The first 2 days of this years NCAA tournament were… weak. There were relatively no upsets and most of the upsets that did happen, weren’t really upsets. #12 seed Middle Tennessee State “upset” #5 seed Minnesota even though MTSU was actually favored by Vegas at tip-off. Fortunately, a weak round of 64 set up for an outstanding round of 32. There were great games like URI vs Oregon and some amazing upsets like South Carolina over Duke. Almost every team in the sweet 16 was, at some point in the year, in the top 16 except South Carolina, who peaked at 19, and the Michigan Wolverines, who is the hottest team left in the tournament. It is going to be a fun couple of days next weekend. One sweet 16 matchup sticks out above all for me. 2 of arguably the most fun teams to watch in college basketball are facing off. Both teams have 30+ wins, and interestingly enough, they already played each other this year so they should have a relatively decent understanding of the way each other plays. In December, #9 UCLA traveled to #1 Kentucky and beat them 97-92 ending Kentucky’s 42 game home winning streak. Expect this matchup to be just as interesting, with UCLA looking to cement that performance and UK out for revenge.
UCLA’s offense needs no introduction, but I’m going to give one anyway. Led by head coach Steve Alford, the Bruins have 6 players who average in double digits. Led on the court by super freshman Lonzo Ball, who just so happened to lead the NCAA in assists in the regular season. Their top scorer is TJ Leaf, who, at 6’10, is a matchup nightmare for most teams/players. This team averages over 90 PPG, the highest rate in the nation this year, and one of the tops all time. They have 5 guys that can handle the ball, and at 21.6 assists per game, also lead the country in assists per game. This team is a potent offense that doesn’t run the Cleveland Cavaliers patented isolation offense, but rather relies on team play to spread out the defense and get open shots. Their defense, giving up about 75 PPG leaves something to be desired, but whatever their defense lacks the offense makes up for. They shoot 52% as a team overall and 41% from the 3 point line. Both games in the tournament, their first half was lackluster but they absolutely exploded in the second half to pull away with the game and move on. Look for this team, if they get past Kentucky, to make the final 4, championship, and maybe even cut down the nets on April 3rd.
Kentucky plays a lot like UCLA, mostly offense, spotty defense. Their defense however did come up big in their win over Wichita State, with a block on each of the last 2 possessions to seal the win for the Wildcats. If there is an advantage Kentucky has over UCLA, it’s the coaching. UK’s John Calipari is without a doubt one of the top coaches in the country. Steve Alford deserves credit he is a very good coach, but he’s not quite on Coach Cal’s level yet. Kentucky’s offense stays close to UCLA’s at 85 PPG, which is good for 9th best in division 1 this year. They have only 4 guys scoring in double digits, but have 2 guys at or above the scoring level of UCLA’s top scorer. Even with less disparity with who is going to score, UK still passes the ball extremely well racking up 15 assists per game. This battle of backcourts should be tremendous. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk against Lonzo Ball… oh boy, I’m giddy. Their defense is slightly better than that of UCLA’s only giving up a mere 71 PPG. Again with Kentucky, whatever their defense lacks their offense makes up for tenfold. While UCLA has Lonzo Ball as their go to guy in clutch moments, UK has 2 such guys with Fox and Monk, so that could possibly give them another advantage late in the game. Kentucky is another team that has proven themselves time and time again in March, so if they make it past the Bruins they have a very good chance to be there on April 3rd battling it out for the championship.
Overall, I’m really just excited for this game. It is sure to be an up tempo back and forth, high scoring game. In the end, I think UCLA will pull this off and advance to the elite 8. UCLA’s offense, in my opinion will just be too much for the Wildcats just like it was in December. Any way this ends, it is can’t miss TV on Friday night, so tune in and watch what is sure to be an amazing game.