Ahhhh, Sweet 16 week.

I’ve always said this is the best week of the tournament for the real hoops fan. Provided your team is in it, of course.

The frenzy of the first weekend has been thinned out and we can get down to some real, serious hoops. There’s always an interesting story or three for the national media to latch onto. And there are usually a couple “I HAVE to watch that game!” matchups.

This year I think those marquee matchups are Texas Tech – Duke, Houston – Arizona, and North Carolina – UCLA. Not that the others aren’t intriguing in their own way, but these are the most interesting games on paper.

Plenty of storylines. Obviously St. Peter’s finding a way to continue their miracle run is top of the list. Well, CBS will make it about whether Duke can cap K’s career with another Final Four. Is this finally the Purdue squad that can overcome the program’s history and get to New Orleans? Charlie Moore!!! Will the Midwest remain the region of chaos with a surprise champion or has the chaos just cleared the way for KU to get to the Final Four?

I’m obviously most concerned with that last one.

Like most KU fans this has been a strange week, with me wavering between confidence and fear. We’ve built up Providence to be Gonzaga-lite and the 10/11 seeds making up the opposite regional semifinal as the next cruel trick the Hoops Gods will play on KU fans. “This is 2011 all over again,” has been a familiar refrain.

Smart, more emotionally balanced people have pointed out the bracket also broke for KU in 2008, although that Elite 8 game was far from stress-free. It broke in a different manner, but still for KU, in 1988. So there are two data points to balance the disaster of 2011. Both of them ended with a KU title. Sooooo….

We should probably stop thinking about history and consider the actual opponents.

Providence will be a tough test. Some analysts have dismissed the Friars because of the “luck” they’ve won with this year.[1] To others that makes them battle-tested and ready for any challenge. They are extremely experienced, with an average age older than that of the Oklahoma City Thunder! They are long. They are solid, if not exceptional, on both ends of the court. They get to the free throw line a lot. They have a player who seems ideal for giving Ochai Agbaji fits on the defensive end of the court.

Still, looking around the Sweet 16, I’d rather KU play Providence than Arkansas, Houston, or UCLA. That doesn’t mean KU is guaranteed to win. Sweet 16 games that feature chalk matchups are pretty much coin-flips these days.

If KU plays well defensively and efficiently on offense, they win. If they fuck around and give Providence open shots and don’t play smart on offense, it could be a very tense night. The Friars are good enough to win and it not being some fluke night where everything broke right for them.

The Elite 8 would bring one of two super interesting matchups. Either Charlie Moore and Miami, who are very athletic, have some great wins this year, and just destroyed Auburn for much of their second round game. Or a streaking Iowa State team for the third time. A Cyclones squad that probably should have won in Lawrence back in January.

There are scary things about both of those opponents. But, man, I need to stop being such a KU fan.

The Jayhawks are the best team left in the Midwest bracket. And while the best team doesn’t always win, they should win, dammit. And if they don’t, I’m going to be on a beach in Florida all next week.

KU 77, Providence 68

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. I admit I don’t totally understand KenPom’s luck rating. KU won a bunch of close games, too, but rank 105 in luck. I guess that says KU should have won those games, based on the peripherals, while Providence should have lost a good chunk of their close games.  ↩