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Friday’s Sweet Sixteen Predictions

And a look at Thursday’s rather intense games

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Practice
Mar 28, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) and Duke Blue Devils forward RJ Barrett (5) during practice for the east regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Capital One Arena.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday was a really, really interesting evening of basketball. First Purdue and Tennessee put on a thriller with a big Tennessee comeback that ultimately fell short as the Boilermakers won 99-94 in overtime, putting an end to the greatest season of Tennessee basketball in memory. The Ernie and Bernie show might have been more fun but that was a lifetime ago.

Florida State pushed Gonzaga, cutting a consistent double digit lead to four in the closing minutes. The Seminoles had trouble closing though, as they often have before, and fell 72-58. It’s not a surprise at this point to see the ‘Noles stumble in the critical closing minutes of a game. Unfortunate but not unexpected.

In the later games, Texas Tech put on an absolutely stunning clinic against one of the best offensive minds in the game, holding John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines to 16 points at the half and to just 44 for the game.

You might say that this is not a premier offensive team by his standards and that would be fair but 16 points? That’s incredible. Beilein’s offensive mind is as good as anyone’s. Chris Beard treated it like a negative of the Maginot Line.

Oregon acquitted itself well against stubborn Virginia, but when the game was down to the final critical minutes, Virginia was in control and won 53-49. Kihei Clark should get some special praise because the little guy made some big shots and had one beautiful assist late. He also put on superb defensive pressure.

Saturday’s games between Texas Tech and Gonzaga in the West and Virginia and Purdue in the East are going to be fascinating.

But let’s look at Friday’s games first.

As we always say, and with good reason over the years, we don’t bet against Duke so we’ll take the Blue Devils over Virginia Tech - not that it looks like an easy game.

LSU probably has more talent than Michigan State but Tom Izzo tilts things towards Sparty.

In what some wags are calling the Cheaters Bracket, aka the

Auburn is one of the few teams that can run with UNC and the Tar Heels don’t have the typical inside game the Tar Heels have had over the years. They do have great three point shooting and Luke Maye has been a wonderful success story. We’ll take the Tar Heels here but Auburn is capable of an upset. Potential factor: local Kansas and Missouri fans who unite in their disdain for Roy Williams. That eased up a bit but with KU in some real uncertainty right now both with the NCAA and rumors about Bill Self’s future, Ol’ Roy is a convenient punching bag.

In the nightcap, Houston has had a brilliant year and Kelvin Sampson has an asset that John Pitino - where did that come from? - John Calipari - can’t touch and that’s seven upperclassmen who had two sensational games in last year’s tournament.

UK will also likely miss PJ Washington who is apparently out of his boot but probably not in game shape.

We’ll go with the upset here and take Houston. Among other things, their defense is really good and it looks like defense is emerging as the theme of this year’s tournament.

Good defense is necessary for any team to make a deep run but this year, with what we saw Thursday and some really good defensive teams up Friday, may be a bigger deal than usual.

If we’re correct, then the Elite Eight will be

  • Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech
  • Virginia vs. Purdue
  • Duke vs. Michigan State
  • UNC vs. Houston

Clearly, CBS’s nightmare scenario is Texas Tech vs. Virginia for the title. That could be a 44-40 game and would have people pushing for a seven second shot clock by Tuesday morning.

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