March 21, 2007
Hey baby, I can't wait for the Sweet 16 to tip off on Thursday night. There should be excitement galore as teams move a step closer to living the dream at the Final Four in Atlanta.
Let's look at the Thursday night match-ups:
OHIO STATE VS. TENNESSEE
This is a rematch of a thriller from earlier this season, won by the Buckeyes, 68-66. In that meeting, it was simply too much Greg Oden inside as he scored 24 points while grabbing 15 rebounds. Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler struggled in that contest and they will need to shoot well here.
Tennessee's perimeter shooting must be better as the Vols hit just seven-of-31 trifectas in that loss. Chris Lofton finished with 21 points and he will have to put up big numbers again for Tennessee to have a chance. Lofton and JaJuan Smith have been standouts, while Wayne Chism contributed 13 points and five rebounds in just 18 minutes in the second-round victory over Virginia. Chism can be physical but he must stay out of foul trouble against Oden and company.
Another key will be the play of Mike Conley Jr., who has been a smooth leader for the Buckeyes. I give the edge to Thad Matta's team to advance.
TEXAS A&M VS. MEMPHIS
I was impressed with the Tigers after seeing them beat Nevada. They were more talented last year with Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams and Darius Washington Jr, but this year's squad plays better together as a unit. Memphis likes to force the tempo of the game and inside, the Killer D's Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier can hurt you. Dorsey has been terrific on the glass so far in the NCAA tournament.
Memphis also came through under pressure hitting free throws against Nevada. A key in this game is the status of Chris Douglas-Roberts, who injured his ankle against Nevada. John Calipari's team has quality depth, but if Douglas-Roberts can't go, that is a major setback. You don't win 24 games in a row unless you are very good, and the Tigers have not lost in three months because they have talent.
The Aggies have a true star in Acie Law, a member of my All-Solid Gold squad. He makes big plays and big shots in winning time. Joseph Jones will battle Dorsey and Dozier up front. Dominique Kirk has been a solid surprise in the NCAA tournament, hitting shot after shot. Billy Gillispie would like to see Josh Carter get back on his game.
This will be a battle, and I give the slight edge to the Aggies.
PITTSBURGH VS. UCLA
Wow, Ben Howland vs. Jamie Dixon! I sometimes wonder how these things happen in the NCAA tournament, baby!
The Bruins struggled to get past Indiana and I look for Arron Afflalo to bounce back from a sub-par shooting performance. UCLA also has an edge playing in the state of California again. Howland had to be happy to be a #2 seed staying West instead of being shipped out as a #1 seed. Pittsburgh has to fly out West for this challenge.
The Panthers need Aaron Gray to establish himself inside early. Gray must stay out of foul trouble. Pittsburgh has been given a boost from Sam Young and Ronald Ramon off the bench and they must continue to come through. Pittsburgh also has to fight the memory of not getting past this round for a long time. The last time the Panthers made the Elite 8 was 1974, and there have been disappointing losses in the Sweet 16 (remember Kent State).
This should be a dandy, but I feel the Bruins will survive and advance.
KANSAS VS. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
The Jayhawks are playing super basketball right now. This Kansas team is very athletic, talented and explosive. Bill Self's club loves to run, playing an up tempo style, moving the ball extremely well.
My friends, Kansas is over the stigma of losing to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round the last two years. The backcourt is as good as any in the nation with Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Sherron Collins and company playing so well in wins over Niagara and Kentucky.
Southern Illinois is a strong defensive team, giving up a total of 99 points in its first two tourney wins. The Salukis are strong on the perimeter so they have a chance. Chris Lowery has done a terrific job with this program. I was really impressed with senior guard Tony Young, and Kansas will have to slow down Jamal Tatum and Randal Falker.
I think Kansas is too strong and has to many weapons in this match-up. Bill Self and the Jayhawks move to the Elite 8.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.