The Top 5 Sweet 16 Games


Indiana shocked Kentucky in December. Can they do it again Friday night? (Credit: US Presswire)

The Sweet 16 begins tonight, and the Midnight Man is back to break down the best five games to watch.

5) Cincinnati v. Ohio State

In a battle to determine the best team in Ohio (sorry Ohio U and Xavier, you just aren’t), this matchup pins the co-Big Team regular season champ versus the continually underrated and Big East Tournament finalist Bearcats. Jared Sullinger is the key for Ohio State, but he is also surrounded by the solid core of Aaron Craft, William Buford and DeShaun Thomas. Dominate the glass and paint and the Buckeyes advance.  But with Bearcats senior Yancy Gates guarding him, Sullinger will be given all he can handle. Gates is a beast in the paint and if he performs as well as he has this season, the Bearcats may be able to pull off the upset. In the end, the Buckeyes defense likely will force the Bearcats offense into an ugly shooting night, handing the Buckeyes a trip to the Elite Eight. Prediction: Ohio State, 76-59

4) Syracuse v. Wisconsin

Having the potential to be both the weekend’s most boring, but also its most exciting, this matchup pits the deepest team in the country in the Orangemen versus arguably the best coached team in the country in the Badgers.  Led by seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine as well as sophomore Dion Waters, expect Syracuse to play an up-tempo style of basketball, using Jim Boeheim’s famed zone to force Wisconsin into turnovers that lead to fast break points.  On the other hand, look for Wisconsin, under the leadership of underrated senior point guard Jordan Taylor, to slow down the pace of the game in its attempt to turn the game into a half-court battle.  However, the Orangemen’s depth and overall superior talent will lead them to victory and onto the Elite Eight.  Prediction: Syracuse, 72-63

3) Kentucky v. Indiana

The most anticipated game of the week, Kentucky versus Indiana is a re-match of this year’s most thrilling game (sorry Duke-UNC fans), in which Indiana handed Kentucky its only loss with a last second three-point buzzer beater.  With John Calipari once again having his team of young stars clicking at the right time, Kentucky is the tournament’s team to beat.  Anthony Davis is a defensive dynamo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a star in the making and Marquis Teague is playing as well as any point guard in the country over the past three weeks. Yet, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers will not lose quietly. With start freshman center Cody Zeller manning the paint and the versatile Christian Watford effectively working an inside-out game, Indiana will give Kentucky a run for the money. But at the end of the day, Kentucky’s talent and skill will overpower Indiana.  Prediction: Kentucky, 80 – 68

2) Florida v. Marquette

In a game that promises to the fastest-paced of the Sweet 16, expect guard play to determine the winner. While the Golden Eagles best player may be Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder, whether or not they win will depend on the performances of its three guards: Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan. If these three undersized guards are able to handle Florida’s up-tempo, three-point shooting barrage, Marquette will move on to the Elite Eight.  However, I expect the Gators to chomp down on the Eagles.  With impressive backcourt options in Kenny Boyton, Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, Scottie Wilbekin, Erving Walker and future NBA star in Dwayne Wade-light Bradley Beal, Florida’s guard play will be too much for Eagles to handle.  Prediction: Florida, 78-73

1) Michigan State v. Louisville

The game of the week, MSU v. Louisville will be long, slow battle between the tournament’s two hottest teams.  Led by do-everything stud Draymond Green and NCAA coach extraordinaire Tom Izzo, the Spartans will hope to push the Cardinals around with their tough, rugged style of play.  If Keith Appling can get hot from deep and Green avoids foul trouble, the Spartans will be one step closer to reaching their seventh Final Four in the past 14 years.  However, Peyton Siva has arguably been the country’s best player over the past two week. His determination and will, combined with strong defensive play by Kyle Kuric and Gorgui Dieng, will push MSU to its breaking point.  But when the game ends, expect Tom Izzo’s Spartans to once again be victorious. Prediction: Michigan State, 65-62.


A Very Sweet 16


UNC has to like its chances to advance to the Elite Eight, but Kendall Marshall's injury has dampened any optimism on Franklin Street. (Credit: US Presswire)

Just like that, 68 teams is down to 16. Here are five takeaways from the first six days of the Big Dance.

1. Gangsta’s Paradise: Xavier and Cincinnati still standing. Back on Dec. 10, Xavier’s Tu Holloway informed us that the Musketeers “got a whole lot of gangstas in the locker room.” The words followed an ugly brawl between his team and cross-town rival Cincinnati that seemed to temporarily derail what appeared to be promising seasons for both programs. Xavier was 8-0 after the Crosstown Shootout victory over the Bearcats, but then lost five of its next six. Cincinnati, self-imposed sanctions and all, feasted on some soft non-conference opponents, but then won only seven of its first 12 Big East games. Now, the programs are peaking at the right time, each reaching the final in their conference tournaments and now both advancing to the Sweet 16. Expect the media to bring this up a few times this week. It’s interesting to think of whether things would have been any different had the punishment for the brawl been any harsher (the suspensions handed down by each program were generally viewed as too light). But only 16 locker rooms will be filled this week with teams that have a chance to cut down the nets, and at least two of them will have a whole lot of gangstas in them.

 2. Big East reasserts itself. The Big 10’s performance has been the most impressive of any conference in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Big East has also experienced an important bounce back. Last year, the conference set a record with 11 of its teams qualifying for the tournament. But criticism was loud when only two of those teams advanced to the second weekend (though one of them – UConn – won the whole thing). The conference was generally perceived as less dominant this year, but the league still had nine teams advancing to the Big Dance. Four of them are still alive, including both regular season champ Syracuse and tournament champ Louisville. If all four can win one more game, Big East fans will have a real treat in the Elite Eight: the Orange would face Cincinnati in the East Regional final, while the Cardinals would challenge Marquette in the West Regional final. In an interesting but less relevant note, the state of Ohio also has four representatives in the Sweet 16 (Ohio State, Ohio, Cincy and Xavier).

3. Lack of mid-majors is a good thing. After Black Friday left brackets in shambles nationwide, there was a serious possibility the Sweet 16 would be marred by a few too many mid-majors and Cindarellas. Luckily, the weekend generally allowed the tournament to correct itself. Upsets are fun early in the Big Dance, but the deeper you get into March Madness, the fewer double-digit seeds you want to see. It makes for better regional finals and Final Four competition. Ohio won’t have to share any of the spotlight this week; when scouring the survivors of the first weekend, they really are the only outlier of the 16 teams remaining. With four teams from both the Big East and Big 10, two apiece from the Big 12, ACC and SEC and A-10 powerhouse Xavier, there are elite players and coaches in all four regions. Ten of the 16 teams began the year ranked in the top 16 of AP’s preseason poll, and virtually all of the Sweet 16 have proven their talent over the course of four months, rather than four days. That might be bad news for the media this week, as it scrambles to fill their “(enter underdog story here)” features. But it is great news for the fans.

4. (Mostly) smiles on Franklin Street. Had Purdue been able to do what they had done for 39 minutes and complete the upset against Kansas, Tar Heel Nation would be feeling even more elated this morning. But they still have to like their Final Four chances, with four days off to prepare for a match-up with Ohio Friday night in St. Louis. Then they’ll likely be pulling for their conference rival N.C. State to knock off the Jayhawks. That would set up a Midwest Regional final the Tar Heels would have to love: they’ve already beaten the Wolfpack twice this year, quite handily each time. Of course, UNC’s biggest hurdle might be within their own locker room: point guard Kendall Marshall fractured his right wrist Sunday, making it difficult to rely on him to contribute too much going forward. But at least Florida State is out. Oh, and Duke lost. To Lehigh.

5. A very Sweet 16. The “fourth” round of the tournament is loaded with great games. Each region has its appeal, but Boston will be the place to be for this weekend’s East Regional. Syracuse will have its hands full against Wisconsin, but the game to see is Ohio State vs. Cincinnati. Yancy Gates vs. Jared Sullinger, for the right to possibly face a Fab Melo-less Syracuse with a trip to the Final Four on the line? Yes, please. There’s also some Buckeye State intrigue here, as Ohio State has traditionally avoided playing the Bearcats regularly during non-conference competition. On the other side of the bracket, Kentucky finds itself with an opportunity to avenge its only regular season loss against Indiana. In the West Region, Tom Izzo vs. Rick Pitino isn’t too bad either.

The Search For America’s Next Top Darling


The Midnight Man likes the Murray State Racers to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. (Credit:

Every March, 68 Division I basketball teams begin the NCAA tournament with the hope of cutting down the nets at the end of the championship game. But for many of these teams, the dream of winning a national title is just that: a dream. Unlike in professional sports, where an underdog can come out of nowhere to win a championship (see: New York Giants, 2007), non-Big Six conference teams have rarely competed deep into NCAA tournament. When all the chips are on the table, David hardly ever beats Goliath.

But recently, mid-major teams have begun to buck the trend. In 2010, Butler came within inches of winning the championship. In 2011, they somehow returned to the national championship game. VCU joined the Bulldogs in the Final Four. Back in 2006, we saw George Mason’s Cinderella run also extend all the way to the national semifinal.

With the tourney beginning tomorrow, look for these three teams to possibly make a run into the second weekend and become the media’s and America’s Newest Darling.

Wichita State – A perennial powerhouse in the always talked about yet still underrated Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers are certainly a team to look out for during the next two weeks. Led by senior center Garret Stutz and senior guard Joe Ragland, the Shockers finished the regular season with a overall record of 27-5 (16-2 in conference), good enough for first overall.  Though they were upset by Illinois State in the conference semifinals, the team has the qualities needed to make a run in the tournament: strong guard play, senior leadership and a tough, gritty defense. As the No. 5 seed in the South Region, look for Wichita State to defeat both VCU and Indiana.  If they get there, they’ll get their shot at top-seeded Kentucky, a team comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

New Mexico – A surprise first place finisher in the competitive Mountain West Conference, the Lobos have significant momentum entering the tournament on the heels of their conference tournament victory over fellow tournament team San Diego State.  Coached by former Bob Knight “favorite” Steve Alford and led by UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, New Mexico has the capability of making a deep run in the tournament. Seeded fifth in the West Region,New Mexico should easily handle an upstart Long Beach State team en route to a likely monster second round match-up versus Big East Tournament champ Louisville.  Despite their recent victory, Louisville has been inconsistent all season. New Mexico should be able to defeat the Peyton Siva-dependent Cardinals. If Michigan State makes it to the Sweet Sixteen as expected, the Lobos will face a difficult opponent, but one that it can certainly beat, especially if Gordon outplays the Spartans’ star point forward, Draymond Green.

Murray State – Hailing from the well-known metropolis of Murray, Ky., the Racers have the potential to steal the hearts and minds of Americans. Entering the tournament with a record of 30-1, Murray State won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and conference titles. Under the leadership of senior guards Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole, Murray State possesses the scoring and speed that is needed to win in the tournament. On the defensive end, what they lack in size, they make up for with their speed. After a likely victory over Colorado State, the Racers will give probable second round foe Marquette a serious run this weekend. From there, the sky is the limit.



Syracuse will have to persevere without its big man, Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday. (Credit: AP)

Well, I hope you didn’t hand in your brackets yet, because Syracuse delivered news Tuesday afternoon that could potentially change the entire complexion of March Madness.

The school announced that seven-foot center Fab Melo is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse did not elaborate why Melo will not play, but the news delivers a massive blow to the championship hopes of the Orange, the No. 1 seed in the East Region.

Melo is the best low-post presence on a team that is poor at rebounding. Syracuse averages 35.3 boards per game, good for 124th in the nation. By comparison, the other No. 1 seeds –North Carolina (45.2 per game), Kentucky (39.2 per game) and Michigan State (38.2 per game) – are ranked 1st, 14th and 26th, respectively.

Melo averaged 5.8 rebounds per game, but most perhaps more importantly, he tallied about three blocks per contest. Without him, Syracuse is much more vulnerable to inside play. Barring an absolute stunner, the Orange will win its first game and advance to the “third” round, where it will meet either Kansas State or Southern Mississippi. Many analysts expect Kansas State to be Syracuse’s opponent. K-State has already demonstrated it can be successful against teams with weak inside presence; they’ve beaten Missouri twice.

Vanderbilt, already a trendy Sweet Sixteen pick after its win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final, is quickly becoming a cliché pick to upset Syracuse and advance to the Elite Eight. Shooting 39 percent from three-point range on the season, good for 21st in the nation, the Commodores have the ability to overcome Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone by simply shooting over it.

But beyond merely speculating how the Orange’s potential opponents could benefit from Melo’s absence, empirical evidence also supports a belief that Cuse will struggle. Melo was suspended for three games during the regular season for academic issues (some suggest this is why Melo is ineligible for the tournament). During that three-game stretch, Syracuse lost to Notre Dame (its only regular season loss) and needed a controversial call at the end of the game to survive a scare against Cincinnati. The statistics back up Syracuse’s uninspiring performance during that period: the team’s rebound differential was -11 per game in Melo’s absence, compared to -0.4 per game when he played. Notre Dame out-rebounded Syracuse 37-24 in their upset victory.

Syracuse still possesses the talent to advance to the Final Four, led by Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Trische and Dion Waiters. Those four will have to step up their games to overcome the loss of Melo in the middle. But most importantly, freshman Rakeem Christmas and junior James Southerland will have to emerge as viable presences under the basket.

Of course, even if Syracuse does advance to New Orleans, it could very well face one of two favorites to come out of the Midwest Region in the national semifinal—North Carolina or Kansas. Each have their own monsters down low to contend with, including UNC’s Tyler Zeller (ACC Player of the Year) and John Henson (ACC Defensive Player of the Year) and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (Big 12 Player of the Year).

It’s debatable whether Syracuse had been the favorite to win the national title on Selection Sunday. Without Melo, the road to their second championship in the last decade will be undoubtedly tougher.

March Madness 2012: Initial Bracket Reactions


Kentucky, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, could face UConn this weekend. The two teams met in last year's Final Four. (Credit: Reuters)

South Region (Atlanta)

Biggest Surprise:

That the overall No. 1 seed was rewarded with a very tough draw. In addition to potentially playing defending national champion (and pre-season top 10 team) UConn, Kentucky could see Duke, Baylor and Indiana before reaching the Final Four. All of those teams are capable of knocking off the Wildcats (Indiana has already done so).

Best First Second Round Match-Up:

Iowa State-ConnecticutI realize it’s not daring to claim that the 8-9 match-up is the best, but former NBA player Fred Hoiberg has done a strong job coaching the Cyclones this year, highlighted by a win over Kansas. Connecticut was in a free-fall, but seemed to improve once coach Jim Calhoun returned for the final game of the regular season. The Huskies fell to Syracuse in the Big East Championship, but showed the focus and ability that it had been missing a few weeks ago.


This bracket should excite the people that work in the highlight departments at CBS and Turner. Indiana was Kentucky’s only regular season loss, via a buzzer-beater in Bloomington. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. When you think Kentucky and Duke, you think Christian Laettner. And Duke and UNLV could finally have their long-awaited rubber match: UNLV defeated Duke in the 1990 championship game, and Duke got revenge against the Rebels in the 1991 title game.

West Region (Phoenix)

Biggest Surprise:

Some commentators yesterday stated that Memphis was better than an 8 seed, but the biggest mistake the committee made this year was rating Murray State as a 6 seed. Murray State lost one game this year. One.

Best First Second Round Matchup:

Florida-Virginia – Florida is a talented 7 seed (the Gators were ranked in the top 15 for much of the season). They heavily rely on the three-point shot, taking the second-most in the nation and having the 22nd best percentage. Virginia is a team that slows down the pace and keeps games close. If Florida isn’t hitting threes, it will have fewer possessions than normal to make up any deficits.


No major stories here, but we could see some excellent coaching matchups. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino could square off if Michigan State and Louisville meet in the Sweet Sixteen. An unlikely scenario could see Pitino facing his former player (at Providence and with the Knicks) and assistant (at Kentucky), Billy Donovan, should the Cardinals and Gators meet in the regional final.

Midwest (St. Louis)

Biggest Surprise:

As a UNC grad, I am surprised/nervous/scared/excited to see Kansas in the same region as the Tar Heels, but we’ll get to that soon. I find the lack of teeth in this region to be a surprise. Georgetown and Michigan are good teams, but neither really scares you that much. Georgetown did not fare well against the top teams in the Big East, particularly late in the season. The Hoyas defeated Louisville and Marquette in two of its first three conference games, but lost to Cincinnati, Syracuse and Marquette down the stretch.

Best First Second Round Game:

Georgetown-Belmont – Belmont has received some early buzz from analysts despite being a 13 seed. They lost to Duke by one point to open the season, and as explained above, Georgetown is not a powerhouse. Since making the Final Four in 2007, Georgetown has not advanced past the (actual) second round of the NCAA Tournament, and has made one NIT appearance.

Best Storylines:

A lot of program demons could be exercised in this region. North Carolina lost to Georgetown in the 2007 tournament, after having an unprecedented offensive drought in the Elite Eight. Michigan infamously lost to UNC in the 1993 championship game after Chris Webber called a timeout he did not have. But the biggest storyline is the potential Elite Eight monster matchup of Carolina and Kansas. Roy Williams could face his old team yet again in St. Louis, giving Kansas a distinct geographic advantage. After the Heels lost to the Jayhawks in the 2008 Final Four in a game that Billy Packer declared over in the first half because Kansas opened up to a big lead (UNC eventually cut it to four in the second half), Carolina fans are a bit nervous about this prospect. But the game would undoubtedly be one of the best in the tournament, especially with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson going against UNC’s big men, Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

East Region (Boston)

Biggest Surprise:

For me, it’s Vanderbilt as a 5 seed. Not to take away from their win against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final, but the Commodores did not have to play Florida en route to the title. You can argue if you want that Vanderbilt is among the best 20 teams in the field, but are they really better than Murray State, which lost one game? One game!

Best First Second Round Game:

Vanderbilt-Harvard – Harvard was ranked in the polls earlier in the season, and has defeated Florida State. Tommy Amaker’s squad has the talent to contend with a major conference team like Vanderbilt. And we all know 5-12 games are primed to be upsets.

Best Storylines:

Syracuse and Ohio State were two of the teams I wrote to watch in their conference tournaments. Ohio State lost a hard fought battle against Michigan State in the Big Ten final, and Syracuse lost in the Big East semifinals to Cincinnati. They remain two interesting teams to watch.

The Storylines of Conference Championship Week


This week's games are only one part of the story surrounding 30-1 Syracuse. (Credit: Reuters)

College basketball conference tournaments are more than just a precursor to the NCAA Tournament itself. Mid-majors are given the opportunity to earn automatic berths. Teams on the bubble can make a final statement to the selection committee. Elite squads are able to fight to improve their seeding. But there are some additional storylines in the major conferences worth watching before the Big Dance begins.

ACC – Though North Carolina and Duke remain the conference’s cream of the crop, Florida State has placed itself on the cusp of the league’s elite. After defeating Carolina by 33 and shocking Duke with a Michael Snaer buzzer-beating three pointer (that caused sounds to emit from Len Elmore I’d rather not have heard), many thought Leonard Hamilton’s squad was talented enough to take the ACC regular season crown, despite losses to two Ivy League programs in non-conference play. The Seminoles spent much of the ACC season at the top of the standings, but late losses against Miami and Duke left them looking up at the Heels and Blue Devils. FSU responded with a nice road win against Virginia, a team likely to make the field of 68. Should the Seminoles pick up a victory over UNC and/or Duke this weekend in Atlanta, they’d have to be considered a legitimate threat to knock of a number of teams this month.

Big 12 – Kansas and Missouri played one of the best games of the season in Lawrence on Feb. 25, and both teams are decent picks to advance far in the Big Dance. But keep an eye on Baylor. The Bears looked like the conference favorite earlier in the year,  thanks to NBA lottery prospect Perry Jones III and Scott Drew’s unconventional 1-3-1 zone.  But after starting the season 17-0, Baylor lost twice to Missouri, twice to Kansas and once to Kansas State—three of the top four teams in the Big 12.  If the sophomore Jones can boost his draft stock with improved play in Kansas City this weekend, the Bears will more closely resemble the dominant team we last saw in mid-January.

Big East – In my opinion, the Big East presents the most exciting conference championship, often offering multiple premier match-ups each day of the tournament. Playing in Jeremy Lin’s house (Madison Square Garden) doesn’t hurt either. Last year, Kemba Walker carried UConn on his back to a Big East title in New York before eventually winning the national championship, making him a bigger deal in Connecticut than Vince McMahon and Joe Lieberman combined. UConn will attempt another improbable five-wins-in-five-days run, but this weekend, all eyes should be on the Syracuse Orange. With just one loss (at Notre Dame while playing without big man Fab Melo), Jim Boeheim’s squad is a legitimate championship contender. But Yahoo! Sports dropped a bombshell on March 5, with a report suggesting Syracuse basketball players have failed drug tests but have still been permitted to practice and play in games. The school released a cryptic statement saying that no current players were involved in such activity, but this is potentially a major distraction for the Orange. Though the team rallied after the sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach Bernie Fine, this is of a different nature. These allegations are against the players themselves, and could have massive implications for the program if the NCAA levies penalties. Further, the situation comes on the doorstep of postseason play. But if  ‘Cuse rolls through the Garden this weekend, then it may be safe to say off-the-court issues won’t distract them on their quest to win their second national title in the last decade.

Big Ten – Typically the butt of jokes for having final scores that resemble a girls high school basketball game, the Big Ten and its twelve teams comprise perhaps the best conference in the nation this year. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin all have less than 10 losses. The team to watch this weekend is Ohio State. After steamrolling Duke earlier in the season, OSU appeared locked in for a national title run. But prior to closing out the regular season with a big two-point victory over MSU in East Lansing, the Buckeyes had lost three consecutive games to ranked opponents. Jared Sullinger – a preseason favorite for National Player of the Year – has not fulfilled the lofty expectations placed upon his no longer hefty frame. Jay Bilas – the best college basketball commentator/attorney in the world – tweeted this week that Sullinger has not looked right to him for several weeks. For OSU to do any damage this month, it will need to ride Sullinger. If he can become a force in Indianapolis this weekend, then the Buckeyes may become a trendy Final Four pick.

SEC – Can anyone beat Kentucky? John Calipari has once again assembled a future NBA All-Star team, but the criticism has long been that he can’t win a championship with such inexperienced young players. Well, that crutch may soon be null and void. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2010, and last year Terrence Jones led them to the Final Four. Jones returned this year and is joined by an elite freshman class, including the likely No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and star guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Wildcats swept SEC play and have lost just one game all season (on a buzzer-beating three-pointer at Indiana that emitted noises from Dick Vitale that make Len Elmore seem sedated). Florida is the second best team in the conference, but no one mistakes them for a national title contender. Critics have occasionally questioned Kentucky’s focus and resolve since they’ve often found themselves in close games against inferior opponents. But if Kentucky routs its competition in New Orleans this weekend, it may signal a mature focus that could get the Wildcats over the hump this year.

Pac-12 – Wow, is the Pac-12 bad. For a conference that features UCLA and Arizona, this stretch of mediocrity is unheard of. But if you need a story, check out the Bruins. Sports Illustrated eviscerated the state of this legendary program last week, suggesting coach Ben Howland has lost control of his team. Results have been down in recent years for the Bruins, and Howland could find himself on the firing line despite taking the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours in 2006, 2007 and 2008. And if that coaching slot opens up, expect the rumor mill to swirl with nearly every great up-and-coming coach in the nation.

Jordan is a contributing editor to Yi!. He is an ACC expert, a firm believer in Eli and a deft analyst of pop culture.