The second round closes out today, with the final eight spots in the Sweet 16 filled. TheSportsNotebook has a look at the games, in the order they’ll appear on television today…
N.C. State-Georgetown (12:15 PM ET, CBS): I’ve been going back-and-forth on this game since the bracket was announced. At first, I had Georgetown advancing to the Sweet 16. When I was podcasting at Prime Sports Network with Greg DePalma on Saturday morning, I had a change of heart, due to disappointment with the way the Hoya frontline played against Belmont and how well N.C. State played. Now I’m reverting back to my original Georgetown pick. Mitt Romney is the only person in America who can identify with the decision-making process I’m undergoing here. Basically , I’ve chosen not to overreact to Friday’s games. While N.C. State has excellent balance and athleticism throughout the lineup, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson and Otto Clark key up a physical interior that I think spells the difference here. The one caveat for the Pack? Shut down Jason Clark at the perimeter, force turnovers and it’s a different game. Either way, it’s a great matchup to kickoff Sunday.
St. Louis-Michigan State (2:45 PM ET, CBS): I just don’t see an upset happening here. St. Louis needs to win by making the game ugly, as they did against a more talented Memphis team on Friday. The problem is that Michigan State has no problem getting down and getting dirty and they won’t be thrown out of sorts, if this becomes an unpleasant-to-watch, grind-it-out affair. The Billikens have no one who can match up with Draymond Green down low. Any team coached by Rick Majerus can be competitive in a one-game shot, but this would be a monster upset if St. Loo actually wins.
Creighton-North Carolina (5:15 PM ET, CBS): The health of John Henson’s wrist is the biggest subplot in this NCAA Tournament so far. Henson, a scorer and rebounder down low, and arguably North Carolina’s best player, has been listed as questionable—which from past experience I usually take to mean probable. But he didn’t play against Vermont, although here again we can just infer that Roy Williams counted on beating the Catamounts without him. I was not impressed with UNC’s rebounding intensity on Friday and whether Henson plays or not, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes need to bring it later this afternoon. If Henson doesn’t play, an upset is definitely lurking. Creighton beat Alabama in spite of a so-so game from star player Doug McDermott and better-than-average game from the Tide. If Carolina is short-handed, less than intense—or ideally, both—the Bluejays can win this game.
Norfolk State-Florida (6:10 PM ET, TNT): Kyle O’Quinn electrified the country on Friday when his 26 points/14 rebounds led the way for Norfolk’s upset of Missouri. O’Quinn can have another good game here today, as Florida is not a physical team in the pain. The Gators have big players—Patrik Murphy most notably—but the bigs are most comfortable shooting the three-ball. Florida in general airs out a lot of threes. Their backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Ervin Walker is extremely good and the reason I think they’ll survive, but we already saw what happened with Duke—another three-point dependent team, the moment the shots stopped falling. If Florida is hitting, this game will be over by halftime. If they’re not, it leaves the door open for O’Quinn to do it again.
Ohio-South Florida (7:10 PM ET, TBS): If you want a team that wins ugly, no one does it like South Florida. I think this is a tougher game for Ohio than their more-heralded first-round upset of Michigan was, simply because the Wolverines were more a spot-and-shoot kind of offense, while South Florida will get physical. The only caveat that’s there is that I wonder if the Bulls will have a little letdown after beating Cal on Wednesday and Temple on Friday, on top of several big wins in the Big East down the stretch. If they respect Ohio, still have the energy and bring it, they’ll win. But South Florida is not talented enough to win even this game without bringing the focus. For the record, I’m taking them to continue their late season surge.
Lehigh-Xavier (7:45 PM ET, Tru): Xavier is not a better team than the Duke squad that Leigh stunned on Friday night, as the records clearly indicate. But Xavier has more talent, and they can do what Duke couldn’t and that’s punish Lehigh in the paint. Note I say the Musketeers could do that. Center Kenny Frease is a great talent, and if he plays well, Xavier will dominate. If Frease shows his tendency to disappear, then it becomes a battle of the backcourts. I’d still pick Xavier, but it becomes a heckuva lot closer. And a battle between Tu Holloway and C.J. McCollum could be one of the great one-on-one battles of the tournament. If it comes down to that, the other eight players should just clear out and let us watch the two star guards go at each other.
Purdue-Kansas (8:40 PM ET, TNT): Matt Painter has done a nice job at Purdue in a rebuilding year, but there should be no illusions about their upset chances here. Purdue’s win over St. Mary’s was a case of seeing which team could play down to the moment faster and St. Mary’s “won” that race. The Boilemakers can’t guard Thomas Robinson in the post and Tyshawn Taylor follows Robinson as the second-best player on the floor. I suppose of Robbie Hummel really found his outside stroke and knocked down 25 and then went to the glass for 15 rebounds, we might have something brewing, but you can come up with a scenario like that for any game on the board the rest of the way. It’ s nothing I can actually see happening.
Cincinnati-Florida State (9:40 PM ET, TBS): A good game to end with, because Bearcats-Seminoles is one of the better games of the day. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad bowl matchup in football if Cincy quarterback Zach Collaros is healthy. Can we have a late-late game on the gridiron? I picked both these teams to lose in upsets on Friday and though both of them came close to the edge, they survived. FSU has the superior post talent, with Bernard James being the focal point and Xavier Gibson being important in a secondary role. Cincinnati has the better backcourt, with three guards, and then mixes in a solid forward in Yancy Gates. I lean Cincy because I’m still not ready to think that Florida State can maintain their focus out of the ACC Tournament, but the leaning is a lot less strong than on Friday, because even though the ‘Noles didn’t play well, they should tremendous mental fortitude the last ten minutes in turning back St. Bonaventure.