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Twelve round of 32, Sweet 16 match-ups we crave

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The NCAA tournament is the greatest event in the modern sports calendar. Other postseasons, from the professional ranks to the BCS, are facile when compared to the NCAAs, a tournament with a level of complexity unseen in any other championship setting. Not only do teams have to prep for their first-round opponent, they also have to additionally gameplan for the two teams they may face should they win, contests that happen as short as 48 hours in the future.

Save the 16-1 games, it is hard to predict the other 63 outcomes. While we love those first round games, and have highlighted which ones have attained ‘must see’ status, here are twelve round of 32 and Sweet 16 match-ups we hope materialize in the coming weeks.

MORE: The Dummy’s Guide to filling out a bracket

ROUND OF 32

The winner of No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. the winner of No. 4 UCLA/No. 13 Tulsa — South — March 23

This is a great pod, including one squad contending for this year’s ‘Florida Gulf Coast’ distinction (Stephen F. Austin), three teams that like to run (Tulsa, UCLA, and VCU all use 68-plus possessions), and an offense (the Bruins) which thoroughly embarrassed the nation’s stingiest defense. All four programs also sport defensive turnover rates that rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top fifty, and whichever two teams advance to the second round game will engage in an up-tempo, steal-laden affair, so we humbly beseech the assigned officiating crew to swallow their whistles and let those two teams play.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph’s — East — March 22

When Villanova traveled roughly seven miles to play Saint Joseph’s in early December, the game’s final score, a 30-point thumping by the Wildcats, gave little indication both teams might meet again in the postseason. However, St. Joe’s is brimming with offensive confidence following their Atlantic 10 tournament title. Langston Galloway (57.5 percent from three during the conference tournament) and Halil Kanacevic (back-to-back double doubles against St. Bonaventure and VCU) are carrying a team that is finally living up to the potential expected of the Hawks a year ago, and freshman DeAndre Bembry could be one of the tournament’s breakout stars. This game could be a classic Big Fiv … er … tourney tilt.

PREVIEWS: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 New Mexico — South — March 23

Sure, everyone is waiting for New Mexico to again break hearts and exit the tournament early for the second straight season, but UNM has a massive chip on its collective shoulder this year. New Mexico was comically underseeded — apparently beating San Diego State twice (including in the Mountain West title game) and Cincinnati during non-conference play was insignificant to the selection committee — and has one league player of the year (Kendal Williams, 16.4 ppg) and one player of the year snub (Cameron Bairstow, 20.3 ppg). Similarly to last year’s team, UNM continues to relish paint touches, but the current Lobo iteration actually makes those interior looks (51.8 percent, as opposed to 46.1 in 2013). It is unclear whether Kansas big Joel Embiid (8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has recovered from his back injury and will play, a development that could drastically hamper KU’s efforts. While Kansas’ efficiency ratings haven’t budged much without the freshman center, opponents are grabbing 69 percent of KU’s misses (up from 62 percent with Embiid in Big 12 play) and the Jayhawks still struggle to defend without fouling.

No. 1 Arizona vs. the winner of No. 8 Gonzaga/No. 9 Oklahoma State — West — March 23

It is too difficult to pick which match-up we’d like to see more, so we’ll describe both! Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (17.8 ppg) is in the midst of playing himself back into the hearts of NBA GMs, and a strong showing against the Wildcats could springboard Smart into consideration for a lottery pick. Gonzaga, and particularly its bigs, presents defensive problems for Arizona. Sam Dower (15 ppg, 7.1 rpg) thrives on pick and pop jumpers, and consistently knocks down twos from 10 to 15 feet out, an ability which should create halfcourt spacing for Zaga’s talented guards. The head-to-head potential for TJ McConnnell (Arizona) and Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) would also be a highlight of a Zona-Zags match-up.

No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor — West — March 23

Baylor recovered from a midseason swoon — the Bears lost two of eight over the course of a month — to reach the Big 12 tournament final, and as neither team plays much defense, this game would be decided by whichever squad scores more points. Baylor’s defense enabled conference opponents to score 1.08 points per possessions, likely the worst defensive efficiency rate of any power six conference at-large team, and though Creighton’s Doug McDermott (26.9 ppg) still needs 500 or so points to catch career scoring leader Pete Maravich, he might come close to the record while playing the Bears. Teams dependent on three-point production typically do very well against Baylor — Scott Drew’s squad allows league opponents to convert nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc — and the Bluejays might also set some shooting records in San Antonio. Kenny Cherry is key for Baylor — the guard, and his 35 percent assist rate (ranked eighteenth nationally), is extremely underrated.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Ohio State — South — March 22

Both Ohio State and Syracuse are in dire need of redemption. At certain points of the season, the two programs were considered shoo-ins for the Final Four, and now both have many question marks. Since the Cuse started the year with a 25-0 record, they have lost four of six (which doesn’t include their opening ACC tournament loss), but the presence of freshman Tyler Ennis (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) and C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg) cannot be discounted. The Buckeyes nearly made the Big Ten tournament final, and appear to have righted themselves, but how far can a stellar defense carry a suspect offense? Even if this game is decided well before the final buzzer, the match-up of Aaron Craft against Ennis will be satisfying.

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina — East — March 23

Fans of fast-breaks — which, aren’t we all? — will love this pairing. The Cyclones and Tar Heels are listed thirteenth and eighteenth, respectively, in Pomeroy’s tempo rankings, and we again hope the officiating crew lets this contest play out. As expected for two teams that each use more than 70 possessions per game, both are led by stellar backcourts, including UNC’s Marcus Paige, a 6-foot-1 guard who takes an equal amount of twos (49 percent of his 200 attempts) and threes (39.1 percent of his 202 attempts), and DeAndre Kane, a Cyclones guard who plays basketball like a running back, ping-ponging off defenders until finishing at the rim.

No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — March 22

Of all the NBA prospects in this year’s tournament field, North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun is the most interesting. The 6-foot-7 forward is the prototypical stretch-4, primarily operating within the arc (51 percent from two) but possessing the capability to convert from the perimeter (42.2 percent from deep). Since San Diego State is one of the tourney’s stingiest teams, how Braun fares against a defense which easily handcuffs an opposing player’s scoring will be closely monitored.

SWEET 16

No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 4 Louisville — Midwest

It is universally agreed that Wichita State received the toughest draw of any number one seed in recent memory, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Shockers will even reach the second weekend, but if Gregg Marshall’s squad does face Louisville, the rematch of last year’s Final Four will be entertaining. This is a much stronger Shocker squad — Fred VanVleet (5.3 apg) is a pass-first point guard propelling a more offensively efficient team (1.15 PPP, as compared to 1.07 in 2013) — and one used to the Cardinals’ trademark defensive intensity. Louisville shouldn’t have been a top seed, but like New Mexico, UL was unfairly underseeded. The improved play from Montrezl Harrell (61.4 percent from two), Luke Hancock (32 percent from three since February 1st), and the continued stellar offensive performance from Russ Smith (52 percent from two, 41 percent from three, and an assist rate of 32 percent) could prove a challenging match-up for WSU’s grinding and physical defense.

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA — South

Much like the Pac-12 final, this contest would pair a top-rated defense against an otherworldly offense. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has proven to be arguably the nation’s most challenging cover, but Florida coach Billy Donovan has numerous options at his disposal to blank Anderson, including the uber-athletic Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II.

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan — Midwest
A rematch from earlier this season, Duke was able to easily dispatch the Wolverines and their ridiculously efficient offense. However, UM has made some subtle tweaks to further offensive production — for starters, Nik Stauskas (17.5 ppg) has left the corner and now plays more on the ball; Caris LeVert, the team’s best iso option, now attempts the third highest percentage of shots — and despite their performance in the Big Ten tournament final, reprising this non-conference tilt could result in a Sweet 16 classic.

No 1. Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State — West

Highly ranked defenses combined with world class athletes who thrive both in transition and in the halfcourt. This game fills all the requirements for a GOAT Sweet 16 match-up. The defining match-up could be SDSU’s Josh Davis against the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Davis went from severely underrated at Tulane to now the Aztecs’ interior anchor, so while his efficiency has slipped (which isn’t a knock on Davis — he just gets fewer touches than he did at Tulane), his ability to battle with Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will help deflect defensive pressure and haul in crucial additional possessions.

Prosecutors detail allegations against Creighton’s Watson

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays receives and ovation before their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Former Creighton star Maurice Watson appeared in front of a Douglas County judge Monday after turning himself into authorities Sunday following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest Thursday on the charge of first-degree sexual assault.

Watson’s bail was set at $750,000, which he would have to produce 10 percent of to be released from jail.

Prosecutors also detailed some of the allegations against Watson from the night of Feb. 3, when a 19-year-old woman alleges he raped her. Graphic details of the prosecution’s allegations can found here.

Watson’s attorneys said he denies the allegations.

Creighton said Sunday that Watson is barred from campus and not enrolled as a student, according to the Omaha World-Herald.  The Bluejays announced last week that Watson, who has been sidelined since tearing his ACL last month, had been suspended.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga drops to fourth

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few (Getty Images)
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Gonzaga feel from first to fourth in the latest Coaches Poll after suffering its first loss of the season over the weekend.

Kansas moves into the top spot with UCLA and Villanova tied at No. 2.

The Bulldogs lost 79-71 to BYU at home after winning the first 29 games of the season.

The Jayhawks have won six-straight heading into Monday’s tilt with Oklahoma.

Here’s the full poll:

1. Kansas (23)

2. UCLA (3)

2. Villanova (5)

4. Gonzaga (1)

5. North Carolina

6. Oregon

7. Louisville

8. Arizona

9. Kentucky

10. West Virginia

11. Baylor

12. Florida

13. Notre Dame

14. Duke

15. Butler

16. Purdue

17. Florida State

18. Saint Mary’s

19. SMU

20. Cincinnati

21. Wisconsin

22. Wichita State

23. Virginia

24. Iowa State

25. Miami

AP Poll: Kansas moves to No. 1, Villanova 2nd, UCLA 3rd

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 14:  Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after a foul during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse on January 14, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas is the new No. 1 in The Associated Press college basketball poll.

The Jayhawks (26-3) moved up two places to the top spot, receiving 58 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel.

Kansas is the sixth school to be No. 1 this season. The Jayhawks were on top last season for five weeks, including the final three polls of the season.

Villanova (27-3) remained second despite losing to Butler last week. The Wildcats were No. 1 on two ballots. UCLA (26-3), which was No. 1 on three ballots, moved up from fifth to third after its win over Arizona on Saturday.

Gonzaga (29-1) fell to fourth after losing its first game of the season, an upset by BYU on Saturday. The Zags, who had been No. 1 for the last four polls, received two first-place votes.

North Carolina moved from eighth to fifth and was followed by Oregon, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Here’s the full top 25″

  1. Kansas (58)
  2. Villanova (2)
  3. UCLA (3)
  4. Gonzaga (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Oregon
  7. Arizona
  8. Louisville
  9. Kentucky
  10. West Virginia
  11. Baylor
  12. Florida
  13. Butler
  14. SMU
  15. Florida State
  16. Purdue
  17. Duke
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Notre Dame
  20. St. Mary’s
  21. Wichita State
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Virginia
  24. Iowa State
  25. Miami

NBC announces the launch of TOMBOY, a documentary project on gender in sports

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Earlier this month, NBC announced the launch of TOMBOY, a multi-platform documentary project that aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

You can view the trailer for the project above, and browse through the myriad of pieces that have already been released over the course of the last two weeks here.

“We are excited to share the stories of some of the most remarkable female athletes in the world,” said Ted Griggs, President, Group and Strategic Production & Programming Leader for NBC Sports Regional Networks. “TOMBOY aims to elevate, invigorate and inspire the conversation about gender in sports, and we’re proud to create a platform for open, candid discussion featuring a variety of perspectives.”

Bracketology: Gonzaga holds on to No. 1 Seed

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: #5 Nigel Williams-Goss of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives past #10 Brandon Brown and #15 Stefan Jovanovic of the Loyola Marymount Lions, on his way to the basket at Gersten Pavilion on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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Yes, Gonzaga lost a home game to BYU.  Although somewhat surprising, it doesn’t yet knock the once-beaten Bulldogs from their No. 1 Seed in the West Region.  What it does do, however, is open to door for the Pac-12 champion (or someone else) to overtake the Zags,  especially if they slip again in the West Coast Conference tournament.  As an example … should Oregon win out and claim the Pac-12 tournament, the Committee would have to determine the hierarchy between the Ducks and the Zags.

Championship Week is upon us.  The next two weeks are important for both the top and bottom of the bracket.

Bubble Notes:

By sheer volume, the number of teams in play for at-large berths with double-digit losses is quite rare.  Thus, the math for several bubble teams is becoming increasingly tough to manage.  On the flip side, it’s potentially good news for teams like Wichita State, Illinois State, and Middle Tennessee State should they fall a game short in their conference tournaments.  We’ll just have to see where we stand on selection weekend.

UPDATED:  February 27, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. USC | South Region
  • Rhode Island vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

MIDWEST – Kansas City            EAST New York 
Tulsa Buffalo
1) KANSAS 1) VILLANOVA
16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE 16) NC CENTRAL / MT ST. MARY’S
8) South Carolina 8) DAYTON
9) Northwestern 9) Michigan State
Milwaukee Orlando
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) ILLINOIS STATE 12) NC-WILMINGTON
4) PURDUE 4) Florida
13) VALPARAISO 13) MONMOUTH
Orlando Tulsa
6) Wisconsin 6) SMU
11) California / Rhode Island 11) Syracuse
3) Florida State 3) Baylor
14) EAST TENNESSEE ST 14) WINTHROP
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) Creighton 7) Maryland
10) Wichita State 10) Xavier
2) Arizona 2) Louisville
15) SOUTH DAKOTA 15) FLA GULF COAST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Virginia Tech 8) Michigan 
9) VCU 9) Arkansas
Greenville Buffalo
5) Minnesota 5) Cincinnati
12) NEVADA 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) Duke 4) West Virginia
13) PRINCETON 13) VERMONT
Milwaukee Indianapolis
6) Iowa State 6) Oklahoma State
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) USC / Seton Hall
3) Butler 3) KENTUCKY
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Sacramento Sacramento
7) Miami-FL 7) Saint Mary’s
10) Marquette 10) Providence
2) OREGON 2) UCLA
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) BUCKNELL

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kansas is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Villanova, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Wichita State, Providence, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): USC, Seton Hall, California, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Illinois

Next four teams OUT (at large): TCU, Houston, Indiana, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall

Big 12 (5): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): DAYTON, VCU, Rhode Island

American (2): SMU, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)