Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 |
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If yesterday is any indication, then the picks you find here should provide a good road map for what is likely to happen today, as the final eight games of the opening weekend tip off. After today, the Sweet 16 will officially be set.
Saturday’s picks went 7-1, including the Butler upset of top-seeded Pittsburgh.
Either that prognosticating precision will continue today, or all the smart selections were used up prior to Sunday. Only time will tell.
Picks for today’s action:
North Carolina (2) vs. Washington (7)
The day’s opening game may provide another stunner. The Tar Heels put themselves on everyone’s radar by winning 14 of their final 16 games, those only two losses coming at the hands of Duke. They lost three of their first seven games of the year and have since emerged as a team that is no longer a darkhorse, but a favorite to reach the Final Four.
It may be a rare case of a team going from overrated in the preseason, to underrated during the middle of the season, to now overrated again in the postseason. This is still a very young team that didn’t even make the tournament last year.
Washington’s leader is junior guard Isaiah Thomas (16.9 ppg, 6.0 apg), who nailed a game-winner against Arizona to win the Pac-10 championship last week, then put up 19 points and seven assists in Thursday’s win over Georgia. The Huskies like to push the pace, which plays into Carolina’s hands.
But as we have seen time and again, tournament games always remain tight. If this one goes down to the wire, I like Thomas’ veins of ice water more than the youth UNC is currently serving.
Duke (1) vs. Michigan (8)
The top-seeded Blue Devils have their full team back on the court after the re-emergence of point guard Kyrie Irving, who suffered a toe injury that has kept him out most of the season. Now Duke may be the most complete team in the field. It showed what was expected in an opening-round win and now faces a Wolverine squad that laid the hammer to Tennessee by 30 on Thursday.
Michigan will provide more of a test and could stay in the mix for the first half, but Duke is way too much and should secure its spot in the second week without much trouble.
Ohio State (1) vs. George Mason (8)
It has been five years now since George Mason became everyone’s favorite George outside of a “Seinfeld” rerun, but this team comes into this tournament with an even better resume than the 2006 squad. However, that doesn’t mean the Patriots are ready to step up and knock off the top team in the land.
If Mason wants a sign that history can repeat itself, it should look no further than the Butler Bulldogs, who are beginning to resemble last year’s surprise runner-up squad. It has versatility and depth and shoots over 47 percent as a team from the field, just under 40 percent from three-point land. Those are factors that can keep them in any contest.
But — and it’s a big but — Ohio State doesn’t have many self-destructive tendencies. It can score in a variety of ways, it’s not reliant on one style of play and its two best players form an inside-outside combination that is virtually impossible to successfully defend. Player of the Year candidate Jared Sullinger (17.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and sharpshooter Jon Diebler (12.3 ppg, 51 percent on 3-pointers) are the main forces, while William Buford and David Lighty also score 14 and 12 points per game, respectively.
The Buckeyes just have too much and won’t be taking any games off. They are beatable, but not yet.
Pick: Ohio State
Texas (4) vs. Arizona (5)
At one point this season, the Longhorns were the No. 1 team in the country. It does seem like it’s been a while since they had that distinction, but they may still be one of the five most complete teams in the land. Four starters score in double figures, with two freshmen and two seniors in the first unit. They like to run, but can also overpower teams in the paint. They don’t rely on the 3-pointer, with only 26 percent of their shot attempts coming from long range.
Arizona is a bit of an enigma. The talent level on this team seems to be embarrassingly low, outside of power forward Derrick Williams, who will be a top-five pick in the next NBA Draft. Williams (18.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 61 percent from the field) has carried the Wildcats on his back for much of the year, so it always feels like one sub-par game will de-rail the Cats. The hard part is figuring out when that might be.
This one should be close and can go either way, but the balance of Texas may just give it the slight edge.
Purdue (3) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (11)
The Boilermakers are just solid. It’s hard to find a weakness in their game, thanks in large part to head coach Matt Painter. Also helping out is the outstanding senior duo of E’Twaun Moore (18.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and JaJuan Johnson (20.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Johnson is incrediblty clutch and a complete package, having led the Big Ten in blocks per game (2.4) and also shooting 81 percent from the foul line. So he can have the ball in his hands at the end of games and not be a liability.
VCU has made its statement to those who knocked its inclusion in the tournament by beating USC and Georgetown. It is a rugged team and won’t back down from a challenge. This one is just too big to overcome.
Syracuse (3) vs. Marquette (11)
Here is pair of Big East teams that seem to have gotten a raw deal by having to see one another this early in the tournament. They played once in the regular season with Marquette winning at home, 76-70. It marked the fourth straight loss for the Orange and would be one of six in an eight-game stretch. Other than those eight games, Syracuse went 25-1 the rest of the season.
The Golden Eagles had one of the more impressive opening-round wins, dominating a very good Xavier team. They are very familiar with the vaunted Syracuse zone defense and can get scoring from various players.
The problem is that their defense isn’t great. Going against this particular Orange attack, you need to be able to get out and guard. Marquette may not be up to the task on a neutral court with ‘Cuse playing the way they are at the moment.
Kansas (1) vs. Illinois (9)
Before the return of Duke’s Kyrie Irving — and arguably still with his inclusion — Kansas can stake claim to the most talented team in the country. The Jayhawks got a scare from Boston U. in their opener but settled down in the second half.
Illinois was impressive in its first win against UNLV, but doesn’t seem to match up well with Kansas — which makes it like almost every other team. The Illini won’t be a walkover, especially given the way the Big Ten has represented itself so far this week, but a win here is asking too much.
Florida State (10) vs. Notre Dame (2)
The upset patrol should be on high alert in the day’s final contest.
The Seminoles present matchup problems against everyone, with incredible size and a focus on defense that is unmatched. Florida State forces opponents to shoot just 36 percent from the field, the lowest in the nation. It also allows barely over 30 percent on 3-pointers.
If one team is going to solve that riddle, it will be Notre Dame, which shoots over 39 percent from long range and takes over 38 percent of its shots from behind the arc. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are the main weapons from deep and have been clinical over the past month.
Florida State’s Chris Singleton, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, is back from a broken foot. He was very limited in the team’s first win over Texas A&M, but his defense should be what it always has been. Guards Derwin Kitchen and Michael Snaer each have the ability to break out and make big plays offensively, while the big men should control the paint and hold the Irish to one shot much of the night.
Unless Notre Dame shoots the lights out — which they are capable of doing — the Seminoles could be making their way to the Sweet 16.
Pick: Florida State
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