We’re down to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, and what a first weekend it was. We had monumental upsets, half-court buzzer-beaters, crazy collapses, Cinderella stories and redemption runs (who had Syracuse vs. Gonzaga in the Midwest?)
We can’t wait until it starts up again on Thursday, but until then, we’re previewing all of the games in the regional semifinals:
3. Miami (FL)
First round: Def. 14 Buffalo, 79-72
Second round: Def. 11 Wichita State, 65-57
The Hurricanes escaped a second-round scare against Wichita State, which the Shockers might have pulled out if they didn’t have to beat Vanderbilt in Dayton, fly to Providence, get five hours of sleep, ransack Arizona in a 9 p.m. game, and then come back and play at noon. Wichita State fell behind, 21-7 early, and recovered to take the lead (43-42) before fading down the stretch and losing, 65-57.
Give Miami credit, though–the Hurricanes earned their Sweet 16 bid thanks to the performance of senior guard Angel Rodriguez, who outplayed WSU’s vaunted backcourt of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Kansas State transfer went for 28 points, 5 assists and 4 steals, and drained a big three late in the game to seal it for the ‘Canes.
Rodriguez (12.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) makes this team go, and he’s playing like one of the best guards in the country right now. The 5-11 dynamo scored 24 in the Canes’ first-round win over Buffalo. He’s not exiting the NCAA’s without a fight.
Beyond Rodriguez, Miami gets scoring punch from 6-5 senior guard Sheldan McClellan (16 ppg), who went for 20 and 18 in the team’s first two games. They’ve also got a potentially difference-making center in Tonye Jeriki (7-0, 244 pounds), who could help match up with Villanova’s
First round: Def. 15 UNC-Asheville, 86-56
Second round: Def. 7 Iowa, 87-66
Villanova looked like a team on a mission in the first two rounds, as this group was determined to put past NCAA Tournament failures behind it and advance to the Sweet 16. Mission accomplished, as ‘Nova cruised past an overmatched UNC-Asheville squad and thoroughly dominated Iowa, which looked like it could have been a tough matchup, in Round 2.
Now, the real NCAA Tournament starts for the Wildcats. Miami presents a real challenge with its length and experience, and the matchup between big men Tonye Jeriki and Daniel Ochefu (9.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) should be key.
As always, Villanova will need to make shots. If they can run up and down the court cashing everything like they did against Iowa, they should win this game. But that likely won’t happen against the tough Hurricanes defense. Both teams play similar styles, and ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright said that he’s taken some drills from Miami head coach Jim Larranaga.
“We’ve stolen a lot of drills,” Wright said. “I don’t think I’ve told our guys I got a lot from Miami except the one, the timed 3-point shooting drill I did because I told the guys what (Shane) Larkin made and guys have tried to beat that.”
PREDICTION: Villanova 78, Miami (FL) 76. We took Miami in our original bracket, but if we were filling out a second-chance bracket, we’d probably switch to the Wildcats. They’ve looked every bit as good as their 31-5 record in the first two games in the tournament, and if they’re clicking on all cylinders, they probably have more talent than the ‘Canes.
This is going to be a barn-burner, but we’ll take the Wildcats.