2007 Sweet 16 Predictions – South & West
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Tennessee
Casual fans probably won’t remember that Tennessee played Ohio State quite closely on January 13, losing 68-66 on (surprise, surprise) a Ron Lewis three-pointer at the end of regulation. That’s the same Buckeye who hit the game-tying three against Xavier over the weekend, for those keeping score at home. The January game was played in Columbus, in front of a near-sellout crowd at OSU’s on-campus arena.
Tennessee is one of only a handful of teams in the country whose backcourt can actually keep up with the Buckeyes’ guards. OSU’s normally reliable trio of ballhandlers (Conley, Cook, and Butler) coughed up 12 of a team total 20 turnovers in the first matchup, and will have to do a better job of handling the Vols’ pressure the second time around. Greg Oden, however, had his breakout game, collecting 15 boards and notching 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The big man simply had a field day against Tennessee’s undersized frontcourt. Look for more of the same from Mr. Oden against a team with only one significant player taller than 6’7.”
Prediction: Ohio State 76, Tennessee 70.
Both teams have improved on their midseason form, but I think Ohio State has improved more. Oden has finally started to look comfortable with both hands during the last month of the season, and I look for a colossal game from him. Tennessee simply does not have enough bodies down low to handle Oden (and backup Othello Hunter), and that will really hurt them on the defensive glass. Chris Lofton and the rest of the Vols’ three-point specialists will need to be at the top of their games if Tennessee is to reach the Elite Eight.
No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 3 Texas A&M
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis’ floor leader, suffered a sprained ankle midway through the second half of the Tigers’ 78-62 second round win over Nevada. Surprisingly good free-throw shooting late in the game (statistically, Memphis is one of the worst teams in Division I at the line) made the victory relatively easy.
Texas A&M’s big men also made some critical foul shots in the Aggies’ 72-69 nailbiter over Louisville on Saturday. Guard Dominque Kirk has been one of the biggest surprises of the Tournament, averaging 18 ppg for the first two rounds.
Great individual battles will take place all over the court in this one. Memphis’ athletic perimeter players should be able to shut down Josh Carter, one of the nation’s leading three-point shooters, but their overplaying may lead to some open dunks down low for Joseph Jones and some easy isolation moves for the surprisingly agile Antanas Kavaliauskas. Still, 6’9” Robert Dozier and 6’9” Joey Dorsey should grab their share of offensive boards with superior quickness. Two of the best senior guards in the country, Acie Law IV and Jeremy Hunt, will try to calm their teams with veteran experience.
Prediction: Texas A&M 77, Memphis 74.
CD-R is expected to be in uniform for this game, but how explosive he can be with what is likely to be heavy tape remains to be seen, particularly against an A&M backcourt that plays some pretty nice defense. Memphis is the more athletic team, but the Aggies are clearly better-disciplined, and Law is nothing short of rock-solid in the clutch. Look for the Naismith finalist to add yet another heroic jumper to his portfolio to win this one for Texas A&M.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois
Both teams looked very impressive in reaching the Sweet 16, with the Jayhawks being perhaps the most impressive of any team in the Tournament through the first two rounds. SIU did plenty of damage itself, manhandling Virginia Tech Sunday after battling through a gritty Holy Cross team on Friday.
SIU forward Matt Shaw is likely out with a sprained ankle. Shaw is a tough loss for the Salukis on both sides of the ball, as the 6’7” forward can step out to knock down three-pointers, and would probably have drawn the explosive Julian Wright on the defensive end.
There isn’t a particular matchup that jumps out as the key to the game, but tempo will be critical. SIU likes to keep opponents out of rhythm with a grinding pace at the offensive end and by disallowing transition baskets on D. Jamaal Tatum must slow down KU’s sparkplug, Sherron Collins, or at the very least force him into bad decisions, and Randal Falker must play the game of his life against Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, Julian Wright, and Darnell Jackson inside for the Salukis to be victorious.
Prediction: Kansas 60, Southern Illinois 48.
The Salukis are clearly outclassed by what is probably the most talented team in the country, but SIU’s team basketball I.Q. is off the charts, which should keep the game close for a half. SIU’s defense is renowned with good reason, but the Jayhawks aren’t slouches on that side of the ball either, boasting the country’s #2-ranked FG defense (37.3%). Given that Kansas has scored with relative ease for most of the season, and the Salukis have been prone to long droughts, I’ll give the Jayhawks the advantage in the second half, and the game.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh
Both teams struggled to put away second-round opponents after relatively easy first round wins. UCLA nearly blew a 13-point lead late in the second half before two late steals sealed Indiana’s fate in the final minute of regulation. Pitt, meanwhile, gave a 19-point lead all the way back to VCU and needed overtime to defeat Eric Maynor and the rest of Anthony Grant’s Rams.
Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon will face each other for the first time since Howland left for UCLA and Dixon assumed the head job at Pitt in 2003.
Without question, the most important matchup of this game will be Aaron Gray vs. Lorenzo Mata inside. Gray has faded a bit from Pitt’s offense lately: after leading the Panthers in scoring for 10 of their first 12 games, he’s topped the scoring ranks just twice in their last 11. Mata is an underrated rebounder and defender, and Jamie Dixon would be advised to get him in foul trouble as early as possible, since there really isn’t anyone to take his place on the Bruins’ bench. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Levon Kendall will also be a terrific individual battle to watch on both ends of the floor. Mbah a Moute needs a strong performance to regain some of the NBA Draft positioning he has lost since last year’s deep run.
Prediction: UCLA 65, Pittsburgh 60.
Pitt is an impressive 13-5 away from home this year, and they’ll need to rely on their road experience in what will be a significantly pro-Bruin environment in San Jose. Somehow, I just don’t see Ben Howland losing to his protégé, though, particularly with superior talent and team quickness.