Friday Sweet 16 Previews
HERE'S THE FRIDAY SWEET 16 DANCE CARD
It's time for us to dribble, dribble, dribble-drive our way through the remaining NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games on this first Friday of spring ... and there's plenty of questions that soon will find answers such as:
Will the East Regional feature any more upsets after the likes of #1 seed Villanova and #2 seed Duke were exterminated last weekend in second-round play?
And will the winner of the much-anticipated Kentucky versus UCLA showdown in Memphis then be able to catapult itself to an eventual berth in next weekend's Final Four?
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT - SWEET 16
EAST REGIONAL: Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
#7 SOUTH CAROLINA (24-10) vs. #3 BAYLOR (27-7) - 7:29 p.m. ET, TBS
We've said it before, we'll say it again: The Baylor Bears were once-upon-a-time the numero uno team in the land (see early-to-mid January) and yet they were pretty much a forgotten team when this original 68-team NCAA Tournament field was announced some 10 or 11 days ago. Now they are the favorite to get out of the East Regional bracket and into the Final Four ... how 'bout that?
Sure, Baylor's fortunes included tourney wins last week against New Mexico State and USC - but it was Duke's second-round loss that seemingly "paved the way" for the Baylor bunch that now enters this game a 3.5-point favorite. If Johnathan Motley (17.3 ppg) can slash-and-drive for buckets against this stout South Carolina defense, then more and more folks will be paying attention to the Bears.
Pointspread Fact - South Carolina is an ugly 3-7 ATS (against the spread) in its last 10 overall games.
#8 WISCONSIN (27-9) vs. #4 FLORIDA (26-8) - approximately 9:59 p.m. ET, TBS
It's not often that you hear Wisconsin's name as one of the "powers" in the college basketball universe but consider that there's a few Badgers that might wind up playing in their third Final Four should this Big 10 team win both of its games this weekend in New York City.
Heck, tell us right here/right now that senior G Bronson Koenig (team-best 14.5 ppg) is gonna make all his big-time jumpers or that veteran F Nigel Hayes (13.8 ppg) is gonna make those twisting in-the-paint baskets and Greg Gard's club likely will survive-and-advance past this game against 2-point fav Florida. One major key for the SEC Gators who've won their first two tourney games this year by a per-game average of 20.5 points is Mike White's squad desperately needs G KeVaughn Allen to heat up after shooting an awful 3-of-21 from the field in the team's first two NCAA Tournament wins.
Pointspread Fact - Wisconsin's covered five of its last six overall games.
SOUTH REGIONAL: Fedex Forum - Memphis, TN
#4 BUTLER (25-8) vs. #1 NORTH CAROLINA (29-7) - 7:09 p.m. ET, CBS
It's no secret that the North Carolina Tar Heels would love to step on the gas here and make this a game in the 80s or 90s - while the always-under-control Butler Bulldogs prefer a much slower waltz ... or didn't you notice that Butler surrendered 64 and 65 points in opening-round/second-round NCAA Tournament wins last week? So, circle the all-important "rebound" category here 'cause if Butler can hold its own on the glass against the much, much taller Tar Heels than this could get scary for the 7.5-point ACC favorites.
No doubt Carolina needs PG Joel Berry III and his ailing ankle to be better but we prescribe Kelan Martin - Mr. Super Sub for Butler - must make a handful of triples here for this one to stay close.
Pointspread Fact - Butler is a solid 19-12 versus the vig this year and that includes a pair of NCAA Tourney covers against Winthrop and Middle Tennessee.
#3 UCLA (31-4) vs. #2 KENTUCKY (31-5) - approximately 9:39 p.m. ET, CBS
Here's the hands-down best Sweet 16 matchup of them all - and it comes with a tinge of revenge to boot (see Pointspread Fact below).
Let's get to what's really important here: The UCLA Bruins actually sport six players that average double-digit scoring but it's phenom freshman PG Lonzo Ball (14.7 ppg, 7.6 apg) that makes this machine tick but one wonders how much energy Ball's gonna expend while attempting to guard Kentucky PG De'Aaaron Fox (16.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and vice versa. If you figure that particular match is a "wash" then what figures to win - or lose - this game is the paint battle where Kentucky's long-armed Bam Adebayo is always capable of swatting away an elbow jumper (right, Wichita State?) or will the Bruins' T.J. Leaf (16.2 ppg) gonna win a cat-and-mouse game where he'll look to score plenty inside. It's a legit top 10 matchup here in the round of 16 and both Kentucky head coach John Calipari and UCLA boss-man Steve Alford are well-versed in big games - if their young teams get jittery and chuck up lots of bad shots, than this could be an ugly street-ball type game but we believe points-in-the-paint will be key. Are the 'Cats gonna now gonna get their revenge?
Pointspread Fact - UCLA was an 11-point underdog when it stunned host Kentucky 97-92 back in early December.