UNC left for Memphis on Wednesday night at 6:45 PM and will have the NCAA mandated, Roy Williams despised open practice/media availability at some point this afternoon. UNC plays at around 10:00 PM on Friday night which reminds me how little I end up enjoying the rest of the Sweet Sixteen games since I have some level of anxiety about the UNC game. Last season when UNC played the early game on Thursday and won, the rest of that night and Friday was a chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the other games. That will not be the case this season. In the mean time here are the Thursday Sweet Sixteen games to get you through tonight.
East Regional, Boston, MA
#1 Pitt vs #4 Xavier, 7:27 PM EDT
The real question in this one is whether Pitt shows up in force or continues to dance along like they did the first two rounds. Pitt has the complete package but has some holes on defense that both ETSU and Oklahoma St found ways to exploit. Xavier is a strange bird. They play in the Atlantic 10, have their share of inexplicable losses, including getting crushed by Duke at MSG but yet winds up in the Sweet Sixteen every season. Xavier has also had their share of opportunities to break through to the Final Four over the past five years. The Musketeers lost to Duke in the 2004 Elite Eight and again to UCLA last season. They also nearly knocked off Ohio St in a 2007 2nd round game in which they were royally screwed by the referees. Is it possible that Xavier is one of those oddball four seeds who manage their way into a Final Four? They could be. In fact let's go with that since I have nothing riding on this game anyway.
Xavier 78 Pitt 70
#2 Duke vs #3 Villanova, 9:57 PM EDT
These two squads are a mirror image of each other except Duke may actually have more interior presence than Villanova which might be a first this season. Granted we are talking about Bryan Zoubek but, Villanova does not have anyone of that size so he might actually be a difference maker. Duke's biggest problem will be stopping Villanova from driving the basketball. Villanova, like Duke, has multiple players who can create offense on their own. Their assist totals are fairly spread out and they shoot the three pointer at a 36% clip as a team. That includes two players at 36% and one, Corey Stokes, shooting 43% from beyond the arc. Villanova's hopes hinge on the play of Scottie Reynolds who will need to take care of the basketball against Duke's ball pressure. The Blue Devils on the other hand need Gerald Henderson to shoot the basketball better. He is 10 for 30 in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Duke also needs to find a way to exploit the lack of an interior game on the part of Villanova(you never hear that.) In the end, I think Duke does not shoot as well as they need to and Villanova is able to get to the rack a little too often.
Villanova 72 Duke 68
West Regional, Glendale, AZ
#1 UConn vs #5 Purdue, 7:07 PM
For some reason I am getting the same vibe from Purdue as I am getting from Xavier, at least for this game. UConn has been playing extremely well so far but it would not surprise me if Purdue gave them a major scare in this game, heck even win it. Purdue has a legitimate 6-10 scoring threat in JaJuan Johnson that will give Hasheem Thabeet something to worry about. Thabeet is still going to control the middle leaving the only real question for UConn being whether their offense shows up. With Jerome Dyson out, the Huskies need another scorer to step up and Stanley Robinson has been doing that. UConn's hopes ride on getting offense from more than just A.J. Price. I will take UConn but a Purdue upset would in no way be shocking.
UConn 75 Purdue 71
#2 Memphis vs #3 Missouri, 9:37 PM
One of these two teams is going to get exposed in this one. Memphis struggled to put away Cal State-Northridge in the opening round before dispatching Maryland with ease. Missouri handled Cornell then held off Marquette. Nothing in those match-ups really offer anything substantive about what we will see between these two teams this evening. Memphis is an excellent defensive team but has an AWOL offense at times. Missouri on the other hand, is fairly balanced with top fifteen efficiencies on both ends. In other words, Missouri could make a game of this and there is a good chance it will be boring enough to actually make you think about painting your living room just to watch the paint dry. That being said, this region has had UConn-Memphis collision course written all over it.
Memphis 66 Missouri 58