In the span of five minutes I went from turning off that Northern Iowa vs. Texas A&M game to hastily switching it back on. What a wild finish that was! Couple that with the dynamic “shot heard ’round the world” from Wisconsin to steal that game against Xavier, and that was some epic stuff. So some Cinderellas turned back into scullery maids, and everything was right with the world again.
Except that Kentucky is gone now, joining its brethren Michigan State, Utah, and Xavier as high seeds with so much promise who just couldn’t back it up when it counted. Villanova and Oklahoma continue to roll, and North Carolina was once again tested but pulled away when it mattered. I have to think that’s not a good recipe for success the rest of the way in this wild tournament.
I did fine with my Round of 32 picks, but I guess I should have stuck with A&M (still scratching my head over that one), and not gotten sucked in by that crew from Middle Tennessee. I predict more crazy finishes in the Sweet 16, but not many traditional upsets. We’re down to it now. As always, I’ll start in the South.
(1) KANSAS vs. (5) Maryland – After all this time it comes down to consistency. For more than half of its game against Hawaii, Maryland just couldn’t put the exclamation point on it and pull away. They eventually did, and it seemed academic after the fact, but I watched both that game and the Kansas one. The Jawhawks shut down a team that had come in hotter than any other. That’s all I needed to see. Pick: KANSAS.
(3) Miami vs. (2) VILLANOVA – I’m taking this ride as far as it goes because Villanova is playing fundamentally sound basketball right now, and they don’t seem as susceptible to the letdowns that plagued the past few of Jay Wright’s squads. With that being said, this would be the time for irony to rear its ugly head and bite the Cats in the rear. I just don’t see it happening. Pick: VILLANOVA.
(1) North Carolina vs. (5) INDIANA – I keep predicting the demise of the Tarheels, and they keep rising from the ashes of how they’re supposed to lose, alive to see another day, and another game. But I loved what I saw from the Hoosiers last week, and if they’re on their game like that they can beat anyone. They took it to Kentucky, and I think that will carry over into this one. Upset special. Pick: INDIANA.
(6) Notre Dame vs. (7) WISCONSIN – This is fate, isn’t it? Wisconsin, losers of a heartbreaker to Duke in the championship last year, a reinvented squad, looks to get back to the Elite 8 against a surprising Irish squad that should have lost last week. But they didn’t lose, and they seem like the tournament darlings at this point. The ride ends here. Pick: WISCONSIN.
(1) OREGON vs. (4) Duke – Don’t bet against Coach K, right? Especially not when he somehow drags a squad of underachievers to a Sweet 16 they have no business being at, right? I thought they would lose to Yale, but that Yale team was a bit unseasoned. This group of Ducks is well seasoned, familiar with this time of year, and they won’t have a letdown. Now is the time to bet against Coach K. Pick: OREGON.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) OKLAHOMA – I hate going chalk, especially here. After a huge win like A&M got, they could come into this one feeling like they’re playing on borrowed time, OR they could use it as fuel to end the speculation that they don’t belong. They have the team that could slow down Buddy Hield, but I just don’t see him coming down to earth anytime soon. Pick: OKLAHOMA.
(1) VIRGINIA vs. (4) Iowa State – Iowa State hasn’t really been tested yet, rolling to wins over lesser teams in Iona and Little Rock. But now they have to face the 1-seed in their corner of the bracket, which is a much larger task. Are they up to it? Virginia is at the top for a reason, and I have never doubted that. They’re the best team in the region, and they show it again here. Pick: VIRGINIA.
(11) GONZAGA vs. (10) Syracuse – If you told me you had this as the other Sweet 16 matchup from this region I would call “liar” on you and move on. Not many at all saw this one coming, but the Orange have ridden a wave of good luck to get here, while Gonzaga has played excellent offense and defense. I think Boeheim has gotten his team as far as they could go as the “little engine that could.” It’s Elite time for the Zags. Pick: GONZAGA.