Sweet 16 Bracket Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/22/2010
For a lot of people and their brackets - a whole lot this year - the first weekend of the tournament was like a nuclear bomb for their hopes in the office pool. If they were like more than 40 percent of people who filled out March Madness brackets, including me, then they had Kansas winning it all, but Northern Iowa and Ali Farokhmanesh destroyed that. If they somehow managed to avoid the Kansas downfall - and only 40 percent of people didn't have the Jayhawks in the Final Four - then there was still Villanova, Pitt and Georgetown to shatter plans and knock them out of contention for winning their pools and claiming all the glory that goes with that.
If you are one of those people that can't win their pool even though there are still four rounds of games to play then there is only one thing left to do - start over again. Luckily, most of the major sites that manage brackets online also let you start new brackets whenever you want. Picking the winner out of 16 teams isn't nearly as impressive as picking the winner out of 65, but it's better than nothing. If I had to start over (I don't have to yet, but I definitely will if Butler doesn't upset Syracuse), then these are the Sweet 16 bracket predictions I would use to guide my selections:
The decisions here come down to one major mindset - are you a mid-major person or a major conference one? Both games in this region pit established teams from major conferences against tough, proven teams from mid-majors. I'm a sucker for the mid-major, so I'd go for at least one upset here. But which one?
Syracuse raised some concerns heading into the tournament when they lost their last two games, but they have eased those concerns significantly with two very strong performances in the tournament. They are up against a team in Butler, though, that hasn't lost a game since Dec. 22. They didn't look great in some big games before that, but this clearly isn't the same team as it was in November. They play strong defense, they don't often get caught off guard in transition, and they shoot very well when they are in form. I picked Butler to upset Syracuse before the tournament started, and I'd stick with it. The added motivation for Butler of playing the Final Four at home will fuel the Bulldogs.
Xavier played against Kansas State in December, and it was ugly for the Musketeers. They are an improved team since then, though, and Jordan Crawford is playing at a very high level. That performance will give Kansas State confidence, but it will have taught Xavier a thing or two, and this time it's not being played in Kansas. I like what Xavier did to Pitt, and I would have liked Pitt over Kansas State, so I lean towards Xavier here. Either way, I think that the winner of the Syracuse game will represent the region in the Final Four.
This one features one game that is very straight forward, and one that certainly isn't. Ohio State is playing well, Evan Turner is brilliant, and Tennessee, though impressive, has to eventually come back to earth because of the adversity that has hit this season. Turner is the most important factor in this game. If he plays well, and I assume he will, then his team will not only win one game but two, and will reach the Final Four.
Now the almost impossible game. Do you go with the upstart Cinderella who not only beat Kansas but outplayed them, or the talented, battle-tested squad that just lost their best player? Flip a coin. I'll lean towards Michigan State because Tom Izzo is deadly when he is prepared, and Northern Iowa is a team that ultimately has to return to expected form at some point. It doesn't matter much either way because neither team is going to the Final Four.
I believed going into the tournament that Duke was in position to roll to the Final Four, and I still do. They are the class of this group, and they will win two more games. Purdue has been incredibly tough and admirable, but the lack of Robbie Hummel is going to be too much to overcome against a healthy Duke team.
The other game is very tough. Saint Mary's has been very good, and they play as a unit extremely well. Baylor has been less tested than some. I like the Gaels a lot, but I'll take Baylor - they are significantly higher seeded, and I don't want to have too many upsets in one bracket this small.
It's all about Kentucky here. I am in awe of what Cornell has done, and wish they were playing pretty much any other team left in the tournament. Unlike the two teams they have beaten up on, Kentucky has a ridiculous amount of athleticism and explosiveness, and that's going to be the best possible way to overcome what Cornell has done so well.
Washington has played surprisingly well up to this point, but they'll return to earth against a very good West Virginia team. The Mountaineers are going to run into a brick wall against their neighbors from Lexington, though. Kentucky just has too much for West Virginia to answer to.
One half of the Final Four has the same makeup and outcome as I thought before the tournament - Kentucky matches up very well against Duke and will come out on top in what should be a very good, extremely well-coached game. The other half has a change. I took a flier before the tournament started on Butler here, and I am sticking with them. They are up against Ohio State in this model, and that's where the Bulldogs will come back to earth.
That makes the final a fitting one - a showdown between the two best players in the country and likely the top two picks in the NBA Draft. Ohio State has more experience, but Kentucky has more depth and more freakish talent. John Calipari will be on top of a ladder cutting down the net in two weeks. At least that's the theory.
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