Mr.Beer Sports Blog
After one of the crazier opening weekends in recent memory, the tournament field is now narrowed to 16 teams. We witnessed a slew of upsets, bizarre finishes, and last-second heroics, and I fully expect to see more of the same in the next round.
This week, I'll be previewing the Sweet 16 matchups, previewing one per day until Thursday. Today we'll feature the East bracket, being held in Newark, N.J.
(Stats based on Ken Pomeroy's College Basketball Ratings at Kenpom.com)
Ohio St. (#1 seed, 34-2, 17-2 against tournament teams) vs. Kentucky (#4 seed, 27-8, 9-5 against tournament teams) - Friday, March 25, 9:45 PM ESTOhio State is the overall #1 seed in the tournament and has proven why they should be, annihilating George Mason by 32 points to reach the Sweet 16. It's hard to find any real weaknesses in this team. They compiled a 32-2 regular season record despite playing one of the tougher schedules this season. Led by inevitable future NBA superstar forward Jared Sullinger, there isn't a weak link in their starting five, and their bench is deep. They boast the top-rated offense in the nation, and are a top ten defensive team. They also are the majority favorite in the Bracket Challenge: 32.8% of you (including yours truly) picked Ohio St. to win it all.
They face a Kentucky team that, if not for Brandon Knight, would likely not have advanced past the first round, as he made the winning shot in their second round game vs. Princeton. He also contributed 30 points in their victory over West Virginia. He'll need another monster-sized game if Kentucky wants to pull off an upset. Make no mistake, however, Kentucky is no slouch: they're a top-ten offense that seemed to really come together at the end of the season, winning 8 of their last 10 games and winning the SEC tournament.
Looking at the matchup for this game, it does not bode well for Kentucky. They play mostly man-to-man defense, which Ohio State tends to do very well against. After all, George Mason deployed a man-to-man defense Sunday, and we all saw how well THAT worked out.
My Pick: Ohio State by 7
North Carolina (#2 seed, 28-7, 7-5 against tournament teams) vs. Marquette (#11 seed, 22-14, 5-13 against tournament teams) - Friday, March 25, 7:15 PM EST
One of 3 ACC teams in the Sweet 16, UNC entered the tournament as one of the hotter teams in the nation, winning 9 of their last 10 games. They narrowly edged Washington to advance to this round. Freshman forward Harrison Barnes leads the team in scoring and 3 Tar Heel players average double digit scoring per game. UNC also leads the nation in rebounds per game, and they attack the boards with ferocity few teams can match. They have a top ten defense, anchored by forward John Henson. Considering they played one of the ten toughest schedules this season, their stats look even more impressive.
If you told me Marquette would be one of only two Big East teams to make it to the Sweet 16, I would have called you a dirty liar and kicked you out of my house, even if we were in your house at the time. First, they barely got into the tournament, being the 11th Big East team out of 11 Big East bids. Secondly, they're one of the tougher teams to analyze in this tournament, since they played inconsistently throughout the season. Thirdly, they won a sloppy game against Big East rival Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16, and will need to play much tighter to have a chance against UNC. On the plus side, Marquette does have a top 25-rated offense, led by Junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom. Their starting five has played at least 2 years together, boosting their experience; this is their sixth straight tournament appearance, though this is the first year they've advanced to the Sweet 16.
On paper (or screen), UNC looks to be an easy favorite to win this game. For Marquette to have a shot, they must force UNC into a typical Big East-style matchup: bruising, full of free-throw opportunities. Unfortunately for them, UNC just played a game like this, against Washington, and won, barely. But as we've seen so far in this tournament, upsets are not exactly unheard of.
My pick: UNC by 3
Stay tuned for tomorrow's preview of the Southwest bracket, and make sure to leave your East bracket predictions in the comments!