Baylor (-5) over St. Mary's- As the Gael's charismatic center Omar Sanham climbs the NCAAB popularity charts from 'unknown' to 'only known out west' to 'national star', a trio of giants from Waco, TX have been doing the dirty work down low and getting no press for it. Tonight, 6'10'' Ekpe Udoh, 7'0'' Josh Lomers, and 6'10'' Anthony Jones have one goal, STOP OMAR. Haven't gotten the privilege to see him play yet? Think Sean May plus three inches and more agility in the post. His 32 and 29 point performances in the first two rounds have overshadowed his point guard Mickey McConnell who is averaging 19 PPG heading into tonight. For the Baylor Bears this game is 'Texas-sized' large for more than just the Sweet 16 stage. It is about the survival of a program mired in one of the biggest scandals in sports history just seven years ago, the rise of upstanding coach and recruiter Scott Drew (think St. Bonaventure), and now the chance to play in front of a partisan crowd in Houston for a spot in the Elite Eight. I didn't even mention the Bears top three players in this blurb, but you can check them out for yourself tonight at around 7:30 Eastern.
Ohio State (-4.5) over Tennessee- Like so many match ups this tournament, this game appears to be an absolute toss-up. Clearly, it's going to be a contest of freak athletes around the 6'4'' to 6'8'' range and you can throw in a couple of cold-blooded shooters on both sides. It's hard to think of a game that is more evenly matched, that being said, there are two reasons why I think the Buckeyes will take this one. 1) As you already guessed, Evan Turner. He's the best player left in a region littered with talent, he does it all for Ohio State, and he's got a knack for the big shot. 2) The Buckeyes were impressive in pulling away from a much bigger and more athletic Georgia Tech team last week. Four guys can get to the rim at all times and they are phenomenal at drawing fouls. If both teams are hitting their shots, this one has Kansas State/Xavier potential.
Northern Iowa (+1) over Michigan State- There's very little Northern Iowa can do the rest of the season that will top the exuberance of last Saturday's shocker over top-seeded Kansas. By midseason, we knew they were probably the top mid-major around, but who knew they were this good. It wasn't like they were lights out for 40 minutes last week. The Panthers shot 34% in the second half including just 3-14 from deep. They turned Kansas over 15 times, shot 85% from the free throw stripe, and got an ill-advised three-ball to go down with just seconds to go. They're not three-point wiz's like Cornell, nor do they score twenty points a game on alley-oops like Kentucky, they're all-around niccce. Korie Lucious heroics propelled MSU to the Sweet 16, but without Kalin Lucas, I see the Green dream ending tonight.
Duke (-8.5) over Purdue- Things seem to be setting up nicely for Duke.Two of the three teams in this tournament that are clearly superior to the Blue Devils have been bounced, their Sweet 16 opponent Purdue takes the court without their star Robbie Hummel, and Coach Wojo just slapped the floor while Coach Collins jumped up on a chair after Coach K clenched his fists, scrunched his face together, and let a spit filled "LETS GOOO" in a pregame meeting at the hotel. We're still getting reports in as to the details of that last part. As for tonight, Scheyer, Singler, and Smith seem to be on a mission, and with Zoubek playing like he's the 7'1'' that he actually measures at, they will be hard to beat for a shorthanded Boilermaker bunch. For Purdue, this was supposed to be their year...three star juniors in Hummel, Moore, and Johnson, combined with seniors Grant and Kramer to make a run at the title. With Hummel gone, everyone has written them off but themselves. Do they have enough to make it one more round is the question?