What a great start it’s been for the Sweet 16! First, Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead, held off a Wichita State rally, and won 81-70. Then, #1 seed Wisconsin rallied, then held off the North Carolina Tar Heels by a score of 79-72. As a result, I went 1-1 with my early game picks.
Unfortunately, I just got home, had an incredibly busy day, ran several miles, did a bunch of other physical work, and got less than two hors of sleep last night. As a result, in order to finish this article before calling it an extra early night, I will make some quick picks for the late Thursday games. That said, I do not know what the current score of either game is, and, as always, I will not look until the article is complete. Read ’em and weep!
Midwest Regional Semifinal #2 (9:47/8:47c, CBS)
(5) West Virginia (25-9) vs. (1) Kentucky Wildcats (36-0)
First off is the West Virginia/Kentucky game that everyone’s gotten way too hyped up about. Yes, West Virginia is a surprise to get to this point. It is affirmative that they lead the nation in offensive rebounding, as well as steals per game. It is also true that they stunned the Wildcats five years ago, when the Bluegrass crew boasted the likes of John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, by a score of 73-66. Oh, and did I mention the fact that Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins is 8-2 lifetime against his good buddy John Calipari?
Wake up people! This game will not be close. It could have been intriguing had the stupid brat Daxter Miles Jr. not opened his mouth. After he called out the Wildcats for their work ethic, or lack thereof, this game was decided. Had he not said anything, I could have seen this game being somewhat close. However, now I see the team that boasts the Harrison twins, Willie Caulie-Stein, Karl Anthony Towns and various other notable players destroying Juwan Statin, Devin Williams and company by a landslide. Prediction: West Virginia 51, Kentucky 76.
West Regional Semifinal (10:17/9:17c, TBS)
(6) Xavier Musketeers (23-13) vs. (2) Arizona Wildcats (33-3)
The final game of the day looks like a mismatch. However, unlike the WVU/Kentucky game, this one is not expected to, yet likely will be closer than expected. Xavier tends to keep things close, having three of their four double-digit losses come against one of the tournament’s top seeds, the Villanova Wildcats, and got to the tournament by nearly winning the Big East conference tournament.
That said, they are clearly far from great. They may be 8-7 against top 50 teams, including three victories against Georgetown and a pair against Butler, but they’ve lost six games to teams outside of it, including four against teams not in the top 100, and an abominable loss at 12-20 Depaul. Still, they boast six players that score over eight points per game, led by Matt Stainbrook (12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds per game, both team highs).
As for Arizona, the squad is very balanced. They score over 76 points per game and shoot nearly 49 percent from the field, while holding opponents to just 59 points per game. Led by the talented trio of freshman Stanley Johnson (14 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12.2 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) and guard TJ McConnell (10.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists per game), the team boasts six players whom average at least nine points per game. They have won 13 straight games, but all three losses have come on the road against teams outside the top 100.
In the end, I see this being a surprisingly close game. The Musketeers will keep it close, and the Wildcats will allow them to stay in the game. However, I see the better team pulling away late. Prediction: Xavier 68, Arizona 81.