Can The Northern Iowa Panthers Pull Off Another Upset?
Editor's Note: Follow Mr. T's college hoop thoughts and gambling picks on Twitter. Last night saw another #1 seed fall as Syracuse Nation watched their Orange drop to #5 seeded Butler. I refuse to give much credit to Butler for winning this game because the game's result falls on the shoulders of 'Cuse. The way they played the first half was utterly embarrassing. They came out flat and unprepared, a direct reflection of Jim Boeheim's lackluster nature as a head coach. Did you know Syracuse has only advanced past the Sweet 16 twice in the last 20 years? They made the finals both times, but that was because of players involved (John Wallace and Carmelo Anthony), not Boeheim. But I digress… After taking a 4-point lead with about five minutes to play, Syracuse went into an unacceptable offensive funk that allowed Butler to go on an 11-0 run. Wesley Johnson completely disappeared after re-energizing Syracuse in their run that took the lead. I'm not sure how he didn't take a shot for five minutes when there was clearly no Butler player who could stop him. This doesn't exactly inspire me to think he has the killer instinct for the NBA. They were too many quick three-point attempts, too many out-of-control drives, and too many times where Ray Jackson couldn't catch the basketball. Jackson must have the smallest hands on a big man since Patrick Ewing because he treated the basketball like a f*cking bar of soap. He needs to spend a few months at The Big Q before next season to toughen up.
Maybe we shouldn't be shocked by the result given the way Syracuse looked against Georgetown in a close game only a couple weeks ago. They didn't play in many close games this season. They just weren't battle tested. The games that were close on the scoreboard were only a result of big leads that wilted away with poor foul shooting, not necessarily games that were close throughout. Compare their effort to that of Xavier and Kansas State, two teams that knew how to finish games and locked into an epic battle last night. Neither team wanted to go home and played at another level just to stay alive. That was March Madness at it's finest. I can only imagine that Syracuse's effort won't be the last big upset we see. We just won't know where it's coming from. So on tonight's games…
Ohio St. vs. Tennessee (7:07 p.m. ET) The best game of the night leads off the schedule and it's actually tougher to take a side than you think. Both Thad Motta and Bruce Pearl have a history of in-game coaching mismanagement, so there really is no coaching edge between the teams. Tennessee has proven they can beat anyone in the country with their victories over Kentucky and Kansas, giving us reason to believe they could pull off the upset here. Evan Turner might struggle a bit with the athleticism Tennessee can use on the defensive end, but I'll take the best player on the floor to win the game in a situation where the coaches and teams are evenly matched.
Baylor vs. St. Mary's (7:27 p.m. ET) The Gaels are everyone's favorite team of the tournament (ahead of Northern Iowa since they busted everyone's bracket), but tonight's matchup is a difficult one. Samhan has exceeded against two teams that didn't have the bodies to bang with him on the low block, but Baylor has plenty of those. The height on the frontline of their 2-3 zone should frustrate Samhan and not allow him to get the same looks he was getting against a man-to-man defense. The pressure will shift to St. Mary's guards and Ben Allen to pass effectively and create open shots. I've been backing this Baylor team all year and there's nothing I've seen to stop doing that now.
Michigan St vs. Northern Iowa (9:37 p.m. ET) Life without Kalin Lucas begins for the Spartans against a Northern Iowa team brimming with confidence. There's some concern that Northern Iowa may lose focus after their massive win over Kansas, but coach Ben Jacobson seems well equipped to refocus his team. The Panthers' slow and deliberate style of play will frustrate a Michigan St. team known for turning the ball over. Korie Lucious might have more confidence after his game winner, but he still hasn't proven he can lead a team over the long hall. The Spartans lost three straight games when Lucas was hurt earlier in the season and there's no reason to think that will change.
Duke vs. Purdue (9:57 p.m. ET) Everyone expects Duke to fall once the Sweet 16 hits, but is this year developing to give them their best chance at a title since 2001? The Boilermakers are fierce and deserve all the credit they can get for making it this far. They'll hound the Big Three of Duke and should keep this a low-scoring game. The difference between this Duke team and teams of recent past is that they rebound exceeding well, a trait that should continue against an undersized Purdue squad. Duke's edge on the boards should be the difference.
Vegas Best Bets: — Ohio St (-120) to win the Midwest Region — Baylor (-3.5) over St. Mary's — Northern Iowa (+1.5) over Michigan St. — Purdue (+8.5) over Duke