At this point most of us, probably all of us, can admit that the next Nostradamus does not walk among us. Of course in reference to everyone’s brackets that have been busted by now, if somebody has picked an entirely correct bracket to this point, a line is probably filing outside his or her front door waiting to ask whether the world will truly end in 2012. And ain’t it grand?
As much as we all check our brackets game by game, especially through those first two manic days of the tournament – hoping for the mythological perfect bracket – it would be pretty boring if pick-by-pick went according to plan.
If someone “knew” that Norfolk State and Lehigh were going to pull upsets over number two seeds Missouri and Duke, respectively, that would really ruin the moment of 2012 being the first tournament year with two 15 seeds advancing. The unpredictability, the fickle games that lower seeds win every year is what keeps us all coming back for more.
Nobody saw Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State or C.J. McCollum of Lehigh causing the fits they did. In fact, commentators couldn’t stop gushing over O’Quinn’s 26 points and 14 rebounds, incredulous of the fact that no one outside the Spartans offered him a scholarship.
McCollum’s 30-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist outburst nearly left Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski speechless, saying, “[Lehigh] had the best player on the court tonight in McCollum. He’s been their player of the year, and he’s really one of the outstanding players in the country. You could see why tonight.”
The first four-day stretch of the tournament – six, if you count the round one play-in games – all led to this, the elimination of 52 teams and an essentially new bracket. Cue the Sweet 16.
And now with the field of 16 preparing for another hotly-contested four days, more than ever, teams will look to rely on the players who have gotten their respective teams this far and try to squeeze a few more ounces of talent out of their quieter players to help push them over the top, just like O’Quinn and McCollum did in their opening round.
Here’s a look at half of the field.
Kentucky: POY candidate Anthony Davis is the easy choice for who the Wildcats relied on most, but his biggest contributions come on the defensive end, where all of Coach Calipari’s players play well. If Kentucky wins the national championship, it will most likely come from the contributions of Marquis Teague. The freshman guard has averaged 18 points and 5.5 assists per game for Kentucky in the tournament after averaging just 9.4 points and 4.8 assists prior to the Big Dance. If he can keep up those numbers, Kentucky will be almost as impossible to stop.
Wisconsin: Everybody knows the Badgers wouldn’t be anywhere near the Sweet 16 without Jordan Taylor. Then again, opponents know that too. Expect double-teams galore on the Wisconsin star from now on, after he torched Montana and Vanderbilt. With that, someone will need to execute when Taylor kicks to the open man. After the win against Vanderbilt, Wisconsin will continue to rely on steady contributions between Mike Bruesewitz and Ben Brust. In the two games prior to the tournament, neither scored a single point but after two games in the tournament have registered 32 points. This production from the role players must continue if Wisconsin hopes to continue dancing in Boston.
Indiana: Interestingly enough, the Hoosiers will be forced to navigate the waters of the tournament without a senior leader a la Kentucky, having lost Verdell Jones III to an ACL tear in the Big Ten tournament. Likely, the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of freshman forward Cody Zeller, who led Indiana in points (15.5) and rebounds (6.5) this season. The Hoosiers really need sophomore guard Victor Oladipo to step up, especially to get past Kentucky. Oladipo has been relatively invisible his last five games (7.2 ppg) after averaging 15.6 points per game in seven previous contests.
Syracuse: Not often is a reserve relied on to win games, but Syracuse’s Dion Waiters is the Orange’s best player. In his last five games, Waiters is averaging 17.8 points per game off the bench. Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine get a lot of the fanfare as seniors, but forward C.J. Fair will need to contribute inside, especially with the loss of Fab Melo.
Michigan State: Is there any need to say more than Draymond Green? The guy has breathed life into MSU all season, working in wondrous ways. Need proof? Check out his triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn. As far as finding a Robin to Green’s Batman, the Spartans have an array of talent waiting to be utilized, and junior forward Derrick Nix is the beast to get it done. Listed at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds, Nix is a load on the block that many teams can’t match up against. Averaging 14 points per game in the tournament, Nix allows Green to play the perimeter when needed to stretch the defense.
North Carolina: Harrison Barnes just became the de-facto man for the Heels with Kendall Marshall breaking his wrist, as sophomore guard Reggie Bullock must step up in the absence of the injured UNC point guard. He’s only scoring 8.7 per game, but with Marshall’s absence, Bullock must score in double digits if UNC hopes to reach the Final Four.
Marquette: Jae Crowder, Big East Player of the Year, somehow still manages to fly under the radar and is killing teams every game. Averaging a ridiculous 21 points and 14.5 boards in the tourney, if someone doesn’t find a way to slow him down, Marquette could win it all. Darius Johnson-Odom is already a star, so some offense from Madison-product Vander Blue would be nice. Blue has only scored 12 points in the tourney, and any significant contributions from him would really hinder opposing defenses’ ability to focus on Crowder or DJO.
Ohio State: The casual fan would expect Jared Sullinger or William Buford to be the names of the man who has taken the Buckeyes to this point, but it’s not. Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas is in beast mode right now and shows no signs of stopping. The perfect complement to Thomas has been all-world defensive point guard Aaron Craft, but lately Craft has found his offensive rhthym. Against Gonzaga, Craft scored 17 points, doubled his average and dished out 10 dimes. When Kraft is on his offensive grind, it’s hard to imagine OSU losing.
Brett is a senior majoring in journalism. If you had a clean slate on your bracket, who out of the Sweet 16 would you pick to reach the Final Four, or win the NCAA Championship? Let Brett know by tweeting him at @BAsportswriter or email him at [email protected]