Quick Takes: Five tasty weekend matchups
Between Thursday and Friday, three eleven seeds won. We also had the usual 12 over 5-seed. And yet, the first two days of the 2017 NCAA tournament feel rather chalky. Maybe that’s because the twelve seed, Middle Tennessee State, was actually favored to win its matchup with Minnesota. Also, were we surprised to see Xavier beat Maryland? Or Rhode Island trip up a less-than-healthy Creighton? If there was a surprise, it’s USC. The Trojans rallied from double-digit deficits twice, beating Providence in the First Four, and then SMU on Friday.
While the results might leave us a little hungry, the Round of 32 looks might tasty. My Quick Takes on the weekend’s top five matchups …
Gonzaga vs. Northwestern – We could rename this game: Ultimate Underdog vs. New Kids on the Block. While Gonzaga is respected for its consistent excellence, the Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and remain many people’s pick as first No. 1 seed to lose. Thus, the pressure is squarely on the Zags, who struggled to score against South Dakota State (shooting 39 percent overall and 27 percent from 3). The good news: Gonzaga no longer relies on its offense to carry the day. Flipping the page, Northwestern might be the feel good story of the year. They survived a late rally by Vanderbilt to win their first-ever NCAA tournament game in their first-ever appearance. And who doesn’t enjoy those sidelines shots of Doug Collins and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, right?
Villanova vs. Wisconsin – The reigning champs are tough as nails and find ways to win. They’ll need that mantra against a defiant Badgers team that wasn’t too enamored with its seed on Selection Sunday. I think Villanova moves on, but it won’t be decided until the final few minutes. This has Instant Classic written all over it.
Iowa State vs. Purdue – Is there a hotter team than the Cyclones? Keep looking, it might take a while. ISU controlled a better-than-you-think Nevada team on Thursday. Purdue has a size advantage, but the outcome figures to hinge on whether or not the Boilermakers can slow Monte Morris and turn it into a half-court brawl. If they do, Purdue has a shot. If not, it’s tough to see the Boilers keeping pace.
Michigan vs. Louisville – Louisville was going to get a scary matchup either way. And for what it’s worth, Michigan-Oklahoma State ranks No. 1 on my early list for best game of the tourney. What a show on Friday! Which leads into the most obvious statement of all … if Michigan continues its torrid shooting (they made 16 of 29 three-pointers Friday), the Wolverines can beat anybody. While this isn’t Rick Pitino’s best defensive team (and not really close), the Cardinals will put up a tougher front than OSU. Louisville’s length and depth inside could be troublesome, especially if the Cards can run Michigan off the three-point line.
Kentucky vs. Wichita State – It took every ounce of effort for Wichita State to dispatch of Dayton Friday, but here we are again: David vs. Goliath. Was Wichita under-seeded? Perhaps, especially if you subscribe to advanced metrics models such as Ken Pomeroy. Either way, the Shockers’ faithful well remember an under-seeded UK team knocking them out of the tournament a few years ago. If the Shockers can prevent De’ Aaron Fox and Malik Monk from running amok, they’ll have a shot. Of course, that’s easier said than done. They’ll also have to keep Bam off the glass.
Enjoy your weekend of Madness.