Written by TJ Meredith & Media by Mike Ward.
At the end of the first weekend, going into the Sweet Sixteen, why not highlight five teams to keep your eye on during for the NCAA tournament? This is a year that there is not one dominant team, like last year’s Kentucky, but the remaining 16 teams have a realistic shot to cut down the nets April 8th. So here are five teams to keep an eye on that could either make a deeper run, or surprise some people:
Louisville: A lot of college basketball analysts have picked them to win it all this year. Before dominating their first two opponents of the tournament, Rick Pitino‘s team were on a 10-game winning streak and won the Big East conference tournament. Needless to say, you would not be ill-advised to root for Pitino and company. This team has two outstanding guards in Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Smith is the team’s leading scorer averaging 18.2 ppg. They also have a very strong and physical front line led by Gorgui Dieng. Dieng is an excellent shot blocker and rebounder, who also averages 10 ppg. Louisville also is one of the best defensive teams in the nation; they do a very good job of deflecting the ball and making it miserable for the offense. Last but not least, Louisville was in the final four last year, and although they did not win the championship, that run definitely proved they have what it takes to make a run again. They are the popular pick for good reason, so look for the Cardinals to make a similar run and return to the final four.
Miami: The Hurricanes have been one of the most exciting stories this year in college basketball. After sneaking by an underrated Illinois team, the round of sixteen will prove how good these guys truly are. Shane Larkin is a star, and his supporting class is experienced and hungry for a final four berth. Not a single player on this team has played in one NCAA tournament game before last Friday, and it showed against the less talented Illini team. This raises a lot of speculation going into next weekend, but their coach Jim Larranaga, will have them ready. Larranaga took an 11 seed, George Mason, to the final four in 2007. Consequently, he knows what it takes and will have the Hurricanes ready to play. If this Miami team can take on the challenge of the big stage and act like they have been there before, watch out because they are as talented as any this year.
Big Ten: Deservedly so, the Big Ten gets their own category. The Big Ten was hands down the best conference this past season and beat up on each other over the course of the season, and managed to get 4 teams into the second weekend of the tournament. In each region there is a Big Ten team capable of making a run to the final four. In the Midwest, you have Michigan State. How could you bet against Izzo? He has a very talented point guard in Keith Applying, and oh boy, do they know how to defend. Izzo will have his boys ready to go, and are more than capable of making a final four run. Then you go down to the West region, which has Ohio State. Ohio State is one of the hottest teams in the NCAA, coming off a huge Big Ten tournament championship and last-minute win against Iowa State. Aaron Craft has started to become the second scoring option behind Deshaun Thomas. However, his leadership has shown in the Buckeyes’ first two games. Do not be surprised by Craft or the rest of the Buckeyes–they are very dangerous. Now onto the South region, which has a very up and down, but talented Michigan team. Trey Burke could be the best player in the country, and is capable of leading a team though the remainder of the region and into the final four. Michigan was 6-6 in their last 12 games before the tournament and is quite inconsistent on the defensive end, but their 20-1 start to the season and dominant showing against VCU demonstrated how good they can be. In the East region, the overall number 1 seeded Hoosiers are the team to beat. Indiana has been in the top 5 the whole season and are poised for a National Championship run. The Hoosiers show necessary NCAA tournament resiliency against Khalif Wyatt and the Temple Owls. To me, the Hoosiers and Ohio State have the best chance to win a title out of the Big Ten teams. Indiana has two national player of the year candidates in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, and can defend with the best of them. When Zeller and Oladipo are playing well and being aggressive on offense, there might not be a better team than Indiana out there.
Well there you have it, five’ish teams to watch in the second weekend of the 2013 NCAA tournament. With a tournament that has been so unpredictable thus far, do not be surprised if like Georgetown or Gonzaga, that these five’ish teams get upset in the second weekend. However, that is the beauty of this game. In fact, I would be overjoyed if a number of the teams above were overthrown. That being said, continue to enjoy what is and has always been the best part of the month of March in America.