By Chris Carlson
#4 UCLA vs. #8 North Carolina: The Tarheels upended the returning champs in Baylor and now look to advance further against a team that made a run in last year’s tourney. The Bruins have a roster of tournament tested players and at this point in their careers UCLA has the more proven coach. After sneaking by their first round opponent in Arkon the Bruins want to duplicate 2021 by beating a fellow blue-blood. Can North Carolina pull off another upset? Let’s not forget UNC did win an important game on the road at Duke on Coach K’s last home hurray. On the surface I favor UCLA the only thing stuck in the back of my head is the ankle of UCLA’s guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. We did get a shot of him walking without a boot as he got on a team bus.
The Pick: UCLA
#3 Purdue vs. #15 St. Peter’s: Just typing in the St. Peter’s Peacocks is surreal and yet another example of what makes the Big Dance so great. The Peacocks did the unthinkable by knocking off the mighty giant in Kentucky a team that plenty of experts though had a legit chance to win the whole thing. St. Peter’s backed that up with a grind out victory over Murray State in a game they didn’t shoot well in and struggled. St. Peter’s was able to slow down Kentucky’s guards and knocked down their free throws and 3-pointers when it counted. Purdue had all the ingredients to make a run at the Final Four and now there the highest seed left in the East. Purdue battled a scrappy Texas squad eventually pulling away down the stretch. Jaden Ivey is the guy for the Boilermakers and as he goes so does Purdue. But the size of Zach Edey and the all-around game of their other big Trevon Williams along with a few other good players is what make’s Purdue so dangerous. The sole weakness of Purdue is consistency of defense which keeps this College Hoops junkie from being overly confident.
The Pick: Purdue
The East Region Final Four Representative will be Purdue after beating UCLA in a game decided in the last 60 seconds.
#1Gonzaga vs. #4 Arkansas: Every year for a long, long time we ask if this will be the year the Zags finally get the job done. 25 straight years of winning the WCC is impressive but only to an extent and an argument can be made Gonzaga may have already won a chip if they were tested during the regular season. The Razorbacks played in a tough conference and went toe-to-toe with many high level programs. Defense is the name of the game for Arkansas and they will once again bring that intensity and toughness in to the Sweet 16. The question that begs to be asked, can the hogs hang with a Zags bunch that can score at will in bunches. This hoops podcaster is betting on a competitive outing but Arkansas ultimately coming up short.
The Pick: Gonzaga
#2 Duke vs. #3 Texas Tech: With all the interesting matchups up in the Sweet 16 this one stands out as the most intriguing. This one makes my brain hurt trying to pick a winner and my soul get warmer knowing how mouth-watering it is for us hoops fans. With victories over Gonzaga and Kentucky earlier in the year the hype for Duke has slowed down measurably. The ACC was considered down this year that plays a part sure but now that were well into March three teams do still stand out of 16 hailing from the ACC. Talent wise there is not a better roster on paper but can Coach K and the players put it all together. Texas Tech is a nonsense team who thrives when taking on the best. Case in point is two wins over a healthier Baylor, win against Kansas, beat Iowa State twice not to mention Tennessee and close losses to Gonzaga and Providence. Offense versus defense or maybe it’s which group of players and coaches can be the better overall team for at least 40 minutes. This is a flip-of-the-coin winner pick here and this hack-of-a-scribe is leaning just a touch to the Blue Devils.
The Pick: Duke.
The West Region Final Four Representative will be Duke in the rematch from a razor-close contest with Gonzaga.
#1 Arizona vs. #5 Houston: The top seed in the West is obviously Zona but man did they barley slither by TCU in overtime. Houston cleanly beat a solid Illinois’s and now has their sights set on something much bigger. The Cougars have good size and are very athletic posing a serious threat so much so the Houston is the slight favorite. Houston has kind of snuck on the scene but they did earn non-conference wins over decent opponents such as Virginia, Butler, and Oregon. Also, losing by 3 points combined to Wisconsin and Alabama. Ever since losing to Tennessee back in December U of A has loss just two times. One came on the road to UCLA and the other was a shocker to Colorado. The Wildcats righted the ship and finished out strong winning the Pac-12 tourney. As long as Kerr Kriisa hits some shots the rest of the highly-talented roster on Arizona should be able to get thru to the Elite 8.
The Pick: Arizona
#2 Villanova vs. #11 Michigan: Facing plenty of adversity with losing their coach for the last part of the season Michigan has once again qualified for the Sweet 16. The Wolverines have well-round vets like Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks also a variety of other younger players playing a role to get them this far. Nova is, well Nova, a team that is well coached and who plays hard even before we mention the roster. Villanova faced a slew of challenging contests in both non-conference and in league play as they get geared up for this game. For a few reasons I want to pick Michigan but something is holding me back. Either way I favor the winner of the other matchup so that gives me a little more freedom. Both of these programs seem to raise the stakes and play over their head regardless of seed. It won’t come without a good fight but Nova gets by.
The Pick: Villanova
The South Region Final Four Representative will be Arizona in yet another overtime victory this time beating Nova.
#1 Kansas vs. #4 Providence: Kansas is a clear favorite and should be coming into this Sweet 16 scrap, as many folks have already scratched off the Friars some thinking it would be round 1 in fact. The Jayhawks had to deal with a scrappy Creighton club in the round of 32, it should be mentioned Creighton was missing their point guard. Yes, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji is a stud and we know why most believe this one is in the bank. Critics of Providence will point to their habit of playing in close games even if their winning most of them. Providence has found a way to do just that, find a way to close out in clutch time. Al Durham and 6-man Jared Bynum are a good one-two punch as ball handlers and big time playmakers. Providence has enough big man and contributors along with a vast wealth of minutes played on their roster to provide a blueprint to succeed. A while back this podcaster decided he was all in on Providence reaching the Final Four.
The Pick: Providence
#10 Miami vs. #11 Iowa State: No one is talking about how fun this one here could be because no one expected either of the teams to make it this far. The Cyclones and Hurricanes could form a perfect storm if you will allow that corny statement. Iowa State limped their way thru the Big-12 regular season only to somehow find their groove they had early on. Miami defeated an uber-talented Auburn and were able to get by USC. The Canes don’t have a great resume but they did beat Duke back in early January and almost again in the ACC tournament. I will openly admit I have no clue who will win this game but here goes nothing.
The Pick: Iowa State
The North Region Final Four Representative will be Providence keeping their dream season alive and well.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of The College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio