Dave Spencer’s Sweet Sixteen Picks – Thursday’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. Indiana is. Florida Gulf Coast is.
Okay, there might not be much passion for that last one...unless you saw them perform in their first two games against Georgetown and San Diego State.
Yes, I said PERFORM. They weren't just playing.
The FGCU Eagles could take that show to Vegas. In the meantime, they'll have to settle for the Sweet Sixteen. Here are my picks for Thursday's games:
Indiana vs. Syracuse - East Region (Washington D.C.)
The Hoosiers are on a mission. It's been a long hard road for Coach Tom Crean. In his first season--the season after previous coach Kelvin Sampson broke every rule he could get his hands on and left the Indiana program for dead--the Hoosiers only won 6 games, their worst-ever showing. Last season, Indiana had come almost all the way back with a Sweet Sixteen appearance--its first in 10 years--and a loss in that game to Kentucky. This year, the Hoosiers have their first #1 seed in 20 years. It's also the first time they've been to a second consecutive regional semifinal since 1994. They're playing great basketball. It's the nation's best offense. Here's the thing, though. Despite the rugged physical play of the Big Ten, Indiana hasn't seen a 2-3 zone defense like the one Syracuse will give them. Orange coach Jim Boeheim is a zone master. Nobody does it better. Makes Coach Boeheim feel sad for the rest. And he has the talent to make it work against Indiana. I think this rematch of the 1987 National Championship will be a very close game. The Hoosiers will cry uncle, but they have the guards to shoot over the Syracuse zone.
Indiana 70 Syracuse 68
Marquette vs. Miami FL - East Region (Washington, D.C.)
The Miami Hurricanes have been the nice surprise of the season. They reached their highest ever ranking--No. 2--and blasted Duke by 27 points. They also beat North Carolina three times. Not bad. They have an experienced core--good Lord, some of these guys will apply for senior discounts once their last game is finished--and they sport an extraordinarily talented point guard in Shane Larkin. Marquette, on the other hand, lost a lot of talent from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad, yet here they are again, in a regional semifinal for the third straight year. The Golden Eagles also feature one of the best guards in the country in Vander Blue, who bailed them out in their first game against Davidson. I think it'll be tough for Marquette to go up against the experience, depth, and talent of Miami and I'm going with the Hurricanes.
Miami FL 81 Marquette 72
Ohio State vs. Arizona - West Region (Los Angeles)
I'm looking forward to this one. Arizona is a much better team than what it showed during conference play. Solomon Hill is solid as a rock. Mark Lyons, when his head is fastened firmly on his shoulders, is one of the best in the business. And Coach Sean Miller has taken teams to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond many times before. This time he'll be coaching against old buddy and former boss Thad Matta and the Ohio State Buckeyes who are appearing in their fourth consecutive regional semifinal. The Bucks are super-tough. DeShaun Thomas can flat-out shoot the three. Point guard Aaron Craft is one of the smartest players in the country. Plus, Ohio State is riding a 10-game winning streak. They're clicking. And despite all that, I am sooooooo tempted to pick this as an upset. Zona's playing its best basketball of the season and they'll essentially have the home court advantage in L.A. since Ohio State's basketball fans don't travel much. Also, it was just two years ago that the Buckeyes--as a #1 seed--were upset by another set of Wildcats in this round and I bet you know who they were. But....no. Road games don't get into their heads.
Ohio State 67 Arizona 66
Wichita State vs. La Salle - West Region (Los Angeles)
What the heck are THEY doing here? Well, they won games they weren't expected to win. That's what the heck they're doing here. Wichita State and La Salle aren't exactly household words outside of Wichita and Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia has so many "household words," the Explorers might not even make the top five. But they HAVE made the top Sixteen. And how Sweet it is. You know, not only were these La Salle players not yet born the last time their program was in the Sweet Sixteen, I'm gonna bet their PARENTS weren't either. Because it was 1955! The year after they won the title. Yes, a team most of you have probably never heard of has a championship banner hanging in its gym's rafters. Its opponent, Wichita State, cannot say the same. But it can sport a much more recent regional semifinal appearance--2006. When a 9-seed and a 13-seed do battle, you could probably flip a coin. But I think I'll save my nickel and just assume the Shockers' toughness will overcome La Salle's quickness and make Wichita proud that the hometown team will move on to its first Elite Eight in 32 years.
Wichita State 74 La Salle 69