This is a Big Ten Blog, but I am going to go out on a limb and give you analysis of all the matchups that are coming Thursday and Friday. There are three Big Ten teams still fighting, and no surprise it is the top three teams from most of the season. Michigan State knocked off Delaware and Harvard, Michigan handled Wofford and Texas, and Wisconsin destroyed American before coming from behind to beat Oregon. The other three teams in the Big Ten (Iowa, Nebraska & Ohio State) were bounced in the 1st/2nd round. Below are my rankings of the 16 remaining teams left playing for the chance to hoist the National Championship trophy.
Updated Tournament Seeds:
1. Arizona – Face #4 San Diego State – The Wildcats have looked downright dominant in their two tournament games and simply toyed with Gonzaga in their last game. Gonzaga has never been known as high-flyers, but they usually give 110% to make up for it. That was not the case as Arizona threw down dunk after dunk leading to a very lopsided affair. Aaron Gordon hasn’t been heralded as an elite NBA talent, but the rest of his counterparts are all home watching him now.
2. Florida – Face #4 UCLA – The Gators deserved the overall #1 seed based on their play as of late, and they continued that play in their 1st two games of the tournament. They have now seen nothing but wins since December 2nd, and they are looking to keep that streak alive a few more games. The best case for Florida reaching the Final Four is that if they can get past UCLA they will face the winner of the 10 and 11 matchup of Dayton and Stanford.
3. Virginia – Face #4 Michigan State – This is being wrote up as the game of the week in many blogs this week. Everyone wants to see the ACC champs against Mr. NCAA Tom Izzo. The two teams come in playing some of their best basketball of the season and Virginia is battle tested and ready to show they deserve their #1 seed. Although you may not be star-studded by the lineup, the Cavaliers can score from any position on the court and play tremendous defense to keep themselves in every game.
4. Michigan – Face #11 Tennessee – The Wolverines are two wins away from reaching the Final Four for consecutive weeks, but it is going to be quite a task. They have been playing very well as of late, but athletic teams don’t always bode well for this team. Tennessee, Louisville & Kentucky, the remaining teams in their bracket are all athletic up and down teams. This team has the athletes and shooters to keep up with this style of play, but they are going to need to play together to seek revenge against Louisville who knocked them off last year in the National Championship.
5. Michigan State – Face #1 Virginia – Tom Izzo lives for March and this year is no different. He has this Spartan team playing at an elite level when the games mean the most once again. Brandon Dawson and Adreian Payne are anchoring this frontcourt after it was thought that the best backcourt in America was present on this team. It is scary to think what would happen if this team got hot all together.
6. Kentucky – Face #4 Louisville – After knocking off previously unbeaten #1 Wichita State, Kentucky fans are finally getting a glimpse of the potential this recruiting class they heard so much about actually has. Preseason #1 Kentucky has been played down all season, but they looked like that #1 during their last game. The real question remains though if they can maintain this level or will they sink back into their freshman shells where they spent most of the season.
7. Connecticut – Face #3 Iowa State – There is one reason and one reason only that this team is still playing. Shabazz Napier is doing his best Kemba Walker impression, and he has done it in downright impressive fashion. Saint Josephs may have given the Huskies their 1st game, but UConn took their game to a new level in knocking off #2 Villanova by 12. This score was not even close to the true story either.
8. Wisconsin – Face #6 Baylor – The Badgers have made the Sweet 16 in 3 out of 4 seasons, but they have not been able to push past the 2nd weekend. This team has been heralded as Bo Ryan’s best team since arriving in Wisconsin, and they are going to have a chance to prove that this weekend. The last few Wisconsin teams have lived and died by the 3-pointer and that may be the case as they face a zone loving Baylor defense. Frank Kaminsky will need to be able to draw out the big bodies of Baylor’s front line to give the rest of the pesky Badgers a shot in the paint.
9. Louisville – Face #8 Kentucky – In-state tournament games are never easy, but they are even more difficult when that in-state team is coming off their most impressive win of their season. The reigning champs are not going to go away without a fight, but if the Wildcats play similar to the way they did last Sunday the Cardinals may be done. Russ Smith and company need to have their defensive game going as they try and slow down double-double machine Julius Randle.
10. Baylor – Face #2 Wisconsin – The Bears sure made easy work of Creighton this weekend, but can they sustain the incredible shooting display? Creighton has never been described as a defensive juggernaut, but Baylor’s length and athleticism could give Wisconsin issues in their Sweet 16 matchup. Look for the Bears to attack the basket early and often to try and get Wisconsin’s front line in foul trouble. If they can be successful in that it may be a matchup with Arizona in the Elite Eight.
11. Stanford – Face #11 Dayton – The Cardinals have come out of no where as they reach the Sweet 16 and may have saved coach Johnny Dawkins in the process. Their coach was likely on the chopping block if they missed the dance, but after two wins in the tournament and a very favorable matchup in the Sweet 16 this team is legit. In a league dominated by underclassmen, Stanford is led by upperclassmen Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell. I hadn’t heard of them either, but after this weekend of play you will learn plenty about them.
12. Tennessee – Face #2 Michigan – The Volunteers have continued the tradition of teams playing in the First Four games to reach the Sweet 16 and they did so in pretty convincing fashion. They won their games by a combined 52 points and their defense has limited teams to under one point per possession. Josh Richardson is leading this athletic team who simply had nothing to lose. They are playing loose and could give Michigan problems if they get out in the open court.
13. Iowa State – Face #7 Connecticut – The Cyclones have only one reason that they are ranked so low. The injury to Georges Niang is huge. This team had a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four, but without Niang it seems more unlikely. Credit DeAndre Kane and Naz Long for their terrific performance against North Carolina on Sunday. This team is shooting just under 50% from 3-point range and will need to continue this to have a shot at knocking off streaking Connecticut.
14. San Diego State – Face #1 Arizona – The Aztecs may have the most talented player in the tournament left, but Xavier Thames isn’t going to be able to do it all against Arizona. This team struggled against New Mexico State, but shot slightly better against North Dakota State. If this team doesn’t shoot the ball better than 40% they stand no chance against the Wildcats.
15. UCLA – Face #1 Florida – The Bruins have knocked off two double-digit seeds to start off their tournament, and they are rewarded with the overall #1 seed Florida. This team has the tools to get past Florida, but it is going to take a close to perfect performance. Kyle Anderson is going to have to cause problems with his size and athleticism and shoot the ball the way he has during his last several games.
16. Dayton – Face #10 Stanford – It is hard to get a read on this Flyers team. They have two impressive wins over #6 Ohio State and #3 Syracuse to reach the Sweet 16, but can they handle #10 Stanford? The interesting part about this team is that their coach is not sold that they are even playing great basketball. He says that they have much more to give and if that is the case they have a real chance to make some noise this weekend. Usually teams like this struggle down the stretch, but not so far for this team. Every tournament needs a Cinderella and this year’s team is Dayton.
I have received some complaints about my Syracuse pick, and for that I’m truly sorry to everyone who lost their bracket on the opening weekend. The Orange really let me down and that may or may not be why I have Dayton ranked last?! But I will give you my picks for this weekend and we will try and do better. I am going to hold out on picking the Final Four games until next week. Here is the way the games will all shake out. If you can get into Sweet Sixteen bracket challenges good luck!
#1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA
#11 Dayton vs. #10 Stanford
#1 Virginia vs. #4 Michigan State
#3 Iowa State vs. #7 Connecticut
#1 Arizona vs. #4 San Diego State
#2 Wisconsin vs. #6 Baylor
#4 Louisville vs. #8 Kentucky
#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee
#1 Florida vs. #10 Stanford
#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut
#1 Arizona vs. #2 Wisconsin
#2 Michigan vs. #8 Kentucky
#1 Florida vs. #4 Michigan State
#1 Arizona vs. #8 Kentucky