by user Jgov05
After a weekend that might have been the best in March Madness history, the Sweet Sixteen is set, and it is loaded with questions. Can Bradley continue their improbable winning streak? Will Connecticut finally start to dominate? Is Memphis a worthy #1 seed? Can JJ Redick possibly be any more hated? With these questions and more in mind, here are my rankings of each of the Sweet Sixteen teams in order of their likelihood of winning the nation title:
16. Bradley Braves: I actually find it hard to pick against these guys after what they did in the first two rounds. They defeated not only Big 12 champion Kansas but also Big East powerhouse Pittsburgh, ruining approximately 560,654,783 brackets in the process. What makes the Bradley Braves different from past Cinderellas is that they won their first two games convincingly, leading throughout most of both games. But I think the luck will stop here for Bradley, as they face the top seeded Memphis Tigers in the next round. While the Braves have already toppled two excellent programs, I think the Tigers might be a bit too much for them.
15. Wichita State: The 7th-seeded Shockers (possibly my favorite sports nickname I’ve ever heard) join Bradley as Missouri Valley conference teams in the Sweet Sixteen, which is incredible considering no Big 10 teams remain. The Shockers are matched up against George Mason on Friday, giving them the best chance they could have hoped for to reach the Elite Eight. But I think Wichita’s run in the tournament will stop against the lower-seeded Patriots for two reasons. First, these two teams met earlier in the year and George Mason won 70-67. Second, George Mason has had the tougher road to get here. While the Shockers have beaten Seton Hall (the Big East’s weakest representative) and Tennessee (the worst 2 seed in years), George Mason has defeated defending champs North Carolina and Michigan State—a 2005 Final Four team.
14. George Mason: As stated above, I think the Patriots will make the Elite Eight by beating Wichita State. So why are they ranked so low? Although I predict a win for George Mason, they will get slaughtered in the Elite Eight game against either Washington or UConn. And this list is based on chances to win it all.
13. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are a very good team stuck with a tough bracket. They face Texas in the Sweet Sixteen round, which will be a tough test for this team as they have already lost to the Longhorns this season. Even if West Virginia makes it to the Elite Eight, they will have to face either Duke or LSU, two teams that can beat them. Although the Mountaineers finished third in the nation’s best conference (the Big East), and have two excellent players on the inside (C Kevin Pittsnogle and F Mike Gansey combine to average 36 points a game), they have a miniscule chance of bringing down the nets at the end of the season.
12. Washington: It will be a battle of Huskies when Washington and Connecticut square off on Friday. Washington remains a difficult team to predict. On the bright side, they have a stud in guard Brandon Roy and beat Illinois (my favored Final Four team). However, they face a Connecticut team that is more heavily favored to win than Goliath was. I think that the Huskies have some talent and would be an interesting pick in a different bracket, but I don’t think they’ll be the ones to take down UConn.
11. LSU: The Tigers are lucky just to have made it this far. They barely survived Texas A&M, needing a last-second three pointer from Darell Mitchell to catapult them into the Sweet Sixteen. They seem to be one of the more frustrating teams to pick, as they have been up and down all season. But here is something that is easy to pick—the fourth-seeded Tigers will lose to Duke when the two teams meet on Thursday. While the matchup between Duke All-American Shelden Williams and LSU’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis will be one of the more interesting things to watch this weekend, LSU is too young and inexperienced to beat the veteran Blue Devils.
10. Georgetown: What a matchup it will be between the 7th-seeded Hoyas and the 3rd seeded Florida Gators on Friday night. Set your TiVos for this one. Though the Hoyas were one of the weakest Big East teams in the field, they have dominated their competition so far in the tournament, including an 18-point rout of Ohio State. The problem for Georgetown is that they lack depth and a star player. While four out of their five starters averages over 10 points, no one on the team has more than 12 a game. Why is this important? Well, often in these March Madness games the game goes down to the wire. To win one of these types of games, you need a player that is reliable to take a last second shot. Who would do so for the Hoyas? I don’t see anyone I would trust. So while Georgetown might pressure Florida into a close finish, I don’t think they have what it takes to beat the Gators.
9. Boston College: I don’t see why everybody is so high on this team. Who have they beaten in the tournament so far? They needed 2 overtimes to take down 13th seeded Pacific and defeated 12 seed Montana in their other game. The Eagles have had one of the easiest roads to the Sweet Sixteen out of every team. Most likely, they will go home after their game against Villanova. That said, BC is experienced and has some talented players, led by forwards Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. They might have a slight chance of taking down Nova, but only if the Wildcats continue to play as badly as they did the first two rounds. The Eagles have potential, but I don’t think they will reach it.
8. UCLA: The Bruins have been favored by many to reach the Final Four, but I haven’t been impressed by them. UCLA has a 29-6 record, but many of those wins have come from defeating weak Pac-10 teams. Their win against Alabama last weekend was anything but impressive, and they have lost to many of the ranked teams they faced in the regular season. Expect their tournament run to end on Thursday against Gonzaga, where the Adam Morrison show will advance the Zags to the next round. Here’s another thing working against the Bruins: should they beat Gonzaga, they will likely face Memphis in the Elite Eight—and they lost to the Tigers by 8 points earlier this year.
7. Gonzaga: I’ll admit it—the Bulldogs didn’t exactly face top competition playing in the WCC. And their bench is as weak as Barry Bonds before he took steroids. But Gonzaga has this going for them: they have two 20+ point per game scorers in Adam Morrison and JP Bautista. Star players are what win games in March, in the Bulldogs feature two of them. I believe that they have a good shot beating UCLA, which would set up a great matchup against Memphis. However, they would likely fall to the Tigers, who beat them by 9 earlier this year.
6. Texas: Man, the Longhorns looked good in their 21-point blowout of NC State. The second half of that game was all Texas, all the time. I think Texas might have a similarly easy time with West Virginia. As I said before, they have already beaten the Mountaineers this year, and have improved since then. Forwards PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge give them a simply dominating presence inside. However, I simply cannot think that Texas would top Duke in the likely Elite Eight battle. The Longhorns’ 31-point loss to the Blue Devils earlier this year verged on the embarrassing. I think Texas will keep the score down if they play again, but Duke seems like they are destined for at least a Final Four berth this year.
5. Villanova: The Wildcats are an excellent team, but their run in the tournament will end quickly unless they greatly improve their play from last weekend. Their four-point loss to Arizona was much closer than it should have been. Even in their first round matchup against Monmouth, Nova failed to put the game away. However, this team still has an excellent shot at making the Final Four and even bringing the title back to Philadelphia. But I can definitely envision an upset, especially to…
4. Florida: Of all the teams in the Sweet Sixteen, Florida has probably had the two most dominating wins so far. Sure, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee aren’t the most venerable of opponents, but the Gators suffocated those two teams by 26 and 22 points, respectively. The Gators have a balanced lineup, led by two outstanding forwards—Jokaim Noah and Al Horford. These two combine for 25 points and 14 rebounds a game. Their 3 main guards are efficient and sharp-shooting. All five starters average 10+ points a game. Basically, the Gators have everything a team needs to reach the Final Four. I could easily envision an upset of Villanova if these teams meet in the Elite Eight. For these reasons, Florida will be this year’s surprise Final Four team.
3. Memphis: The Tigers have probably the easiest road to the Final Four of every team. After they absolutely annihilate Bradley, they will face either Gonzaga or UCLA, two of their previous victims this season. They are led by their forwards Rodney Carey and Shawne Williams, who average a combined 30 points and 10 rebounds a game. They are well-balanced at the guard position as well. Should the Tigers move on to the Final Four as expected, they will face a tough test against either Texas or Duke. Both teams have defeated the Tigers already this year.
2. Connecticut: UConn is the favorite to win it all by nearly every basketball expert and journalist. However, the Huskies have looked very human in their first two games of the tournament. They almost got shocked in the first round by Albany, and Kentucky came within four points of them. However, this team is still loaded with talent and will have the easiest Elite Eight game of all time against either Wichita St. or George Mason. Rudy Gay, Rashad Anderson, Josh Boone, Marcus Williams, and Denham Brown comprise the Huskies’ unbelievable starting lineup and combine for nearly 60 points a game. I think that UConn will advance all the way to the national championship where they will lose to…
1. Duke: I said in my pre-tournament article that Duke is extremely vulnerable to upset. I even picked Texas over them to the Final Four. However, after watching America’s Most Hated team play in the first 2 rounds, I can say that there is no way Duke will be upset or even beat. JJ Redick and Shelden Williams are two seniors that seem to want a title badly. They are both playing like someone will execute them if Duke loses. Williams is the presence inside that no team can match, with 18 points and 10 rebounds a game this season. Redick, despite being more hated than the Applebees shrimp commercial, is the best pure shooter I’ve seen at the college level. If I were to trust any player to take the game winning shot in an all-or-nothing situation, it would be Redick. The Blue Devils will roll to the national title where they will face Connecticut. And I think Duke will come out on top.
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Tue 03/21/06, 6:44 pm EST