Here's a look at the Silver Chips Online projections for the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
South #6 Maryland vs. South #7 Michigan State
A year after winning the national championship, Maryland has struggled at points during the season. The Terps finished off the regular season with an overtime loss to rival Virginia and were sent packing in the first round of the ACC Tournament by the NIT bound North Carolina Tar Heels. Though the team had to stumble its way to an at large bid, so far Maryland has not disappointed its fans in the tourney. The Terps looked like they were finished in the first round against UNC-Wilmington, but a heroic, off-balance three-point shot at the buzzer by Drew Nicholas propelled Maryland into the second round. In its second game, the team dominated Xavier inside and walked away with the upset. Nicholas and team leader Steve Blake are finishing up their college careers with style.
Michigan State also struggled during the regular season, but Tom Izzo, the Spartans' coach, is a tremendous tournament coach. He always seems to get his players to peak at the right time and win when it counts. In the second round, the Spartans played brilliantly and beat second seeded Florida by a whopping 22 points. Michigan State has no real standout players except sophomore Chris Hill who averages 14 points per game.
Though Michigan State lacks solid senior leadership and Maryland has a more talented squad, Michigan State may very well win on the momentum of its previous blow out. If Hill hits shots from the perimeter and the Spartans contain either Blake or Nicholas, the Terps will be headed back to College Park. For the turtles to win, they'll need a big performance out of Ryan Randle on the inside.
Projected outcome: Michigan State wins.
East #3 Syracuse vs. East #10 Auburn
The Syracuse Orangemen have one of the youngest teams in the tournament. Not only are they short on seniors (there's only one on the team), they're led almost entirely by underclassmen. The big name for the Orangemen this year has been Carmelo Anthony. Though he's only a freshman, Anthony has been the driving force behind his team. He nearly bolted for the NBA straight out of high school, but decided first to make a pit stop at Syracuse. This is likely his only year on the team, so Syracuse wants badly to win it all before they lose they're star player. Anthony is averaging an astonishing 22.7 points and ten rebounds per game and making his mark on the Syracuse program. It'll be tough for Auburn to put a stop to this offensive force.
Few felt bubble team Auburn even deserved a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers proved their critics wrong by beating St. Joseph's and second seeded Wake Forest to make it into the Sweet 16. The surprising run is largely a result of the outstanding minutes Auburn has gotten out of its senior, Marquis Daniels. Daniels can score from almost anywhere on the court and even has a decent long-range shot. Though his assist-to-turnover ratio is not good, he's capable of making good passes and setting up his teammates for easy baskets.
If the Tigers want to prolong their season, they'll have to find a way to outmuscle Syracuse on the boards and take advantage of their senior leadership. Syracuse should have no trouble bumping off Auburn because the Orangemen will be surrounded by their fans as the game is being played in Albany, New York.
Projected outcome: Syracuse wins.
South #1 Texas vs. South #5 Connecticut
Connecticut and Texas are both primarily young teams. Between the two, only one senior is scoring in double figures and most of the offensive output is coming from sophomores, the most notable of which is T.J. Ford. Ford was named the player of the year and deservingly so. He gets great looks at the basket and has a terrific sense of the court. He knows where his teammates are and which are open, leading to an average of seven assists per game. Texas center James Thomas makes up for Ford's one deficiency: size. The 6-8 junior averages 11 rebounds per game and is one of the best athletes out on the court for the Long Horns. Connecticut's big man, Emeka Okafor, will provide a tough challenge for Thomas though, and may take away Texas's inside presence. Okafor also averages 11 rebounds per game and contributes with over 15 points per game primarily in the paint.
Connecticut has tended to underachieve this season, but may have reached a turning point when it pulled off an impressive 11-point victory over Stanford in the second round. The game is being played in Texas, but the Huskies still have a legitimate shot at bringing down the number one seed. If Connecticut successful double teams Ford and takes away his passing lanes, the team stands a good chance at success.
Look for a tough, physical game with lots of inside play as all eyes will be on the Okafor-Thomas match-up. Both teams have players capable of shooting from beyond the arc so no lead will be safe.
Projected outcome: Connecticut wins.
East #1 Oklahoma vs. East #12 Butler
Oklahoma finished the regular season third in its conference and went on to win the Big 12 Tournament. Hollis Price, the team's leading scorer, has been tremendous for the Sooners. The senior guard is spectacular in all aspects of the offensive game. Price can drive the ball inside and get fouled or step back behind the arc and put up a three-ball. He shoots an outstanding .440 from downtown and coverts over 90% of his free throws. Senior Ebi Ere has also played in important roll as the second pillar of the Sooner offense though of late he seems to have gone cold. Over the last five games, Ere has averaged just 7.4 points per game and is shooting under 60% at the charity stripe.
Butler is this year's Cinderella team. The 12 seeded Bulldogs shocked both Mississippi State and Louisville in the opening rounds of the tournament and don't show signs of slowing down. Senior Darnell Archey put on a shooting clinic when his team played Louisville, knocking down eight of nine three-pointers. Though Brandon Miller, who leads the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game, recorded just three points in Butler's last game, the Bulldogs have no cause for concern. Joel Cornette, another senior, Duane Lightfoot Jr., and Archey can all step-up and make big plays when they need to.
The one real problem Butler will face, however, is its lack of offensive rebounding. Oklahoma will dominate the boards and keep Butler from getting second looks at the basket. As they've proven, the Bulldogs can pull off upsets, but the edge has to be given to Oklahoma in this game.
Projected outcome: Oklahoma wins.
West #2 Kansas vs. West #3 Duke
Kansas and Duke couldn't have come into the NCAA Tournament under two more opposite circumstances. Duke started the season off fast, winning its first 12 games, while Kansas struggled with a 2-3 record against Division I schools. However, as the season wore on, Duke suffered several disappointments while Kansas continued to improve. In their respective tournaments, it seemed likely that Kansas would come out on top in the Big 12 while Duke's fate was less certain. Strangely, it was Duke that got a conference title and Kansas that faltered. Even more bizarre is the fact that since the start of the NCAA Tournament, the two teams have had similar experiences. Both teams struggled in the first round and blew out their opponents in the second.
Duke has a seed lower than number one for the first time in the careers of any of the current players. This may take some of the pressure off them and help them to focus on their execution. Many expect Kansas to come away with a win so the Blue Devils may be able to take advantage of an over confident Jayhawk team.
Kansas has to establish dominance early with its inside game. Nick Collison has been a big offensive force and has abused many teams with his hook shot and ability to move without the ball. Duke will need to contain him because Collison holds the key to a win for Kansas.
The Blue Devils have to take high percentage shots and get good looks from beyond the arc to be successful as a weak rebounding team. The improvement of freshman big man Shelden Williams has led to another offensive option for Duke and leaves shooters on the outside open for better looks at the basket. Still, the Blue Devils have a tendency to neglect him and prefer instead to stick with a jump-shot oriented attack. This is a mistake and it's imperative that Duke pound the ball inside so that later on freshman sharp-shooter J.J. Redick can get some big baskets from downtown late in the game.
If Duke can effectively contain Collison and use the defense it has worked on all season long to stop Heinrich from shooting threes of his own, the Blue Devils could very well walk away with the shocker. Look for a close game that comes down to the final minutes.
Projected outcome: Duke wins.
Midwest #2 Pittsburgh vs. #3 Marquette
Like Kansas, Pittsburgh may very well have deserved a number one seed especially after winning the Big East Tournament. The Panthers are on an 11 game winning streak that includes three wins against two NCAA Tourney teams (Connecticut and Indiana) and several against NIT teams. What's impressive is that most of the games during the streak have been fairly one-sided. Excluding a surprisingly narrow two-point win over a depleted Villanova team, the average margin of victory during the streak is just over 20 points. Like Kentucky, the Panthers have a very balanced attack. Five players are averaging double digits and a sixth is averaging 9.8 points.
Marquette stumbled into the tourney after it bowed out of the C-USA Tournament early and so far the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament have been a bit rocky. The Golden Eagles escaped with a four-point win over Holy Cross and took overtime to defeat a tough Missouri team. Close games like the two Marquette has just had can mean one of two things. Either Marquette is slumping and will be an easy knockout for Pittsburgh, or the Golden Eagles have gained confidence after pulling out tough victories. Whatever the case may be, Marquette can draw reassurance from the consistent play of its leading scorer, Dwayne Wade. Over the last eight games, Wade has averaged better than 24 points per game, three over his season average.
Marquette needs to keep the game close until the end if it hopes to advance. This is because if it comes down to free throws, the Golden Eagles have a clear advantage. Of Pittsburgh's top four scorers, only Julius Page has above a 70% free throw shooting average and as a team, the Panthers shoot just .637 from the charity stripe, a factor that may at some point come back to haunt them. Still, Marquette is not as good a shooting team from the field as Pittsburgh, so if the Panthers jump out to an early lead and hit at least some of their free throws, they should come out on top.
Projected outcome: Pittsburgh wins.
West #1 Arizona vs. West #5 Notre Dame
Notre Dame was on track to have a big year, but the team got derailed from its seemingly set course at the end of the regular season and in the Big East Tournament when the Fighting Irish won just four of its last ten games and lost four of its last six. Though the majority of the late-season defeats came at the hands of worthy opponents (Seton Hall, Connecticut, Syracuse and a streaking St. John's), the losses did raise questions about the tenacity of the team and whether it was running out of steam. Notre Dame fell victim to Rutgers as well, a sub-.500 team that failed to make even the NIT. In the first round of the tourney, 12th seeded Wisconsin Milwaukee came a missed lay-up short of knocking the Fighting Irish off. Part of Notre Dame's problem is the slumping production of its leading scorer, Matt Carroll. He's averaging just 10.5 points over his last four games, more than nine point less than his season average.
While Arizona did have a scare in its last game against Gonzaga (a double overtime, one-point thriller), it shouldn't have a problem with Notre Dame. Luke Walton has had a fairly unimpressive season, but several other players have stepped up. Among them is sophomore Salim Stoudamire who is behind only Jason Gardner in scoring average for the team. Stoudamire has had several explosive games from behind the arc and if he's hot, he could deal a big blow to the Fighting Irish's chances of pulling out the "W." Big man Channing Frye will have an impact as well because he creates a match-up problem for Notre Dame. Frye's inside presence will create second-chance points to help assure the Wildcats of a victory.
Although Notre Dame did have an impressive win over higher-seeded Illinois in the second round, Arizona should prevail.
Projected outcome: Arizona wins.
Midwest #1 Kentucky vs. Midwest #5 Wisconsin
Wisconsin is coming off a surprising season in which they won the regular season Big 10 title for the second season in a row. This was an impressive feat considering they opened the Big 10 season with consecutive road losses to Michigan and Illinois. While Wisconsin was defeated in the first round of the Big 10 Tournament, the Badgers have proved themselves as tough competitors behind the leadership of senior Kirk Penney. Penney plays for his native New Zealand's national team and has emerged this year as a major scoring threat, especially from the perimeter. Though he scored only six points In the second round against Tulsa, this shouldn't be a cause for concern for Wisconsin. On the rare occasions he failed to score double digits, he never failed to score fewer than 14 points the following game.
Despite the performance Wisconsin has put on this year, its unlikely the team will advance to the Elite Eight. Kentucky's defense is simply too strong to contend with and the Wildcats have been hot for a while now. In fact, Kentucky goes into this match riding a 25 game winning streak. The Wildcats are the favorites to win it all this year and it's hard to make an argument against them. With balanced scoring and a defense few have penetrated this year, Kentucky has emerged as the team to beat. Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch, and Marquis Estill are all averaging double digit scoring this season and Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes are averaging just under ten points per game. The result is a team that relies on no one player. Unless Wisconsin can keep the game low scoring by limiting Kentucky's looks at the basket and taking away opportunities for high-percentage shots, the Wildcats should win with ease.
Projected outcome: Kentucky wins
Some information collected from ESPN.com
KC Costanzo. Keith "KC" Costanzo is one of the brand-spanking-new editors-in-chief of <i>Silver Chips Online</i>. His responsibilities include maintaining the journalistic integrity of the paper and making sure no one spontaneously combusts due to the stress of deadlines. KC enjoys late night frisbee games and long hours … More »