By: Chris Dagonas
Last week, I asked who can stop Kentucky? I hazarded a guess that Purdue might have a chance. Then they got knocked out before they even reached the second round. So, I learned that my bracket is garbage.
But the first two rounds of games have given us some insights, and created even more questions for the invested NCAA basketball fan.
WHO IS THE BEST TEAM LEFT?
Surprisingly, not Kentucky. I mean, sure, they’re still undefeated, but they looked human against Cincinnati in the second round. On the other hand, the University of Arizona (WILDCATS!) have shown two different skill sets in their two games; they pushed the pace and won a shoot-out against Texas Southern in Round One, only to slow it down and combine their defensive efforts to contain D’Angelo Russell and knock out Ohio State in Round Two. Arizona will meet Xavier in Round 3, and stand a good chance of meeting those other Wildcats, Kentucky, in the Elite Eight.
YEAH, BUT C’MON, HOW GOOD IS KENTUCKY?
Very, very good. They’re still playing excellent defense and keeping opponents to less than 30 points per half, on 31 percent shooting. Of note, however, is that the Wildcats’ offense has come out of the gate a little cold, especially against Cincinnati, where they only managed to hit 37 percent from the field. Their season-long field goal mark is 47 percent, so we should expect them to score much more efficiently in the next round, starting tonight against West Virginia.
WHO ELSE IS GOOD?
Duke, that’s who else is good. Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor both started slowly, but Duke easily overcame the overmatched Robert Morris University. By the second round, Winslow had notched a double-double and Okafor had 26 points to lead the game in scoring. The Blue Devils are a dangerous team, and with opposite number-one seed Villanova having now gone home early, should have a relatively easy path to the Final Four.
HOW ABOUT THEM UNDERDOGS?
The UCLA Bruins are the lowest-seeded team left, lead by star forward Tony Parker. Before Selection Sunday, many critics were not too thrilled with the prospect of UCLA getting an at-large bid. They’ve clearly adopted a “Nobody Believes In Us” philosophy, having squeaked past Larry Brown’s Southern Methodist University on a very suspect goaltending call, before stomping UAB in the second round in the highest-scoring game of the tournament. Perennial tournament disappointments Gonzaga are up next for the Bruins, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see UCLA make it through for a tough matchup against Duke.
Also, never forget that Tom Izzo coaches Michigan State. The Spartans play great defense, and were helped immensely in round two by Virginia’s free-throw shooters missing 15 (OUT OF 17!) foul shots in a six point loss. They won’t get that lucky again, and Oklahoma will prove a very difficult opponent, but guard Travis Trice has emerged as a key scorer.
WHO WOULD MAKE THE ALL-STAR TEAM NOW?
It’s obviously early, but a starting five would look something like this;
CENTRE: Jahlil Okafor, Duke – He hasn’t rebounded much for his size, but has topped 20 points in each of the first two games. He should continue to be a top-notch offensive weapon for the Blue Devils.
FORWARD: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – The 7-footer with 3-point range has a Nowitzki-lite game that plays very well in college. He will need to add to his offensive options as the tournament goes on in order to continue carrying the Badgers.
FORWARD: Tony Parker, UCLA – No relation.
GUARD: Bryce Alford, UCLA – The ‘dogs of the tournament have been riding their stars, the small forward Parker and guard Alford. They will need to stay hot and get their teammates involved, to keep their run alive.
GUARD: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – Fairly unheralded, and not an efficient shooter, Hield protects the ball well and is not afraid to attack the basket or chuck up the three. He is also a key assist man in getting his fellow Sooners involved in the action.
SO WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NOW?
In the Midwest, Kentucky will continue its march towards the Final Four with little difficulty, rushing through West Virginia and (probably) Notre Dame.
Out West, Wisconsin will meet Arizona on the weekend in what will be a tremendous game, with the Wildcats likely squeaking through.
In the South, UCLA will bump off Gonzaga before Duke rolls through them, after having dispatched Utah, on their way to a Finals duel with Kentucky.
The East is wide open, with no heavy favourites remaining. Oklahoma is the highest seed, with perhaps the most impressive player of their bracket thus far. Michigan State has the advantage of an experienced and intelligent coach. Louisville plays the stingiest defence, and North Carolina State has lady luck on their side so far. My pick out of the East is Michigan State, because Tom Izzo will likely make in-game adjustments that other coaches seem unable to match.
By Sunday, we’ll know our Final Four teams. By then, we’ll have a better idea of the teams and players.
And we’ll have absolutely no idea what will happen.