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Night 1, Sweet Sixteen Thoughts: Swiss Army Knives, Hippos and Sexiness

March 28, 2013

A quick look at tonight’s action in the East and West Regional:

EAST … Miami will face Marquette tonight without their 6th man and occasional Hungry Hungry Hippo Reggie Johnson, who underwent a minor surgical procedure on his knee and won’t be available until the Final Four, if the Hurricanes make it that far. Johnson missed time earlier this season with a thumb injury, Miami going 7-2 in his absence. Advancing to their third consecutive Sweet 16, it’s just Marquette’s dumb luck that the East Region was the only bracket that played to seed (1 through 4 in the Sweet 16), and will share the Washington, DC Verizon Center court with three other bona fide Final Four threats. Tonight, Miami has enough athletic guards and wings to throw at Vander Blue and the rest of Marquette’s outside-in attack , so I think Miami still has enough to overcome the Fighting Buzz Williamses (or maybe the “Sweating Buzz Williamses” is more appropriate), who I could see advancing to the Final Four out of any of the other bracket … Tonight’s marquee game is a rematch of the 1987 NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Final between Indiana and Syracuse.  While most of the faces have changed (Jim Boeheim keeps plugging along), I expect the same outcome for both this game and this season, with Indiana continuing their March to Atlanta.  Tom Crean’s Hoosiers have enough athletes and shooters to deal with the puzzle presented by Syracuse’s active and trapping 2-3 Matchup-zone, starting with Victor Oladipo, who I think has been the best player in the country all season.  Also, look for Indiana’s “Swiss Army Knife” Christian Watford to operate in the high post and create shooting and driving opportunities for his teammates as the Orangemen’s zone collapses on the ball.  Syracuse has the proverbial puncher’s chance if they Can hit their threes, but will have to play better than they did in their Round of 32 win over a California team that kept rejecting the glass slipper …

WEST … By remaining seeds alone, it’s the red-headed stepchild of the four regionals, so pervasive is the concern over the “sexiness” of these games at the Staples Center or lack thereof  compared to the other regionals.   Not only is it really easy to say that “The” Ohio State’s matchup with Arizona is the real “Regional Final”, it’s all too easy to say that you can’t sleep on the Wichita State–La Salle game either. But make no mistake, the four teams that played the best basketball last week in this regional have advanced to the West Regional Semifinals.  Ohio State has won their last 10 games and might be as hot as any team not named Louisville, even as they needed some Aaron Craft heroics to overcome Iowa State. Arizona’s on-again, off-again affair with defensive intensity is definitely “on” again, having held two of the best shooting teams in the country to well below their season shooting averages.  There will be no secrets in this game, as OSU’s Thad Matta and Arizona’s Sean Miller worked together at two schools and basically try to do the same things in the same methodical way: defend the paint, limit opponents’ fast-break opportunities, rebound well at every position without sending every player to the glass, and take care of the ball while moving it around to create shot opportunities instead of depending on isolation.  I think the Wildcats actually have more talent and depth than the Buckeyes, and if Arizona can impose that talent edge (especially on the interior) with a partisan crown behind them in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arizona playing for a Final Four berth on Saturday … The nightcap features two teams that would be hailed as the “plucky underdogs” had they not been overshadowed by the Florida Gulf Coast Phenomenon.  Don’t be fooled however, Wichita State looks every bit the part of a high-seed, high-major team, going 10-deep with athleticism, quickness and a “play angry” mindset that swept favored Pittsburgh and Gonzaga teams off the court with brutal efficiency.  La Salle’s four-guard lineup has the quickness and athleticism to match, if not the depth or overall size, and like their opponent will fight for 40 minutes.  These Explorers, a self-described “Rags to Riches to Rags” program and the lone Atlantic-10 survivor, will look to repeat the feat of conference brethren VCU’s 2011 run from the First Four to the Final Four, and the West Region is tailor-made for such hijinks, if they can avoid being Shocked tonight.

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