As I most often point out as to avoid being called a hack – my feelings get hurt easy, y’all – I do not profess to be a sports expert, like ol’ Dick Vitale up there. I’m simply a guy who has a big TV and 12 web browser windows open at all times to follow multiple games until smoke starts to spray out of my ears. And watching all of those games, I develop opinions that I like to share with all of you. I believe that Mufasa or Pumba called it the “Circle of Life.”
So my point is that there are people out there who might be flipping through channels tonight, and they’ll be all like, “Hey, these guys are playing basketball, but I don’t know a thing about them.” Even worse, you could be a dude on a date with a hot girl and she’ll be like, “Why don’t we go back to your place and watch NCAA Tournament basketball and maybe I’ll take my shirt off if you know a lot about the games.” But you’re all like, “Snap, I haven’t watched anything.”
That’s why I created this handy-dandy guide to enjoying the Sweet 16, and to keep with the time-honored tradition of UPROXX live-blogging, I’ll be hanging out tonight to chat and make jokes about things that I notice. I invite you to join me, mainly because it’s fun, but also because I’ll be giving out free shirts at random to people who tell me why I’m wrong.
(Images via the AP and Getty.)
What you need to know about Syracuse: Success seemed improbable for the Orange this season, at least incredibly difficult to achieve, when it was revealed early in the season that assistant coach Bernie Fine was being accused by at least three men of molesting them when they were younger. Fine was ultimately fired after a recorded phone conversation revealed that his wife knew about his, um, preferences and behavior. Also, it was revealed that Fine’s wife had sexual relations with multiple former Syracuse players. In all, the Fines are allegedly some f*cked up people.
But the Orange prevailed, finishing the regular season with a 31-2 record that helped ‘Cuse grab a No. 1 seed in the tourney. And then more poop hit the fan, as the team’s star and big man, Fab Melo, was suspended for the Dance for academic reasons. That’s why a lot of people don’t have the Orange making it past this round.
What you need to know about Wisconsin: Finishing the regular season with a 24-9 record, the Badgers were the fourth best team in a very strong Big Ten this year. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin is not a sexy team. The Badgers are the epitome of a disciplined, fundamentals-driven basketball team, which translates to most fans as BOOOOOOOOOORING.
The Badgers also aren’t nearly as athletic as the Orange, but that doesn’t mean they’re doomed. They run some solid shooters who can pick apart a zone defense… if they’re on.
Players to watch: For Syracuse, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters need to bring their A-game to dominate early and often. As for the Badgers, Jordan Taylor is the obvious choice, because the offensive star. But Ryan Evans needs to carry some of the burden, too. *sets down sports cliché guidebook*
Who should win: Wisconsin. With everything that Syracuse has been through, you’d think that they’ll finally run out of gas, and this feels like the perfect game for it to happen.
Who will win: Syracuse. Have you watched them play? Even without Melo, they’re more athletic than 99% of the teams out there.
What you need to know about Michigan State: As stated, the Big Ten is walking with a big bulge in this year’s tournament, with four teams still alive in the Sweet 16. At the top of that small but powerful pile are the Spartans, who finished the regular season with a 27-7 record to grab their No. 1 seed in the Tournament.
Through all of the hours and hours of game film and breakdowns that I’ve watched (read: highlights on bar TVs), Michigan State just seems like the most unstoppable team remaining. I mean, it’s college, so obviously any team can lose. But MSU seems like the team most likely to not screw it all up.
What you need to know about Louisville: In the Big Dance boner challenge, the Big East is also reigning supreme, as 25% of the remaining teams hail from the conference that is never going to look the same in a year. With a 10-8 conference record, Louisville was on the bottom rung of the Big East elite, but the Cardinals are still a 4 seed. That’s pretty damn impressive.
Players to watch: For Michigan State, it’s always about Draymond Green, who leads the team in scoring, rebounds and assists, and would look outstanding in an Orlando Magic jersey next season. For Louisville, it’s center Georgui Dieng, who has to avoid being pummeled by MSU’s big men down low. He also has a really fun name to say.
Who should win: Michigan State. They’re just that good.
Who will win: Michigan State. But my gut tells me that this could be that left field upset game, and also that Bagel Bites are yummy.
What you need to know about Ohio State: Ohio State flew under my radar this season, as I’ve had casual conversations with my friends who like OSU (but never went there *sticks out tongue*) and they look at me like a koala bear is having sex with my face when I tell them that I don’t know much about the Buckeyes.
Ignorance aside, I’ve done some homework and I’m aware enough to know that Jared Sullinger is pretty darn good. I think the key to this game – and I say this with only partial jest – is the ability to maintain composure and play smart basketball, because even though these teams haven’t played in like 50 years, there’s some sort of rivalry when it comes to declaring the best college hoops team in the state. If there really is a rivalry, Ohio State just needs to play smarter.
What you need to know about Cincinnati: At 26-10 (12-6), Cincinnati was the fifth best team in the Big East this season. I watched a lot of Bearcats basketball this season – for reasons we’ll get to in a moment – and I became a fan when Cinci rattled off wins over Marquette, Villanova, Georgetown and Syracuse, before losing to Louisville in the Big East Championship Game. Even before those wins, the Bearcats lost to USF by 1, a game which ended a three-game winning streak.
Cinci is a team with huge potential, and the Bearcats can definitely do some damage against Ohio State. But they’re very frustrating at times, between raw talent and sloppy mental mistakes.
Players to watch: For Ohio State, it’s always Sullinger, but if Deshaun Thomas steps up, the Buckeyes will be golden. For Cincinnati, I love watching Yancy Gates. He’s just a monster.
Who should win: Ohio State. This one is such a huge toss-up, but OSU has some advantages in size match-ups that could play out in its favor.
Who will win: Cincinnati. I’ve enjoyed the Bearcats too much, and I think they’re more explosive. I’m probably wrong, though. (See: Picked Mizzou to win it all.)
What you need to know about Marquette: Things I know about the Golden Eagles off the top of my head – Dwyane Wade played there. I think. Oh well, I’m preaching to dummies here, so I don’t need to be an expert. At 27-7 (14-4), Marquette was second to only Syracuse in the Big East this season. And yet that only earned the Eagles a No. 3 seed. I’m not sure how that works, but then again, I spent the two NCAA Tournament games that I actually covered following Rachel Nichols everywhere. (Not because I think she’s hot, but because I was trying to get on TV. I was a very responsible journalist.)
Where was I? Ah yes, Marquette. I won’t go as far as to call Marquette inconsistent, because you can’t really be inconsistent when you’re the second best team in your conference, but they just don’t have the zazz and sparkle and zip zow zing of a powerhouse. Again, this isn’t a scientific breakdown.
What you need to know about Florida: The Orlando Magic of the NCAA, the Gators have a tendency to live and die by the 3-pointer. If they can make them – and they made plenty this year – they’re going to make Marquette look foolish. But if they don’t, it’s going to be ugly.
Players to watch: For Marquette, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder are a twin nightmare, averaging more than 36 points a game together. For Florida, it’s Kenny Boynton, but Erik Murphy is going to need to be imposing with some size to shut Crowder down.
Who should win: Marquette. The Eagles are just better.
Who will win: Florida. Call me bold, but having my bracket slaughtered early just has me loving the upsets.
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