The Rumble in the Garden writers Pico Dulce and Ricky Keeler take a look at today's matchups and make some picks. Yesterday's Butler victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers shows that we're at the point where no team gets an easy game - every team has to bring their best. And this is why we watch the spectacle of March Madness.
And also to hear NBA analyst Charles Barkley talk about how much he thinks the Big East is overrated. He watches a lot of college basketball, after all (he does not). Maybe he'd like to see Colorado in place of one of the Big East teams...
Third Round picks, Sunday March 20th
PD: North Carolina North Carolina really got a fun draw from the NCAA Committee. A first round game against a team that does what the Tar Heels already do - run, run, and run. And they get a second round team that does what they do - run, run, and, well, you know. This game will certainly get some NBA scouts tuning in to see Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes in action against a competitively strong front line. But I think North Carolina is a better team, overall.
RK: Washington This is my upset of Sunday's games. I like Washington a lot in this tournament. I know they struggled to get rid of Georgia on Friday, but the Huskies can make North Carolina pay if they start off slow (as they have in the past). The Huskies have a ton of depth at the guard position in Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, and freshman Terrence Ross. They can compete with UNC's frontline if Matthew Bryan-Amaning can put up big numbers inside. Coach Lorenzo Romar and company have been to the regional semifinals before. Even though it's in Charlotte, Thomas hits a big shot late and sends Washington to the Sweet 16.
PD: On one hand, I think Kyrie Irving will get to show well against Michigan, drawing fouls and tearing up the Wolverines' zone for scores and good looks for the Blue Devil bigs. But this could be an upset. Granted, the Wolverines played Tennessee, who (by their account) "gave up" in the second half. Duke won't fold like a binder, they can score with anyone. I think Duke wins, but wouldn't be surprised if Michigan gave them a real run - if they keep shooting as well.
RK: I can't see Michigan winning this game. The Wolverines' strength is 3 point shooting. What is Duke's strength? 3-point shooting! Huge advantage to the Blue Devils' guards with Kyrie Irving back and getting more minutes in the lineup. Michigan will need Jordan Morgan to have a career game in the paint to hang around. Blue Devils roll.
5.15 PM (1) Ohio State Buckeyes vs (8) George Mason Patriots
Pick: Ohio State
PD: Ohio State is a very big team - not necessarily down low, but all over, they have good size. And I don't think George Mason's defense is good enough to slow down Ohio State's varied scoring... Jared Sullinger will find the going a little tough, but the Buckeyes' shooting should loosen things up. Ohio State takes it.
RK: What a game by the Patriots on Friday coming back from ten points down to defeat Villanova. For the Patriots to have another magical run, they will need to get contributions from their big men Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson. They will have to get Sullinger in foul trouble and force the Buckeyes to become a one-dimensional team. That being said, Ohio State has too many weapons at the perimeter in Diebler, Buford, and Lighty. Buckeyes win by double digits.
6.10 PM (4) Texas Longhorns vs (5) Arizona Wildcats
PD: Texas Arizona has some talent, but their guards aren't particularly consistent, and the Longhorns defense is stout. That said, Sean Miller can get his guys playing hard and if the role players like Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill hit their shots... no, no, Texas.
RK: Arizona I like another small upset with the Wildcats winning. Derrick Williams is the best big man in the country that no one is talking about. Every game, Williams makes a big play on the defensive end that wins game. His athleticism could frustrate Tristan Thompson in this game. The Wildcats' defensive pressure could cause havoc for Jordan Hamilton on the perimeter. Sean Miller also gets the coaching edge for me over Rick Barnes.
7.10 PM (3) Purdue Boilermakers vs (11) Virginia Commonwealth Rams
PD: Right now, Virginia Commonwealth is playing with some high energy. They can be disruptive and annoying, and they have a real chance to upset the Boilermakers. But I always love how tough Purdue plays, and I think they could be a Final Four team. I take Purdue.
RK: Its safe to say the Rams belong in this tournament after wins over USC and Georgetown, but Purdue is too strong on the defensive end. The Boilermakers only allow teams to shoot 32% from the perimeter, which is VCU's strength with players like Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen shooting over 39%. The Rams will have to pressure E'Twaun Moore to keep the ball out of JaJuan Johnson's hands. If they can't, VCU will get mandhandled on the boards.
PD: If Syracuse plays with the lack of passion they displayed against Indiana State - like it was late in the evening and they just wanted that pesky Indiana State team to go away - they could lose to the pesky Marquette Golden Eagles. What if this "defense" and "effort" thing becomes a regular occurrence? The Golden Eagles could beat anyone. And they've already beaten Syracuse... I still think the Orange will win.
RK: Marquette won the first matchup earlier this season, but I like Syracuse in this game. The Orange can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but Fab Melo has come out of nowhere and became a presence in the paint everyone thought he would be in the preseason. Marquette will hang in there, but the 2-3 zone will limit their success from beyond the arc and Rick Jackson will have a nice game offensively.
PD: Kansas is a much better team. I don't see Illinois' Mike Davis dropping 22 points on Kansas, and I don't see Demitri McCamey surviving 6 turnovers. His sloppy ballhandling and the Illini's poor shot selection will catch up to them, and Kansas will handle their business.
RK: Bill Self faces his former team, but in the end, he will have the last laugh. Illinois played a great game against UNLV on Friday, but the Morris brothers can wreak havoc on a team that only boasts Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole as its legitimate big man. If Dimitry McCamey is going to be a NBA player, he will have to show it by pulling a great upset, but the Jayhawks go to San Antonio.
9.40 PM (2) Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. (10) Florida State Seminoles
PD: Florida State Yes, Notre Dame is filled with shooters. But Florida State - despite their complete inability to put up points - can defend the Notre Dame height at all positions, can disrupt shots. If they can contain Ben Hansbrough, the Seminoles should be able to knock off the Fghting Irish, even in the semi-home game environment in Chicago. Florida State is my pick.
RK: Notre Dame I picked the Irish to go to the National Title game, so this game scares me. The Seminoles don't put the ball in the basket often, but they sure know how to stop teams from scoring. Now, they get Chris Singleton back at full strength to help with that weakness. The Irish though are a much better offensive team than Texas A&M. Ben Hansbrough needs to shoot better from the outside than he did against Akron and look for Carlteton Scott and Tyrone Nash to be the reason why the Luck of the Irish continues. B