Sports Sunday: Breaking down the Sweet 16

March 24, 2011

Sports Sunday

Can Butler make it to the Final 4 for a second straight year?










It’s Sweet 16 time. And no, I don’t mean an overpriced birthday party for some spoiled teenager whose daddy promised her a new beamer and a C-level rap star to impress her friends. No offense, MTV.

Since the NCAA tourney starts up again tonight, I figured I’d take a shot at ranking the 16 remaining teams. And then let you all poke holes in my reasoning, of course. So here goes nothing…

  1. Ohio St.
    • Strength: The Buckeyes are solid from top to bottom. Balance at all positions and a solid mix of vets and youth. Plus they’ve been No. 1 for most of the year.
    • Weakness: They play too many close games. And they have the toughest road to the Final Four of any remaining No. 1 seed.
  2. Duke
    • Strength: Coach K. Nolan Smith. And now Kyrie Irving, who would have won player of the year if he hadn’t suffered an injury, is back.
    • Weakness: The uncertainty around Irving being back. Can he regain his old form? He needs to, because Duke’s inside game is one of the weakest remaining in the Big Dance.
  3. Kansas
    • Strength: Have you seen the Jayhawks draw lately? They can make the Final 4 without playing any team seeded higher than No. 9. And the Morris twins get better every game, inside and out.
    • Weakness: I’ll attribute this one to Jay Bilas — KU struggles against mid-major teams and teams they should beat handily. They’ll play two teams that fit this bill if they are to make it through the weekend.
  4. North Carolina
    • Strength: John Tyler Zeller can be dominant inside. And Harrison Barnes has really come into his own over the last month — he hit some big shots to get UNC past Washington Sunday.
    • Weakness: Youth. A freshman at the point and as your best player is not necessarily the recipe for a national championship. Unless your Carmelo Anthony and Jerry McNamara, I guess.
  5. UConn
    • Strength: This one’s pretty easy. You might have heard of him. His name is Kemba Walker.
    • Weakness: Everybody else. No one else on the team is really a stand out player yet. And they have to get past San Diego St. and likely Duke. All after playing five games in five days in the Big East tourney.
  6. Wisconsin
    • Strength: Jordan Taylor is probably the most improved player in college basketball. Leuer is solid and the Badgers have a bunch of no names who play fundamentally sound and can shoot.
    • Weakness: Wisconsin isn’t the best defensive team you’re going to see. And if they get behind by a sizable margin, I think they’ll have a hard time coming back.
  7. Florida
    • Strength: A coach who knows how to win at this point in Billy Dononvan. And a group of guys led by Parsons who have played together for a long time and know each other well.
    • Weakness: Kenny Boynton’s ankle injury is worrisome. He’s going to play, but who knows how well. Also, this is a team that was supposed to be the next Joakim Noah, Al Horford and friends, who you’ll remember brought two titles to Florida. Hasn’t happened.
  8. BYU
    • Strength: The Jimmer! I have never seen a college player crossover dribble 30 feet from the basket, take two steps back, shoot with a fluid motion and hit nothing but net consistently. He could go for 50 at anytime.
    • Weakness: Too much Jimmer. A team like BYU is going to live and die with Fredette. They don’t have much room for error and if he has an off night — which for him is under 25 points — the Cougars are in trouble.
  9. Butler
    • Strength: The Hoosiers comparisons get old, but Norman Dale would be proud to coach this team. Except he wouldn’t have the job because Brad Stevens, the coach of the best true “team” left in the tournament, has earned his seat at the head of the Bulldogs bench this year, showing last season wasn’t a fluke.
    • Weakness: No Gordon Heyward. If he was still a Bulldog, this team would be a national championship contender. Without him, they are just getting by with last-second tip ins and as beneficiaries of the dumbest foul in March Madness history.
  10. San Diego St.
    • Strength: Steve Fischer. Seems like ages ago, but Fischer has been to the NCAA championship game three times — 1989, 1992 and 1993. The last two were with the Fab 5. No word on if he wore black Nike socks during those games.
    • Weakness: Lack of big-time competition this year and the draw they face. To reach Houston, they have to knock off Connecticut and probably Duke in one weekend. Not happening.
  11. Kentucky
    • Strength: Talent, probably more raw talent than any other team left in the Dance. This team can play with (and pay — see my post on Coach Cal next week) anyone and has the skill to hoist the trophy in Houston.
    • Weakness: If last year is any indicator, Kentucky is going home Friday night. John Wall and Demarcus Cousins were awesome freshmen. But when they played a veteran, heady West Virginia team last March, they went down. This year’s Wildcats freshmen squad is on the same track and will struggle big time against the Buckeyes.
  12. Arizona
    • Strength: They shouldn’t be here. How many times have you seen a team in the NCAA tourney barely survive and look bad doing it only to go on a huge run. 2000 Florida Gators, who barely survived Butler in the first round, come to mind.
    • Weakness: They shouldn’t be here. And they rely to much on Derrick Williams. Arizona is a nice team with some talented players. But they got super lucky last weekend and it should be Texas lining up against Duke Thursday night. If I’m Sean Miller, I’m channeling Miles Simon.
  13. Marquette
    • Strength: They played in the Big East and none of the competition they face from here on in is going to phase them. Their backcourt is solid, as we saw Sunday vs Syracuse. And Buzz Williams is a smart coach drawing a lot of interest from other schools.
    • Weakness: Super tough draw and North Carolina’s big men are more skilled and different than what the Golden Eagles saw against the Orange. John Henson is a tough matchup for any team who hasn’t seen him before because of his ridiculous wingspan.
  14. VCU
    • Strength: You’re supposed to play your best basketball in the tournament and no team took that more to heart than VCU. At no time during the season did they even approach the level they were at this past weekend. Just ask Purdue.
    • Weakness: If there hadn’t been a break in the action and teams had kept playing every other day, I really think VCU might be Final 4 bound by now. Not kidding. The break will hurt them and some of that momentum will be gone.
  15. Florida St.
    • Strength: Defense. The Seminoles are better at it than any of the other 15 teams on this list. That means on a good night, they should be able to stick and have a chance to win at the end.
    • Weakness: FSU’s best defensive player, Chris Singleton, is not 100 percent. He barely played in the win over Notre Dame. In that same game, the Seminoles shot the lights out. Something they don’t usually do. To get past KU, they’ll need to play the defense they’re known for and shoot the lights out. Time to cross those fingers.
  16. Richmond
    • Strength: Miracles happen. George Mason beat UNC, Michigan St. and UConn on its way to the Final 4 in 2006. Villanova won it all as a No. 8 in 1985 with an unreal shooting night. And if the Spiders somehow get past Kansas, they’ll play a No. 1o or 11 seed.
    • Weakness: They play the Jayhawks Friday night. In the words of David Spade: “Buh-bye.”

So what did I mess up or leave out? Who do you think will make it to the Final 4 in Houston? My picks are:

  • North Carolina
  • UConn
  • Kansas
  • BYU


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