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Sweet Sixteen Return of the Ramblings

March 24, 2022

Musings from a frenetic first weekend of The Dance as the music starts again tonight …

West Regional – Gonzaga passed their first test of the tournament in coming back from a 10-point deficit to outlast Memphis in the Second Round. Just when I had written off Drew Timme after he was held to four (4) points in the First Half against Memphis’ frontline of future professionals, he almost single-handedly brought the Zags back with 11 straight points to start the Second Half, and 21 of his 25, all of which led to one of the funniest post-game exercises of self-restraint I’ve ever seen … Gonzaga will face Arkansas today (4:09 p.m. PT, CBS), who on Saturday was never going to let New Mexico State’s Teddy “Buckets” Allen go off like he did against Connecticut. Amazing that it was a game for all 40 minutes, the Razorbacks needing the shortest player in the tournament field, Chris Lykes to hit four (4) free throws in the last 10 seconds to stave off the Aggies. I would expect Arkansas to concentrate on slowing Gonzaga’s Timme and point guard Andrew Nembhard down and dare Chet Holmgren to beat them from the perimeter. Methinks Arkansas has more than a puncher’s chance tonight.  … As for the Coach K Floating Retirement Party (6:39 p.m. PT, CBS), I think it continues to the weekend, even as Texas Tech #1 ranted defense (KenPom AdjD of 84.4) is a mighty speed bump for the Blue Devil Party Bus (like one of those traffic calming speed tables). Will Coach K leave his heart in San Francisco?  (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

South Regional – While the Baylor-Carolina game was legendary (more below), for my money, the most exciting game of the first four days was Arizona’s wild slugfest victory over Texas Christian, 85-80 in overtime. It was the very definition of pugilism in a non-boxing sense; So many times, one team looked dusted, then they would come back and put the other team on the ropes, only to recover with a run to grab back the lead. The difference in the game for Arizona was one of their eight international players, Bennedict Mathurin, who not only had a game-high 30 points, but made every single offensive play the Wildcats needed, from a late three-pointer to tie the game in regulation to two offensive rebounds put-backs in overtime, as well as a dunk that almost took TCU center Eddie Lampkin Jr.’s soul … Arizona’s game against the Houston Cougars tonight (6:59 p.m. PT, TBS) in front of what will surely be a pro-Houston crowd in San Antonio might be an ever stiffer test. An epic contrast of styles, Fast (Arizona has the fastest tempo left in the field according to KenPom) versus Slow (Houston is the second-lowest team left in the same metric), Houston does a lot of what TCU does at both ends of the floor, only faster and more efficiently, especially on the offensive boards (#1 in the country in offensive rebound percentage at 37.8 ORB%) which has been a bugaboo for Arizona lately. If Arizona can hit threes, limit turnovers, and resist the urge to leak out early in transition and fight on the offensive boards, I like their chances tonight, and subsequently on Saturday … Villanova and Michigan battle in the first game in San Antonio (4:29 p.m. PT, TBS), a rematch of the 2018 NCAA National Championship game on the same court from four years ago. Yet unlike that display of Villanova’s basketball excellence, this game promises to be a “first team to 60 points wins” affair in light of Villanova being having the slowest AdjT left, and neither survivor would surprise me.

Midwest Regional – The regional where chaos reigned (as one regional always does), Kansas has a relative cakewalk compared to the other #1 seeds still in the tournament. Their game against a very game #4-seed Providence squad (Friday, 4:29 p.m. PT, TBS) that by seed was expected to be here, even as they were a trendy First Round upset pick, should be a de facto Elite Eight game. Winner here will face the winner of #10-seed Miami and #11-seed Iowa State (Friday, 6:59 p.m. PT, TBS), both of whom were impressive over the weekend – Miami beating #7-seed USC and running #2-seed Auburn out of the building while Iowa State allowed #6-seed LSU to concentrate on their coaching search and sent #3-seed Wisconsin on their 50-mile bus trip home back to Madison – but both of whom would be in tall cotton against the Kansas-Providence winner. I would be shocked if we see anyone else besides Kansas awaiting the South Regional Winner in New Orleans.

East Regional – The Baylor-North Carolina game was the craziest comeback I’ve ever seen where the comeback team eventually lost. Baylor ran out of steam, outscoring the Tar Heels 38-13 in the last 10 minutes to get to overtime, only to miss 10/11 field goal attempts and two free throws in the extra period. I had thought North Carolina ran out of silver bullets against Baylor’s werewolves, unable to break a simple press or make their free throws, until the Bears’ Matthew Meyer fouled out, and James Akinjo and Adam Flagler took turns playing heroball. Those two were a combined 16/45 from the floor, and ultimately that’s why Baylor lost. Meanwhile, even though they won, I think Brady “Manek! At the Disco” and his teammates at North Carolina learned that You Don’t Mess With The Sochan! (Apologies to Adam Sandler). … I will be curious to see how the Tar Heels handle UCLA’s grinding pace at both ends of the floor (Friday, 6:39 p.m. PT, CBS) as I think the winner of this game wins the next one in the Elite Eight and gets to The Big Easy next week. UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez sounds like he’s a game-time decision with a re-aggravated ankle injury, and that could be the “X-factor” for this game. … Before this tournament, I had seen exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of St. Peter’s games. To own the state of Kentucky basketball like they did last weekend is the archetype of madness for which March basketball is known. While I’m not sure where Kentucky goes from here, and while I think Purdue ends their party on Friday night (Friday, 4:09 p.m. PT, CBS), the proud Peacocks, only the third #15 seed in history to make the Men’s Sweet 16, keep the Cinderella mythology alive for another season, and we are better off for it.

Finally, a couple of breakdowns for further perspective.  Enjoy the Dance!

Sweet 16 by Conference:

Big 12 (3/6 teams left, 9-3 record so far as a conference) – Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State

ACC (3/5, 8-2) – Duke, North Carolina, Miami

Big Ten (2/9, 9-7) – Purdue, Michigan

Big East (2/6, 5-4) – Villanova, Providence

Pac-12 (2/3, 4-1) – Arizona, UCLA

SEC (1/6, 4-5) – Arkansas

American (1/2, 3-1) – Houston

WCC (1/3, 3-2) – Gonzaga

MAAC (1/1, 2-0) – St. Peter’s

Sweet 16 by Bobby True Preview Categories:

Contenders (6): Gonzaga, Arizona, Houston, Kansas, UCLA, Villanova – I still expect the Champion to come from this now group of six. Baylor defended their title valiantly. Kentucky we hardly knew ye!

Darkhorses (3): Texas Tech, Duke, Arkansas: One of these is guaranteed to get to the Elite Eight with Texas Tech and Duke facing off, fulfilling that prophecy.

Pretenders (3): Purdue, Providence, North Carolina – Would not surprise me if Purdue or North Carolina is in the Final Four out of the East Regional.

Cinderellas (0): Bit of a surprise, although other teams below now fit this category. Stepsisters (2): Michigan, Iowa State – The #11 seeds were frisky as expected.

Free Fallers (0): Yup. Although Ohio State did surprise with their take-down of Loyola Chicago, only to return to form against Villanova.

Enigmas (1): Miami – I clearly did not see this coming, and frankly still don’t fully understand it, although their athleticism, length and quickness were on full display in their trouncing of Auburn. I think they beat Iowa State.

More Likely Upsets (0): Most of these teams represented well, as New Mexico State and Richmond actually punched their ticket to the Second Round in their respective 5/12 matchups.

Less Likely Upsets (1): St. Peter’s – Oops. Goes to show that just when you think you know what you need to know about who should advance out of the first weekend, time and again you don’t.

From → Basketball, Sports

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