Breaking down NCAA Sweet Sixteen
The NCAA tournament continues this weekend in what can best be described as Blue Blood Friday.
North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Kansas bring a total of 20 national championships to the Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats are the odds-on favorites to win it all, according to multiple sports books.
The main storyline will be the health of North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall. He fractured his right wrist last week, but his cast was removed. His status is uncertain.
“What we’re going to do is just practice every day, and if something weird happens that they say he can play, I’m probably going to let the guy play. But I just do not foresee that happening,” UNC coach Roy Williams told ESPN.
With that mind, let’s break down Friday’s games:
Baylor (29-7) vs. Xavier (23-12)
Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Baylor might be the only team that can push Kentucky out of the blue blood party. The Bears are led by NBA prospects Perry Jones and Quincy Miller, but it might be the silky smooth shooting of Brady Heslip that gets them to New Orleans. Xavier will pin all their hopes on all-world point guard Tu Holloway.
Pick: Baylor 66, Xavier 55
Ohio (29-7) vs. N. Carolina (31-5)
Friday, 7:47 p.m.
All eyes will be on Kendall Marshall’s right wrist. If he can’t go, look for Stilman White and Justin Watts to split the minutes. Ohio has been a nice Cinderella story, but they just don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Heels, even without Marshall.
Pick: UNC 74, Ohio 60
Kentucky (34-2) vs. Indiana (27-8)
Friday, 9:45 p.m.
The marquee matchup of the weekend — and most likely the entire tournament — is a rematch of a Dec. 10 contest. The Hoosiers won that one in dramatic fashion, following a last-second three. But this appears to be John Calipari’s year and arguably his most talented team. The Wildcats are blowing teams out with an average win margin of 15.5.
Pick: UK 70, Indiana 66
NC State (24-12) vs. Kansas (29-6)
Friday, 10:17 p.m.
The Jayhawks have looked uninterested at times in this tourney and barely survived No. 10 Purdue in the last round. At one point, Kansas coach Bill Self was heard screaming, “You told me you were ready!” They better be ready because NC State is enjoying their first trip to the Dance in six years. The key matchup to watch will be Kansas’ Thomas Robinson vs. State’s C.J. Leslie.
Pick: Kansas 60, NC State 58
Three players to watch
This isn’t Cooper’s first dance. The 5-foot-11 guard helped the Bobcats take down No. 3 Georgetown in 2010 when he poured in 23 points. Two years later, the junior is averaging 20 points per contest in two upset wins over No. 4 Michigan and No. 12 South Florida. Look for him to take advantage of a Kendall Marshall-less North Carolina squad.
He’s the one who hit “The Shot II” — as some in Hoosier land call his buzzer-beating trey to beat Kentucky — and he’ll be sure to be on the minds of the Wildcats. In fact, ESPN has been running a promo commercial featuring Watford’s game-winner on loop this past week. “It goes in every time,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
The Jayhawks are led by National Player of the Year candidate, 6-foot-8 forward Thomas Robinson, but Taylor is the heart and soul. He’s struggled so far in this NCAA tournament, with his scoring average dipping nearly seven whole points, so it’s time to step up. The 6-foot-3 Taylor will have his work cut out for him against a bigger, more physical NC State backcourt.