It’s been a rough start to the NCAA Tournament. If your bracket is a little beat up like mine, we are not alone. While the glamour bracket, the Midwest, remains largely intact with Louisville and Michigan State advancing and Duke still alive, others are complete chaos. The West has the potential to feature the highest aggregate seed total in Elite Eight history as the #1, #3, #4, and #5 seeds have all been dispatched (Gonzaga, New Mexico, Kansas State, Wisconsin). Things are getting a little beat up in the South as well, though provided Florida and Kansas advance today, there still lurks some real national champion caliber teams (also include Michigan).
SO will things steady a bit today, both for the tournament in general and here in this column? I sure hope so – so let’s dig in with two picks for the earlier games today.
Temple Owls vs. Indiana Hoosiers -11.5
The Atlantic-10 came crashing back to earth yesterday with a pair of embarrassing losses (VCU & St. Louis) and a dramatic heart-breaker (Butler). Now, the banner of the conference flies with #13 seed La Salle and with the Temple Owls trying to upset #1 seed Indiana. How quickly fortunes change in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pac-12 and the A-10 were the talk of the opening round, but now both have just two teams remaining and are 5-3 in the tourney respectively (not counting the opening win for La Salle in the total, it’s a play-in game no one else had an opportunity to win). So can Temple challenge the Hoosiers today?
I think they can. They have played some elite competition this season and fared well. They went into the Carrier Dome and a bit a similarly talented Syracuse team. They struggled at Duke (which is more that reasonable), but also won big at Villanova and gave a good effort at Kansas. The point is, they’ve seen elite talent and held their own.
Indiana is still, along with Louisville, the best team in the tournament. However, like Louisville and everyone else in this tourney, they have also proven they can lose. Aside from the win at Michigan that could have very easily been a loss if the final layup attempt doesn’t slide off the rim, it’s been a while since IU took it to a really top-tier opponent.
I like Khaliff Wyatt to will the Owls to stay in this ballgame and for their ball control and tempo management to frustrate IU a bit at times. I think Temple can keep them from getting out and running. I am not sure they can shut down Oladipo and Zeller and still contest all the open three point attempts that could come reigning in, but I do know Temple likes to muck it up and get physical, which has been one of the key components in IU’s struggles this season.
Give me Temple to keep it interesting enough to cover.
Free Pick: Temple Owls +11.5
North Carolina Tarheels vs. Kansas Jayhawks -6
North Carolina is the trendy pick in many circles, especially after the surprising vulnerability KU showed against Western Kentucky. However, this game is still in Kansas City, a near home game for the Jayhawks, and Carolina still has yet to show me they can beat anyone of substance this season. The ACC has a few good teams, but that isn’t who Carolina beat. With the exception of the Christmas-time win over UNLV at home, it’s hard to find a real eye-popper in the Tarheels’ slate.
There is also a lot of talk of the “Roy Williams factor”, but take a look at how that has generally gone for North Carolina?? I’d score that as another edge for Kansas. However the only automatic wager is ‘will Roy Williams cry?” That’s been a 100%’er over the history of this matchup…
In all seriousness, I like Kansas today. I know upset-mania has beset the tournament, but we saw the power of the home court edge yesterday, as well as historically throughout the tournament. Kansas City will be an overwhelmingly pro-Kansas crowd. It helped buoy Michigan and Michigan State to blowout wins yesterday, as the Lexington crowd did the same for Louisville (much to the chagrin of the local Wildcat fans….ouch).
I like Kansas to have shaken off the jitters and play well. Carolina will have to shoot exceptionally well to contend. Jeff Withey has been the biggest defensive difference maker in the country this season, and I expect him to make things tough for penetrating Carolina players. Also look for Ben McLemore to be substantially more involved in the offense today and to have a good game.
Free Pick: Kansas Jayhawks -6