Observations as March Madness gets into full swing:
BYU vs. Oregon may be Thursday's most entertaining game. The Cougars and Ducks played a classic on Dec. 21 -- Oregon winning 100-96 in overtime in Eugene -- and you better believe that something similar could happen in the Round of 64.
Both of these squads attempt to push the ball at will and manufacture as many possessions as possible. The Cougars won't have guard Kyle Collinsworth, who tore his ACL last week in the WCC tournament, but they still have two lethal guards who always seem to be running downhill in Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws.
The Ducks meanwhile, quietly enter the field of 68 after a strong finish to the season. Despite a 19-point loss to UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, Oregon comes into Thursday's game against BYU as winner of eight of its past nine games.
How exactly? It's simple. The Shockers are 34-0 but haven't been tested in months. They've been dealt a tough hand in the Midwest Region and could potentially have to beat Kentucky and Louisville in back-to-back games just to reach the Elite Eight. But before Gregg Marshall's team can think about that they first have to deal with Cal Poly, which won a First Four game over Texas Southern on Wednesday. Why should Wichita State worry about a No. 16 seed? Because no 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed and even though Cal Poly is one of 64 teams left playing, they'll take a 14-19 overall record into Friday's game against the Shockers. Losing to a No. 16 seed would make history. Losing to a No. 16 seed that has a 14-19 record would sting for a lifetime.
What didn't this guy do? A lock-down defender, Richardson completely locked up Hawkeyes star guard Devyn Marble despite Marble nailing a shot at end of regulation to force overtime. The 6-foot-6 Richardson scored 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and held Marble to seven points on 3-of-15 shooting. This was a terrific all-around performance for the junior, who is one of the better perimeter defenders in college basketball. The Volunteers will next face UMass in the Round of 64 on Friday.
In addition to being healthy, Michigan State is rested.
The Spartans ended the season in impressive fashion, beating Wisconsin and Michigan in back-to-back games to win the Big Ten tournament. Tom Izzo finally has his entire complement of players at full strength but maybe more importantly, three of Michigan State's core guys --- Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne --- are rested. That triumvirate all missed large chunks of time during the regular season due to various injuries and now they'll be ready to go for the NCAA Tournament. Another thing to remember about the Spartans? Role players like Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello will all be better moving forward because they had to play expanded minutes when Michigan State was shorthanded in January and February.
The showdown between the Panthers and Buffaloes isn't going to be pretty, but these are two well-coached defensive teams that can be a nuisance to play. Colorado has had to reconfigure its approach after it lost Spencer Dinwiddie to a torn ACL and while it doesn't have the same ceiling it had with Dinwiddie, this team is still more than capable of pushing anyone in the country. Pitt beat North Carolina last week in Greensboro, NC, at the ACC tournament and took Virginia down to the final possession the very next day. An intriguing thing to watch in this game? A rare battle between two quality big men when the Buffaloes' Josh Scott tangles with Panthers' fifth-year senior Talib Zanna. The 6-9 Zanna had 21 rebounds last week in the win against the Tar Heels.