Thursday Sweet 16 Preview

By Jon Harris
March 25, 2010

Will Wesley Johnson and the No. 1 Syracuse Orange keep the magic alive, or will Arinze Onuaku’s absence and No. 5 Butler keep them from dancing into the Elite 8?

On Thursday night, 8 of the 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament will battle to reach the field of 8. In the West Region, Onuaku-less Syracuse takes on the pesky Butler Bulldogs, while Kansas State and Jacob Pullen battle surprising Xavier. In the East, it’s the battle of the favorites versus the cinderellas. Unfortunately, (Read More) the slipper is not going to fit. West Virginia gets to beat Washington while Kentucky will lose to Cornell…in the GPA battle anyway. But what do I know? This is March. My bracket is so bad that ESPN is asking me for $10,000. This is purely madness.

West Region
#1 Syracuse (30-4) v. #5 Butler (30-4)
Salt Lake City, 7:07 p.m. on CBS

So…Syracuse’s big man, Arinze Onuaku, is out again. My response: big deal! Big East player of the year Wes Johnson is playing like the player of the year, averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds per game during the first two rounds of the tournament. The Bulldogs may have an identical record thus far, but their biggest rebounder is Gordon Hayward with 5.5 per game. Nice of you to come to the dance Butler, but you’re not going to win this one.

Prediction:
Syracuse: 81 Butler: 65
(P.S. Onuaku better be ready for the Elite 8 because Kansas State and beastly forward Curtis Kelly are licking their chops)

#2 Kansas State (28-7) v. #6 Xavier (26-8)
Salt Lake City, 9:37 p.m. on CBS

I’ll admit it, Jordan Crawford is good. But the whole “I dunked on Lebron James,” is getting really old. Let’s get one thing straight: if Lebron wanted to stuff you, he would’ve of. Lucky for you, you’re playing Kansas State and not the Cleveland Cavaliers. The result, however, will be similar. Xavier’s semi-cinderella run into the field of 16 was fun to watch, but all good things must come to an end. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente are too good on the perimeter, and Curtis Kelly is too dominant inside. Game over.

Prediction:
Kansas State: 75 Xavier: 61

East Region

#2 West Virginia (29-6) v. #11 Washington (26-9)
Syracuse, NY 7:27 p.m. on CBS

This is another cinderella-run that will be coming to an end Thursday. This one will be close though. Isaiah Thomas is a terrific scoring guard and Quincy Pondexter is a great talent, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds per game during the tournament. But West Virginia is stacked with talent. Despite losing starting point guard Darryl Bryant to a broken right foot, Joe Mazzulla is a capable player with tournament experience. Not to mention, they have freak athletes like 6’9’’ sophomore forward Devin Ebanks, averaging 10 rebounds through the first two rounds, and stud senior Da’Sean Butler, averaging 18.5 points per game in the tournament. It’s going to be close, and don’t count out a Da’Sean Butler buzzer-beater. (What? Da’Sean Butler? A buzzer-beater? Never!).

Prediction:
West Virginia: 72 Washington: 68

#1 Kentucky (34-2) v. #12 Cornell (29-4)
Syracuse, NY 9:57 p.m. on CBS

This is probably the most intriguing game of the whole Sweet 16. You have the rejuvenated powerhouse that is the Kentucky Wildcats. With this rejuvenation, Kentucky has numerous young freshmen leading the way, like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Then there’s Cornell. They’re making the Ivy League look like the Big East and doing it in convincing fashion. They blew out #5 Temple, then embarrassed #4 Wisconsin. Is Kentucky next? Experience sure favors the Big Red. But I say…no. I just hope I’m wrong.

Prediction:
Kentucky: 77 Cornell: 72

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