Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. Which Sweet 16 matchup are you most looking forward to watching?
Mitch Light: There are a bunch of good ones, but I’m interested in the Duke vs. Arizona game in Anaheim. There’s star power with Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Duke’s Nolan Smith — two All-Americans — and then there is the Kyrie Irving storyline: How much of an impact will he have on the game? I think the key will be Williams vs. the Duke front line. He will need to have a monster game for Arizona to move on.
Nathan Rush: BYU-Florida will either be Jimmer Fredette’s final college contest or a repeat of last year’s first-round upset — when the Jimmer scored 37 points while leading the Cougars to a 99–92 double-overtime victory in Oklahoma City. I don’t know which one it will be, but I expect Jimmer to go out in style — the Naismith Player of the Year Award finalist is averaging 37 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds over his last four games.
Braden Gall: BYU and Florida. This Gators team is big inside, has veteran guards and an extraordinary coach. And don’t forget about the extremely versatile Chandler Parsons, the SEC Player of the Year. Jimmer-mania got the Cougars out of the first weekend — something I did not anticipate, I will admit. So I won’t miss any game with Fredette — especially since it will be his last. Patric Young is playing the best ball of his young career. The Gators have too much interior size.
2. What National Championship matchup would you most like to see?
Mitch: A Butler vs. Duke rematch would be wild, but I don’t believe that will happen. I will be boring and go with Ohio State vs. Kansas. These were the two best teams for the majority of the season, and I would love to see them play each other for a national title.
Nathan: Ohio State and Kansas are the two best teams. And since North Carolina and Duke can’t meet in the title game, I’ll go with the top two rosters. But I do wish the Tar Heels and Blue Devils could go toe-to-toe with everything on the line. Maybe one day. If so, I want Gus Johnson on the mic.
Braden: North Carolina v. Kansas would certainly have some storylines. Florida and Kentucky would too. But Duke vs. Ohio State would be my pick. I think they are the best two teams in the nation, and I would love to see them battle it out in Houston — it just won’t be in the title game.
3. Which team are you most surprised is not playing this weekend?
Mitch: Well, anytime a No. 1 seed doesn’t make it to the Sweet 16 it’s a surprise, so Pitt is one answer. But I’m more surprised that Texas will not be playing in the Sweet 16. I really thought Rick Barnes’ team was ready for deep run. This edition of the Longhorns had enough talent to win a national championship, but they simply didn’t make the smart plays in crunch time against Arizona. Major disappointment.
Nathan: Rick Barnes did it again. Every year, I take Texas too far in my bracket. I was feeling pretty good when Cory Joseph prepared to inbound the ball with a 69–67 lead over Arizona and 14.5 seconds on the clock. Then, a failed timeout call and controversial five-second violation resulted in an opportunity for Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams to make a hero play, which he did. The rest is busted bracket history. But look out for the Longhorns next year; I’ll probably pick them to make the Final Four and maybe even win it all.
Braden: I am sure Texas would get a lot of votes, but the Horns consistently underachieve in the tourney (I had Zona). My pick is Notre Dame. A veteran, defensive-minded team that can shoot the lights out? There is no way that team should have been knocked out — especially the way they were.
4. If you were an A.D. and had a job opening, which coach would be higher on your wish list: VCU’s Shaka Smart or Richmond’s Chris Mooney?
Mitch: Mooney. Smart has done a great job guiding VCU to the Sweet 16, but he’s only been a head coach for two seasons and he didn’t recruit the key players on this team. And don’t forget, VCU lost its last four CAA regular-season games when it was — we thought — playing for its NCAA Tournament life. The sample size of Mooney’s work, however, is far greater. He went 18–12 in his lone season at Air Force (2004-05) and has built Richmond into a consistent winner. The Spiders have reached the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons — which isn’t easy to do coming out of the A-10.
Nathan: I’ll go with the “Havoc Ball” full-court defensive pressure and fast-breaking offensive style of VCU’s Shaka Smart. Like his predecessor at VCU, current Alabama coach Anthony Grant, Smart coached under two-time national champion Florida coach Billy Donovan — who is the star of Rick Pitino’s extensive coaching tree — before arriving in the Commonwealth. I’d hire Smart, a coach cut from the Donovan-Pitino mold, over Mooney, a former wedding planner with a Princeton pace. But make no mistake, neither the Rams nor Spiders would be in the Sweet 16 without their top-flight point guards — Joey Rodriguez and Kevin Anderson.
Braden: Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about Shaka Smart. Mooney has a much longer track record and built this Spiders squad himself. He has increased his win total four years in a row, building to this tournament. And his team took advantage by making it to the second weekend. Smart certainly looks the part, but Anthony Grant deserves most of the credit for the construction of this VCU team.
5. Who will win the national title?
Mitch: I’ll stick with Ohio State, my pick before the NCAA Tournament. There are plenty of teams that can beat Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are the best team in the country when they are playing well. They’ve got the big man in the middle in Jared Sullinger and a bunch of shooters on the perimeter. They will be tough to beat.
Nathan: After watching Ohio State crush UT-San Antonio, 75–46, in the opener and stomp on George Mason’s Cinderella dreams, 98–66, there’s no reason to go against my pre-Tournament national title pick. Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes will cut down the nets in Houston on April 4.
Braden: Duke. Duke. Duke. I picked them to cut down the nets before I learned Kyrie Irving would be back. This team is just as talented as Kansas, just as physical and athletic as Ohio State and has more experience than both. Give me Coach K.