Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:00 PM
Just how stacked with national championship trophies is tonight's NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 field?
Well, if you add up the four national titles won by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to the pair of crowns copped by Florida's Billy Donovan and than chuck in the single championships won by Louisville's Rick Pitino (while at Kentucky), Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Kansas' Bill Self than you come away with nine shiny trophies in all - as compared to the one-and-only national championship won by Thursday's participating Sweet 16 teams (see Syracuse's Jim Boeheim).
Whether you wish to call the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional Semifinals the "legends bracket" as some folks at ESPN have referred to this foursome in Indianapolis or maybe you like to call this South Regional Semis "three monsters and Cinderella (see #1 Kansas, #3 Florida, #4 Michigan and, of course, #15 Florida Gulf Coast) there's plenty of excellent storylines to go around and keep in mind both Oregon and Florida Gulf Coast are double-digit dogs here and so there's a shot we get another "shining moment" or two from these long-shots.
Okay, let's get the ball rollin' first with another look at our annual Jim Sez NCAA Tournament Conference-by-Conference Pointspread Breakdown Chart but notice here we're including only the conferences/leagues that are still alive in Sweet 16 action while heading into Thursday's tilts:
NCAA TOURNAMENT CONFERENCE-BY-CONFERENCE POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART
NCAA TOURNAMENT - FRIDAY'S SWEET 16 GAMES
MIDWEST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS - At Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN
#12 OREGON (28-8) vs. #1 LOUISVILLE (31-5) -- 7:15 p.m. ET
Lost amidst all the hoopla surrounding the NCAA Tournament favorites to "win it all" is the fact the Louisville Cardinals enter this affair on a 12-game winning streak and haven't lost a game since that five-OT tilt at Notre Dame way back on February 9th.
In other words, the Redbirds are playing - and by far - their best ball of the year and did you happen to notice that the 'Ville has yielded a per-game average of only 52.2 points a game in these dozen consecutive wins?
Now, that strangulating press-and-trap defense starring guards Russ Smith (27 points in last Saturday's rollicking 82-56 win against Colorado State) and PG Peyton Siva likely will have to deal with a Ducks team that opts for two point guards on the floor at the same time - but does that necessarily mean Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd will be able to handle things and set up teammates for easy scores? Stay tuned.
Big factor for Oregon here is just how many triples can Dana Altman's guys drain here?
Note that Oregon shot a highly efficient 8-of-11 from beyond the arc in last Saturday's 74-57 upset win against Saint Louis with G Damyean Dotson nailing 5-of-6 trifectas in all - now let's see how many "clean looks" Dotson gets here from beyond the arc.
#2 DUKE (29-5) vs. #3 MICHIGAN STATE (27-8) - approximately 9:45 p.m. ET
Two of college basketball's true heavyweights bang heads here and there are two legitimate questions that must be posed:
Is Michigan State point guard Keith Appling close to being 100 percent after suffering a right shoulder injury in last weekend's 70-48 runaway win against Memphis and can Duke's tandem of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly steer clear of foul trouble - or does aforementioned Coach K have to "spoon-feed" them their minutes here as was the case in last Sunday night's rough-and-tumble 66-50 over Creighton?
No doubt you noticed that Plumlee was dislodged from his low-post spot time after time by Creighton's goggled Gregory Echenique and this physical M-State front wall will do its best to root Plumlee out of his comfort zone here and so odds are the Dookies will need their perimeter people - namely guards Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon (a combined 38 points versus the Creighton Bluejays) -- to get hot here plus Izzo's guys surely need to shoot it better than those Creighton kids who netted just 16-of-53 field-goal attempts.
One X-factor here: Michigan State could put a bigger/physical body on Curry and try to wear him down by game's end. If the strategy works, Duke may be looking elsewhere for someone to deliver the crunch-time baskets.SOUTH REGIONAL SEMIFINALS - At Cowboys Stadium - Arlington, TX
#4 MICHIGAN (28-7) vs. #1 KANSAS (31-5) - 7:35 p.m. ET
Both the Kansas Jayhawks and Michigan Wolverines spent brief moments as the nation's #1-ranked team this year and no doubt both squads exhibited super-power strengths in last weekend's Round of 32 games.
Heck, the 49-28 second-half that Kansas posted on North Carolina was a thing of beauty in that 70-58 win as the Big 12 champs really got out and ran with C Jeff Withey (16 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocked shots) often igniting a devastating fast break.
Note that KU easily won the board battle 47-to-30 in that third-round game but will Self's guys own the boards here or will Michigan's Mitch McGary (21 points and a whopping 14 rebounds in that stellar 78-53 win against VCU) and mates make life tough on Withey and friends here when it comes to "cleaning the glass"?
Michigan's savvy head coach John Beilein would love yet another well-balanced scoring deal here after four maize-and-blue guys scored 14-or-more points against the VCU Rams but keep a particularly close eye on Glenn Robinson III who shot 8-of-9 from the floor in a 71-56 win/cover against South Dakota State in a second-round NCAA Tourney game and than followed that up with a efficient 7-of-10 FG game against VCU. If Robinson gets 7 or 8 open shots here - and it could happen if/when the Jayhawks "double" PG Trey Burke - than small dog Michigan could be the one movin' on.
#15 FLORIDA GULF COAST (26-10) vs. #3 FLORIDA (28-7) - approximately 10:05 p.m. ET
Are the darlings of this year's NCAA Tournament gonna have life right into Easter Sunday ... or is this where the road ends for the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles who've wowed everyone in the nation with a dunk-a-thon pair of wins against favorites Georgetown and San Diego State?
Well, one thing for sure is FGCU head coach Andy Enfield swears his guys will continue to play "loose" with PG Brett Comer inferring he has some payback in mind after Florida head coach Donovan failed to recruit him a few years back - now Comer is hoping to dazzle the country with some lob passes to the hoop here but the Gators' game plan is to have defensive whiz G Scottie Wilbekin (12 points and 6 assists in last Sunday's 78-64 win/cover against Minnesota) stay up-close and personal with Comer and see who wins that mano-to-mano deal.
No question that Florida - the largest Sweet 16 betting favorite at minus 13 points - is best when working the ball inside-out and letting both F Erik Murphy (15 points in 24 foul-plagued minutes against Minny) and G Mike Rosario (team-high 25 points against the Gophers) get equal touches but if you're looking for a sleeper player here it's reserve F Will Yeguete who posted modest enough stats against Minnesota but made his presence felt with defense/hustle plays that could make the difference here.
NOTE: Catch our continuing NCAA Tournament coverage with looks at Saturday's Elite 8 tilts - plus more! - in the next edition of Jim Sez!