The buildup up to the Sweet 16 on Thursday night starts today here at the Notebook. For each of the next four days, we'll pick one regional and take a look at the four teams, and include a prediction on who will advance to the final game on the weekend. With three of my original Final Four entrants (Wisconsin, Pitt and national champ Georgetown) all gone, I'm due for a mulligan now anyway. Then we'll include a special feature that will look back at some of the great Sweet 16 and regional final moments from each bracket. There will be a special focus on the 2005 regional finals, the greatest eight ever, when three games went overtime and the other one saw a near-upset of a #1 seed. Going back through history like that is one of my favorite things to do, as it always brings back the memories of where I was, who I was with, etc. Hope you enjoy it too.
back to the present day. We'll start today with the South bracket, which convenes in San Antoinio and plays on Friday-Sunday. It's a bracket that's undergone some changes over the years, first being named the Mideast and then the Southeast. This year, Duke meets Purdue and St. Mary's takes on Baylor. Let's check them out...
*Duke--The Blue Devils are well-balanced and well-coached, but they are not an unstoppable one seed. They have a steady backcourt that can shoot the ball with Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. At the forward spot, Kyle Singler can score from inside and out and has been playing some of his best ball of the year lately. I've discussed frequently in recent weeks, the emergence of Brian Zoubek at the center position. He's become a real force on the glass, the one thing Coach K has lacked in recent years. Duke's weaknesses is that from a talent standpoint they aren't someone who dominates you defensively, and they can be had by a team
who can play very aggressively in the backcourt. They can be taken down if they aren't at their best and every #1 seed has to survive a game like that from this point forward if they want to win it all. Nonetheless, this is still the best Duke team since they last made the Final Four in 2004.
*Purdue--If Robbie Hummel hadn't gotten hurt, this would've been a dead-even game. Of course if Hummel hadn't been hurt, the Boilers would be a #1 or #2 seed themselves and this matchup wouldn't be taking place. The Boilers still have a quick and tough point guard in E'Twaun Moore who can score. JaJuan Johnson is capable of taking over a game at center, with the ability to score, rebound and block shots. He must handle Zoubek and do it decisively. To beat Duke without Hummel, the Boilers need another role player, like senior guard Chris Kramer to step up. Kramer had 17 in the win over Texas A&M.
*Baylor--The Bears have the kind of backcourt that
can cause tremendous problems for Duke when they have the ball. Tweety Carter is a capable point guard and LaceDarius Dunn is a dominating offensive machine that the Blue Devils (or the Boilers for that matter) don't have an answer for, at least one-on-one. Baylor needs the frontcourt to play consistently and that burden falls to post man Ekpe Udoh. Baylor got the break in the draw when Villanova lost and they drew St. Mary's instead. Now they have to cash it in.
*St. Mary's--The Gaels had done nothing all year that gave any indication for what was to happen last weekend. They lost 2 of 3 to Gonzaga and only a narrow loss to Vanderbilt in December gave any indication that they could play with top-tier teams. They were one of several midmajors I found myself taking a crash course on to understand their lineup. Mickey McConnell (how's that name for a player with the Gaels?) and Matthew Dellaredova are both steady scorers in the backcourt. The real
lynchpin is center Omar Samhan. He was dominant last weekend and will have to be so again on Friday night.
Duke vs. Baylor--This is the one bracket where my picks haven't been torn to shreds. I had this regional final matchup at the start and I'll stick to it. I'm staying with the Bears as my dark-horse Final Four pick.
Sweet 16 games in the South/Southeast/Mideast to remember...
*1977 Michigan 86 Detroit 81--Dick Vitale was coaching Detroit back in those days and this was the game he longed for, to take down the power of the state, who was ranked #1 in the country. The Titans came up a bit short in a barnburner of a game, but Vitale believes Michigan was so spent that it accounted for them being upset in the regional final.
*1982 UAB 68 Virginia 66--It was the age of Ralph Sampson at Virginia, but the regionals were in Birmingham. #4-seed UAB took advantage and won the game on a tip-in at the buzzer.
*1997 Arizona 85
Kansas 82--It was perhaps Roy Williams' best Kansas team and the top-heavy favorite to win the national championship. Arizona was a fourth-seed and this win was one of three upsets of #1 seeds on their way to an improbable crown of their own.
*2002 Kent State 78 Pitt 73 (OT)--The overtime results shows how good the game was and the 11th-seeded Golden Flash were a nice story. But the reason this game made the cut is that a key player for Kent was Antonio Gates, now an All-Pro tight end in San Diego.
Regional finals to remember...
*1983 Louisville 80 Kentucky 68 (OT)--It may seem hard to believe now, but back then the controversy of college hoops was that Kentucky refused to play Louisville. This regional final left them no choice, and they seemed to have the game well in hand. Then the Cards turned on some ferocious full-court pressure and forced turnover after turnover and got into overtime. They didn't let up in the extra session
and got a win both sweet and stunning.
*1998 Kentucky 86 Duke 84--Everyone's seen highlights of Duke breaking Kentucky's heart with Christian Laettner in 1992. Six years later it was the 'Cats revenge in St. Petersburg. Duke had a 17-point lead in the second half before Tubby Smith's Wildcats came roaring back and pulled it out at the end. They went on to win the national championship.
The spirit of 2005... Michigan State 94 Kentucky 88 (2 OT): Fifth-seeded Michigan State took out #1 Duke in the previous round and finished the job by taking down #2 Kentucky in this one. The Wildcats tied the game with a three-pointer by Patrick Sparks bounced around the rim several times before falling in. They missed a chance to win it when Rajon Rondo, now of the Celtics, got off a jumper that never had a prayer. Finally, the more physical Spartans prevailed. Of Tom Izzo's five Final Four teams, this was the unlikeliest.
Tomorrow we'll look at the
West, past and present. And stop over at www.thebaseballnotebook.com . A preview of the LA Angels went up today, and 23 other previews are already up if you scroll on down.