How do you like that? In the matter of mere hours, not one but two two-seeds were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. Of the two, I found the Missouri loss more unbelievable. The Tigers shot the ball fairly well, but Norfolk State simply had too much going on inside. Amazing. Let’s take a moment to think about the Duke players and how they will have to rely on their first class education. Moment over.
Today, we winnow the field more as the round of 32 is trimmed to 24. After a relatively calm Thursday, we only have two double-digit seeds to talk about. Unlike the 1-16 match ups (and previously 2-15 games), none of these games will be run overs. Of the eight, the Wisconsin-Vanderbilt match up intrigues me the most. Both teams have shooting stars and play excellent defense. Let me get this typed up, so I can get back to my couch groove.
1. Syracuse vs. 8. Kansas State (East Region, Pittsburgh, 12:15 PM – all times Eastern)
The first game of the afternoon is quite interesting. Syracuse did not look powerful in fending off UNC-Asheville in the first round, but sometimes a close game can be a wake up call for number one seeds. The team is going to need someone to step up for Fab Melo. Dion Waiters ($171,000) and
Kris Joseph ($137,000) should lead the team in scoring. Waiters had just 12 points against the Bulldogs, but has scored at least ten points in his last five. Joesph has not topped 12 points in his last four games and has gone just 6-for-24 from the field in his last three. I’d let him be. The Wildcats should be a good team for the 2-3 zone. I am not sure if guard Rodney McGruder ($225,000) has the type of shooting skills to shoot over the zone and he generally doesn’t have two big games in a row. He had 30 points in the win over Southern Miss. My guess is that he scores fewer than 20 points in this one. Jordan Henriquez ($156,000) and Jamal Samuels ($106,000) seem like they may be able to take advantage of the Melo-sized hole in the Orange defense. Henriquez has scored at least 15 points in four of his last five games and is a factor on the offensive glass. Samuels was a non-factor against Southern Miss (one point in 27 minutes), but that has lowered his price to a palatable range.
2. Ohio State vs. 7. Gonzaga (East Region, Pittsburgh, 2:45 PM)
The Buckeyes were able to blow past Loyola (MD) to reach a second round game against Gonzaga. The Zags did not need to worry about Pittsburgh being a home away from home for West Virginia and took care of their own business. Still, I don’t see how they are going to stop Jared Sullinger ($209,000). The wide body had just 12 points in 32 minutes against the Greyhounds, but he did not need to have a huge scoring game. Hopefully, he posts himself on the low block against the Zags and goes to work. I could see him scoring 25 points. Meanwhile, Deshaun Thomas ($208,000) went off for a career-high 31 points in the first round. He is a great scorer, but the big game makes him slightly overpriced. I won’t give him the strikethrough, however, because he is more than capable of putting up 20. To go deep into the tournament, Ohio State needs guard William Buford ($160,000) to play well. He had 17 points in the first round and hit three threes. It was the first time since Valentine’s Day that the Buckeye shooter had made more than two treys. He should be able to find open shots against the Bulldogs. Freshman
Kevin Pangos ($157,000) had 13 points against the Mountaineers and hit all three of his two-point attempts. He’ll be matched up against Aaron Craft ($93,000), so I don’t think he if a good play. If Gonzaga is going to pull the upset, they will need a big game from Elias Harris ($128,000). He played just 15 minutes against the Mountaineers, so he should be well-rested for Saturday.
3. Marquette vs. 6. Murray State (West Region, Louisville, 5:15 PM)
In a game that features a lot of perimeter power, it may be the team with the best forward takes the win. That forward is Marquette’s Jae Crowder ($221,000). He blasted through BYU for 25 points and 16 rebounds. Crowder has scored 23 points or more in five of his last seven games and I am not sure that the Racers have a player who is a good match up for the 6-foot-6 senior. It could be that Ben Wallace-clone
Edward Daniel ($70,000) fits the bill, but Crowder likely has too much quickness. If Murray State plans to stop Crowder, then Darius Johnson-Odom ($189,000) could have a big game. The senior guard has averaged 20 points over his last three games and has been a consistent scorer all season long. Murray State is led by their own brilliant scorer in Isaiah Canaan ($194,000). The junior started the game against Colorado State slowly, but finished with 15 points. He has only gone 8-for-26 (30.8%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) on threes in his last two games. If his shooting slump continues, Murray State will find themselves heading back to Murray.
4. Vanderbilt vs. 5. Wisconsin (East Region, Albuquerque, 6:10 PM)
As noted above, this is the game I am most looking forward to. Will Vanderbilt be satisfied by winning one game, something they had not done in their five previous appearances? Wisconsin has made it to the Sweet 16 in two of the past four tournaments, but how will they stop John Jenkins ($216,000)? Jenkins put 27 on Harvard on Thursday and only required 12 shots. He was 10-for-13 from the line and made three threes. Even though the Badgers play staunch defense, I don’t think they can stop Jenkins from scoring. I do think they can stop
Jeffery Taylor ($160,000) who had 15 against the Crimson. Taylor is an inconsistent three-point shooter , even though his season average is 43%. He has not hit more than two threes in his last five games and has continued to struggle from the free throw line. If the Commodores try to attack the heart of the Badger defense, they will send the ball down low to Festus Ezeli ($112,000). While I don’t think he’ll have a huge game, the price is right for the senior center. Jordan Taylor ($183,000), who is not related to the Commodores’ Jeffery, has scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. He is finding the range on his three-pointer and will not end his career without a fight. For the first time in his career, Ryan Evans ($148,000) has scored at least 18 points in consecutive games. In fact, he has scored exactly 18 points in his last two games, but I think 15 points is a more reasonable expectation.
4. Indiana vs. 12. VCU (South Region, Portland, OR, 7:10 PM)
We will stay in the Big Ten for the next game. Did anyone notice that the Big Ten went 5-1 in the first round? Only Michigan’s loss to Ohio caused the Big Ten to be less than perfect. Let’s give it up for the best basketball conference. As such, Cody Zeller ($174,000) and his mates will be ready for the upstart Rams. Indiana is a bit of an upstart as well since they had not been invited to the Big Dance since 2008. Zeller was held to 14 points in the win over New Mexico State on Thursday. When he scores well, he gets to the free throw line a lot. Junior Christian Watford ($157,000) looks like he is heating up from three-point land. He has hit four of his last six trey attempts and scored 31 points in his last two games. Speaking of hot from long range,
Jordan Hulls ($166,000) has hit nine of his last 13 three-point attempts. He had a game-high 22 points in the win over New Mexico State, but I don’t think he’ll find as much room to operate against the Rams. It may be that Shaka Smart, like Brad Stevens, knows how to coach in the NCAA tournament. It also may be that Smart and Stevens are somewhat lucky. Bradford Burgess ($176,000) has only topped 17 points once in his last four games. He is a streaky three-point shooter who has gone two for his last ten from long range. Keep an eye on junior guard Troy Daniels ($124,000). He has scored in double figures in six of his last eight games and should score 15 points or more.
1. Kentucky vs. 8. Iowa State (South Region, Louisville, 7:45 PM)
Most college basketball seasons have signature players in my mind. While I will likely remember the Kentucky squad as the best in 2011-12, I have a feeling that we are entering the Royce White ($154,000) era. White controlled the game against Connecticut on Thursday and did not look uncomfortable in a scoring role. He will have to be even more aggressive against Kentucky who has a number of big bodies that they can throw at the 6-foot-8 sophomore. If the Wildcats concentrate on stopping White, then Melvin Ejim ($111,000) could have a decent game.
Scott Christopherson ($192,000) hit all three of his threes against the Huskies, but I think he is fairly overpriced. Anthony Davis ($165,000), the tournament’s premier shot blocker, has been scoring plenty as well. He has hit double digits in his last five games 13 of his last 14. Davis is excellent around the basket and has a decent handle for a player so tall. He’ll continue to score a decent clip. I am a little less optimistic about Terrence Jones ($175,000) who had 22 points against Western Kentucky. He tends to follow up his 20-point games with 15 points of fewer. My sleeper, if you can call a Wildcat a sleeper, is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($121,000). He has not been scoring well, but may be asked to take on more offense in this game.
3. Baylor vs. 11. Colorado (South Region, Albuquerque, 8:40 PM)
On paper, things set up quite nicely for the Bears who find themselves in a bracket with a ten, 11, and 15 seed. The Bears have looked good all season on paper and it is only when they are challenged by an equally talented team that they usually seem to fail. While Colorado is not equally talented, they do have some resolve and may cause some problems for Baylor. It is hard to recommend Perry Jones ($164,000) who is coming off a two-point game against South Dakota State. He doesn’t always appear to be engaged in the game. He could be taking advantage of his size by demanding the ball in the post, but that rarely happens. It may be that the guards, like Pierre Jackson ($188,000), are not looking for Jones. Jackson called his own number of 18 points against the Jack Rabbits and should be a good scorer again. Quincy Miller ($111,000) has also been relatively quiet of late, but I think he could find moderate success as a secondary option against the Buffaloes. Colorado is led by the duo of
Carlon Brown ($159,000) and Andre Roberson ($151,000). Brown is the better scorer of the two, but has only hit 31.9% of his threes this season. Roberson played against Baylor last year when Colorado was still in the Big 12 and had nine points.
4. Louisville vs. 5. New Mexico (West Region, Portland, OR, 9:40 PM)
I did not think the Lobos would win in the first round against Long Beach State and I was wrong. So I am jumping on the New Mexico bandwagon as the last team left from the Mountain West. Drew Gordon ($198,000) is the type of forward who may have success against the Cardinals. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds against the 49ers. Kendall Williams ($128,000) also looked against Long Beach State and had a few very athletic plays. He should not be intimidated against the staunch Louisville defense and should easily outperform his contract. Louisville had relied on a variety of scorers this season, but Kyle Kuric ($152,000) has been a steady scoring presence. The senior swingman has provided at least 12 points in his last five games. Junior point guard Peyton Siva ($150,000) is as quick as they come. He also has five straight double-digit scoring games, including 17 points in the win over Davidson. If freshman Chane Behanan ($93,000) does not get into foul trouble trying to guard Gordon, he could have a nice game as well. The price is certainly right.