The darth of upsets in the first round was disappointing, but remember kids - this is a zero sum game: the lack of Cinderellas also means we've got a lot of strong teams set to battle today. Let's take a quick tour of today's action:
(2) UCLA vs (7) Indiana
WEST REGION QUARTERFINAL (Sacramento, CA)
Game Analysis: Bruins fans are none to pleased with this blogger for these pre-tournament thoughts on UCLA. I've noted several times that I think the Bruins are a bit of a paper tiger, but even on paper, they're not exactly world beaters. Of course, all that matters is: will they beat Indiana?
The Hoosiers actually match up reasonably well with UCLA, and though they live and die with the three point shot a little more than you'd like, if they are hitting their long jump shots this evening, they're more than capable of pulling off this upset. Despite UCLA's reputation as a defensive force, they're only an average team defending the three point shot. That could be a tremndous equalizer in tonight's game. Watch closely: if Indiana's shooters are feeling it on the perimeter, they'll be right in this game throughout.
The worry for the Hoosiers is that they absolutely brutalize opponents. No surprise considering their coach, but the Hoosiers rank near dead last in the nation at sending opponents to the free throw line. That's worrisome against UCLA, because one of the best ways to take down the Bruins is to avoid sending them to the line. Ben Howland's squad can really struggle to score when they're not getting to the charity stripe, but Indiana isn't a team that's likely to defend cleanly. If UCLA enjoys a 10-15 shot advantage at the line, the chances of an upset diminish exponentially. Still, I'm nothing if not stubborn, so I won't back out now.
The Line: UCLA -7.5
PB's Pick: Indiana 68 UCLA 67
AW's Pick: UCLA 76 Indiana 73
Final Score: UCLA 54 Indiana 49
(1) North Carolina vs (9) Michigan State
EAST REGION QUARTERFINAL (Winston-Salem, NC)
Game Analysis: Along with Butler, Michigan State's your slow tempo team of today's action. The Spartans biggest problem is that they turn the ball over with alarming frequency. Few possessions per game + lots of turnovers per possession = Big Trouble, no? Well, yes, but the Spartans are one of the nation's best offensive rebounding squads, which helps to negate some of the damage.
The good news for Michigan State is that North Carolina doesn't exactly excel at forcing turnovers, so there's some hope that they can avoid getting destroyed in that department. Unfortunately, though, the Tar Heels are well above average in every other facet of the game. They score in the paint well, rebound well on both ends of the floor, and aren't sloppy with the ball themselves. If it's a battle of efficiency that we're looking at here: North Carolina's the better team.
I haven't watched UNC play a ton of games this year, but as good as their paper numbers are, one can't help but wonder if they're underperforming to some degree. A quick check of KenPom's "Luck" Rankings confirms this: the Tar Heels have underperformed their metrics considerably. Count me in the camp that believes this team is ready to show its true colors.
The Line: North Carolina -9.5
PB's Pick: North Carolina 72 Michigan State 59
AW's Pick: North Carolina 84 Michigan State 70
Final Score: North Carolina 81 Michigan State 67