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How SWEET it is - NCAA Tournament Thursday Previews and Open Thread

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Join us as we talk about all your favorite te... - oh, your teams didn’t make it this far? What a shame

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Indiana vs Saint Mary’s
One Shining Moment
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not really sure why I’m the one doing this preview - after all I’m dead last in the OTE bracket challenge - but here we are. Like the Iowa Hawkeyes, my good finish in the OTE B1G tournament challenge did not hint at NCAA tournament success but rather a resounding dud as I’ve hit the bottom of the bottom. At least fellow OTE writers BuffKomodo, All the Iowa names are tacos, and Stew are down on the 2nd page of the standings with me and still within striking distance. And I don’t even see MNWildcat on the standings page so I’ll claim victory over him as my 8th percentile national ranking is better than his DNP - Coach’s Decision.

With 48 games already played in the tournament, there are just 15 tournament games left to entertain us before the long, lonely wait until October of next year when we start to hear the news of secret scrimmages. Hopefully, the old gold and black B1G team can win more than a quarter of those 15 games.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Milwaukee
Can Ethan Morton lead Purdue to the promised land of a Final Four? The answer is no; Boilermakers can’t have nice things.
Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

But enough about Purdue hopes and dreams as they don’t play until Friday. We have 3 terrific games (plus Michigan v. Villanova) tonight to help keep our spirits up and you all clicked this link to look at the photos that I’ve put in this article and then skip straight down to the comments. All times Eastern.

Sweet 16 - Thursday March 24 Games

#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs v. #4 Arkansas Razorbacks

CBS 7:09 PM San Francisco, CA

New Mexico State v Arkansas
I like to pretend that the shooter is jumping backwards towards the rim in still photos like this one.
Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

As much disappointment and disgrace as the B1G fanbases are feeling currently, no conference underperformed as poorly as the SEC this postseason (what a shame). Just 1 SEC team made it to the Sweet 16, while 2 seeded Kentucky and Auburn as well as 3 seeded Tennessee fell laughably short. While Arkansas is still able to represent their conference, it’s not like they beat any single digit seeds to get here. They managed narrow victories against 13th seeded Vermont and 12th seeded New Mexico State by 4 and 5 points respectively.

The biggest problem for the Razorbacks is a lack of depth of their roster. They’ve been playing just 7 players in both of their tournament games so far and one of those logged less than 10 minutes in each game. Foul trouble would be a death knell for Arkansas’s hopes of getting to the Final Four. The other major problem for the Razorbacks is that they are a poor shooting team from distance, shooting just 30.5% from 3 on the year. This holds back what is otherwise a solid offense and a very good defense. Against a Gonzaga team with lots of length to contend shots in the paint, it further complicates the chance of an Arkansas upset.

Memphis v Gonzaga
Looks like the Memphis defender got all ball to me.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Gonzaga meanwhile also looked shaky in their opening round games. 16 seed Georgia State kept things within 2 points for 29 minutes and Memphis led by 10 points at the half before a furious Gonzaga comeback sparked by a Drew Timme halftime speech to his teammates led to a narrow 4 point victory for the Bulldogs. But Gonzaga’s offense is still lethal, their defense smothering, and their height advantage over Arkansas - headlined by Timme and Holmgren - is imposing. I’m sure there is a weakness somewhere on this Gonzaga roster, but I’m not really seeing it. I guess you could say they don’t have a lot of experience of responding from being punched in the mouth and having to overcome deficits (since they didn’t play many competitive games in the WCC), but Arkansas doesn’t feature an explosive offensive that is likely to just go on a large run.

We’ve gotten to the point in the tournament in which no game can be a gimme, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Arkansas can begin to matchup with Gonzaga. I think it’s going to take the Razorbacks playing their best game of the season to knock off the #1 overall seed in the tournament.

Poll

Gonzaga or Arkansas?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Get those PUPPIES organized!
    (27 votes)
  • 15%
    40 minutes of hell REDUX
    (5 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now

#2 Villanova Wildcats v. #11 Michigan Wolverines

TBS 7:29 PM San Antonio, TX

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 19 Div I Men’s Championship - Second Round - Michigan v Tennessee
Now that Davison is no longer a college ball player, Dickinson is putting his name forward for least liked B1G player.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Having apparently taken much motivation from the mocking of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Illinois fans, Hunter Dickinson and the Wolverines of Michigan have made the Sweet 16 by beating teams worst than any of those that trio lost to and felt the need to loudly crow about their accomplishments. Apparently beating a Tennessee team by 8 points that Villanova also beat on a neutral court by 18, is cause for celebration.

Michigan will continue to go as far as Dickinson, Brooks, and Diabete lead them. The smart play will be to pound the ball inside, draw lots of fouls, and when Villanova doubles kick the ball outside to Brooks for open 3s. If I’m Villanova, this is a great opportunity to deploy the box and 1 with the 1 on Brooks. Nobody else on Michigan concerns me enough from 3 to be greatly concerned about them taking shots. Sure, they might get hot like they did against Purdue this season, but the odds say they won’t.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Pittsburgh
Villanova secures another rebound and the win against Ohio State.
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Villanova is a supremely well coached and experienced team with stars in Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, and Jermaine Samuels. Although none of their guards are undersized, they lack a really tall center that can easily matchup with a monster center like Hunter Dickinson. With a week to prepare though, Jay Wright will find a way to attack Dickinson’s defensive liabilities - probably thru high ball screens unless Juwan hides him in a zone.

The Wildcats dispatched the Blue Hens in their first game and suffocated the Buckeyes offense down the stretch in the Round of 32. Villanova shoots a lot of threes and makes a decent percentage of them. This should allow them to avoid the trees in the Michigan defense. Their free throw shooting also remains on pace to set the NCAA single season record so if Michigan is down late and fouling, it’s probably over.

Although Michigan’s defense isn’t great it’s still a slight step up from the abysmal abilities of the Buckeyes and Blue Hens (yeah, I know the saying about those in glass houses). Whether that’s enough to truly slow down Villanova’s offense I don’t know. Please note that when I say slow down, I’m talking about points/possession, because the Wildcats play an exceptionally wisconsin like pace this season which will require Michigan to value possessions and not turn the ball over.

Poll

Villanova or Michigan?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Jay Wright stays undefeated in EVEN year tournaments post 2014.
    (31 votes)
  • 20%
    Juwan Howard gets to a 6-1 NCAA tournament record.
    (8 votes)
39 votes total Vote Now

#2 Duke Blue Devils v. #3 Texas Tech Red Raiders

CBS 9:39 PM San Francisco, CA

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Duke blocks Joey Hauser and Michigan State’s advancement in the tournament
Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Decisions, decisions on who to root for here. Do you root against the whiniest fanbase in college basketball the past two decades? Or the whiniest fanbase in college basketball the past year? Neither school seems to understand that it was not required to add a color to their team name. How many Devils are their in college sports? How about Raiders? Neither team name is overused like Wildcats. But to avoid even the appearance of being like Northwestern, Duke and Texas Tech have decided to be like Rutgers.

Duke trailed Michigan State by 5ish (don’t really know, was only half paying attention) points late in the game, before Coach K’s heroic coaching abilities rescued them from the despair of defeat. The terribleness of Duke fans and their media coverage means that I feel no obligation to comment further on their team. I only regret that Tom Izzo didn’t send this prima donna head coach to the retirement home this past weekend.

“Coach K’s latest victory further proves that he is the greatest coach of all-time in any sport and all us mortals should bow down before him in awe. We expect his retirement coronation to continue unimpeded as he single handedly wills this young group of untalented Blue Devils to another national championship.” -ESPN, probably

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Purdue vs Texas
Chris Beard’s disappointed look
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech fans meanwhile are still bitching about how Chris Beard jilted them at the altar to return to his previous love and finding out he didn’t have to get married to his “safety school”. Never mind that Chris Beard is now sitting at home watching the rest of the tournament - THANK YOU ETHAN MORTON - or that Texas Tech swept Texas this year or that Texas Tech is a 3 seed and still playing meaningful basketball. The whininess of Texas Tech fans has convinced me that actually commenting on their current team and very capable head coach Mark Adams is a waste of time.

All of this is a shame, because if you remove the fanbases and coach K, this is a very intriguing matchup between two very talented but flawed teams that are capable of winning it all or getting blown out by Gonzaga. Watch the other game or keep that mute button handy should you feel the need to watch this one.

Poll

Duke or Texas Tech?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Red Raider fans cry about Chris Beard leaving some more
    (17 votes)
  • 55%
    Duke fans cry about Coach K not going out on top
    (21 votes)
38 votes total Vote Now

#1 Arizona Wildcats v. #5 Houston Cougars

TBS 9:59 PM San Antonio, TX

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - UAB vs Houston
There is nothing wrong about calling Eric Gordon thousands of times.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The final game of the night gives us another great matchup between an Arizona team that escaped the foul call and the game against TCU and a Houston team that slayed Illini hopes of a Sweet 16.

Houston is a well balanced, efficiency ranking darling that crashes the offensive boards and holds down opponents’ shooting percentages. Considering Arizona was just challenged by TCU’s suffocating defense and gave up 20 offensive rebounds to the Horned Frogs, Houston probably isn’t the team they want to see right now. What I’m saying is that Thump isn’t alone in wishing the Illini were playing Arizona tonight.

Former Hoosiers coaching legend Kelvin Sampson and his five seniors will leave it all on the court at they attempt to keep advancing and give hope to Will Wade that someday he too can return to prominence 15 years after being fired - Wade doesn’t realize he lacks actual coaching ability. I’m also curious to see whether the Cougars big men can avoid fouling out for a second consecutive game against a dominant opposing center. Both Josh Carlton and Reggie Chaney have struggled with committing fouls this season, but were able to stop at 4 fouls against the Illini.

TCU v Arizona
Showboating and dunking instead of shooting a two footer almost cost Arizona
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

I’m not really sure what to think of Arizona. I think they are the second most talented team in the country, but this is also their coach’s first tournament run and they rely on a bunch of underclassmen. Inexperience in the tournament rarely serves you well as you get deeper into the tournament. The Wildcats escaped TCU when the refs swallowed their whistle at the end of regulation. While the Horned Frogs seemed tailor made to take advantage of Arizona few relative weaknesses (turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds to their opponents), the Wildcats escaped.

Mathurin is a really good ball player (although he apparently has some issues as we saw post game) and the Wildcats may have the best two-headed post game between Koloko and Tubelis. Their athleticism, aggressiveness, and fast pace could cause problems for any team they face from here on out.

All in all, this is the game I’m most excited to watch tonight.

Poll

Arizona or Houston?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    My name is MNW and I like Wildcats
    (19 votes)
  • 45%
    My name is thumpasaurus and I like Kelvin Sampson
    (16 votes)
35 votes total Vote Now

Have fun, behave, and choo choo!