- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let’s try this again.
My first set of “bold” predictions didn’t exactly last through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But I’m not alone.
How many reconfigured their brackets after the Fab Melo news developed? Missouri losing to Norfolk State? I’d like to see a notarized “first” bracket as evidence that you picked that one.
Second time’s a charm though, right?
Kentucky will beat Indiana by 15 or more -- Vengeance is coming. On Dec. 10, Indiana defeated the Wildcats on a Christian Watford buzzer-beater. The shot stamped Indiana’s revival as “official.” But the Hoosiers aren’t playing that Kentucky team this weekend. The Wildcats have evolved. I think Indiana has matured, too. But Kentucky will make a statement in this matchup. Think “Scarface.” These players have had to watch that game, that shot, all season. They’ve lost only twice, but they’re reminded of the defeat in Bloomington often. I think we’ll see the most impressive effort from the Wildcats that we’ve watched all season. They’re not going to beat the Hoosiers. They’re going to crush them. Indiana gets full credit for the December win over Kentucky, but you can’t overlook the fact that Anthony Davis picked up early fouls and the Hoosiers surged past the Wildcats when the freshman of the year was on the bench. That was one of the few games in which Davis suffered from foul trouble. Won’t happen again. And Davis will be a constant force. And the Wildcats will avenge that earlier defeat with a “someone throw in the towel” assault of the Hoosiers.
Keith Appling will be the most valuable player for the Spartans in the Sweet 16 -- The sophomore guard scored 19 points and hit a crucial 3-pointer in the final minutes of Michigan State’s win over St. Louis. He’s a talented guard who will be called upon to navigate Louisville’s twisted zone (if the Cardinals use it) and help the Spartans fend off Florida’s 3-point attack or Marquette’s running game. The Spartans have never missed the Final Four as a No. 1 seed. This season won’t be any different. But Appling will emerge as Robin to Draymond Green’s Batman. Green will continue to excel, but he’ll face pressure on all sides. St. Louis stuffed the lane so well that Tom Izzo had to move Green to point. The Spartans need a Scottie Pippen right now to help them reach New Orleans. And after watching the Spartans in Columbus, I’m convinced Appling will enter New Orleans as a star.
Jordan Taylor hits a big shot to beat Syracuse -- Hard to peg this one. Both teams like to dictate the tempo. Wisconsin will work the shot clock and try to slow the game down. Syracuse is one of the best transition teams in the country. The Orange force turnovers with that stubborn, lengthy zone and they run. It’s a great contrast in styles by two programs who’ve found ways to force teams to play at their preferred pace. This will be a tug-of-war. A battle for 40 minutes. And at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to crucial plays in the final minutes because I expect a tight game. Taylor struggled at the start of the season as he tried to adjust to life without Jon Leuer. But he’s certainly looked like an All-America candidate recently. Taylor will play hero again against the Orange with a game-winning shot. It was easy to forget how good he was last season during this year’s trials. But Taylor has regained that old swagger. Look for the big shot against the Orange.
Thomas Robinson averages 28 points/12 rebounds against NC State/North Carolina -- I still have Kansas in New Orleans. The Jayhawks didn’t look great against Purdue in the round of 32, but going to St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome will feel like home with the numerous Kansas fans that will flood that facility. But environment alone can’t affect this outcome. The Jayhawks will need the best Robinson can give to get past NC State (a Sweet 16 sleeper that could pull off the upset) and North Carolina, even if the latter doesn’t have Kendall Marshall. And I believe Robinson will put together a string of performances that will define his career at Kansas. He’ll average 28.0 points and 12 rebounds. He recorded only 16/13 and 11/13 in wins over Detroit and Purdue. That won’t get the job done in the Sweet 16. Robinson will step up and take the Jayhawks to New Orleans with the kind of outings that are expected from national player of the year candidates in March.
Xavier, not Baylor, will play Kentucky in the Elite Eight -- Baylor has the length and athleticism to cause matchup hell for Xavier. Perry Jones & Co. against Kenny Frease seems unfair. Brady Heslip is on fire from outside. But the Musketeers will do more than make this a game. They’ll be tougher than a Baylor Bears squad that’s failed to match more physical teams in multiple matchups this season. Jones has scored nine points combined in his team’s two NCAA tournament games. As impressive as Heslip was against Colorado (nine 3-pointers), it’s unlikely that he’ll match that output against Xavier. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons will pressure Baylor on the perimeter. The Cincinnati-Xavier brawl has not defined the season for either squad. This is one of those games in which the personnel certainly favors the Bears. But Xavier will push Baylor to the brink and ultimately score a 10/3 upset. The health of Dezmine Wells’ toe, however, will certainly play a major role in this prediction.
Ohio won’t be represented in New Orleans -- One of the best storylines of the tournament unfolded over the weekend. Four Ohio schools (Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Ohio) reached the Sweet 16. But I don’t think we’ll see any of them in New Orleans. Even if Marshall can’t go, the Tar Heels have far too much athleticism and size for Ohio. I’m picking Cincinnati over Ohio State. I like the Yancy Gates-Jared Sullinger battle and the Bearcats’ athleticism on the perimeter. But I don’t think Cincy gets past Wisconsin, the team I’m picking to beat Syracuse. I think the Musketeers can defeat Baylor in the Sweet 16, but they’re not going to beat Kentucky. It’s a great accomplishment for one state to send four schools to the Sweet 16. But it won’t have any reps in New Orleans even though the numbers favor it right now. Sorry, Ohio.