Dave Spencer’s Sweet 16 Picks – Friday’s Games
March Madness is my favorite time of the year. Now, I realize that, around here, it might not mean as much when Kentucky isn't involved. But Louisville is.
Of course, with UK's ridiculous recruiting class that's coming in, I'll probably be writing about the 'Cats in this space next March. But that's next March.
Having gone 2-2 on Thursday night, let's see how I do with Friday's games in the 2013 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen:
Kansas vs. Michigan - South Region (North Texas)
Here Kansas is again playing in the Sweet Sixteen as a #1 seed. But they aren't dominating this year. The Jayhawks' first win--over Western Kentucky (sigh)--was a sluggish affair. And North Carolina outclassed 'em in the first half in that Round of 32 matchup before KU woke up and put the Tar Heels away. Now they face one of the most impressive teams in this tournament in the Michigan Wolverines. It sure doesn't look like the Maize and Blue have been absent from the second weekend for 19 years. The guard play of Trey Burke and the inside presence of Mitch McGary have been tremendous. After Michigan trounced VCU, I believed they would be a horrible matchup for Kansas, a team that doesn't shoot a whole lot of threes. Now, I think it's merely a bad matchup.
Michigan 71 Kansas 64
Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast - South Region (North Texas)
Florida Gulf Coast is the story of the tournament, to this point. The first 15-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen in NCAA history, the Eagles are as entertaining a bunch as I've seen. It's fascinating how they're able to create their highly inventive offense by forcing opponents to switch defenses so quickly. They had the perfect foils in pokey Georgetown and ambling San Diego State, teams that were unable to overcome their shock in time to get out in front of FGCU. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Florida has no such issues. The Gators are a couple of cuts above the Hoyas and the Aztecs. They move rather well. Their defense is on a par with the title teams of 2006 and 2007. And Coach Billy Donovan has had a week to digest the Dunk City system of Florida Gulf Coast. You'd hate to be the team to knock the Eagles out of the tournament...unless you want to win a championship. Florida knows it needs to put FGCU away early or it's curtains. The Gators will answer the call.
Florida 79 Florida Gulf Coast 65
Duke vs. Michigan State - Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
Duke haters, beware. The Blue Devils are a terrific team with all three of those seniors--Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly--at full strength...that is, if they want to be. They didn't look great in their first two wins and I'm sure Coach Mike Krzyzewski saw that. With almost a week to study Michigan State, Coach K will have his guys coming out fighting. But so will Spartans coach Tom Izzo. Now, THERE'S someone who likes the fight. When two of his own players had words and tossed towels during a huddle, he liked it. Izzo likes "feisty." Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, Travis Trice? They can give Coach Izzo "feisty" to spare. They'll really lay it on thick against Duke. This is going to be a terrific game. I've been going back and forth on my prediction for a couple of days because this is such an even match. Neither of these teams have gotten past the Sweet Sixteen in three years--an eternity for the programs and the coaches. Okay, heads Duke, tails Michigan State.
Michigan State 64 Duke 62
Louisville vs. Oregon - Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
Had Oregon been seeded correctly--a 7 or an 8--they wouldn't be in this game. They might not even be in this round. But here they are as a 12-seed after having beaten 5-seed Oklahoma State by 13 and 4-seed St. Louis by 17. Uh, they've been playing well. But despite those big wins and impressive performances, the Ducks turned the ball over 36 times in those two games. Get careless with the rock against Louisville, and it's cigarette-and-blindfold time. The Cards would flat-out run you out of Lucas Oil Stadium with your Duck-tails between your legs. Look, Oregon is a good team. But they haven't seen anyone all year like Louisville, not even in the Pac-12. Last year, the Cardinals made the Final Four on stellar defense, but their offense was lacking and Kentucky got 'em. This year, the offense--particularly from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith--has seriously improved. Throw in the monstrous inside presence of Gorgui Dieng; the physicality of Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear; and the stupendous work of bench guys like Luke Hancock and Stephan Van Treese; not to mention a coach with one of the best basketball minds in the business in Rick Pitino--who LOVES this time of year--and you have a tremendous basketball team. Just ask North Carolina A&T and Colorado State--Louisville's first two opponents--who are still in triage after getting crushed by the Cards by a combined 57 points. I think the "crushing" days are over for Louisville, but I also see them comfortably advancing to the Elite Eight.
Louisville 80 Oregon 69