Well, we might as well start from the beginning. The Zags barely survived a real scare from the Southern Jaguars, a team that may be from a bad conference but are themselves good at several things. That includes getting hot from long range, blocking shots, and generally slowing the pace of the game by being aggressive defensively. Gonzaga needed every bit of advantage that Kelly Olynyk and ELias Harris (26 points, 18 rebounds) gave them to survive and advance.
The Shockers, on the other hand, did not struggle with Pittsburgh's size nearly as much as I anticipated. The Pitt bigs - namely Steven Adams - still got theirs, but Tray Woodall's shot vanished into the ether during a 1-for-12 outing, and Malcom Armstead led the Shockers with 22 points to take home the crown of best poit guard on the court.
Now we will hit the reset button for both teams. Can the Shockers handle Harris and Olynyk's size without letting Kevin Pangos or Gary Bell, Jr. get hot from long range? Can the Bulldogs manage to control the glass on both ends without getting everyone in foul trouble, like Pitt did?
I think Gonzaga learned now that they need to work to control the action early instead of waiting to see how the other team plays and feel it out from there, but the Shockers are a versatile team who can hang with numerous different styles of play. Too close to call on this one.
Well, here we are again. I was sure that the Crimson, as talented as Wesley Saunders and Laurent Rivard had been all season, were no match for the size, athleticism, and depth of New Mexico. Turns out I was way wrong - perhaps I forgot to factor in Tommy Amaker.
Again we say, Harvard on paper is a pretty mediocre team - one that had no business beating New Mexico, and probably just as little business beating Arizona. The Crimson won't have the same size disadvantage that Belmont was unable to overcome, which is a plus. But their success shooting the three ball might be again negated by a Wildcat team that defended the arc much better than they were supposed to in the second round.
Wesley Saunders is a gifted, physical player who will force you to be aggressive defending him in the hopes of getting you in foul trouble, and Kenyatta Smith has shown flashes of greatness against New Mexico with some very timely play. If he and Steve Mondou-Missi can stay out of foul trouble and perhaps get on the court at the same time, they might create some issues for the Wildcats.
This one will definitely be closer than everyone expects it to be - kind of like Harvard's last game, actually.
I put this one off until last. Memphis was able to succeed against Saint Mary's because of their size and athleticism. But only just barely. Tarik Black helped make things closer than they needed to be with another wretched free throw shooting performance (46% on the season), and they surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to the Gaels. Their win was much more about survival than victory.
Michigan State on the other hand, played pretty poorly for several stretches (according to Tom Izzo, anyway) and still managed to cruise on by Valparaiso. Of course, Memphis is no Valpo, but Michigan State is a far superior team to Saint Mary's.
They are only a little big bigger, but their bigs - as well as the rest of the team - are far more experienced. This is Michigan State's 15th consecutive appearance in the tournament, which means that the three freshmen on the roster are the only ones without multiple games worth of big-time postseason experience. That's a far cry from Valparaiso's "happy to be here" bunch.
Memphis is no stranger to the tourney, but they were 0-2 in the last three years coming into this tournament, which means their four seniors and their two games of experience are the most seasoned - and three of those guys don't play at all.
I don't think the Spartans will run the Tigers out of the gym like they did the Crusaders, but they should still be able to impose their will physically. This is one of the best teams Memphis has faced all season, but Sparty has seen nearly ten teams as good as or better than the Tigers. That will eventually show in the final box score.