We’re down to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, and what a first weekend it was. We had monumental upsets, half-court buzzer-beaters, crazy collapses, Cinderella stories and redemption runs (who had Syracuse vs. Gonzaga in the Midwest?)
We can’t wait until it starts up again on Thursday, but until then, we’re previewing all of the games in the regional semifinals:
First round: Def. 16 Austin Peay, 105-79
Second round: Def. 9 Connecticut, 73-61
Kansas cruised through its first two NCAA Tournament games like a favorite is supposed to–making quick work of Austin Peay and then dominating Connecticut in the Round of 32. The Jayhawks look every bit the part of a No. 1 overall seed–and they’re clicking on all cylinders as they enter the Sweet 16.
Of course, we’ve seen NCAA Tournament juggernauts enter the second weekend like this before and promptly lose. The Jayhawks themselves did so in 2011, winning their first three games by an average of 18 points and then losing in stunning fashion to VCU in the regional final.
But this group just has the look of a team on a mission to reach the Final Four. They’ve got a prolific big man in 6-8 senior Perry Ellis, who put up 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting against Austin Peay and then added 21 on 9-for-12 against UConn.
They’ve also got a dynamic wing scorer in Wayne Selden Jr., who, when he’s not throwing down monster dunks and making his Flavor Flav-look-a-like uncle go crazy, is busy being a matchup nightmare for opponents. The junior from Roxbury, Mass. was big in the win over the Huskies in the second round, putting up 22 points, 7 boards and 3 assists.
First round: Def. 12 South Dakota State, 79-74
Second round: Def. 13 Hawaii, 73-60
The Terrapins were impressive in downing upset-minded mid-majors in South Dakota State and Hawaii in the first two rounds, but things will get much tougher in the Sweet 16. Maryland arguably has as much talent in its starting five as Kansas, as it entered the season as a top-5 ranked team.
The problem for the Terps is that they don’t have the depth to match the Jayhawks. No one outside of the starting five brings anything significant to the table, and only two players average more than eight minutes per game. Kansas has four guys off the bench who play at least nine minutes, and a few–like Lucas, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who could be major keys (DJ Khaled reference), in any given game.
If Maryland is going to win this game, point guard Melo Trimble, who put up 24 points and 8 assists in the Terps’ win over Hawaii, has to be the best player on the floor. Either backcourt mate Rasheed Sulaimon or Jake Layman will need to knock down threes, and freshman Diamond Stone (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) will have to play like the top-ranked recruit he was coming out of high school.
PREDICTION: Kansas 74, Maryland 63.
The Terps have what it takes to give Kansas a run for its money–but we think the Jayhawks will prevail here. They’ve got too much talent, and too many guys who can go off on any given night. Shut down Wanye Selden, and Perry Ellis can beat you. Stop him, and you’ve got to check Landen Lucas.
If all three of those guys are off, their guards can get points in transition and ignite a quick, 10-0 run that will have you reeling. The ‘Hawks can win with their high-low style, they can beat you up-tempo, they can beat you with the three-ball, or they can grind you out in a tough, hard-nosed, defensive battle.
We think Kansas takes out Maryland, then beats Miami and advances to the Final Four.