It’s getting close to crunch time in the NCAA tournament with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 fast approaching this weekend. Last week, we gave you our thoughts on three Cinderellas that we expected to make it past the first weekend. Turns out, we were flat out wrong. Oakland, Belmont, and Bucknell are all out, but there are four high-seeded teams still left in the big dance. Florida State, Marquette, Virginia Commonwealth, and Richmond (no FromMontanatoCrabtree, its not next to Berkeley) all have the chance to do some more bracket-busting beginning this Thursday. Unfortunately, from my perspective, only two of these teams have a legitimate chance of making it past the weekend.
Florida State and VCU have the privilege of playing each other, in what is one of the rare 10 vs.11 matchups in Sweet 16 history. Out of these four teams, I, personally, believe Florida State has the best chance of advancing past this weekend. For long stretches this season, they played without many of their key players, including star Chris Singleton, who was their leading scorer and rebounder. The team is finally healthy and has a deep roster. Moreover, Florida State has proven that it can beat the top teams, as it beat then #1 Duke earlier this season. The Seminoles also possess size in the frontcourt, and that will undoubtedly cause match up problems for their opponents, especially on the defensive end. It’s important to note that the Seminoles led the nation in opponents’ field goal percentage, and they held two offensively explosive teams (Texas A&M and Notre Dame) to a combined 31% from the field in their first two games of the tournament. FSU should be able to handle VCU’s three-point arsenal, and their size and athleticism should make them a tough matchup for the Jayhawks in the Elite Eight. Remember Northern Iowa did it last year against a more talented Jayhawks squad, so there’s no reason why the Seminoles can’t get to Houston.
The Marquette Golden Eagles are my other pick, and they start their second weekend by facing a surging North Carolina Tarheel squad. Marquette was the last of the 11 Big East teams to reach the tournament, and now they are only one of two remaining, which is something to be said. Like a typical Roy Williams’ team, this year’s version of the Tarheels will look to utilize their speed and athleticism to take their opponent out of a half-court game. Marquette can’t fall into this trap and believe that they can hang with Carolina because they can’t. Marquette prides itself on its defense, and as a result, the Golden Eagles have to play to their strengths. If they can slow the game down on the offensive end and be selective in their shot selection, then it will prevent the Tarheels from grabbing those long rebounds, which make it easy to run a transition offense. By employing this strategy, Marquette will prevent the Tarheels from running, and the defense, which showed its grit during the Big East tournament, can more than hold its own against Carolina’s half-court sets.
Should the Golden Eagles knock off the Tarheels, they will then have to do battle against the overall #1 seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes present a much more difficult challenge than the Tarheels. But similar to the Tarheels, the Buckeyes like to take advantage of their youth and athleticism. Thus, the Golden Eagles, once again, will have be patient on the offensive end and wear the clock out, making it difficult for the Buckeyes to get into any sort of rhythm. The Golden Eagles will also be looking to get Ohio State’s standout freshman Jared Sullinger into early foul trouble. The best chance of this happening is drawing offensive fouls against Sullinger, as he uses his arms and lower body indiscriminately to get position in the post. Although the Buckeyes are loaded with talent, it will make it easier for Marquette to pull off a miracle with Sellinger on the bench.
All in all, I really do expect Florida State to get to Houston. They are healthy, peaking at the right time, and more importantly, not intimidated by any team left in the tournament. If their defense continues to hold up, they will give Kansas some serious difficulty. Marquette simply put just has too hard of a task in defeating both the #1 and #2 seeds this weekend. Harrison Barnes for Carolina is playing out of this world, and Jared Sellinger and the rest of the Buckeyes are carrying that Michael and Kobe “give me your best shot” swag that just can’t be beaten. With that being said, I hope your guys’ brackets stay somewhat intact this weekend.