Mr.Beer Sports Blog
This is the last of our Sweet 16 previews. Please click here for the Southwest, here for the Southeast, and here for the East Bracket previews.
This Sweet 16 matchup is the first tournament meeting between Duke and Arizona since the 2001 Championship game, in which Duke beat Arizona by 10 points. While Duke has been one of the most consistent top-tier programs in the country, Arizona is in a rebuilding phase. After missing the tournament last year for the first time in 25 consecutive seasons, Arizona has made its way back to the Sweet 16, in the unfamiliar role of Cinderella.
Duke (#1 seed, 32-4, 9-3 against tournament teams) vs. Arizona (#5 seed, 29-7, 2-5 against tournament teams) - Thursday, March 24 - 9:45 PM EST
If it wasn't for a missed last-second shot, Michigan would be in the Sweet 16 instead of Duke, and the Blue Devils would miss their opportunity to win their second straight championship. The Blue Devils' road to the Championship still has a few stops, starting with their Sweet 16 matchup against Arizona.
Duke is strong on both sides of the ball, and are superbly coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who is 2 wins away from being the winningest coach of all time. They are led by Senior guard Nolan Smith, but are strong at all starting positions. The return of Freshman Kyrie Irving is a big advantage for Duke as well, as it will add depth to an already stacked team.
Arizona has been through 2 brutal and close tournament games to arrive to the Sweet 16, and will hope to repeat their last-second heroics against the Blue Devils. They overperformed expectations to get this far, and the majority of their success can be attributed to coach Sean Miller and his successful game tweaks, and Sophomore forward Derrick Williams, who will carry the entire Wildcat team on his back in order to win games. His clutch performances have saved the Wildcats in the first two tournament games, with a last second block to beat Memphis, and an AND 1 shot in the closing seconds to edge Texas. This also illustrates Arizona's biggest weakness: no other Wildcat has shown they can be relied upon to consistently step up when Derrick Williams struggles.
If Arizona wants to beat Duke, they will need to step up in support of Williams, who Duke will certainly double team and try to minimize in the game. Defensively, I don't think the Wildcats can effectively stop the Blue Devils, but I expect the same struggles from Duke's defense. I predict this will be a high-scoring game, and Arizona will get revenge for their loss against Duke 10 years ago. (Full disclaimer: I also may be slightly biased in my decision for this game. Bear Down and beat those Blue Devils, Wildcats!)
My pick: Arizona by 2
San Diego St. (#2 seed, 34-2, 4-2 against tournament teams) vs. Connecticut (#3 seed 28-9, 12-9 against tournament teams) - Thursday, March 24th - 7:15 PM EST
Since this game has already started at the time of this posting, I added a very small blurb about it.
San Diego St., led by star forward Kawhi Leonard, are a potent defensive team looking to advance to their first Final Four in their school's history. After their sloppy game against Temple, however, they need to refocus if they want to take on UConn, who have torn through the Big East tournament as well as the Big Dance, led by Kemba Walker. The Aztecs should be able to stifle the powerful UConn offense enough to win.
My pick: San Diego St. by 4