Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 |
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The defending champs are gone, leaving 12 teams clamoring for the right to hoist the title. After today, only eight will remain standing and with a shot to be among the Final Four.
Picks for today’s action:
North Carolina (2)
vs. Marquette (11)
Sure the Big East hasn’t exactly lit it up during this tournament, but it should count for something that its two teams still alive finished ninth (UConn) and 11th (Marquette) in the conference this season. That displays the incredible depth on offer, but these Golden Eagles will certainly have their hands full today.
UNC survived a major test against Washington, both teams playing up-tempo to create an exciting 40-minute contest. The Tar Heels’ only two losses in more than two months have come at the hands of Duke, which is now watching the rest of the tournament from Durham, N.C. Freshman Harrison Barnes was frustrating to UNC fans early in the season, but has clearly become one of the best and most clutch players in all of college basketball.
Marquette was somewhat lucky with its second matchup, getting to take on a familiar conference foe in Syracuse. Even as an 11-seed, the Golden Eagles were confident they could duplicate what they did to beat the Orange back in January, and they did just that. Darius Johnson-Odom stepped up big and made up for a pedestrian performance from Jimmy Butler.
Carolina will push the pace again, which could seriously cripple Marquette, since the Golden Eagles typically play just seven guys. The lack of offense and bodies may be too much to overcome this round.
vs. Richmond (12)
The Spiders are for real and could bring about a quick case of arachnophobia from the Jayhawks, who managed to move one round further than last year’s second-round shocker at the hands of Northern Iowa. Now Kansas will take on another mid-major and Bill Self must be either counting his blessings or feeling the heat.
The top-seeded Jayhawks can get to the Final Four without playing anyone higher than a 9-seed, thanks to the rest of their bracket getting blown up. The perceived easy road may only add to the pressure that seems to always fall on Self and Kansas around tourney time.
With Duke out of the mix, Kansas appears to be the team with the most pro prospects — normally a good indicator of a school’s success.
But it’s not always the deciding factor, as some Cinderellas have proven.
Richmond seems to be a very smart and resilient team, having beaten Vanderbilt and Morehead State, two very different opponents. The Spiders don’t make mistakes and will force Kansas to execute in order to advance.
Had the Jayhawks not been stunned in the second round last year, they may have been caught looking past Richmond to a likely Final Four berth. But that loss could be just the reminder this team needs in order to buckle down and focus on its immediate future. Kansas should come out with one of its best performances of the year.
Ohio State (1)
vs. Kentucky (4)
The day’s best game should be an instant classic as the Buckeyes and Wildcats match up. Ohio State has looked every bit the overall No. 1 seed, last week laying the smackdown to George Mason. Kentucky got by Princeton by just two points in its opener, then knocked off West Virginia.
Ohio State is the most complete team in the country, with the inside game of Jared Sullinger to go with shooters Jon Diebler and David Lighty. It can play physical and it can play finesse.
Kentucky would like to get out and run, but has also shown it can succeed in a slow pace. In the Princeton game, the team still shot over 50 percent from the floor, then shot 48 percent in the West Virginia win.
Point guard Brandon Knight makes the Wildcats go, having gone off for 30 against the Mountaineers. He and the rest of his running mates have clear quickness advantages against the Buckeyes, so OSU will try to instill its own pace.
Kentucky has the type of team that could identify one of Ohio State’s few weaknesses, but the Big Ten champs have such a calm confidence that these youngsters from the SEC probably won’t rattle them much. Even if Kentucky goes on a big run, OSU coach Thad Matta and his club won’t succumb to the pressure.
Pick: Ohio State
Florida State (10)
vs. Virginia Commonwealth (11)
The all-too-rare 10 vs. 11 matchup will be another contrast in styles. Florida State showed Sunday that less physical teams better shoot the lights out, or else they won’t get much done offensively. The best defensive team in the country held red-hot Notre Dame to only 57 points on under 31 percent shooting.
The Seminoles held opponents to a national-best 36 percent on the season and will have a healthier Chris Singleton today. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year played both games — sparingly — last week after returning from a broken foot. Also the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Singleton got more practice time in and should see his role and significance increase.
VCU is keeping up its “us against the world” attitude, as it should. Needing to beat USC just to get into the field of 64, the Rams crushed both Georgetown and Purdue last week. Having lost six games in the Colonial Athletic Association, there was little reason to think VCU would be around for the second week, let alone eyeing a Final Four berth. But here they are, with Jamie Skeen the steady force in the paint and good shooters on the perimeter.
Guard Joey Rodriguez will decide the winner today. The VCU guard knocked down 65 3-pointers on the season, but shot less than 34 percent on his deep attempts. He has been great in the last two games (14.5 ppg, 9 apg, two total turnovers), but if his jumper is going down, the Seminoles are in trouble.
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