By: Daniel Hodgman
In this installment I will quickly go over some interesting storylines that have happened thus far in the tournament. I will also assign more hip-hop cuts to teams in the Sweet Sixteen and re-predict the Elite Eight and Final Four given what I’ve seen so far.
Ah, what a first weekend it was. There was a load of barnburners (SF Austin and VCU, Kentucky and Wichita St.), the pleasantly shocking upsets (Dayton, Mercer, Stanford) and the merciless dominance of some heavy-hitters (Arizona, Baylor, Michigan). This goes without saying that, just like any other year, this year’s parity played itself out like a finely tuned fiddle. Who would have predicted a Dayton vs. Stanford Sweet Sixteen game in Memphis? Who had Tennessee playing Michigan in Indy? Would you have guessed Baylor had the power to hold Doug McDermott, one of the greatest offensive players in the history of college basketball, to just 15 points in a 30 point thrashing of McDermott’s Creighton Blue Jays? Smell that? Mmmm madness.
If that wasn’t convincing enough as to how crazy this weekend was, can I just point out that by the end of Friday, the number of perfect bracket’s on Warren Buffett’s $1 Billion Challenge was zero.
So as we look to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, let’s go over some more storylines and re-predict what’s going to happen given the teams that we’ve got. If you’re anything like me, you’re avidly staring at your calendar waiting for Thursday.
Connecticut (#7 seed in the East)
“Deja Vu” by Eminem
“Feels like I been down this road before”
This year the Connecticut Huskies are riding on Shabazz Napier’s leadership and ability to score (49 points through two games). Hmm, where have we seen this before? Where have we seen a player on UCONN single-handedly take his team into the depths of the NCAA tournament? Ah yes, that’s right, Kemba Walker.
In fact, the year UCONN won it all with Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier was a freshman. It looks like he learned some things, and then some.
Prediction: The question here is whether or not UCONN can continue to ride on the back of Shabazz Napier, and if that alone is enough to beat Iowa State. With Georges Niang’s broken foot, Iowa State loses a player who contributed 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists a game. It’s a loss that’s hard to swallow if you’re Iowa State, but there’s no ignoring Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue, and their ability to fill the void. With that power, I can’t see Iowa State dropping. Shabazz Napier will go down as a memorable Huskie though, and he’s bound for the professional level with that jumper.
Kentucky (#8 seed in the Midwest)
“I’m Back” by AZ
“Call it finesse, the game give it all I possess/ Nothin changed, I’mma ball to the death”
If you had your face planted as close to the screen as possible during the Wichita State/Kentucky game, I don’t blame you one bit. Playing more like an Elite Eight match than a round of 32 game, Wichita State/Kentucky was everything we as fans wanted. It came down to the last possession, players on both sides were hitting on all cylinders, both coaches were drawing and redrawing their set plays and the crowd was LOUD. I predicted a Wichita State win, and even though it fell short for them, there’s no downplaying how good of a team they are.
Kentucky on the other hand, may be one of the most dangerous teams left. Since Calipari decided to “tweak” their game a couple of weeks ago, the Wildcats just look different. The Harrison twins have been playing exceptional ball–something I really haven’t seen out of them as a duo in a very long time–, Julius Randle is remaining patient and picking his spots, James Young can nail it everywhere and Coach Calipari is still a slimeball (what’s new?).
As the preseason number one, Kentucky was rightly overrated, but now, in the most important stretch of the season, they look worthy of that recognition (along with a few other teams). IF Kentucky can keep this up, their ticket to Dallas will only be the beginning. I think it’s okay to say that they’re officially back.
Prediction: They match up well against a Louisville squad that has shown signs of sluggishness through two games. Add that to the fact that Kentucky already beat them earlier this year (December 28th, 2013) and well this could be a no-brainer. I feel however that Pitino and his crew will come at Kentucky harder this time, and it won’t be a cakewalk. Do you think Luke Hancock is capable of nailing some treys leading to a 12-0 Louisville run? I definitely do. Sorry Kentucky, you may be back, but your whole system of doing things is still whack. Great season, now you can reload for next year.
Tennessee, Dayton and Stanford
“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys
“Goddamn homie, my mind is playing tricks on me”
Wait, so these three squads made it to the second weekend? Really? I LOVE MARCH MADNESS.
Prediction: Tennessee will match up with Michigan well, but they won’t be able to recover from the Wolverines’ hot shooting. Seeing as Dayton plays Stanford, it’ll be hard to see one of these teams bow out, but I’m riding with Dayton, because who wouldn’t want to see the Flyers–a mid major mind you–compete for Dallas?
Virginia (#1 seed in the East)
“Bring Da Ruckus” by Wu-Tang Clan
“Bring da motherfucking ruckus/ Bring da motherfucking ruckus/ Bring da mother, bring da motherfucking ruckus/ Bring da motherfucking ruckus”
What Virginia did to Memphis on Sunday was outstanding. Yes, I know Memphis is inconsistent, but at one point I think Virginia was up by 30 and limiting the Tigers to 28% shooting. That my friends is some good defense.
I think now Virginia feels comfortable and ready to take on their #1 seed billing. Coastal Carolina gave them a scare, but that was just the kick they needed. Now in full force, the defensive heavy Cavaliers take on a Spartan team that’s well balanced on the offensive end. The reason I say “defensive heavy” is because, proportionally, Virginia is a lot better stopping buckets than putting them up. Are they now on a momentum run that’ll put up some buckets as well?
Prediction: I like Virginia’s defense, and I like their team, but can they manage to score against a team that’s just as good defending? Moreover, can they manage to stop a potent offense that’s balanced among all five starters? MOREOVER, if they fall behind by 10 do they have the power to come back? I don’t know, because this tournament is crazy, but I do have to say that if Virginia falls behind early, I have trouble seeing them making a comeback (unless of course the Spartans pull a similar stunt like they did against Harvard). However, I don’t think this game will ever get too out of hand. Both teams will grind and tussle, and it’ll be close throughout. Both teams will bring da ruckus, but in the end I see Sparty marching on.
Arizona (#1 seed in the West)
“Chokehold” by The Left
“Flyin’ from the left direction of the turnbuckle/ Elbow to the face, now watch ‘em straight buckle”
The way Arizona handled Gonzaga was impressive, and let’s face it, the South region is real weird right now. If Arizona can keep playing like this, especially without Brandon Ashley, they’ll have a chokehold on the South. A CHOKEHOLD.
Prediction: Dallas bound. Mark it.
Tournament Predictions (remix)
My Elite Eight…
Florida vs. Dayton, Michigan State vs. Iowa State, Arizona vs. Baylor and Louisville vs. Michigan
My Final Four…
Florida vs. Michigan State and Michigan vs. Arizona
My championship game…
Michigan State vs. Arizona
MICHIGAN STATE. STILL HAVEN’T CHANGED A THING.