If the Glass Slipper Fits…

 

 

Kyle Blum

If only I would have listened to myself. Midway through the season I had Villanova, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Ohio State in my Final Four, with ‘Cuse beating Kentucky in the final. Inevitably, I allowed the talking heads to convince me that Kansas was the best team in the country. So here I sit, with a bracket that’s busted after the most exciting weekend of Madness I can ever remember. Headed into this weekend’s action, there are four Cinderellas still at the ball hoping the clock doesn’t strike midnight. We all knew this year would be crazy. The top teams just didn’t seem as strong as they have in years past. But which of these teams has a chance to keep on dancing, and whose time is up?

Thus far, St. Mary’s has exploited two small opponents without effort thanks to the performance of Omar Samhan. Samhan has shot a ridiculous 24 of 32 from the field in wins over Richmond and Villanova. He has been completely unguardable, though he hasn’t faced a legitimate big man in either game. The Gaels will face their toughest challenge yet in the Sweet 16 against Baylor. The Bears’ Ekpe Udoh is 6’10”, 240 lbs. and averages nearly four blocks per game. Unlike Villanova and Richmond, who were forced to double down and leave open shooters, Udoh should allow those defenders to stay home, which will pose a major challenge to the St. Mary’s offense. If Samhan can’t demand the double team, St. Mary’s will struggle to find other offense to match Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. Look for Baylor to control the tempo of the game and pull away from St. Mary’s in the final ten minutes.

The Washington Huskies have a legitimate shot at upsetting West Virginia and advancing to the Elite Eight. The Huskies were ranked 13th in the pre-season polls. Unfortunately, Coach Lorenzo Romar spent half the season struggling to find the right lineup as the Huskies floundered early in Pac-10 play. As of late, however, Romar seems to have found the right combination as the Huskies are peaking at the right time. They have won nine in a row and 13 of their last 15 games. The difference maker for the Huskies has been Guard Venoy Overton, one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country. His improved jumpshot has allowed the Huskies to stretch the floor and attack opponents inside and out. Senior Forward Quincy Pondexter is likely to be matched up against the West Virginia star Da’Sean Butler. I don’t expect either player to go off in this game. The only difference is that Washington doesn’t rely on Pondexter’s production as much as West Virginia relies on Butler’s. West Virginia’s offense has looked stagnant at times, relying on the offensive glass for second chance opportunities. The Mountaineers are ranked second in the country in offensive rebounding, pulling it down 42 percent of the time. If the Huskies can limit the Mountaineers’ second chance opportunities, they will be moving on to the next round.

Northern Iowa pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far, stunning the overall number one seed Kansas on Saturday night. Farokhmanesh has been the talk of the tournament after he knocked down a three with 35 seconds left to ice the game when Kansas had pulled to within one. Of all the Cinderellas, Northern Iowa easily has the best draw going against a Michigan State team without its star, Kalin Lucas. The Spartans needed a buzzer-beater to survive a furious Maryland comeback and will certainly need more heroics if they’re going to take down this upstart bunch of Panthers. Look for Northern Iowa to pull out one more game before falling to Evan Turner and the Buckeyes.

Of all the teams in this year’s tournament, Cornell has been by far my favorite to watch. This team plays as smart as anyone in the country. They are in the top twenty in the country in three-point field goal percentage, assist to turnover ratio, and assists per basket. What makes this Big Red team better than your typical Ivy, however, is its extraordinary talent level. If you were to remove the school name and seed line, then watch Cornell play, you would think they were a 1 seed. Ryan Wittman has been sensational in both games, shooting 17-25 combined. He can knock down the turn around, the step back, the runner, the thirty-footer, and any other shot you can think of. Louis Dale has been calm and collected running the show, and Jeff Foote has shown tremendous poise on the inside. Unfortunately, the Big Red are running into a Kentucky team that might finally be living up to its potential. Led by John Wall, the Wildcats are easily the most talented team left in the tourney. Cornell will need to maintain its composure and stay red-hot from behind the arc if they’re going to have a chance at upsetting Calipari’s freshmen phenoms. In the end, I think that Kentucky’s talent will be too much for the Big Red to handle, but don’t expect the Big Red to go away quietly. They have the heart and the game to take Kentucky right down to the wire.

Inevitably, I don’t think we’re going to see another George Mason this year. I see Kentucky ousting Washington and Ohio State breezing past Northern Iowa on their way to the Final Four. That said, March Madness has truly earned its name this year, so don’t be surprised if I’m wrong and one of these teams keeps on dancing into the final weekend. Win or lose, they’ve all given us one hell of a show to this point.