While Murray State’s road to the Final Four got no further than the KFC Yum! Center, the Commonwealth’s other two NCAA hopefuls move on to the Sweet 16.
The Louisville Cardinals were given up for dead (or worse, the NIT) back in January. They’re still alive and ready for top-seeded Michigan State in Phoenix. UofL held off New Mexico 59-56 Saturday night and will face off with the Spartans Thursday. Michigan State had a battle with UofL’s old Conference USA foe Saint Louis but survived 65-61. Kentucky rolls into Atlanta with two solid victories in UofL’s KFC Yum(!) Center home and now prepares for an Indiana Hoosier team that kept a hot VCU team at bay to advance.
Since my bracket was well-busted even before Duke and Missouri lost to 15-seeds on the same day, I continue to hedge my bets and tell you why UK and UofL will win…or lose.
(4) Indiana vs. (1) Kentucky – Friday 9:45pm- Atlanta
Why UK will win: The overall top-seed has only a single opportunity to avenge one of its two losses this season (Wisconsin taking care of SEC Champion Vanderbilt eliminated one of those chances). Indiana’s Christian Watford’s last second three against UK in Bloomington back in December gave the Hoosiers a 73-72 stunner over the Cats. Calipari will probably show his team that shot 387 times this week. Cal even thanked ESPN for using the video of that shot in a commercial. He says it made his team angry and fired them up to win. The players will have that game on their minds, but revenge and motivation are not the only factors for Kentucky. There’s a roster full of players who are most likely playing in their final NCAA tournament, so while riches await them in April, the immediate reward is a Final Four appearance.
Why UK will lose: Well, Indiana obviously knows what it takes to beat the Big Blue. Add to that Kentucky, in two games already in the tournament, has gotten out to big leads only to see the opposition make runs to make it interesting, especially in the second half. Indiana has more talent and better shooters than previous UK NCAA opponents Western Kentucky and Iowa State. The Hoosiers can not only hang with the Wildcats, but they can end what appears to be a pre-destined Final Four run for Kentucky.
(4) Louisville vs. (1) Michigan State – Thursday 7:47pm- Phoenix
Why UofL will win: Louisville seems to be riding the momentum from that Big East championship right into the Sweet 16. The guard play for the Cardinals is the big factor. Russ Smith came off the bench to lead the way for UofL with 17 points against New Mexico. The ever-improving Peyton Siva continues to make good decisions, holds down the turnovers, and dishes out the assists while knocking down buckets thanks to some much better shot selection. Day by day, we’re forgetting about the late season slump Rick Pitino’s team hit and now we’re seeing the team we thought we’d see back when they started off the year on fire.
Why UofL will lose: Michigan State’s Draymond Green averages a double-double and draws comparisons to former Spartans Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. Coach Tom Izzo’s team is the only conference champion of the number one seeds. While you can make an argument that MSU backed into a top-seed, you can’t take away the fact they won one of the toughest post-season tournaments around. The Spartans can play either style you hand them: grind it out (like Saint Louis) or play it up-tempo. Guards Keith Appling and Brandon Wood can adapt and get buckets in transition. Louisville’s defense has been strong as of late, but it may not be enough to stop what MSU does on offense, whether the Spartans slow it down or push it up the floor.
Why you should listen to nothing I say: I had Murray State in the Final Four and Long Beach State beating Louisville in my bracket.
(Logo courtesy NCAA)