Sour 16 Sets Up Potential Heavyweight Regional Finals

Outside the West Region, no Sweet 16 game finished with under a 15 point spread and all six were well in hand by the early second half. Even UCLA led Western Kentucky big in the first half until a furious Hilltopper rally cut the Bruin lead to 4, coming within one shot of really scaring UCLA. Xavier and West Virginia kicked off the Sweet 16 slate on Thursday night with a tightly contested exciting overtime battle, though marked by foul trouble, missed free throws, and shooting droughts, this game was hardly a Picasso. Can you remember a less entertaining Regional Semi-Final round – amiss of any legit upset attempts or buzzer beater finishes? No, you say. Well, you’re right, it’s the first time ever that only one game in the Sweet 16 was decided by single digits.

CBS, widely scrutinized for what games it chooses to broadcast and when it decides to cut away from blowouts, had nowhere to turn the past two nights. At one point last night, the New York market watched what amounted to a Kansas pick-up game that was over before the first TV timeout because Memphis, the number one seed widely picked to lose in this round, secured a 30-point halftime lead over Michigan State. Thirty points!?!? You read it right, against a Tom Izzo team in the tournament. I think the Memphis critics have some apologizing to do.

Davidson provided the only Sweet 16 surprise, by not only beating defensive minded Wisconsin, but by blowing out the Big 10 regular season and tournament champs. The bright side, as chalk continues to prevail, it sets up three heavyweight battles and one darling Cinderella story in the four Elite Eight games, making the agony of sitting through Thursday and Friday nights games worth the wait this weekend.

UCLA continues to escape the claws of defeat, riding an unbelievable run of breaks and clutch last minutes finishes dating back to the final week of the regular season and the controversial call against Stanford. If your an optimistic UCLA fan you say maybe this is our year, those with the glass of empty view feel if they keep testing fate the Bruins will eventually crash. UCLA plays stingy defense and plays most games in the 60’s. Xavier can match the Bruins defensively with Senior stopper Stanley Burrell. With two strong defenses, expect a lower scoring, close affair from start to finish. The Bruins have more talent, they have experience in big tournament games with two straight Final Four appearances, to go along with unofficial home court advantage a few hours from Westwood. Most important, UCLA has the best player on the floor in Kevin Love. Xavier big man Josh Duncan has stepped up in the tournament, making for an interesting matchup in the frontcourt with Love, but expect the freshman star to lead the Bruins to San Antonio. Xavier needs to dominate the backcourt matchup to have a chance, and another no-show by Josh Shipp should also worry UCLA.

Along with Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina have been the three best teams in the tournament thus far, winning all three games in blowout fashion. You could easily mistake this game for a Final Four or even championship caliber game. A healthy Ty Lawson has Carolina’s offense clicking on all cylinders. They key to this game is if Louiville’s full-court press can slow down the UNC guards and take the Heels out of their offense. If Lawson and Wayne Ellington beat the press easily its points galore, but if the Cardinal force turnovers and force the guards to take bad shots they have a chance. David Padgett, Derek Caracter and the physical Louisville 2-3 zone should slow down Hansbrough, who scored only two points in the first half against Washington State before putting up 16 in the second. Carolina’s weakness is defense, Louisville has a cahcne if they use the press to neutralize the Heels attack and capitalize on offense. However, the Cardinal must protect the ball better and need stronger performances from the guards – notably Edgar Sosa – on both ends of the floor. Beating a good Tennessee team with 20 turnovers is as impressive as it is unlikely, beating an elite UNC team with 20 turnovers is out of the question. Smart money is on Carolina, but expect Pitino to have Louisville right there with a chance.

We’ll setup the Sunday matchups tomorrow. Here’s to some good games – they can’t possibly be worse than the Sweet 16, can they?

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