We’ve already previewed the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the South and Midwest Regions. Now let’s turn to the other side of the draw.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Creighton
Oklahoma fans got a good look at what the Bulldogs are capable of in the second round. The Sooners played a solid game against the Zags – and still lost by double digits.
The same fate likely awaits Creighton this weekend. The Blue Jays will need an out-of-this-world performance from Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock from deep if they want to stay competitive. Even then, it probably wouldn’t be enough.
Bottom line: Gonzaga still looks like a solid favorite to win the whole thing.
No. 6 USC vs. No. 7 Oregon
The success of Pac-12 teams in the tournament’s opening weekend probably didn’t surprise many hoops junkies. If you were staying up late to watch West Coast games, you saw what kind of talent filled the rosters of teams like the Trojans and Ducks this season. Honestly, these two programs shouldn’t be meeting at this juncture in the Big Dance.
UO and USC already played once this season in a make-up game that the Trojans won handily on their home floor in February. Southern Cal enjoyed a 39-26 edge in rebounding the game, and that was with 6-10 forward Isaiah Mobley out of the lineup. Naturally, the size disparity between the two squads hasn’t changed in the last month.
Oregon does benefit from its ability to mix tempos and defensive schemes throughout a game. Unfortunately for Dana Altman, the Trojans shoot the ball well enough outside to punish the Ducks if they try to pack the lane to slow down Mobley and his brother Evan. Instead, Altman can potentially mitigate some of USC’s advantage in the front court by extending his team out on defense to pressure the Trojan guards before they throw the ball into the post.
Predicted Winner: Gonzaga over Oregon
Gonzaga versus either of its potential opponents should lead to a fun regional final, at the very least. The Zags should cruise on Sunday, while USC and Oregon will probably trade haymakers in the other game. Assuming the Ducks pull off the small upset over SC, expect an up-and-down game against Gonzaga on Tuesday.
But to beat the Bulldogs, you can’t acquiesce to playing their kind of game. Eventually their firepower overwhelms their opponents. That should be the case against the Ducks.
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State
Is this the year Leonard Hamilton finally breaks through to the Final Four? The ageless wonder may have his best team yet at Florida State.
The Seminoles’ length up and down the lineup poses serious matchup issues on both ends of the floor. Shooting over the top of their size is a challenge for just about any team, and Hamilton can rotate in big men down low to defend Hunter Dickinson, Michigan’s talented freshman center.
The Noles do one thing particularly poorly, however. Their turnover rate is one of the worst in the country. Fortunately for them, the Wolverines are even worse when it comes to creating turnovers on defense.
The signs here point to FSU moving on in a mild upset.
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 11 UCLA
Having won eight straight games, the Crimson Tide seem to be peaking at just the right time. Even worse for UCLA, the Maryland team Bama just disassembled in round two looks similar to the one the Bruins will put on the floor Sunday. (To be fair, the Terrapins may be similar, but they are inferior.)
UCLA plays at one of the slowest tempos in the nation, which is typical of Mick Cronin’s teams. If the Bruins can control the pace against the Tide, they could keep the game within striking distance late. They should also zero in on getting Herb Jones into foul trouble, a problem that plagued the Bama center during the team’s roughest stretch during the season.
The chances of UCLA actually pulling that off? Pretty slim. Bama is simply dialed-in at the moment.
Predicted Winner: Alabama over Florida State
This matchup has the makings of one of the best games of the entire tournament. FSU won’t mind running with Bama, and the Noles’ length will create problems for the Tide’s array of marksmen around the perimeter.
Unlike Michigan, however, the Tide appear ready to capitalize on FSU’s tendency to get loose with the basketball. Converting those turnovers by the Seminoles into easy baskets and open looks from three-point range should give Bama enough of a cushion to pull out a hard-fought victory and send coach Nate Oats’ team to the Final Four.