Duke tops Sweet 16 Picks and 2011 Final Four Predictions

SOUTHEAST: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU (Thursday, 7:27 p.m., TBS/TSN2)
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Butler (Thursday, 9:57 p.m., TBS/TSN2)

The Jimmer Fredette Mission hits the Big Easy looking to convert as many non-believers as three-pointers. Fredette’s sensational; one-man shows go only so far in the NCAA Tournament. He’ll need help from inside, because the Gators will look to win this game with power forwards Vernon Macklin and Patric Young, who can jump so high he left the “k” in his first name behind. Expect Erving Walker to pressure the Cougars’ defense and Billy Donovan to march back to the Elite Eight while some shrewd reporter goes to find the real story about this game: How many of BYU’s fans can stay true to their school’s Honor Code in the French Quarter (take the under on that one).

Butler beat Pitt in a game that was played in the Round of 32 but looked a lot like a Final Four contest. After all of the upsets in this region, your bracket and mine is left with more Xs in it than storefronts on Bourbon Street. If anyone automatically advances the highest seed, it’s a mistake. Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard have the toughness and experience to get their team through this weekend. The Bulldogs are more reliable on offense than the Badgers and that should be the difference in the Sweet Sixteen round, and they have the height to match Florida in the Elite Eight.

Final Four Pick: Butler (originally it was St. John’s, ugh)

WEST: No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 Connecticut (Thursday, 7:15 p.m., CBS)
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona (Thursday, 9:45 p.m., CBS)

The theory goes, if you’re going to beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament you do it in the second game of the weekend.

That’s because Mike Krzyzewski has less time to prepare for the second team he faces in a bracket of four than the first. The Blue Devils nearly surrendered a big lead to Michigan in the Round of 32 because they didn’t give the Wolverines enough credit for being a tenacious bunch. They’ll be better prepared come Thursday, when they take on Derrick Williams and the fifth-seeded Wildcats. With Williams, Arizona can upset Duke, but Nolan Smith and the increasingly healthy Kyrie Irving are likely to control this game from start to finish. If they do, they’ll probably be tested by Kemba Walker and Connecticut, who should beat an undisciplined San Diego State squad that needed double-overtime to finish off the energetic but woefully anemic Temple Owls. Walker and the Huskies will score and the Aztecs will need to take better shots than they did on Saturday if they’re going to keep up. Against the Blue Devils, Walker’s amazing run comes to an end, thanks to Smith’s D.

Final Four Pick: Duke

EAST: No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette (Friday, 7:15 p.m., CBS/TSN2)
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky (Friday, 9:45 p.m., CBS/TSN)

Ohio State won its first two games by an average of 30.5 points, whipping a good George Mason team 98-66 in the second round and trucking onto Newark, N.J. with some serious firepower. The Buckeyes get Brandon Knight and John Calipari’s up-and-down Wildcats, who look great in spurts and maddeningly mediocre during other stretches. Knight poses matchup problems for the Buckeyes, as he does for most teams, and the Legend of Josh Harrellson could continue if the 6-10 senior can use some of his guile against freshman Jared Sullinger. This one should be closer than the Elite Eight game, which will probably pit the Buckeyes against No. 2 North Carolina, the talented but not-shining-moment-worthy squad from Chapel Hill who nearly lost to Washington in a game played in Charlotte, N.C. The Tar Heels will have their hands full with the speedy Marquette Golden Eagles in the Sweet Sixteen, but Kendall Marshall should be able to control whatever guard he faces and Harrison Barnes has the edge over Jimmy Butler.

On Saturday, though, David Lighty limits Barnes’ effectiveness and Sullinger pushes Tyler Zeller around in the paint to get the Buckeyes to Houston.

Final Four Pick: Ohio State

SOUTHWEST: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond (Friday, 7:27 p.m., TBS/TSN2)
No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (Friday, 9:57 p.m., TBS/TSN)

It’s in the Alamo, so maybe all of these double-digit seeds do belong, and maybe the fans in Lawrence shouldn’t be so ready to punch the Jayhawks through to their second Final Four appearance under Bill Self. Yet, this looks like as easy a road an elite team has had on a second weekend of the NCAA Tournament ever. The Spiders, Seminoles and Rams all played great and proved they’re dangerous. None of them can beat the Jayhawks, who have the talent, depth and smart coaching to not let up. The toughest test for Kansas will probably come from Richmond and its guard rotation.

As good as VCU looked against Purdue, Florida State was even better when it shocked Notre Dame. This matchup should be a blowout for the Seminoles simply because they approach games with similar intensity of the Rams. Florida State has more talent and an NBA-caliber star in Chris Singleton, the nation’s best defender who should be healthy enough by Friday to play more than 20 minutes.

Final Four Pick: Jayhawks (originally Purdue, ew; but did have VCU beating Georgetown and Richmond beating Morehead State to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.)

2011 Final Four Predictions: Duke over Ohio State; Butler over Kansas

Championship Game Prediction: Duke over Butler, again

(All times Eastern; TSN/TSN2 will probably broadcast whatever game CBS isn’t in the East, but their listings don’t specify so)

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