Welcome to the party Florida Gulf Coast! Yet another bracket-crushing upset transpired last night as the Georgetown Hoyas (15 point favorites) were sent packing early yet again. The interesting thing about the two major upsets are that both of their coaches are not new to that disappointing fate. Both Steve Alford and John Thompson III have at least four NCAA Tournament exits to a team with a worse seed.
Perhaps there is some interesting wisdom hidden inside that statistic….
Let’s take a look at a pair of afternoon tournament games today and see if we can rebound from a tough afternoon yesterday.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. Michigan Wolverines -3.5
Applying the above principle of “been there before” you can’t amass a much better record for tourney brilliance in a short time span than Shaka Smart. Two years ago VCU became the first #11 seed in tourney history to make the Final Four. Last year they appeared to be up to their old tricks before falling 63-61 to Indiana as a #12 seed in the second round.
This year, they are no longer wearing the Cinderella slipper in earnest. They have moved to a bigger conference (theA-10 is now 6-0 in the tournament by the way) and earned themselves a #5 seed. Their first round beatdown of the Akron Zips was the largest margin of victory so far in the NCAA Tournament.
And for all that success, their reward is??? A second round date with Michigan played in Auburn Hills, within an hour of the UM campus. That is the biggest factor tipping the line in Michigan’s favor, but I think it might be a little disingenuous to assume it will be a fully partisan Michigan crowd. Keep in mind the game FOLLOWING this one features Michigan State, also local, and also quite likely to be vociferous in their support for the Rams.
Trey Burke is a splendid point guard, but in big games this season his running mates have often vanished. I expect Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson (both “Jr”) to really struggle against the HAVOC defense of VCU. They are quick, tough and relentless. I expect them to force some turnovers, but more importantly, to force some bad shots from the often-erratic Michigan offense.
This is a terrific matchup, and were it played anyplace else, I wouldn’t even blink picking VCU in the tourney pressure cooker. Keep in mind Michigan hasn’t made a Sweet 16 since 1994! Despite the bigger brand name, VCU is the more experiences and tourney-comfortable team. Even in Auburn Hills, I think that is enough to get VCU through to yet another Sweet 16.
Free Pick: VCU Rams +3.5
Memphis Tigers vs. Michigan State Spartans -5.5
If Shaka Smart has built an impressive tourney resume, then Tom Izzo has built an immaculate one. Perhaps no coach in the game today is as impressive in March, and as consistent and automatic, as Izzo and his Spartans. They are looking to make their fourth Sweet Sixteen in five years, and have a nice home crowd behind them to help carry them. Yes, it is the same bi-partisan crowd left over from the Michigan game… but should the Wolverines lose, as they very well could, expect a lot of those UM fans to slink out of the stadium, leaving a wave of green behind.
For Memphis, this is pretty new stuff. Josh Pastner got his first tourney win as Memphis head coach in their ugly 54-52 escape against St. Mary’s. He has an athletic team, but a relatively ‘loose’ team as well. And not ‘loose’ in that good, Florida Gulf Coast way. “Loose” as in bad shot selection, questionable crunch time decisions and sloppy ball handling. Joe Johnson is much improved, but I don’t think he is ready to take on one of the fiercest defensive teams, both perimeter AND interior, in the country.
Michigan State just doesn’t lose to higher seeded opponents in the tourney. Even in chaotic years when the brackets fall apart, Izzo and his Spartans remain, well, Spartan. They stand tough. Add in the crowd at Auburn Hills, and I like MSU to handle their business an advance.
Free Pick: Michigan State Spartans -5.5