2012 NCAA Tourney: Sweet 16 Storylines
March Madness is in full effect, but in the wake of Peyton Manning signing with the Denver Broncos many of the intriguing storylines surrounding the upcoming slate of games have been pushed to the backburner. While I can handle my fair share of Peyton coverage, I reached my breaking point when the news shifted from Manning to Tim Tebow and questions regarding his future. I realize Tebow is a demi-god who moves the meter for every news outlet, but with the NFL season still in the distant future I will take a quick look at a few of the interesting scenarios that will be in play when the Sweet 16 commences on Thursday.
Kentucky-Indiana rematch: The South region features a rematch of one of the more entertaining games of the regular season, as Kentucky seeks to avenge their 73-72 loss to the Hoosiers. The December contest between these two storied programs was a close one throughout, with Christian Watford’s buzzer beating 3-pointer giving the Wildcats their first loss of the season and putting Indiana back on the college basketball map. The inside matchup between Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis should be a good one, while Kentucky has a distinct advantage over the Hoosiers in terms of overall talent. Indiana’s best bet for an upset is to get Davis in foul trouble again and hope for a poor shooting performance from Kentucky. The pressure is squarely on the Wildcats in this one, as coach John Calipari is still looking for that elusive first national title. His program provides the NBA with first round draft picks on a yearly basis, but until he wins it all (before eventually vacating it) he will continue to catch flack.
Baylor making noise: I am as guilty as anyone for not following Baylor that religiously during the season, but after getting a glimpse of them in the tourney they certainly have some impressive players. In Perry Jones and Quincy Miller, they possess a couple of long and supremely athletic players that are capable of matching up with the frontline bigs of Kentucky and/or North Carolina. If they get by Xavier and Kentucky dispatches Indiana, a Bears-Wildcats Elite 8 meeting will showcase as many as eight (depending who declares) future NBA players. As an added plus we will get to see the neon green uniforms for a few more games, Charles Barkley’s favorites.
Tom Izzo doing it again: He does it seemingly every year, and once again Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has his Spartans back in the Sweet 16. His 17 year run at MSU has been amazing; ten Sweet 16 appearances and six Final Fours to go along with one national title. He wins each year with players buying into his toughness and rebounding philosophy, and this year’s roster led by Draymond Green is no exception. They meet up with Louisville on Thursday, and look for Sparty to muck it up and try and bully the Cardinals out of their game.
Boeheim seeking 2nd National Title: Amid a season of turmoil and allegations, Syracuse still managed to put together an outstanding season and now find themselves in prime position for a spot in the Final Four. Despite the absence of Fab Melo, the Orange still go eight deep with a roster featuring a unique blend of seniors (Jardine, Joseph), juniors (Triche, Southerland), sophomores (Waiters, Fair, Keita) and a freshmen (Christmas). Press friendly coach Jimmy Boeheim is seeking to add another national title to his trophy case, and after countless missed opportunities over the years this could be the squad that fulfills expectations.
Sullinger-Gates, #Beasts: Ohio State and Cincinnati meet Thursday night in the East Regional semifinal, with the main event likely occurring in the paint. Cincy big man Yancy Gates is a load, and when he’s not slapping around Xavier players he can be seen throwing his weight around down low. Depending on his foul situation Gates will attempt to make life difficult for Sullinger, the Ohio State All-American. Sullinger is a bruiser as well, using his wide frame to carve out space and get easy opportunities. Sullinger also has the ability to stretch the floor and step outside for jumpers, so he might look to take Gates away from the basket.
Kansas playing close to home: The No. 2 seed in the Midwest, Kansas will be playing their games in St. Louis, a short four hour drive from campus. Jayhawk fans travel better than most, so in all likelihood these games will have a definitive home game feel for Bill Self’s squad. Not that they need much help with players such as Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, but their opponents will have to defeat the elements as well. It will be a fired up environment if they end up facing North Carolina and former Jayhawk coach Roy Williams in the Elite 8, as Kansas fans would like nothing more than to end Old Roy’s season.
Kendall Marshall injury: The Tar Heels were cruising in their second round game against Creighton, looking very much like the team predicted at the start of the year to win the national championship. A hard foul led to a broken right wrist for Kendall Marshall, and just like that Carolina lost their most indispensable player. There is a slight chance that Marshall could play again at some point in the tournament, but for now the primary ball handling duties will likely fall to Stilman White, a freshman guard who average around four minutes of game time this season. Carolina will still try and run their fast break offense, but without their conductor coach Williams will have to utilize his NBA sized frontline of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes as much as possible.
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