Syracuse (-6.5) over Butler- If they played ten times, I'd pick Butler to win only once and that's only if it was played at Hinkle. The Orange are hungry, focused and way too deep of a team to fall this early. Their impressive win without Arinze Onuaku over a talented, athletic Gonzaga team showed the rest of the field that they are now the team to beat. Wes Johnson is averaging 24.5PPG and 10RPG in the tournament, asserting himself even more with the absence of the big center Onuaku. Butler will counter with 6'9'' forward Gordon Hayward, normally a wing player, but who could be seen flashing to the high post regularly tonight in an effort to pierce the stingy 2-3 'Cuse zone. Butler will be good, but Syracuse will be better.
Washington (+4) over West Virginia - If the first two rounds showed as anything, it was that we probably overhyped the Big East, and maybe the Pac-10 wasn't as pathetic as we all thought! Washington hasn't lost in over a month, but neither has West Virginia. Both teams are on fire right now, and the only thing that could slow them down would be an injured key player. Well that's exactly what happened this week, when the Mountaineers top guard and fourth leading scorer Darryl Bryant went down with broken foot. Without his backcourt leadership, WVU turns to Joe Mazzulla to run the show. You may remember the name Mazzulla when he dropped a 13/11/8 line on Duke in the 2008 second round game. The relentless play of Quincy Pondexter will keep the Huskies close all game long, but with Da'Sean 'Big Shot' Butler on the court, I see WVU surviving and advancing.
Kansas State (-5) over Xavier- Xavier is making it's third Sweet 16 appearance in a row, but to make it to the weekend, they'll have to top a Kansas State team whose guards have been unstoppable to this point. Of the eight match ups on tap over the next two nights, this is the only game pitting two teams who faced off earlier in the season. The Musketeers received a fifteen-point drubbing when they visited Manhattan, KS in early December, a game in which Kansas State was much more physical and sound offensively than was Chris Mack's bunch. Statistically, these two teams are almost mirror images, both averaging about 79PPG and holding opponents to 69PPG. Both teams have high scoring potential, with explosive scorers on each side in Jacob Pullen and Jordan Crawford, but expect this one to come down to free-throw shooting as it often does when two physical teams meet. I'll take the nut job Frank Martin and his Wildcats in this one.
Cornell (+8.5) over Kentucky- The other night somebody told me, "Upstate New York is currently the Mecca of college basketball". Don't laugh it's not funny. With Syracuse and Cornell in the Sweet 16, and the Carrier Dome playing host to the East regional, that somebody might be right. Forget being the #1 seed in the East, Kentucky won't have any sort of advantage this evening. Cornell fans from all over the state and every single non-UK patron will be packing the Carrier Dome tonight and rooting on David to take down Goliath.. It should be quite a spectacle. A team full of white kids with futures on Wall Street taking on the arrogant John Calipari and his band of seven potential pro ballers. After that buildup, here's my humble prediction: Cornell leads at half, scares the daylights out of UK for most of the game, but DeMarcus Cousins dominates down the stretch, while not failing to remind the nation that while he's the most talented big on the map, he's also undoubtedly the biggest child we've ever seen at this level.