So far things in the NCAA Tournament have gone pretty close to what I expected. All my Final Four teams are still alive (Florida, Louisville, Arizona, Michigan State - and yes I know that's a pretty popular combination), and I called Kansas going out early. My only real misses were believing in Creighton (or maybe not believing in Baylor), believing in Duke despite knowing how horrible their defense was (I have no idea why I didn't take Michigan here), and thinking Syracuse had figured out their issues. Overall, my bracket still has a chance to win, so thank you for asking. Anyway, here's what's happening on Thursday:
#11 Dayton vs. #10 Stanford.
There are many great looking games that will be played this weekend, and this game will also be played. There isn't a lot of shine to it because even though both teams are underdogs neither team is very sexy. Stanford is nerds and Dayton is Dayton. Although Dayton looks like the more athletic team with guys like Sibert, Sanford, and Pierre who can kind of do a little of everything, Stanford has not just size but skilled size in Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic, as well as Josh Huestis who seems to play big.
It should be a close game, but unfortunately for lose who were hoping to experience a little schadenfreude at the expense of Reid Travis with Johnny Dawkins flaming out and getting fired (which clearly isn't happening now), I think he gets another big win. I'm on Stanford here laying the three.
#6 Baylor vs. #2 Wisconsin.
I know Scott Drew is a horrible coach. I know it all the way to the bottom of my tiny black heart, but I'm not so sure Bo Ryan is that much better, at least this year and Baylor is absolutely clicking at the right time. More than that, how the hell is Wisconsin going to deal with Baylor's size and athleticism? Cory Jefferson is what Nigel Hayes hopes to be in four years and he's having a great run to end his career. Isaiah Austin seems to finally be getting it, Rico Gathers is a rebounding machine, and the wings are Royce O'Neale and Taurean Prince who are 6-6 and 6-7. Frank Kaminsky might actually get killed. You realize Duje Dukan will likely have to be prominently involved here?
Wisconsin's only chance is if Scott Drew plays a zone, which is actually Baylor's preferred, and they get hot. Drew is dumb enough to do it, but even if he does their size might bother Wisconsin enough so it actually works. This is still my biggest bet of the weekend at five units to cover three and a half and another unit on the moneyline. Also taking the under 137 for a unit, as I think Wisconsin is going to play slower and hope Baylor is dumb enough to not be able to guard. Also possible.
#4 UCLA vs. #1 Florida.
Florida was my pick to win a couple months ago and still is, and I realize that's not really going out on a limb but I just can't find any weaknesses here. They have the second best defense in the country (on a per possession basis) behind Arizona and a top 20 offense as well. They have senior leadership that seems to count in March and excellent guard play with the SEC player of the year in Scottie Wilbekin. They have five guys who can have a blow up game so if anybody is off (maybe outside Wilbekin if we're talking things beyond shooting) oh well just move on to the next guy.
I like UCLA a lot and Kyle Anderson is one of my favorite players and if Zach LaVine and Norman Powell are clicking those three and Jordan Adams form a damn good four pack, but LaVine has been horrible lately. For UCLA to win you're going to be counting on the Wear twins and Tony Parker to check Florida's group of tight end looking guys who can come at you in waves. No chance. Florida -4.5 for three units. I also think there's a decent chance this goes over the 137 because UCLA likes to run and Florida can run with anybody, but I can also see a repeat of their game against Pitt where the Bruins can't score and the Gators just grind clock. Pass for now, but I'm sure I'll do something with it prior to tip because I'm an action junkie.
#4 San Diego State vs. #1 Arizona.
This has not been a kind tournament to defensive minded teams who are limited offensively - Kansas State, Ohio State, Cincinnati, and St. Louis are all gone. San Diego State fits that mold as well with one difference - Xavier Thames. You could try to make a similar argument in favor of Cincy and Sean Kilpatrick, but where it always seems like Kilpatrick has to struggle to score, Thames seems to do it much more effortlessly. I know that kind of sounds stupid since Kilpatrick averaged over 20 points per game this year, but I managed to watch a lot of Cincy and see SDSU a few times and it's just an impression I got, I can't really back it up. Just trust me I'm much smarter than you.
Yes, the Wildcats have the #1 point-per-possession defense in the field, and it's because they force opponents to take jump shots and pack the paint to take away almost anything driving to the rim. Well, Thames doesn't drive - he's taken only 17% of his shots this year at the rim but hits 40% on both two point and three point jumpers. Arizona is basically going to be daring an excellent jump shooter to shoot jump shots. I don't think that will be enough for the Aztecs to pull off an upset, but with that dynamic and a really, really good defense I expect this to be close. I know Arizona beat SDSU by 9 in San Diego earlier this year, but Arizona had Brandon Ashley in that game and SDSU didn't have Dwayne Polee so I'm on SDSU getting seven for two units. I also expect a real grind it out game, but the 122 is too low a number for me since it's a tournament game I figure to be close which could result in a lot of fouls, especially since my perception is in an elimination game losing teams continue to foul longer than they normally would. Instead I'm throwing two units on the first half line, under 55.5.