March 21, 2007
The defending national champion and my pick to win it all both play in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. There should be excitement galore as teams move a step closer to living the dream at the Final Four in Atlanta.
Let's look at the Friday night match-ups:
FLORIDA VS. BUTLER
I have been surprised by Todd Lickliter's team. A. J. Graves has been super in the NCAA tournament, averaging 18.5 ppg. so far. Mike Green is a dangerous threat in the backcourt as well. This Butler team plays a disciplined style and certainly it has shown the capability to win four straight big games. Just look back at the NIT preseason tip-off, with wins over Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga (all made the big dance!)
Florida is playing with purpose now as Billy Donovan's kids understand history can be made. The Gators have the potential to become the first repeat champions since Duke in 1991 and '92. The frontcourt has a size advantage against Butler. Joakim Noah and Al Horford have combined to hit 23-of-29 shots from the floor in the NCAA's so far. Chris Richard has helped out off the bench. Taurean Green has not shot well, but he made a pair of key trifectas in the win over Purdue.
Think back to 2000, when Butler took Florida to overtime before Mike Miller made the game-winning shot. The Gators made the Final Four that season. I see the defending champions moving on.
UNLV VS. OREGON
Lon Kruger has done an incredible job and the Runnin' Rebels are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1991. Wendell White has been one of the stars of this tournament to date and his 22 points, including six straight free throws, were important in the upset of Wisconsin. This UNLV squad can really play defense as shown against Georgia Tech and Wisconsin – both teams shot below 42 percent from the floor. UNLV has been smart handling the ball, committing just nine turnovers in each NCAA tourney game. Kevin Kruger has been steady – 15 assists, three turnovers in the big dance.
Oregon has great talent and quickness. Ernie Kent felt pressure coming into this season and he has led his club to wins over Miami-Ohio and Winthrop. He is getting the last laugh. When you see a team with talent, including Aaron Brooks, Bryce Taylor, Tajuan Porter and Malik Hairston, you have to be impressed. The Ducks have been solid on the foul line in the tourney, hitting 25-of-29 so far.
Brooks leads the Ducks to the winner's circle.
GEORGETOWN VS. VANDERBILT
The Commodores can beat you with a three-point assault. Derrick Byars, Shan Foster, Dan Cage, Alex Gordon and company rely on the long-range shooting, making 22 trifectas in the first two tourney games.
The Hoyas have so much going for them inside. Roy Hibbert has had a pair of double-doubles in the tourney. Jeff Green was Big East Player of the Year and he is tough to stop. Georgetown should be a force on the glass in this match-up. John Thompson III would love to see DaJuan Summers bounce back after struggling from the field in two games.
Earlier this season Georgetown won at Vanderbilt, 86-70. Roy Hibbert was virtually unstoppable, hitting eight-of-11 from the field, finishing with 18 points and 10 boards. Jeff Green also scored 19 points for the Hoyas.
I don't feel Vanderbilt has an answer for Hibbert and Green inside. The edge goes to Georgetown.
NORTH CAROLINA VS. USC
My friends, the Trojans are going to be a tough out. Tim Floyd can motivate and flat out coach; he made a good move going back to college after a stint in the NBA. USC has a lot of talent with Nick Young, Taj Gibson, Lodrick Stewart, Gabe Pruitt and surprising Daniel Hackett. This is an athletic team that took charge early against Texas.
The Tar Heels have featured the inside play of Tyler Hansbrough (54 points, 19 rebounds, 19-of-28 field goals in the first two tourney games), plus the jet-like quickness of Ty Lawson. Think about this: the Tar Heels have 26 fast break points the first two games; their opponents have four! Lawson gets the ball upcourt so quickly and Reyshawn Terry (16 ppg.) has been a positive in the tourney.
This has the potential to be a Maalox Masher. I am staying with the Tar Heels, my pick from day one to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.