BRACKET BLOG: Sweet Sixteen

After four days to recuperate from all the Madness last week, the time has come to hit it hard again in Salt Lake City.

No long-winded intro from me is necessary here. It's the motherfracking Sweet Sixteen, yo.

So hit the jump for the breakdown on all eight games.

Previous Entries:

The Teams

 

The Sites

  • Houston, Texas
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • St. Louis, Mo.
  • Syracuse, N.Y.

 

East Region

No. 1 Kentucky (34-2) vs. No. 12 Cornell (29-4)
March 25 | 8:57 p.m. | Syracuse

How They Got Here:
No. 1 Kentucky 90, No. 9 Wake Forest 60
No. 12 Cornell 87, No. 4 Wisconsin 69

Kentucky rolled on in dominant fashion, but what Cornell did to Wisconsin was just nuts. Anytime you put up almost 90 points (especially the way they did it) on a Bo Ryan-coached team, it's exceptional.

This will be the ultimate battle of opposites. On one hand, you have John Calipari, he of the vacated Final Fours and one-and-done mercenaries making a mockery of the student-athlete concept. On the other, you have a school that doesn't even award scholarships to its players, most of whom graduated in the highest percentile of their class.

How often do two teams such as these meet with this much at stake?

Don't look for Cinder-cornella's dance to last much longer, though.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Kentucky 79, Cornell 70
Sagarin: Kentucky 73, Cornell 66

 

UPSET ALERT: No. 2 West Virginia (29-6) vs. No. 11 Washington (26-9)
March 25 | 6:27 p.m. | Syracuse

How They Got Here:
No. 3 West Virginia 68, No. 10 Missouri 59
No. 11 Washington 82, No. 3 New Mexico 64

Hate to play the I-told-you-so card yet again, but I've been pointing out how dangerous Washington is since this tournament began, yet its opponents just don't seem to be listening.

Well, Bob Huggins, pay heed: The Huskies absolutely can win this game. They're playing their best ball of the season and they were under-seeded, which is a dangerous combination. And now the Mountaineers have lost their starting point guard for the season? Uh oh...

At best, this will be yet another muddy struggle for the team in blue and yellow.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: West Virginia 73, Washington 69
Sagarin: West Virginia 71, Washington 65

 

Midwest Region

No. 2 Ohio State (29-7) vs. No. 6 Tennessee (27-8)
March 26 | 6:07 p.m. | St. Louis

How They Got Here:
No. 2 Ohio State 75, No. 10 Georgia Tech 66
No. 6 Tennessee 83, No. 14 Ohio 68

Both the Buckeyes and the Volunteers took care of business in their respective pods to set up an intriguing match-up.

Yes, it's the team that's almost completely defined by its best player facing the team that kicked its best player off said team midway through the season.

Should be a fun game. Both teams have tons of athletes and Ohio State doesn't really have a depth advantage over Tennessee, because it usually only uses six or seven guys.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Ohio State 70, Tennessee 64
Sagarin: Ohio State 70, Tennessee 67

 

UPSET ALERT: No. 5 Michigan State (26-8) vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa (30-4)
March 26 | 8:37 p.m. | St. Louis

How They Got Here:
No. 5 Michigan State 85, No. 4 Maryland 83
No. 9 Northern Iowa 69, No. 1 Kansas 67

I'll say this for the UNI Panthers — they're remarkably consistent.

They scored the exact same amount of points against Kansas as they did against UNLV, while only giving up one more point.

And why would anything change going forward? They're likely about to play two consecutive Big Ten teams and they probably play Big Ten basketball better than most teams in that conference.

As long as we're on the topic of missing point guards, did you notice how insanely lucky Michigan State was to win and advance in Kalin Lucas' absence? If the small preview we saw earlier this year of how mortal the Spartans look without him repeats itself tomorrow, UNI should be the favorite. I know Tom Izzo wins in March, but c'mon...

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: UNI 60, Michigan State 59
Sagarin: Michigan State 57, UNI 56

 

South Region

No. 1 Duke (31-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue (29-5)
March 26 | 8:57 p.m. | Houston

How They Got Here:
No. 1 Duke 68, No. 8 Cal 53
No. 4 Purdue 63, No. 5 Texas A&M 61 (OT)

How crazy has this tournament been? Of eight Sweet Sixteen games, this is the only one that went chalk.

As much as people might want to proclaim that Purdue has found itself again, I'm not buying it. Against a very good defensive team, Chris Kramer won't be much of an offensive threat. Texas A&M is a very solid defensive team, but it's not elite. And Purdue still had to drag the Aggies to overtime to win.

Purdue in its prime, with Robbie Hummel, absolutely annihilated West Virginia. This Purdue team is much less dangerous. Unfortunately for Duke haters like me, the Blue Devils should dispatch the Boilermakers with relative ease.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Duke 68, Purdue 61
Sagarin: Duke 63, Purdue 60

 

UPSET ALERT: No. 3 Baylor (27-7) vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's (27-5)
March 26 | 6:27 p.m. | Houston

How They Got Here:
No. 3 Baylor 76, No. 11 Old Dominion 68
No. 10 Saint Mary's 75, No. 2 Villanova 68

After a shaky first-round game, Baylor re-established itself against Old Dominion and is a strong dark horse to win the South Region because of Houston's proximity to Waco.

Well, let's flip the script for a minute. Baylor barely has a home-court advantage at the Ferrell Center. Is it really likely that a few thousand screaming Bears fans will make much of a difference in cavernous Reliant Stadium?

Besides, people keep saying that Baylor can match up with Saint Mary's and that will give the Gaels problems. Well, I'll grant you that Richmond and Villanova are not juggernauts in the paint, but neither are Sam Houston State and Old Dominion.

Has anyone considered that a big body such as Omar Samhan might give Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and Ekpe Udoh fits? Not to mention the fact that SMC's guards are just as capable of being insanely hot as Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn.

I advanced Baylor to the Final Four in my bracket, but the Bears just as easily could fall apart in the Sweet Sixteen now that they have reached heights not scaled by the program since the 1950s. Neither outcome would surprise me overly much.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Baylor 75, St. Mary's 71
Sagarin: Baylor 79, St. Mary's 77

 

West Region

UPSET ALERT: No. 1 Syracuse (30-4) vs. No. 5 Butler (30-4)
March 25 | 6:07 p.m. | Salt Lake City

How They Got Here:
No. 1 Syracuse 87, No. 8 Gonzaga 65
No. 5 Butler 54, No. 13 Murray State 52

For those of you who are bearish on K-State's chances to reach the Final Four should the Wildcats make it past Xavier, consider this:

In one week in December, Butler beat Ohio State and Xavier. That's pretty impressive for a "mid-major."

The Bulldogs have been reaching the Sweet Sixteen for almost a decade now. This is nothing new for them. They like to shoot 3s. Syracuse's zone is susceptible to hot 3-point shooting teams. And there is no way Arinze Onuaku will be back, leaving Syracuse with an even thinner rotation than Ohio State or Tennessee.

My point is, K-State might not even have to play Syracuse. And if you had told me before the season began that the Cats would have to play four mid-majors to make it to the Final Four, I would have signed on the dotted line in a heartbeat.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Syracuse 70, Butler 66
Sagarin: Syracuse 72, Butler 68

 

No. 2 Kansas State (28-7) vs. No. 6 Xavier (26-8)
March 25 | 8:37 p.m. | Salt Lake City

How They Got Here:
No. 2 Kansas State 84, No. 7 BYU 72
No. 6 Xavier 71, No. 3 Pittsburgh 68

I really hope the Cats don't make me regret not tagging this with an upset alert, but I'm strangely confident about this game.

I know people say Xavier will be motivated by revenge and it's hard to beat a team twice, but I thought the same thing two weeks ago before we played Baylor — and we beat them worse the second team, with more at stake.

Yes, Xavier is a better team now than it was in December, but so are we. Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen were not very good in that game, but they are playing at an extremely high level now. And Jamar Samuels just is due to pop off again. That should scare any opponent.

Xavier is a nice team and a nice story, but it's a team composed mostly of sophomores and juniors. Next year is the Musketeers' year to break through and perhaps make a deep run in the tournament. This year is the time for the top-five team to keep taking care of business and achieve its highest goals.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Kansas State 79, Xavier 75
Sagarin: Kansas State 81, Xavier 78

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