Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Writers roundtable: Sweet 16 edition
By ESPN.com staff
Florida Gulf Coast has the attention of the entire country entering its matchup against Florida.
As we get ready to resume the NCAA tournament with Thursday's regional semifinals, let's see what's on the minds of our writers ...
Which Sweet 16 game are you most looking forward to?
Dana O'Neil: Seriously? C'mon. Of course it's Florida versus Florida Gulf Coast in the ultimate big brother-little brother contest. Beyond the obvious reasons -- this FGCU team is right out of Cinderella central casting -- I'm anxious to see this game because it's the first time the Eagles will play a team similar to themselves. Georgetown and San Diego State were offensively challenged, content in a half-court game. If FGCU wants to go, the Gators will gladly follow. So this game offers the potential to be wildly entertaining at the very least. Beyond that, Florida has been dreadful in the endgame and dreadful when pushed. I'm anxious to see what happens if the Gators are challenged by the Eagles, and frankly, I'd be stunned if they weren't.
Is there a clash of styles/systems in the Sweet 16 round that intrigues you?
John Gasaway: Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski know a little something about March success. Taken together, the two head coaches have appeared in a staggering 17 Final Fours. But this season, they're meeting head-to-head in the Sweet 16. The Spartans are at long last rounding into Izzo form and hitting the glass with a vengeance, rebounding a little more than half of their own misses in the NCAA tournament. That's important, because Duke is vulnerable on the defensive glass. Even so, against teams not named Maryland, the Blue Devils have been very tough to beat this season, particularly now that Ryan Kelly is back in the lineup. Legend versus legend, rebounding versus resurgence, Michigan State versus Duke. I can't wait.
Of the three remaining 1-seeds, which has the toughest path to the Final Four?
Eamonn Brennan: Kansas. I agreed with the initial consensus that Louisville got the toughest region. After two rounds, with either Michigan State or Duke guaranteed to be standing between the Cardinals and their Atlanta dreams, it remains daunting. But Louisville should -- repeat, should -- be able to handle business against turnover-happy Oregon before facing down that tough Elite Eight matchup. Kansas, on the other hand, has to contend with the best point guard in the country and a Wolverines team that was at times considered the best in the country this season. If it manages to get by that one, it has a likely -- repeat, likely -- matchup with Florida, which defends just as well as the Jayhawks and doesn't need to get to the rim to score, a trait that minimizes Jeff Withey's impact on the game. If the Jayhawks somehow get past both Florida and Michigan, we should all be very impressed.
The two biggest underdogs this week are Oregon and Florida Gulf Coast. Which one has a better shot of pulling the upset?
Brennan: Florida Gulf Coast. No, I'm serious. Look, I'll admit that I'm as enamored of Florida Gulf Coast as anyone -- I spent too much of my time in Dayton last weekend watching a team competing hundreds of miles away dunk on everyone's heads, and then gobbling up GIFs and memes and YouTube videos after said dunks were delivered -- and it is my sincere hope that it sticks around with us until April. Let's just put it all out there. But beyond sheer wish-casting, matchups matter. The fact is, it is a lot easier for me to imagine FGCU getting the Gators rattled, getting Kenny Boynton to start firing jump shots, grabbing long rebounds and dunking a lot, than it is for me to imagine Oregon -- which turned the ball over on 21.5 percent of its possessions this season -- somehow solving a maniacal Louisville defense that is pulverizing teams who do take good care of the ball. I don't think either upset will happen, but if we have to pick one, I think FGCU makes the most sense.
Which player are we all going to be buzzing about by Sunday night?
Andy Katz: Louisville's Russ Smith. Smith has been Russdiculous and Ruppdiculous the past few weeks. He's been on one of his tears. Oregon's freshman guards probably won't be able to hang with him Friday night in Indianapolis. Michigan State and Duke have the personnel to body him up, but the Cardinals' defense should create transition points and open-court scoring opportunities for Smith. Louisville is playing its best basketball at the right time of the year. I fully expect Smith to continue his productivity and ensure the Cardinals return to the Final Four.
Which potential regional final is the most enticing matchup?
Myron Medcalf: When Duke and Louisville met on Nov. 24 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, the Blue Devils were the stronger team. Barely. A late barrage by Quinn Cook secured the win for Duke. But Gorgui Dieng was not available because of a wrist injury. What if Louisville would have had its full roster in that game? If the teams meet this weekend in the Elite Eight, we won’t have to wonder anymore. This is the most enticing (potential) regional final in the field. It’s a rematch. It's Pitino versus Coach K. And it would feature two of the most complete teams in the country. This is a game that college basketball fans want to see.
So who’s going to Atlanta?
Jason King: My picks for Atlanta? Sure. Louisville has the deepest team, the best defensive team, a Hall of Fame-caliber coach and a roster filled with experienced players who were in the Final Four a season a ago. Just as they were prior to the season, the Cardinals are my pick to win it all. Kansas -- the toughest team in the South both mentally and physically -- has four senior starters who played significant roles for last season's NCAA runner-up squad. Indiana and national player of the year candidate Victor Oladipo will be the Big Ten's lone representative, and rightfully so. The Hoosiers are the best team from the nation's best conference. Wichita State's nickname -- the Shockers -- couldn't be more fitting. No one expected Gregg Marshall's mean, tough-minded squad to make it to the Sweet 16. I think they'll take things a few steps further and advance to the Final Four.