CBB Top-25: 2/6/17

Yes, this is a college basketball post, but I want to start it off with some of my thoughts from last night’s Super Bowl 51:

  • What a football game. That was without question the best football game that I have ever watched live from start to finish, all circumstances considered. We’ll be talking about that game for a very long time.
  • For my money, that was the biggest choke job in the history of sports. Yes, that includes Bill Buckner. That includes the Warriors last season. That includes the myriad of blown 3-0 leads in basketball, hockey and baseball. All factors considered, blowing a 25-point 3rd Quarter lead in the Super Bowl, and the way it happened, the 2016-17 Atlanta Falcons will now be known, to me, as the biggest choke artists in sports history.
  • Finally, despite the incredible choke job, there is now no doubt in my mind that Bill Belichick is the greatest head coach in NFL history and Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the league. I was one of the few remaining people that wasn’t ready to crown either of them with those respective honors, but last night sealed it. I always thought Brady’s success was mostly due to Belichick and Belichick’s success was mostly due to Brady, but even if that’s the case, you can’t deny that they are each the best of all time anymore. You just can’t do it.

Alright, football season is over now, time to turn your undivided attention to college basketball, and to start it off, here is this week’s Top-25!

 

  1. Northwestern (Prev: 20)

There aren’t many teams that go into Purdue and win. That’s why it’s not that surprising to find out that the Wildcats went in there and got smoked, 80-59. Northwestern will get a chance for revenge when they host the Boilermakers to close the regular season, but in the meantime, they’ll get another chance for a massive road win when they take on Wisconsin this Sunday.

This Week: Tue 2/7 vs Illinois (8:00 pm, BTN); Sun 2/12 @ Wisconsin (6:30 pm, BTN)

 

  1. Oklahoma State (Prev: NR)

What a strange season it’s been for the Cowboys. They have now won five straight games after losing six in a row to open Big 12 play. That includes a win at West Virginia on Saturday, a signature victory to add to a resume that was sorely lacking one. Oklahoma State is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and I hope they’ll get a chance to light up the scoreboard in the Big Dance.

This Week: Wed 2/8 vs Baylor (7:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 2/11 vs Texas (4:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Creighton (Prev: 25)

The Bluejays are playing better than I thought they would without point guard Maurice Watson. They got a huge victory at Butler last week before suffering a somewhat disappointing home loss to Xavier on Saturday. The road win against Butler helps to prove why Creighton still has a very good chance to take the Big East title from Villanova.

This Week: Sat 2/11 @ DePaul (2:00 pm, FS1)

 

  1. Duke (Prev: 24)

A great road win over Notre Dame followed by a victory over Pitt in Coach K’s return to the sidelines. It was a good week for the Blue Devils. They haven’t had many of those this season. They’ll need all the momentum they can get though, as they host their bitter rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels, this Thursday. A win in that game could vault Duke up most rankings.

This Week: Thu 2/9 vs North Carolina (8:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/11 vs Clemson (1:00 pm, ESPN3)

 

  1. South Carolina (Prev: 21)

The Gamecocks continued to roll with wins over LSU and Georgia this past week, and they will need to keep winning games. A road game against Florida a couple weeks is really the only big chance in the regular season for SC to improve their resume. So they’ll definitely need to keep beating the teams that they should beat. I think they will.

This Week: Tue 2/7 vs Alabama (6:30 pm, SECN); Sat 2/11 @ Mississippi State (8:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. SMU (Prev: NR)

I kind of overlooked the Mustangs the last couple of weeks, but a two point road loss to AAC-leading Cincinnati is the only loss in the last 17 games for SMU. Sometimes it doesn’t matter as much who you beat, but how many wins you accumulate. The American is not strong this season, but it’s strong enough that a 20-4 team playing in that conference is probably one of the 25 best teams in the nation. They get a chance for revenge when they host Cincy on Sunday.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ Temple (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sun 2/12 vs Cincinnati (4:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Florida (Prev: 23)

The Gators punked Kentucky on Saturday, winning by 22 points, the biggest margin of defeat for the Wildcats under John Calipari. It was an extremely impressive victory, but Florida has to avoid a letdown when they travel to Athens on Tuesday night. The eye test has not been great for Florida so far (other than Saturday), but the advanced analysts love them. We’ll see if they can continue to backup that standing.

This Week: Tue 2/7 @ Georgia (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/11 vs Texas A&M (12:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Saint Mary’s (Prev: 18)

The Gaels are avoiding any slip-ups against the weak West Coast Conference, and they are just one game away from their massive home game with undefeated Gonzaga. They were extremely disappointed at their performance the first time they took on the Zags, so on Saturday night on national TV in primetime, I’ll bet they’ll be more than ready to go.

This Week: Thu 2/9 vs Portland (10:00 pm); Sat 2/11 vs Gonzaga (8:15 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Butler (Prev: 15)

The Bulldogs only had one chance to impress me last week, and they lost at home to Creighton. I wasn’t impressed, but Creighton is a great team, so I gave Butler a pass for the most part. But they have to regroup this week, as they face two tricky road tests against Marquette and Providence. This team is safely in the Tournament for now, but winning both those games will help for sure.

This Week: Tue 2/7 @ Marquette (9:00 pm, CBSSN); Sat 2/11 @ Providence (4:00 pm, CBSSN)

 

  1. Virginia (Prev: 13)

Syracuse just doesn’t lose at home in ACC play I guess. I would not have expected a team as good as Virginia to fall to them, but they did. Luckily for the Cavaliers, they get a quick turnaround as they host Top-5 Louisville tonight. I’ll call it right here right now, Virginia will win tonight. Now go prove me right!

This Week: Mon 2/6 vs Louisville (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sun 2/12 @ Virginia Tech (6:30 pm, ESPNU)

 

  1. Wisconsin (Prev: 17)

It has not been very pretty lately for the Badgers, but they just continue to win games. Indiana gave them a battle yesterday, but they were able to come out on top. Rutgers and Minnesota each took them to overtime recently as well, but in the end, Wisconsin has been on the winning end. Can Nebraska or Northwestern topple them this week? I guess we’ll find out.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ Nebraska (9:00 pm, BTN); Sun 2/12 vs Northwestern (6:30 pm, BTN)

 

  1. West Virginia (Prev: 12)

Is West Virginia the most inconsistent team in college basketball this year? I say yes. They have wins over Virginia, Baylor and Kansas, and losses to Temple, Oklahoma (at home) and Oklahoma State (also at home). This week they get Oklahoma and Kansas State, two teams that knocked them off the first time around. They should be able to get revenge on both, but anything can happen!

This Week: Wed 2/8 @ Oklahoma (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/11 vs Kansas State (12:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Purdue (Prev: 16)

Purdue already has three losses in Big Ten play, but they had two extremely impressive wins this past week, as they dominated Northwestern and went into Maryland and stole one from the Terrapins. They’ll have a tricky one this week when they head to Assembly Hall to take on the reeling Indiana Hoosiers.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ Indiana (7:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Cincinnati (Prev: 14)

Don’t look now, but Cincinnati is legit. They are 21-2 and one of those losses is at Butler, which is nothing to hang your head over. Mick Cronin has had a lot of great players over the years, but this might be his best complete team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a long run in the Tournament this season.

This Week: Wed 2/8 vs UCF (9:00 pm, ESPNU); Sun 2/12 @ SMU (4:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Kentucky (Prev: 5)

It’s been a rough couple weeks for Kentucky. The home loss to Kansas, surviving in overtime at home against Georgia and then getting embarrassed on Saturday by Florida. Luckily for them, they get a home meeting with LSU this week, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the struggling Wildcats. They’ll be fine, but they need to figure some stuff out, sooner rather than later.

This Week: Tue 2/7 vs LSU (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/11 @ Alabama (1:00 pm, CBS)

 

  1. UCLA (Prev: 11)

The Washington trip was no problem for the Bruins, as they easily disposed of both the Cougars and the Huskies. It was a nice, easy lead-in for their massive home game with Oregon this week. It seems like forever ago that UCLA went to Rupp Arena and knocked off Kentucky. As the Wildcats struggle, that win doesn’t look as great, so they could use a win over a team like Oregon.

This Week: Thu 2/9 vs Oregon (10:00 pm, ESPN); Sun 2/12 vs Oregon State (5:00 pm, FS1)

 

  1. Arizona (Prev: 6)

Speaking of Oregon, Arizona can tell UCLA how difficult they are to beat. The Ducks wiped the floor with the Wildcats on Saturday, 85-58. It’s no need for fans to panic, as that snapped a 15-game winning streak for Arizona, so they are going to be just fine. They’ll host Cal and Stanford this week, and should beat both to get right back on track.

This Week: Wed 2/8 vs Stanford (11:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/11 vs California (10:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Baylor (Prev: 4)

It was a tough week for the Bears. They played great at Kansas, but just couldn’t finish off the victory. Unfortunately for them, they suffered a brutal hangover, losing at home to Kansas State on Saturday. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for them either, as they head to Stillwater on Wednesday to take on the red-hot Oklahoma State Cowboys. They could really use a win in that game.

This Week: Wed 2/8 @ Oklahoma State (7:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 2/11 vs TCU (2:00 pm, ESPNU)

 

  1. Oregon (Prev: 10)

After surviving the Arizona State upset attempt, the Ducks shot the lights out en route to a dominating victory over Arizona. They’ll look for back-to-back massive victories on Thursday night when they travel to LA to take on the Bruins. A win at UCLA could propel Oregon towards the top line of the bracket for a lot of experts.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ UCLA (10:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/11 @ USC (10:30 pm, P12N)

 

  1. North Carolina (Prev: 9)

The Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won nine of their last ten, including wins this past week over Pitt and Notre Dame. UNC has a claim for being the best team in the ACC, and they can improve that claim with a win over hated rivals Duke this Thursday night. Most of America will be tuning in, and the Tar Heels can make a huge impression if they play well.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ Duke (8:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Florida State (Prev: 8)

I told you all last week that Florida State would be fine, and they proved me right with a road win against Miami and a dominating performance yesterday against Clemson, winning 109-61. They’ll have another big road game next weekend when they head to South Bend to take on the struggling Fighting Irish. ND will be desperate for a big win, so the Seminoles will have to be at their best.

This Week: Wed 2/8 vs NC State (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/11 @ Notre Dame (6:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Louisville (Prev: 7)

The Cardinals are the best team in the ACC right now in my opinion, but this week will put them to the test. They head to Virginia tonight, and key pieces Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel were suspended for the game for missing curfew. After that game, they’ll return home Saturday to take on a solid Miami team that could use a signature win. This team could be even higher in my rankings next week, or they could be a whole lot lower.

This Week: Mon 2/6 @ Virginia (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/11 vs Miami FL (2:00 pm, ESPN2)

 

  1. Kansas (Prev: 2)

Well, the Jayhawks survived the tough test from Baylor, but on Saturday, their 54-game home winning streak was snapped in overtime by the Iowa State Cyclones. It was a classic letdown game, but I thought Kansas would be good enough to avoid that. They have no time to feel bad about it though, with a road game against rival Kansas State on tap tonight. The Wildcats were screwed in their first meeting against Kansas, so they’ll be hungry for revenge.

This Week: Mon 2/6 @ Kansas State (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/11 @ Texas Tech (2:00 pm, ESPN)

 

  1. Villanova (Prev: 3)

Nova took care of business this past week with wins at Providence and at home against St. John’s. A pretty ho-hum week for the defending National Champs. It’ll be a little tougher for them this week as they host Georgetown Tuesday, then head to Xavier on Saturday, the first of three straight road games for the Cats. They have a claim to the top spot for sure, and I can’t remember the last time a team had this good a chance to repeat as National Champions.

This Week: Tue 2/7 vs Georgetown (7:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/11 @ Xavier (2:30 pm, FOX)

 

  1. Gonzaga (Prev: 1)

The only undefeated team remaining also remains on the top of my rankings, but that could very easily change come next week. Some thought BYU could give the Zags some problems on Thursday night, but the Bulldogs easily handled their business. The biggest game left on their schedule comes up this Saturday when they travel to take on Saint Mary’s. If they get past the Gaels, there’s no reason they can’t finish the regular season undefeated.

This Week: Thu 2/9 @ Loyola Marymount (10:00 pm); Sat 2/11 @ Saint Mary’s (8:15 pm, ESPN)

Final Four Preview: Syracuse

It has been quite a whirlwind season for the Syracuse Orange. Legendary coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine game due to academic sanctions, and the team struggled mightily without him. Upon his return, they started to turn the corner, and looked like a Tournament team. That was before ending the season losing five of six games, putting their tourney hopes in serious doubt.

In one of a few shockers, Syracuse safely earned a 10-seed in the Big Dance. Many didn’t think Syracuse belonged in the field, and they have clearly been playing with a chip on their shoulder, as they’ve won four games en route to this year’s Final Four. The Orange are the first 10-seed to reach the Final Four, and just the 4th double digit seed to get this far. They’ll match-up with conference foe North Carolina in the National Semis, and they have a legitimate chance to win this whole thing. The following is a look at how Syracuse got here, and why they have a chance to cut down the nets in a few days.

First Round
Def. 7-seed Dayton 70-51
Syracuse made a little bit of a statement in the First Round, quite easily dispatching the 7-seeded Dayton Flyers, winning by 19. Dayton shot just 6-22 from three-point range and 9-19 from the free throw line, helping lead to their downfall. Freshman Malachi Richardson led the way for Syracuse with 21 points, and junior Tyler Roberson notched a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds.

Second Round
Def. 15-seed Middle Tennessee 75-50
A fairly large number of people expected Syracuse to defeat Dayton, but just about everyone expected their Second Round opponent to be Michigan State. When the Spartans were upset by Middle Tennessee, Syracuse knew they had a fantastic opportunity to advance to the second weekend of the Tournament, which they did. Senior Michael Gbinije was the catalyst for the Orange, scoring 23 points to lead the way.

Sweet 16
Def. 11-seed Gonzaga 63-60
Syracuse would again benefit from a big upset, meeting 11-seed Gonzaga in the Regional Semis. The Zags controlled most of this game, and looked to have a trip to the Elite Eight all but wrapped up. But a late charge from Syracuse and a few blown opportunities at the end for Gonzaga was enough for the Orange to come away with a 3-point victory and a trip to the Midwest Region final. Freshman Tyler Lydon blocked a Josh Perkins attempt with about 1 second left on the clock to seal the victory.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Virginia 68-62
The friendly match-ups were over for Syracuse, and many expected their magical run to end against 1-seed Virginia. For a second straight game, Syracuse looked dead in the water midway through the second half. But they were able to muster up another late surge, coming back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the lead with less than five minutes to go. From there they were able to hold off the Cavaliers and advance to the Final Four. It was a very uncharacteristic meltdown from Tony Bennett’s squad, but you have to credit Syracuse for contributing to that meltdown. It was another big game for freshman Malachi Richardson, who scored 23 points to lead the way for the Orange.

How They Got Here: Jim Boeheim
Like him or hate him (most people hate him), Jim Boeheim is an extremely good basketball coach. His players played some really good games, and were able to execute a couple amazing comebacks, but when you look at how they were able to pull this off, you look at the coaching. Boeheim made some genius decisions in the Gonzaga and Virginia games. Syracuse runs a 2-3 zone defense almost religiously, and they rarely pressure in the full court. But down double-digits against both the Zags and Virginia, Boeheim picked the perfect time to dial up the pressure, leading those teams to rush and turn the ball over a ton, helping his team make two incredible comebacks. They players executed the plan, but Boeheim cleary out-coached Mark Few and Tony Bennett, and you have to credit him for it. I don’t think Syracuse would be here if it wasn’t for Boeheim.

Why They’ll be National Champs:
You expect the chip on their shoulder to just disappear? It won’t, especially with some of Jim Boeheim’s recent comments. He has his team thinking that they deserve to be here while nobody else thinks they do. That could be all the motivation that they need to go out and win the National Championship. North Carolina is a tough match-up, and the Tar Heels beat Syracuse twice during the regular season. But the second meeting, which was each team’s second-to-last game of the season, went down to the wire in Chapel Hill, with UNC winning 75-70. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone can give teams fits, and a lot of times, it forces teams to hit perimeter jump shots to beat it. If Syracuse can force UNC to shoot from the perimeter (in a shooting grave of a stadium, as I’ve discussed previously), I think they can win this game, and then do the same thing to either Nova or Oklahoma in the title game. I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to think that Syracuse can win the National Championship.

Why They Won’t Win the Title:
From a talent perspective, Syracuse is easily the most over-matched team remaining in the field. Michael Gbinije is an extremely good player, Trevor Cooney is experienced and Malachi Richardson is starting to blossom as a star player, but compared to North Carolina, Villanova and Oklahoma, Syracuse is on a much lower level. When it gets to this point, the cream usually rises to the top, and I don’t think Syracuse is the cream here. On the court, North Carolina has the perfect team to attack and win against the Orange’s zone defense. Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson can shoot over the top, and Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson can get to the middle and run the baseline, which could lead to some really easy buckets. Syracuse is going to have a tough time slowing down the Tar Heels, and that could end up meaning the end of this magical run.

Final Four Preview: Oklahoma

Denzel Valentine of Michigan State was just named AP Player of the Year, but many would argue that the man who has almost single-handedly led Oklahoma to the Final Four this year is more deserving of the accolade. That man is Buddy Hield, and I’d imagine you’ve seen him play at least once by this point. But if you haven’t, make sure you tune in on Saturday night to watch the Sooners take on Villanova. Here is a look at how Oklahoma got here, and why they might end up the 2016 National Champions.

First Round
Def. 15-seed CSU Bakersfield 82-68
It was a little bit of a slow start for the Sooners, and their fans had to be worried, as at the same time, fellow 2-seed Michigan State was on their way to losing to 15-seed Middle Tennessee. Thankfully though, Buddy Hield and the Sooners were able to get it going and win this one by 13 points. Hield scored 27 points on 8-14 shooting to lead Oklahoma to the Second Round.

Second Round
Def. 10-seed VCU 85-81
It wasn’t shocking that VCU gave Oklahoma a really good game. It was shocking just how close VCU came to knocking off the Sooners in this one. It’s no secret that this has been the most difficult game in this tournament for Oklahoma, but just like he’s done all season long, Buddy Hield stepped up when his team needed him and got his team to the Sweet 16. Hield scored 36 points on 11-20 shooting, and the Sooners were on their way to Anaheim.

Sweet 16
Def. 3-seed Texas A&M 77-63
Texas A&M had to make a completely improbable comeback in the Second Round against Northern Iowa just to get here, and it was clear that they were over-matched in this contest. Oklahoma cruised to a victory as Buddy Hield kind of took a backseat. He did notch a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Oklahoma was led by Jordan Woodard in this one, who scored 22 points, including 5-6 from three-point range.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Oregon 80-68
It was the Buddy Hield show yet again in the West Regional Final, as the Sooners made pretty easy work of the Oregon Ducks, winning by 12. Hield scored 37 points, which included an amazing 8-13 from three-point range. Oregon was riding high following their Sweet 16 victory over Duke, but they were no match for Buddy Hield and the Sooners, who are now in Houston for the Final Four.

How They Got Here: Buddy-Mania
Now don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma has some really good players. Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Khadeem Lattin, Ryan Spangler, etc. But the fact of that matter is that Oklahoma has made it this far because of Buddy Hield. It’s the “Year of the Senior” in college basketball, and you could argue that Buddy Hield is the best of the bunch. He has been a productive player his entire career, but he really turned a corner this season, becoming one of, if not the, most lethal scorer in the nation. He hasn’t seen a shot that he can’t make. His patented step-back three ball is probably the best individual move of any player in the country, and it’s that way because I don’t know how you could possibly defend it. He’s averaging just under 30 points a game in the Tournament, and Villanova is going to have their hands full for sure.

Why They’ll Be National Champs:
Refer to the previous paragraph. If Oklahoma wins the National Championship, there’s no doubt in my mind it will be on the back of Buddy Hield. In the first meeting with Villanova this season, Hield scored 18 points on 4-9 shooting from distance. The Sooners won by 23 points in that game, despite that pedestrian performance. If Buddy plays the way he has been playing, Villanova might not stand a chance. Oklahoma is the best shooting team left in the tourney, and they’ve arguably been the best shooting team in the country all season. If they are hitting their shots, I don’t see Nova, Syracuse or North Carolina being able to defeat Oklahoma.

Why They Won’t Win the Title:
All it will take is one bad shooting night, and Oklahoma will be finished. Thankfully for them, they’ve been shooting the ball great through their first four games. Unfortunately for them, NRG Stadium in Houston has been very unkind to shooters in the past. The National Championship game in 2011 was there, and both UConn and Butler struggled mightily to shoot the ball. That gives a team like Villanova, who doesn’t have to rely on their outside shooting, a clear advantage in this match-up with Oklahoma. The Sooners don’t necessarily always rely on their outside shooting, but when they win games, it’s mostly because they’re hitting shots from the outside. They could find tough sledding from the perimeter in Houston, and that could spell the end of Oklahoma’s season.

 

Final Four Preview: Villanova

In 2009, Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats made their first trip to the Final Four since winning the National Championship in 1985, riding a red hot point guard named Scotty Reynolds. Villanova has been one of the best programs in the nation in subsequent years, but they have been marred by postseason struggles.

Entering the 2016 Tournament, Villanova had failed to reach the second weekend of the Big Dance since that Final Four trip in ’09. Despite a very impressive season, many were writing off the Wildcats, citing their inability to win when it counts. Well, those people are eating their words now, as Villanova has silenced its critics, reaching the 2016 Final Four as the South Region Champions. Here is a look at how they got here, and why they might be the ones cutting down the nets on April 4.

First Round
Def. 15-seed UNC Asheville 86-56
Villanova has been a slow-starting team for much of this season, and they allowed UNC Asheville to stay in this one for a little while. But the Wildcats were able to pull away big time in the second half en route to a 30-point opening game victory. It was a very balanced effort from Nova, but they were led by senior big man Daniel Ochefu, who had 17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

Second Round
Def. 7-seed Iowa 87-68
Many were looking forward to a Villanova-Temple match-up here in the Second Round, but when Iowa knocked off the Owls at the buzzer, they moved on instead. As a Temple fan, I am glad they lost, because Iowa ran into a juggernaut in this game. Villanova went ahead early, and never looked back. They led 56-29 at halftime, putting it on cruise control in the second half, winning by 19 and finally getting back to the second weekend of the Tournament. They shot just under 60 percent from the field, including going 10-19 from 3-point range, and were led by 19 points from junior guard Josh Hart.

Sweet 16
Def. 3-seed Miami 92-69
While the Wildcats had cruised to this point, many expected them to at least have some difficulties with a very good Miami team. That was not the case, as this was the moment that Villanova cemented itself as a legitimate National Championship contender. Nova was the better team from the tip-off, and they dominated from start to finish, winning by 23. If you thought their 59 percent from the field against Iowa was good, wait til you hear what they did in this game. Villanova shot over 62.5 percent (!!!!!) from the field, including an astounding 10-15 from behind the arc (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Miami didn’t stand a chance in this one.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Kansas 64-59
Villanova had been shooting the lights out to this point, but there were doubts about whether or not they could win a game in which they weren’t shooting well, especially against the #1 overall team in the field and the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, the Kansas Jayhawks. The people doubting Villanova forgot just how tenacious they are on defense, as they held senior star Perry Ellis to just four points in a 64-59 victory, sending Nova back to the Final Four. Villanova shot just over 40 percent from the field in this one, and just 4-18 from 3-point range, but they got it done on the defensive end. Freshman Mikal Bridges had 5 steals, including a crucial one near the end of the game with Kansas looking to tie it up.

How They Got Here: Balance
In their first three games in this tournament, it was the offense and the impeccable shooting that was in the spotlight for the Wildcats. In the Elite Eight against Kansas, it was their smothering defense that got them the victory. You can look at a number of reasons why Villanova has made it this far, but it comes down to this: if they need to make shots to win, they can, and if they need to lock you down defensively to win, they still can. There aren’t many teams in college basketball this year that are capable of performing really well on both ends of the floor like Villanova can. KenPom has Villanova rated in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only two teams that can boast that right now (Virginia is the other). This team is among the best in the nation on both ends of the floor, and they’ve showcased that during the first two weekends of this tournament.

Why They’ll be National Champions:
Top to bottom, I’d say the eye test would favor North Carolina as the favorite to win the National Championship, but if you look at all the factors, including (and most importantly in this case) the teams they’ve played so far, it’s hard not to choose Villanova as the favorite to cut down the nets in NRG Stadium. Not only have the Wildcats looked mighty impressive, but look at who they’ve beaten to get here. An Iowa team that was once ranked in the top-5 this season, a Miami team that was at the top of the ACC all year (a conference with two teams in the Final Four), and the undisputed Big 12 Champions, Kansas, who also entered their game with Nova riding a 17-game winning streak. They’ve proven that they belong here, and I have a hard time not pegging them the favorites. If they shoot the ball well, it’s hard to outscore them, and if they aren’t hitting their shots, a lot of times their defense is good enough to make sure you don’t hit yours either. They’ll cut down the nets because I believe that they are the best team in the Final Four.

Why They Won’t Win the Title: 
Despite everything that I just said in that last blurb, I’d imagine that the last team Villanova fans wanted to see in the National Semifinals was Oklahoma. These two teams played a non-conference game back on December 7 at Pearl Harbor, with Oklahoma absolutely dominating the game, winning by 23 points (and it wasn’t that close). The Sooners made everything and the Wildcats made nothing. Now, this Villanova team is vastly different from the one that played in that game on December 7, and they won’t have to travel quite as far for this one, but if Oklahoma has another thing going for them, it’s Buddy Hield. Hield is proving why he should be the Player of the Year, and there might not be anything Villanova can do to keep him from willing Oklahoma to victory on Saturday.

Final Four Preview: North Carolina

It doesn’t happen often, but all four 1-seeds in this year’s NCAA Men’s Tournament advanced to the Elite Eight, leaving many to believe that all four could improbably reach the Final Four. It was a crazy season, but it was looking like it could be a chalk finish.

As we should have expected, that didn’t happen. Instead, only one 1-seed was able to advance to the Final Four, and it was the North Carolina Tar Heels out of the East Region. We’re first going to look at how they got to this point, then we’ll discuss why they can win it all, as well as why they might not.

First Round
Def. 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast 83-67
It wasn’t a great start to the Tournament for the Tar Heels, as they led by just one point at halftime of their opener in Raleigh, 41-40. The FGCU Eagles, who defeated Fairleigh Dickinson in a First Four game, played inspired in the first half, looking far from a typical 16-seed. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall of the UNC locker room at halftime, because whatever Roy Williams said to his team definitely worked, as they opened the second half on fire, separating themselves en route to a 16-point victory. Brice Johnson dominated the game with 18 points and a season-high 8 blocks.

Second Round
Def. 9-seed Providence 85-66
It was another lackluster first half for the Tar Heels, as they led by just four points at the break. They again flipped a switch in the second half, distancing themselves and holding off the Friars despite a 29-point performance from Kris Dunn. Brice Johnson tallied a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and UNC got a big game off the bench from Isaiah Hicks, who scored 13 points with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.

Sweet 16
Def. 5-seed Indiana 101-86
After struggling early in each of their first two tourney games, North Carolina came out firing in this one, and led wire-to-wire in a high-scoring affair with the Hoosiers. Many thought Indiana would give UNC a lot of problems, but the Tar Heels were well prepared for this one, getting great performances from their stars Brice Johnson (20 pts, 10 reb) and Marcus Paige (21 pts, 6-9 3pt, 6 ast).

Elite Eight
Def. 6-seed Notre Dame 88-74
Most experts said that Notre Dame would have to play one of their best games of the season if they were going to defeat North Carolina for a second time this season. Notre Dame might have played one of their best games of the season, but it still wasn’t enough to get them a victory. Brice Johnson had his best game of the tournament, scoring 25 points to go along with 12 rebounds, leading the Tar Heels to a 14-point win.

Why They Got Here: Paige and Johnson
The Tar Heels have been considered one of the deeper teams in basketball this season, but they become arguably the best team in the nation when seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are at the top of their games. Paige missed the start of the season with an injured hand, and even after he came back, he struggled with his jump shot for much of the season. Luckily for UNC, Paige has figured out the issue. He’s averaging 14 points per game in this tournament, and he’s 13-27 from distance. He is a great floor general, and teams now have to worry about stopping him. They can’t worry too much about stopping him though, because the Tar Heels have Brice Johnson playing some of his best basketball of the season. The First Team AP All-American is averaging 21 points a game in the Tournament, and he has been a force in the paint and in the mid-range game. He’s becoming nearly impossible to stop, and he could definitely lead the Tar Heels to a title.

Why They’ll be National Champions:
North Carolina is the best team remaining, and it’s really hard to argue that. They have looked really good at times in all four of their tourney games, and it’s hard to see anybody being able to stop Brice Johnson enough to beat this team. Even if they can contain Johnson, North Carolina has so many other players who are capable of stepping up. Nate Britt, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, all players who have stepped up for the Tar Heels at different points this season. Another reason they could win this thing, believe it or not, is the venue. In past Tournament games at Houston’s NRG Stadium, teams have had a very difficult time shooting the ball. One of the uglier National Championship games in recent memory, UConn versus Butler in 2011, was held in NRG Stadium. Of the four teams remaining, North Carolina is the one that is least dependent on outside shooting. That screams advantage Tar Heels.

Why They Won’t Win the Title: 
While North Carolina has looked very good in this tournament, they have had, without question, the easiest road of the four teams. The highest seed they played was 5-seed Indiana, benefiting from early losses for 2-seed Xavier, 3-seed West Virginia and 4-seed Kentucky. They get another low seed in the Final Four when they take on Midwest Regional winners, 10-seed Syracuse, a team that North Carolina beat twice this season. Many see that and think victory for the Tar Heels, but it is very difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, let alone a Syracuse team playing with a chip on their shoulder having barely made the field. Their second meeting came in the last week of the regular season in Chapel Hill, with North Carolina barely escaping with a 75-70 win. The Tar Heels are the clear favorite in this game, but Syracuse knows their playing with house money, and the pressure is totally on UNC. If they struggle under the pressure, the Orange could sneak up and pull off another upset.

NCAA Tournament Preview: Sweet 16

I hope everybody has recovered from one of the most incredible weekends in the history of sport. Every year, the NCAA Tournament delivers tons of heart-pounding action that even non-basketball fans can’t help but enjoy. This year, it upped the ante. A weekend filled with dramatic, emotional games, capped off by possibly the most improbable comeback in basketball history and a fall-away three from the corner as time expired to send a team to this second weekend of action. Those weren’t the only two amazing finishes though, as there were just too many to list. If you missed out, shame on you, but that’s okay, because there’ll hopefully be more this weekend!

Four games each on Thursday and Friday will decide who advances to the Regional Finals for a shot at reaching the Final Four next Saturday, April 2, in Houston. Here is a preview of the Sweet 16!

South Region
Thursday 3/24, Louisville

#3 Miami FL vs #2 Villanova
7:10 pm CBS
Villanova was finally able to exercise some of its demons, as they have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, when Scotty Reynolds led the Wildcats to the Final Four. They hope to make it back this year, led by Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono. Nova pretty well dominated 7-seed Iowa in the Second Round, winning 87-68. They look like they are clicking at the right time, but they’re going to have their hands full in this one with the Miami Hurricanes. After squeaking past 14-seed Buffalo in the First Round, Miami came out firing in the Second Round against 11-seed Wichita State, and led big in the first half. The Shockers came roaring back in the second half, but Miami was able to hold them off thanks to a big game from point guard Angel Rodriguez, who scored 28 points in the 65-57 victory. These two teams match up pretty well, with Villanova the better shooting team, and also better on the defensive end, but Miami is more experienced and definitely more athletic. This is a toss-up in my humble opinion, and it could come down to which team makes more shots. As they showed in the Wichita State game, if Miami gets hot, it doesn’t matter how good the defense is. That being said, I think Villanova is the better team, and I think they are on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. I like the Wildcats in a close one here.

#5 Maryland vs #1 Kansas
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
Kansas is the #1 overall seed in this tournament, and they have proved why through the first two rounds. After easily dispatching 16-seed Austin Peay, the Jayhawks took on a red-hot UConn team, and handled them with relative ease, winning 73-61. This team doesn’t have a true superstar, but they are just solid across the board. Their weakness (if they have one) this year has been the lack of an interior presence, but Landen Lucas has really emerged here at the end of the season for them, giving them that inside presence they’ve been searching for. It hasn’t been quite as easy a trek to this point for the Maryland Terrapins, who were able to outlast 12-seed South Dakota State in the First Round, and then used a late-second half surge to defeat 13-seed Hawaii 73-60. Melo Trimble scored 24 points in that one, and it appears that he has saved his best basketball for the end of the season. Maryland is a really good team, and they could give Kansas some fits with their size, but if Kansas is going to lose, I don’t see it being to a team like Maryland. I think the Terrapins can keep this thing close in the first half, and maybe even into the second half, but Kansas will ultimately be too much, and they’ll advance to the Elite 8.

 

West Region
Thursday 3/24, Anaheim

#3 Texas A&M vs #2 Oklahoma
7:37 pm TBS
Remember that improbable comeback I talked about in the opening? The team that was able to make that comeback was Texas A&M, as they rallied from a 12-point deficit with just 44 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against 11-seed Northern Iowa. The Aggies would eventually win the game 92-88 in double OT to move on to the Sweet 16 and send the Panthers home. As amazing as it is to even just read about, it was one of the most mind-boggling things you could ever watch as a sports fan. Texas A&M will look to ride that momentum all the way to the Final Four, but standing in their way here is the 2-seed Oklahoma Sooners, who were able to fend off a strong performance from 10-seed VCU in the Second Round, winning 85-81. The Sooners gave up 50 second half points to the Rams, and that is definitely cause for concern heading into this match-up. Many people expect Texas A&M to use the momentum from their epic comeback on Sunday to propel them to Houston next weekend, but the fact that they needed a comeback like that against Northern Iowa doesn’t give me much faith that they’ll be able to hang with a team as talented as Oklahoma. It’s obvious that the Sooners have some issues on the defensive end right now, but I think they’re the better team, and they have Buddy Hield. That alone may be enough for them.

#4 Duke vs #1 Oregon
Approx. 10:07 pm TBS
Seed wise, Duke has had the easiest road to the Sweet 16 they could have possibly had. But as far as the games have gone, it has been far from easy. The Blue Devils were tested in the First Round by 13-seed UNC Wilmington, with Duke eventually coming out on top 93-85 in a high-scoring affair. In the Second Round, they’d have a re-match with 12-seed Yale, a team they beat by 19 in November. After trailing by 23 at halftime, the Bulldogs came all the way back in the second half, making the game really interesting. Yale just didn’t have enough though, as Duke was able to pull it out 71-64 and advance to Anaheim. Here they will take on the 1-seed in the West, the Oregon Ducks, who came out on top in a slugfest with 8-seed St. Joseph’s, 69-65. The Hawks had a chance at the end of the game, but DeAndre Bembry turned it over, allowing the Ducks to put the game away at the free throw line. Oregon is one of the most athletic teams in the country, and that can cause problems for anybody, but especially for a team as thin as Duke. Coach K has a very short bench, and I expect the Ducks to play a fast pace with that in mind. Duke is a good team, and they could absolutely win this game, but this is a terrible match-up for them, and I expect Oregon to move on to the Elite 8.

 

Midwest Region
Friday 3/25, Chicago

#4 Iowa State vs #1 Virginia
7:10 pm CBS
Many people believe that Virginia is the best team in the country, despite some questionable results during the regular season. They have looked very good through the first two rounds of this tournament though, as they easily defeated 16-seed Hampton, and then were able to grind out a victory over 9-seed Butler, 77-69. They have the ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon, and they are arguably the best defensive team in the land. That defense will be put to the test in the Sweet 16 as they take on the Iowa State Cyclones, who scored a 94-81 win over 13-seed Iona in the First Round, and then were victorious over 12-seed Little Rock in the Second Round by a score of 78-61. The Cyclones are very well-rounded, and they look to be playing some of their best basketball when it matters the most. They like to play fast, and they are very efficient on the offensive end. That could definitely give Virginia some fits. This game could come down to Virginia’s offense and Iowa State’s defense, and which one of those can be stronger. I believe it is Virginia’s offense that will be able to do enough to score the victory here, putting the Cavaliers in the Regional Final.

#11 Gonzaga vs #10 Syracuse
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
The only two double-digit seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 this year will face each other here in the Midwest Region, meaning we are guaranteed a double-digit seed in the Elite 8. One of these teams, Gonzaga, has looked much better than a double-digit seed so far in this tournament. They dominated one of the hottest teams in the country, Seton Hall, in the First Round, and then wiped 3-seed Utah off of the Pepsi Center floor in the Second Round, 82-59. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis look really motivated to get this Zags team to Houston and the Final Four, something that looked far from realistic just a couple months ago. They’re going to take on the Syracuse Orange, who defeated 7-seed Dayton and 15-seed Middle Tennessee to get to this point. After losing five of six down the stretch, the Orange have looked much better in their two tourney wins, and they have a real shot at the Final Four if they can keep playing well. Their zone defense can give any team fits, but Gonzaga is a team built to do well against it. Sabonis is a force in the middle, and the Zags are shooting the ball really well from the perimeter in this tournament. If they keep playing the way they did last weekend, I like Gonzaga to win this one fairly easily, and move on to the Elite 8.

 

East Region
Friday 3/25, Philadelphia

#7 Wisconsin vs #6 Notre Dame
7:27 pm TBS
Each of these teams advanced to Philly in one of the most dramatic ways possible. The Badgers could barely score in their nail-biting First Round victory over 10-seed Pittsburgh, but in the last 15 seconds of their Second Round game with 2-seed Xavier, they got two three-pointers from point guard Bronson Koenig, including a fall-away in the corner at the buzzer to give them a 66-63 win, advancing them to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame meanwhile came back from a 12-point halftime deficit in the First Round to defeat 11-seed Michigan, and then they got a tip-in from freshman Rex Pflueger, his first field goal since March 5, with 1.2 seconds left to give them 76-75 win over 14-seed Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round. You could say that both of these teams are extremely lucky to be here, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. One of these teams is going to have a shot at the Final Four, and I expect it to be Notre Dame. They are the better team, and if they are able to play at least a little bit of defense, their offense should then be able to do enough to push them past the Badgers and into the Regional Finals.

#5 Indiana vs #1 North Carolina
Approx. 9:57 pm TBS
Entering this tournament, North Carolina was a popular pick to cut down the nets in Houston. After the first weekend, that hasn’t changed much. They led 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast by just one point at halftime in the First Round, but routed them in the second half. They used another dominant second half performance to defeat 9-seed Providence 85-66 in the Second Round. They are going to need to have a better first half in their Sweet 16 game, as they take on 5-seed Indiana, who destroyed 12-seed Chattanooga in the First Round, and then outlasted 4-seed Kentucky in the Second Round, winning 73-67 behind 19 points from freshman Thomas Bryant. There aren’t many teams that can match up athletically with the Tar Heels, but Indiana is one of those teams. This might be the game I’m most looking forward to in the Sweet 16, because North Carolina is a title favorite, but Indiana is playing really good basketball right now. The loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Hoosiers. If they play like they did against Kentucky, I think they’ll upset North Carolina. And I do believe they’ll play that well again, and you’ll see a lot of brackets busted with North Carolina being the first 1-seed knocked out.

 

I can only hope that this weekend will provide action half as good as last weekend, but rest assured, it will be exciting no matter what. Enjoy it everybody!

NCAA Second Round Preview: Saturday 3/19

I hope some of you are still breathing after these first two days of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. I’m barely hanging on. I apologize for not posting the last couple days, but with all of the amazing action, I think you can understand why. Just last night, we saw one of the favorites to win the whole thing lose to a 15-seed in the First Round, Northern Iowa down Texas on a half-court heave at the buzzer, and Cincinnati lose in heartbreaking fashion as a buzzer-beating dunk was just a hair late.

It was quite a day, and I’m looking forward to another one today! Here is a quick preview of each Second Round game taking place today.

South Region
#11 Wichita State vs #3 Miami (FL)
Providence, 12:10 pm CBS
The Hurricanes are a popular pick to advance deep in this tournament, but it took a very valiant effort for them to hold off 14-seed Buffalo on Thursday, eventually winning 79-72. Angel Rodriguez was great for Miami, tallying 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He could have a lot of trouble in this one though, as they take on Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers, who dominated 6-seed Arizona on Thursday, winning by 10. Van Vleet led the way with 16 points and 5 steals, as the Shockers looked much better than an 11-seed. Wichita State is arguably the best defensive team in the country, and it’s going to take a great game from the Hurricanes for them to advance to Louisville next week. That being said, this Wichita State team looks really good right now, and I think they’ll knock off Miami and advance to the Sweet 16.

West Region
#12 Yale vs #4 Duke
Providence, approx. 2:40 pm CBS
One of the biggest shockers of the First Round was the performance by the Yale Bulldogs, dominating Baylor on the boards and winning 79-75 for their first Tournament win in school history. Makai Mason scored 31 points for Yale, as they held off a late surge by the Bears to pull off the upset. Duke was nearly the victim of a First Round upset as well, but Marshall Plumlee exploded in the second half, and they were able to outlast UNC Wilmington 93-85. Many people had visions of a Yale-Duke rematch when the bracket was revealed, and they’ll get it. The two teams played at Cameron Indoor on November 25, with Duke winning 80-61. Duke was only up two points at half though, and they had Amile Jefferson in that game. Without Jefferson, Duke is a much weaker team inside, and we just saw Yale dominate a good interior team in Baylor. I shudder to think what they may do to Duke on the boards. Yale is a confident team right now, and I like them to pull off the upset.

East Region
#5 Indiana vs #4 Kentucky
Des Moines, 5:15 pm CBS
This is another highly anticipated Second Round match-up, as the Hoosiers and the Wildcats will reignite a rivalry that the two schools refuse to take part in during the regular season (if you didn’t know, Tom Crean and John Calipari are two very stubborn individuals). Both of these teams rolled in the First Round, with Indiana topping Chattanooga 99-74 and Kentucky besting Stony Brook 85-57. This will be one of the best point guard battles you’ll see in this tournament, as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis will go one-on-one, and it should be highly entertaining. The difference in this game will be in the paint, where Indiana has some talent, led by freshman Thomas Bryant, but where Kentucky overwhelms some teams with the triumvirate of Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere. I think Kentucky will be too much for Indiana down low, and they’ll head to Philly and the East regional semis.

Midwest Region
#12 Little Rock vs #4 Iowa State
Denver, 6:10 pm TNT
Another stunner on Thursday was the Little Rock Trojans taking Purdue to double-overtime before coming away with an improbable 85-83 victory. Purdue had a 12-point lead fairly late and coughed it up when Little Rock started to pressure full-court, bothering the Boilermakers. Iowa State meanwhile was able to outscore the Iona Gaels 94-81, getting a somewhat comfortable win. The Cyclones have very lofty expectations, and they’ll have to play a completely different type of game here in the Second Round. Iona plays very little defense, while Little Rock pressures teams heavily on the defensive end. The Trojans are a nice story, and if they play like they did on Thursday they’ll have a shot, but I think Iowa State is just too talented and too motivated, and they’ll advance to Anaheim.

Midwest Region
#9 Butler vs #1 Virginia
Raleigh, 7:10 pm TBS
Virginia made fairly easy work of 16-seed Hampton in the First Round, winning 81-45 behind 19 points from forward Anthony Gill. Butler was able to come away victorious in a back-and-forth battle with Texas Tech, pulling away at the end and winning 71-61. Kellen Dunham scored 23 points, including 5-9 from three-point range for the Bulldogs. Butler is a very good offensive team, led by seniors Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, who I’m sure will be motivated to keep their careers going. But I just don’t think the Bulldogs have enough firepower to contend with the tenacious defense of the Cavaliers. It’s been a crazy year, and anything can happen here, but I like Virginia to win this one going away.

South Region
#9 UConn vs #1 Kansas
Des Moines, approx. 7:45 pm CBS
Kansas is considered by many to be the best team in this tournament, and they gave us a glimpse as to why in their First Round victory over 16-seed Austin Peay. The Jayhawks put up 105 points, led by 23 off the bench for guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (last name pronunced: mick-hi-look). Devonte Graham didn’t score in the game, which shows you how deep this team is. UConn struggled both early and late in their First Round game, but a good run in the middle of the second half was able to help the Huskies to a 74-67 win over 8-seed Colorado. Based on everything that happened in the First Round, I’d say it wouldn’t be very shocking to see UConn pull off an upset here. Kevin Ollie is a great postseason coach, and UConn is one of the few teams that can actually match-up well with the guard play and depth of Kansas. UConn operates in a similar fashion to the Jayhawks. Kansas will be favored pretty heavily, and for good reason, and I think they will come out on top. But don’t be that surprised if UConn puts together a great performance and moves on to Louisville.

Midwest Region
#11 Gonzaga vs #3 Utah
Denver, approx. 8:40 pm TNT
One of the biggest shockers for me, maybe not for everyone, but for me was how easily Gonzaga dispatched of 6-seed Seton Hall in the First Round. The Pirates won the Big East Tournament and were a trendy pick to advance deep in the tourney. Domantas Sabonis had other ideas, going for 21 points and 16 rebounds, leading the Bulldogs to a 68-52 drubbing of Seton Hall. In the Second Round, they’ll take on a Utah team that got past 14-seed Fresno State 80-69 behind 16 points and 18 rebounds from center Jakob Poeltl. This will be a battle of the big men, as Poeltl, Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga are all very skilled, and will likely be taken in the First Round of this year’s NBA Draft. Utah is the more talented team, but I was really impressed with how Gonzaga played on Thursday, and I think they’ll get the job done here with another upset.

East Region
#9 Providence vs #1 North Carolina
Raleigh, approx. 9:40 pm TBS
Providence is pretty lucky to be here. Reggie Bullock got wide open for a go-ahead layup, and USC’s Julian Jacobs missed a half court heave, giving Providence a 70-69 victory. North Carolina defeated 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 in the First Round, but the final score doesn’t tell the story. The Eagles were right there with UNC for the entire first half, trailing by just a point at halftime. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall of the Tar Heel locker room at halftime, because they came out with a vengeance in the second half, taking the game over and winning fairly easily. Providence has two bonafide studs in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, and I expect them both to play well, but North Carolina has Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson to match up with Dunn and Bentil, and the Tar Heels have a much more talented supporting cast around their two superstars. Providence could absolutely win this game, but I expect UNC to come out on top and head to Philadelphia next week.

I’ll be back tomorrow with preview of Sunday’s Second Round games. Enjoy today’s action everybody!