On Thursday it's Sweet Sixteen time, as one of the most entertaining tournaments in years continues (speaking of sweet how cool is that picture?). To kick it off the first of the eight games between Thursday/Friday is UConn vs SDSU. I couldn't think of another way to start off these eight great match ups then with a 2 vs. 3 matchup. Let's preview the matchups for Thursday nights (start times are Central):
#2 San Diego State vs #3 Connecticut - (UCONN -1) - 6:15pm
We all know the first thing to watch for in this game is Kemba Walker. I guess at this point if you don't like this guy, then I don't know what a guy has to do for you to like him. I have never been a huge fan of UConn, but that's mainly because I'm sick of the women's program. But since watching Kemba own the Big East Tourney I have kind of fell in love with how he plays. He always has a smile on his face, and seems to leave it all on the court.
SDSU's game on the other hand will be in the hands of Kawhi Leonard. The 6-foot-7 forward should be able to work down low on UConn. He had a rough night shooting against Temple in the "third round", as he was 6-14 from the field. Leonard had a double double in the second round against Northern Colorado, as he finished with 21 points, and 10 rebounds.
Who am I going to go with Thursday for the first game? This probably shouldn't be the deciding factor but because I need UConn for a pool, but I have to go with my boy Kemba Walker. Another factor is how bad SDSU played when they had chances to put away Temple late in the third round. What could keep them from winning? Not shooting the ball well, and not boxing out. SDSU loves to beat teams up on the boards, and UConn has had a few games this year where they shoot like the Bucks. And if you've read any of my Bucks posts you know that the Bucks shoot like crap. Lets go with UConn 75, SDSU 67.
#2 Florida vs #3 BYU - (Florida -3) - 6:27pm
Florida has made things look easy so far in this tournament, but so has BYU. BYU is ranked #10 in the nation in free throw percentage, while on the other hand Florida is ranked #237. Florida has to have an advantage in the front court with Brandon Davies suspended because he got laid, which I still can't believe he was suspended for the season for that. Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin should be able to work hard in the low post, with the lack of height of BYU.
BYU is all about the Jimmer show, and they will go as far as he can take them. Hate him or love him the guy has a sick shot from anywhere. He was shutdown for the first eight minutes or so against Gonzaga until he just went off. He scored 52 points once in a game this year, so he can win a game almost all by himself if needed. Last year in the first round when BYU beat Florida, Fredette scored 37 points. So look for him to be the X-factor again this year.
Who am I going to take to win? Florida and the big men will be too much for BYU and the Jimmer show Thursday night. What will keep Florida from winning? If the Gators shoot awful from the line, or if Fredette has a huge game and goes off for 50 plus. I just think Florida might be able to own the offensive glass, and that will force Jimmer to almost be perfect shooting. I see this game as high scoring affair, but when one guy has to score 60% of the points it takes a toll on him. Let's go with Florida 80, BYU 69. Gus Johnson is doing the game, so it could be closer than that, because Gus Johnson games always seem to be close for some reason.
#2 Duke vs #5 Arizona - (Duke -8.5) - approx. 8:45pm
This is the match up of two teams that could easily be at watching at home right now. Texas handed Arizona the game Sunday, and Michigan was a kick out pass for three away from being in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona has won both its games so far by a combined three points, so all I know is that they clearly know how to find ways to win. This could be a better match up than it appears to be. Everyone has Duke blowing Zona out of the water, but I really don't know about that. Duke loves to hit three's, but Arizona's strength is forcing opponents to shoot bad from outside. The X-factor for Duke has to Kyrie Irving, because you just don't know what you're going to get from him. He played well in the second round game, but looked a little off against Michigan.
Arizona will look for Derrick Williams to carry the load for them. Duke has some bodies to play against him, so someone else may have to step up for the Wildcats. They'll also need to make three pointers, because we all know Duke will make their fair share. You also can't let Duke get out and run against you, so Arizona has to keep from turning over the ball. If they turn it over a lot, this one could be a huge blowout for Duke.
Who am I going to go with to win? I have to take Duke with this one, because I think Arizona's luck has run out. They have yet to beat a team with ease, and Duke is not the opponent that is going to give them an easy victory. What will have to happen for Arizona to win? Duke has to shoot awful from outside, and Arizona has to shoot the lights out from deep. I'm going to say Duke 83, Arizona 67, because Duke has to many big guys to match up with Williams.
#4 Wisconsin vs #8 Butler - (Wisconsin -5) - approx 8:57pm
The first thing I have to say is plan to stay up late for this one because with Gus Johnson, two hard working teams, and a nine o'clock start means you could be up all night. I really think this game could have the makings of that classic six overtime game between UConn and Syracuse a few years ago. I don't know what it is about this Butler team, but come tournament time they come to play. What you've seen from Wisconsin the past two days as well is a team that is playing together as a team, and therefore winning together as a team.
During the regular season, Wisconsin turned into the Jordan Taylor show, with Jon Leuer as the sidekick. But now it seems that anyone can step up at anytime for this team. Case in point - Mike Bruesewitz was the key factor against Kansas State. Four players scored in double figures in that game, and if that continues this team could be well on its way to match up in the finals. I'm not a huge fan of watching Wisconsin games, but I have to say the game against K-State was one of the better basketball games I have seen in a long time. I see that happening again on Thursday night if both teams play like they can. Look for Josh Gasser to be an X-factor for the Badgers in this game. He is just an under the radar guy that makes plays when you need one.
Butler on the other hand is a definition of a team with heart. They don't blow you out of the water or play very flashy, but they find ways to win games. Butler is like Arizona in that they have won both games so far by a combined three points. I just think that this is how Butler wins games, and they'll have to do it again Thursday to get to the Elite Eight. Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are the heart and soul of this Butler team. If they play hard, the guys around them seem to step up their game knowing that the two leaders they have are worth fighting for. This team is almost like the movie Robin Hood, in that the other players behind Mack and Howard believe they can win too.
Who am I going to go with to win? This is tough, but Wisconsin will find a way to pull it out. I think Butler's dream ride won't go as far as last season. Wisconsin has too many players that can make a big shot, or get a big stop when needed. What would keep Wisconsin from winning? Relying too much on the three ball. That has what cost this team a few wins this season is when they don't work down low, and they end up jacking a lot of threes. Also if Butler can stay out of foul trouble and keep Wisconsin off the line, that may spell doom for the Badgers. Wisconsin shoots the best free throw percentage in the nation, so a way to beat them is keep them off the line. Butler can't afford dumb fouls. Let's say Wisconsin 65 Butler 62. I think the Badgers make free throws down the stretch to help them hold off Butler, or Gasser makes a three at the horn, and Gus Johnson again has a call no one will ever forget.
Those are just a few things to keep your eye on Thursday night, but overall I really feel you will be in for four good games. And with this crappy weather we are getting in Wisconsin, I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Thursday night than having a Captain and Coke, and watching some great basketball.