). I would say that KU should cruise but I’ve seen too many of their tourney chokes before to anoint them as king of this bracket.
On to the picks:
(11) Virginia Commonwealth, 26–11, versus (10) Florida State, 23–10: Despite the Seminoles aforementioned losses they are a good team that played a tough schedule and even managed to beat Duke. Not to mention, they just schooled 2nd-seeded Notre Dame 71–57 the other night.
Head Coach Leonard Hamilton has turned around programs wherever he’s been, but has yet to have a good enough one to take to the Final Four. His hopes will be partly placed on the health of leading-scorer and rebounder Chris Singleton, who has played 26 total minutes the last two games after missing the previous six.
On the opposing side, the Rams are the first team ever to win three tourney games before the Sweet 16. Their shocking run has been played out with a chip on their shoulder, blowing out the likes of USC, Georgetown, and Purdue.
If you watched their season, this might not have been a surprise though, as they preceded that bad loss to Georgia State with wins against UCLA and Wake Forest. Prediction: Virginia Commonwealth 76, Florida State 70
(12) Richmond, 29–7, versus (1) Kansas, 34–2: Kansas is probably the deepest team in all of college basketball and when they’re not tight, like in the first half against Boston, they’re very, very difficult to stop.
This year’s offense averages nearly 82 points per game, and they’re the only team shooting over 50 percent for the season (51.4). But, they have a very checkered tournament history as a top seed. Last year’s 2nd-round fiasco against Northern Iowa, though, has thus far motivated them instead of worried them.
The surprising Spiders have won 13 of 14 games since the beginning of February and even before that, they stunned Purdue in late November, 65–54. Chris Mooney’s team is led by a couple of seniors in forward Justin Harper (17.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and guard Kevin Anderson (16.7 ppg).
Historically, Richmond has pulled off some shockers. They became the first 15-seed to ever win a game, when they stunned 2nd-seeded Syracuse 73–69 in ’91.
Seven years later, they topped 3rd-seeded South Carolina as a 14-seed, 62–61. In 2004 they actually came to KU, un-awed, and emerged with a rare Allen Field House win, 69–68. Prediction: Kansas 79, Richmond 66
The East region has gone almost as planned, as only Syracuse was upset by conference foe Marquette. Kentucky’s young team escaped a couple close calls, while Ohio State has looked like the best team in the tournament.
(4) Kentucky, 27–8, versus (1) Ohio State, 34–2: The Buckeyes come into the Sweet 16 on a roll. Texas-San Antonio and George Mason had no answers for Ohio State’s offense or defense. Jared Sullinger is too much of a load for most teams and thanks to the aforementioned blowouts, the big freshman is well-rested as they prepare for Kentucky. Thad Matta is one of the best in the biz, and his teams haven’t shied away come tournament time.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats seemed to have come of age in the tourney. Freshman Brandon Knight’s thrilling game-winning shot against Princeton with just two seconds left, was his only make of the game, and he rode that high for 30 points and a win against West Virginia in round three. John Calipari’s team actually has some size down low (6’10, 275-lb center Josh Harrellson) to bang with Sullinger. Prediction: Ohio State 75, Kentucky 68
(11) Marquette, 22–14, versus (2) North Carolina, 28–7: Marquette’s Head Coach Buzz Williams has been rumored to several higher-profile job openings and for good reason as the Golden Eagles have held their own in the ultra-competitive Big East.
The Golden Eagles haven’t been intimidated by the pressure of the tournament (they just beat 3rd-seed Syracuse) as their own schedule was unrelenting (Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, & Vandy).
The Tar Heels’ season was completely turned around by inserting freshman point guard Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup, as they’re 16-2 with him leading the break. Fellow freshman Harrison Barnes has become their go-to-guy down the stretch, while posts players Henson and Zeller give Roy Williams a wealth of options. Prediction: North Carolina 79, Marquette 78