Now that we’re finally done with Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we can gear up for college basketball’s best weekend of the year. Since I can’t wait until 4 pm PST, I’m going to go ahead and break down all four of today’s games and hopefully add some analysis that won’t be proven wrong within the next five-to-nine hours. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know — good luck with that. Alright smart guy/girl, let’s dive in. After all, there’s still a few hours before CBS plus the Nantz-a-Tron back in (for those who don’t know, the Nantz-a-Tron is a machine CBS owns that provides Jim Nantz with the juice required to call games with some sort of energy and come up with all those clever proclamations at the end of games, stuff like “Rock, chalk, championship!” and “Graceland has a new King, and his name is John CALIPARI!”)
(5) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (1) Connecticut Huskies
Favorite: UConn (-7)
So far in the Tourney: UConn defeated (16) Chattanooga 103-47 and (9) Texas A&M 92-66. Purdue beat (12) Northern Iowa 61-56 and (4) Washington 76-74.
Keys to the game: As much as I wanted a Huskies-Huskies matchup in this game, Purdue probably has a much better chance of upsetting UConn than Washington would have. Purdue counts on two guys with made-up names on offense, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Johnson is a shot-blocking machine (2.2 bpg), but he’s only 215 pounds. The lack of a true center will hurt Purdue, as Hasheem Thabeet is 7’3″ and averages an astounding 4.4 bpg along with 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds. The Boilermakers are going to need to get Thabeet into foul trouble and make their three’s to have any chance, a tough order since Purdue is a below average outside-shooting team. Oh, and anybody who thinks UConn will be distracted by this whole recruiting violations scandal. As long as the Huskies’ free rides and under-the-table payments aren’t taken away, they couldn’t care less about some guy who never played for the team getting some free stuff.
Prediction: UConn has way too much talent for Purdue, who would have been dispatched by Washington if the western Huskies had decided to show up in the first half on Saturday: Connecticut 82, Purdue 70
(4) Xavier Musketeers vs. (1) Pittsburgh Panthers
Favorite: Pittsburgh (-7)
So far in the Tourney: Pitt defeated (16) E. Tennessee St. 72-62 and (8) Oklahoma St. 84-76. Xavier beat (13) Portland St. 77-59 and (12) Wisconsin 60-49.
Keys to the game: Xavier came into the NCAA Tournament after losing five of their last ten games, but Pitt can’t overlook the Musketeers due to a stout defense that rivals Pittsburgh’s own. Xavier will look towards leading scorer B.J. Raymond, a three-point specialist who takes over half his shots from behind the arc. Pitt is pretty much a three-man team offensively, with high-flying Sam Young and huge-assed DeJuan Blair combining for almost 35 of the Panthers’ 78 points per game and chubby point guard Levance Fields (who’s neither his listed height of 5’10” or 190 lbs), who’s second in the nation in assists with 7.6 per game and reminds me of Khalid El-Amin. One worry for Pitt, a team that has played tough schedule all year long, is looking past Xavier. The Musketeers are relatively unknown, but have beaten Memphis, Missouri and LSU this season.
Prediction: The Panthers won’t be able to run away from Xavier, but Pitt’s too tough to let their season end here: Pittsburgh 69, Xavier 63.
(3) Missouri Tigers vs. (2) Memphis Tigers
Favorite: Memphis (-4.5)
So far in the Tourney: Missouri took out (14) Cornell 78-59 and edged past (6) Marquette 83-79. Memphis struggled to beat (15) CSU Northridge 81-70 before routing Maryland 89-70.
Keys to the game: You have to love the NCAA Tournament, where it’s inevitable two teams named the Tigers or Wildcats will face each other every year. Both of these Tiger squads like to run and press, Missouri even more so than Memphis. Mizzou loves to press, and Memphis wants to take advantage of their height advantage and a defense that held opponents to 50 points or less in nine of their previous twelve games before the Tournament. This will be one of the first times Calipari will want his team to slow things down, while Mizzou will play a three (or four) guard lineup the entire game and push the tempo. Missouri is led by DeMarre Carroll (16.7 ppg) and Leo Lyons (14.6 ppg), while Memphis’ hopes ride on Tyreke Evans scoring and Robert Dozier grabbing rebounds and staying out of foul trouble.
Prediction: Memphis needs to pay attention to defense and rebounding and not get caught up in proving their more athletic than Missouri, who averages over 81 ppg. If the refs let them play, Memphis should roll: Memphis 78, Missouri 73.
(3) Villanova Wildcats vs. (2) Duke Blue Devils
Favorite: Duke (-2.5)
So far in the Tourney: Villanova slipped past (14) American 80-67 before destroying (6) UCLA 89-69. Duke wiped out (15) Binghamton 86-62 but had trouble against Texas in a 74-69 squeaker.
Keys to the game: The game people are seemingly looking forward to most tonight, this is a classic battle of interior strength versus perimeter explosiveness. Villanova’s the epitome of a Big East club that likes to pound you into submission, led by Dante Cunningham who averages a fantasy-friendly 16.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 spg and 1.3 bpg. The Wildcats aren’t a terrible team from the outside, but Duke makes their living out there, with five guys who take over 2 shots from behind the arc every game. Duke is led by Gerald Henderson, who’ll find himself in the NBA very soon. He’ll be the best player on the floor talent-wise, but will he be enough to overcome Villanova’s advantages in rebounding and toughness?
Prediction: As much as my heart says Duke since I picked them to make the Final Four (and that’s painfully hard to write, since I’ve always been anti-Duke since the days of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill), I’m worried about this one. Villanova was absolutely brutal against UCLA, making Darren Collison look like a senior in high school instead of a college senior. This game seems like it has the best chance to go down to the final possession: Duke 84, Villanova 83.