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Sweet Sixteen: Predictions and picks

The Sweet Sixteen is where the NCAA Tournament comes back to reality. Yes, there's excitement over the buzzer beaters, the unlucky bounces, Rick Barnes' inability to get his Texas teams as far as they should based on their seeds. But there are also flukes, injuries and suspensions that leave teams at less than full strength. There are bad basketball days.

By the second weekend of the tourney, the strong have survived, many of the weak have been winnowed out, and a few Cinderellas remain, only to see their dress turn back into a frock, see their chariot turn back into a pumpkin, and note that glass slippers are uncomfortable and can shatter (and are only made for strippers in the movies).

Ricky Keeler has provided quick capsule looks and picks for this weekend's Sweet Sixteen picks. Take a look, and feel free to comment, disagree, and make picks of your own, below the fold.

Sweet Sixteen Picks

Thursday, 7.15 ET (2) San Diego State vs. (3) Connecticut (West)

You all are sleeping on this San Diego State team. The Aztecs' only two losses are to Jimmer Fredette and BYU, but they beat them handily in the MWC title game. They are big in the frontcourt, which is U Conn's weakness with just Alex Oriahki inside. Kemba Walker is due for a slump of a game as well if Smith and Lamb don't help him out. Look out for D.J Gay of San Diego State. When he gets hot from the perimeter with Chase Tapley and James Rahon, this team is tough to beat.

Thursday, 9.45 ET (1) Duke vs. (5) Arizona (West)

I have the Blue Devils not making the Final Four, but I think they will get by this matchup. Arizona has Derrick Williams inside and Duke can't match that in the frontcourt, but their backcourt is a lot better with the return of phenom Kyrie Irving. Arizona may be able to shut down two of the trio of Smith, Singler, and Irving, but they can't stop all three with their pressure in the backcourt.

Thursday, 9.57 ET (4) Wisconsin vs. (8) Butler (Southeast)

This game is your typical grind-it-out, first to 60 points kind of game. Butler is on a mission to get back to the Final Four even without Gordon Hayward. But how long can Matt Howard and Andrew Smith stay out of foul trouble? If they don't, the Badgers are a great foul shooting team; plus Jordan Taylor will not shoot 2/17 from the floor again. Wisconsin ends the magical run, but look for like a 60-54 kind of a game. At least Gus Johnson will keep it exciting.

Thursday, 7.27 ET (2) Florida vs. (3) BYU (Southeast)

Sorry Gators, but you are about to be Jimmered again. The Cougars have a huge edge if Kenny Boynton is not a hundred percent on that ankle. The Gators are experienced and will play another tight game with BYU. However, even without Brandon Davies, BYU might be better because they can put 4-5 shooters on the floor at once. I look for two players to be the difference. Those players are Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock who both shoot over 40% from beyond the arc.

Friday, 9.45 ET (1) Ohio State vs. (4) Kentucky (East)

I like the Buckeyes in this game. In order for Kentucky to win, they will need to do two things. They will have to get a repeat performance from Brandon Knight, who scored 30 against West Virginia and will have to try to contain the hot perimeter shooting of Ohio State. I have Jon Diebler as the MOP of this tournament, so I do not think that will happen. Kentucky hangs around, but Ohio State marches on.

Friday, 9.15 ET (2) UNC vs. (11) Marquette (East)

I can see an upset happening here in Newark. The Golden Eagles are red hot right now and UNC is playing away from their cozy surroundings in Charlotte. The guards for Marquette are playing much better with Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom making some huge shots. The Tar Heels tend to start games off slow and this Golden Eagles team is battle tested and has played well down the stretch. But, the Tar Heels' front line of Barnes, Zeller, and Henson is too much. UNC in a close game!

Friday, 7.27 ET (1) Kansas vs. (12) Richmond (Southwest)

Kansas has a tendency to struggle against mid-major teams in the past (ex. Bucknell). The Spiders can cause a threat as long as Kevin Anderson remains hot at the guard position and they are hitting their threes. Kansas is too strong in the frontcourt with the Morris twins and their size will eventually wear Richmond down.

Friday, 7.57 ET (10) Florida State vs. (11) VCU (Southwest)

Shaka Smart's team is my surprise of this whole NCAA Tournament especially after they demolished Purdue on Sunday. The Rams can flat out shoot the ball with Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen and they do a great job at getting good defense on opposing guards. This means Derwin Kitchen could be in for a long night. The Seminoles will have to score 75-80 points to win this one and even with Chris Singleton, I don't think they can. The Rams will continue the run that everyone thought could not happen.