Looking at Friday’s games in the NCAA Tournament
Listed by region in order of tip-off time
At Dayton, Ohio
8. North Carolina State (24-10) vs. 9. Temple (23-9): NC State has been maligned all season and it’s true the Wolfpack lack chemistry, but they’re tremendously talented, especially forward C.J. Leslie (14.9). For all their troubles, this is a balanced team with five players averaging in double figures. Temple might have the coaching advantage with Fran Dunphy, but his Owls have failed to win a NCAA game while he’s been on the bench. The steady, clutch Khalif Wyatt (19.8) might change that himself.
1. Indiana (27-6) vs. LIU (21-13) or James Madison (21-14): Indiana may not be the overall No. 1 team, but the Hoosiers should be the favorite to win the national championship. They’ve got it all, one of the best big men in Cody Zeller (16.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and one of the hardest-playing guards in Victor Oldipo (13.6) plus ballhandlers and shooters. Maybe they’re not that deep and that could derail them. It won’t pose a problem with either of these two opponents, however.
At Austin, Texas
2. Miami (27-6) vs. 15. Pacific (22-12): Miami is the first team to win the ACC regular season and tournament to not get a No. 1 seed. The Hurricanes lost to Florida Gulf Coast early in the season and Wake Forest late in the season, so they’re capable of a dud, but it’s been a sensational season. The team is well coached by Jim Larranaga (He’s a really loud whistler, listen for it on TV) and the team plays together cohesively on both ends of the floor. This is a true Final four contender. Pacific’s coach Bob Thomason is in his 25th and final season; he’s been here before and will rely on his usual methods, patient offense, tight man-to-man defense. If the Tigers shoot the lights out and Miami plays like it did against Wake, an upset is possible.
7. Illinois (22-12) vs. 10. Colorado (21-11): These teams are really similar. Both had quick starts – Illinois started 12-0 and had a win over Gonzaga, and Colorado began 10-2. Both leveled off during the conference season and both are reliant on a pair of good guards. Neither team has a great inside game. At times this season Illinois guard Brandon Paul (16.6) has played like an All-American and combined with D.J. Richardson (12.4) to be a potent unit. A pair of sophomore guards, Askia Booker (12.4) and Spencer Dinwiddie (15.6), are the difference makers for the Buffs. It might be too simple, but it could be that the team with the most points in the paint wins.
2. Georgetown (25-6) vs. 15. Florida Gulf Coast (24-10): On paper a mismatch, Gulf Coast has no one who can deal with the Hoyas’ Otto Porter, one of the top 10 players in America. Porter has a tremendous all-around game; he will be able to overpower Gulf Coast inside, but he’s also unselfish, a great decision maker (he averages 1.5 turnovers per game), and he can shoot it from outside (he hits 42 percent of his threes, so he only takes good ones). Gulf Coast did beat Miami back in November, so an upset is not impossible.
7. San Diego State (22-10) vs. 10. Oklahoma (20-11): I hate to think ahead, but it sure will be an interesting second-round game if San Diego State’s Jamal Franklin matches up with Georgetown’s Otto Porter. Both of their teams are reliant on their best player. Franklin is a tough 6-5 forward who does most of his damage inside the arc. Franklin leads the Aztecs in scoring (16.7), rebounding (9.5), assists (3.2) and steals. His weakness: He only makes 27 percent of his threes. Oklahoma will try to jam things inside to Romero Osby (15.8) and get to the foul line. The Sooners shot more than 100 free throws than their opponents.
In Kansas City, Mo.
8. North Carolina (24-10) vs. 9. Villanova (20-13): For Carolina, this is a bad season, but remember the Tar Heels still have plenty of talent, and half their losses were to Duke and Miami and another two were to Butler and Indiana. Roy Williams uses as many as 11 players and three of them, James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, and P.J. Hairston, average about 14 points per game. The Heels will try to wear down Villanova, which isn’t deep, and try to force some turnovers on what can be a shaky backcourt.
1. Kansas (29-5) vs. 16. Western Kentucky (20-15): For the second straight season, Western is in the tournament almost by accident as the Hilltoppers were in the opposite bracket of the Sun Belt tournament from top-seeded Middle Tennessee, which was upset both years. They’ll be no match for the Jayhawks, who lead the nation in field goal percentage defense and will try to turn this into a track meet where Western can’t keep up.
In Austin, Texas
3. Florida (26-7), vs. 14. Northwestern State (23-8): Northwestern State is the highest-scoring team in the country at 81 points per game. Florida doesn’t score as much, but the Gators will be willing to run up and down. They’re going to get the chance. Northwestern presses full-court for 40 minutes. Florida’s outstanding guards Mike Rosario (12.3), Kenny Boynton (12.3), and Scottie Wilbekin (9.0) should be able to deal with the pressure. Northwestern’s chance for an upset is to hope Florida’s guards aren’t focused and start turning the ball over.
6. UCLA (25-9) vs. 11. Minnesota (20-12):To call UCLA enigmatic is accurate, you just never know how well they’re going to play. The bookies in Las Vegas have no faith, they’ve made Minnesota a three-point favorite. The LA Times is writing about the future of coach Ben Howland and it sounds like it’s in jeopardy. The Bruins just don’t have any chemistry and the best example of that is leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad, who has 26 assists in 31 games. He loves to hold onto the ball. Minnesota, meanwhile, is an experienced group and will try to win the physical battle.
2. Duke (27-5) vs. Albany (24-10): The Dookies surprised people by getting upset by Maryland in the ACC tournament, but they’ll shake that off and move on easily. Albany has no one who can contend with Duke center Mason Plumlee, a rugged individual who’s had an All-American season. The Blue Devils are well-balanced with five players in double figures. Albany can’t guard them all. The Great Danes will have to make this a half-court game and hope their leading scorers, Mike Black (14.9) and Jacob Yati (12.1), have big afternoons.
7. Creighton (27-7) vs. 10. Cincinnati (22-11): Quite a contrast because Creighton and its All-American forward Doug McDermott (23.1, second in the country) are one of the most skilled offensive teams in the tournament. The Bluejays plan to push the pace and get up shots quickly. Cincinnati, on the other hand, can be almost painful to watch on offense; the Bearcats make only 40 percent of their shots (Creighton leads the nation with 50 percent shooting). Cincinnati has to turn this into a taffy-pull, a half-court game where defense matters most.
In Dayton, Ohio
2. Ohio State (26-7) vs. 15. Iona (20-13): This has a chance to be a fun game. Iona disdains defense, so Ohio State should score a lot of points. That’s just the way the Gaels like it because they’re second in the nation at 80.7 points per game. It’s pedal to the medal behind two skilled guards in Lamont “Momo” Jones (23 ppg, 116 assists and 110 turnovers) and Sean Armand (16.6). On a really good night, the Gaels are capable of pulling off the upset. Most likely, Ohio State should use its tough man-to-man defense led by guard Aaron Craft to control the game.
7. Notre Dame (25-9) vs. 10. Iowa State (22-11): Iowa State leads the nation in three-point field goals per game, so the Irish will need to guard the arc. The Cyclones are a perimeter-oriented team because they lack size and consistent inside play. Notre Dame has 6-9 center Jack Cooley (12.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg), one of the most underrated players in the country, and 6-10 Tom Knight. It could be a big night under the hoop for the Irish.
In Kansas City, Mo.
5. Wisconsin (23-11) vs. 12. Mississippi (26-8): Wisconsin has a plan that never changes under coach Bo Ryan. The Badgers will run their patient swing offense and try to make it a physical half-court game. Speeding them up is the key to beating them. Mississippi has one of the most flamboyant players in college basketball in guard Marshall Henderson (20.1 ppg) who will work hard to get open shots, hit them and then openly celebrate. Ole Mss won its first SEC tournament championship since 1981 to force its way into the tournament.
4. Kansas State (27-7) vs. Boise State (22-10) or LaSalle (22-9): Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was unfairly fired at Illinois and he’s proven his value by coaxing Kansas State to a co-regular season championship in the Big 12 with Kansas, which had at least double the talent. K State is guard-oriented with the manic Angel Rodriquez (11.7 ppg, 5.2 apg) and Rodney McGruder (15.7), who can jump over any defender to get his shot. Boise was the surprise team in the Mountain West and parlayed that into the school’s first at-large bid. Anthony Drmic, a 6-6 swingman from Australia, is the leading scorer at 17.3 ppg. LaSalle has a quartet of great guards led by Ramon Galloway that will pose a defensive challenge for the Wildcats.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell