1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Southern
It is funny how life works, when you work your way to the top, you pick up admirers along the way. Once you reach the summit, all of the sudden people start finding faults. Gonzaga is a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament and outside of Spokane and the teams the Bulldogs took down, they have a new legion of doubters. There are not any inside the Gonzaga locker room, as this squad believes they are right where they belong and anything other than a trip to Atlanta would be considered a major letdown. The Zags are 21.5-point chalk over the Southwestern Athletic Conference champs.
8) Pittsburgh vs. 9) Wichita State
Advanced metrics helps us better understand why teams win and lose, yet they still do not fill in all the blanks. Studying Pittsburgh’s numbers, they should be a Top 8 squad, not saddled with eight losses as the 8th seed. The Panthers for the most part get the most out of both sides of the court; however, have these voids which are masked by fewer possessions. Wichita State plays a very similar game to Pitt, though, they can play faster. What hurts the Shockers is the lack of a go-to scorer, which also leads to too many empty trips. Pittsburgh is handing out 4.5-points and should move on and give Gonzaga a tussle for 25 minutes.
4) Wisconsin vs. 13) Mississippi
It is not even close; no game has a greater chasm in terms of on the court demeanor and style of play. Wisconsin is defensive-first and they force teams to play at their pace. Ole Miss has fed off the restless energy of Marshall Henderson (good and evil), but he doesn’t do it alone, with forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner solid night-in, night-out players. The Badgers are up to five-point betting choice and it will be worth watching just to see what Henderson might do if frustrated by Bo Ryan’s defense.
5) Kansas State vs. 12) Boise State or LaSalle
Boise State is dangerous in the sense they can rip the nylon. The Broncos however are strictly finesse and don’t match-up well when facing foes that grind them with physicality. LaSalle is in the tourney for the first time in 21 years, basically play a five-guard lineup. The Explorers are one-digit dogs and you have to figure whoever emerges victorious, they will not enjoy the way Kansas State prefers to beat up teams with defense and rigorous play inside. K-State and Wisconsin should be true tussle and a battle of imposing wills.
2) Ohio State vs. 15) Iona
Lamont “MoMo” Jones heads a trio of splendid Iona guards that motor up and down the floor for a squad averaging almost 81 PPG. Jones is big time having started his career at Arizona, but has not faced a team with the size and length of Ohio State. The Buckeyes finished the season as the best team in the Big Ten, with Aaron Craft not only a remarkable defender, but with new found confidence to score. With Ohio State’s defense, they should pull away as 13-point favorites and handle their next opponent as well.
7) Notre Dame vs. 10) Iowa State
Notre Dame might be a slim one-point favorite, but the wrong outfit could be handing out the number. Iowa State creates on the floor matchups because their “bigs” will step out to three-point land, something the Irish big guys are not used to. If the Cyclones start raining three’s, Mike Brey’s club is in a conundrum. The Fighting Irish have to match points and make the contest more physical in the paint, where they can wear down Iowa State like other Big 12 foes have. Notre Dame can also shoot the rock and has to defend the three-point line with purpose.
3) New Mexico vs. 14) Harvard
Harvard beat the spread against the three other teams they faced in the field of 68; however, none of them squeeze the life out you like New Mexico does on defense. The Lobos are not flashy with their basic man-to-man defense, which specializes in taking away angles to the basket and immediate help. New Mexico players have embraced who they are, limited on offense, but being able to take care of the rest on defense. Hard to imagine the Crimson can stay within the 10.5-points they will be receiving.
6) Arizona vs. 11) Belmont
If Arizona brings the same nonchalance they have frequently shown this season, they are a strong one and done candidate against a capable Belmont bunch. Here is the rub; Belmont drops 38.6 percent from behind the arc, while the Wildcats have one of the worst perimeter defenses in the field at 288th nationally. Arizona typically plays with passion about two-thirds of a game and sets the meter on cruise the rest of the time. If they play this way against the Bruins, they will be bounced. The Cats are a 3.5-point pick and have the size to run roughshod inside if they choose.
Sweet 16 – Gonzaga – Wisconsin – New Mexico – Ohio State