Oh, How Sweet It Is!
As we approach the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament after many of America's die-hard & casual College Basketball fans' brackets were busted last weekend, the next question and elephant in the room (besides who is most likely to derail Kentucky of their undefeated season) is what do we have left to look forward to in what remains from the field? Considering all of the 'Cinderellas' have been eliminated with Wichita State and Gonzaga as the only Mid-Major teams existing, an opportunity to cut down the nets in Indianapolis for the National Championship is the ultimate goal for each of the 16 programs. Outstanding guard play is typically the necessity that leads to such accomplishments of achieving that exact goal. To give a good idea of who has the best chances of doing so, here's a brief top 5 list of the BEST backcourts that you will see this upcoming weekend (not named Kentucky or Duke):
-North Carolina Tar Heels
*Tate's Take: Who doesn't know about Marcus Paige? A top candidate for ACC Preseason Player of the Year and catalyst of a very deep UNC team that began the season ranked in the top 10.
Carolina obviously disappointed many, especially those in Chapel Hill. The ceiling has always been high for the Heels and deservingly so considering their rich tradition and historic success but have just been short of meeting the high expectations and in large part due to lack of uncharacteristically, less than stellar guard play. Yet UNC has just began to seemingly show some life of consistency as of late, and at the perfect time... just in time for when it matters most... MARCH! All thanks to those who have stepped up tremendously: Justin Jackson and JP Tokoto. Both combine for over 19ppg, 9rpg, over 6apg, and seperately average better than 43% shooting from the field, not to mention the lift that they provide the team with athletically and on the offensive glass. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the heavily relied upon guard combo averages 28% and 37% from long range. Yet still, I haven't even began to mention Nate Britt, Theo Pinson or Joel Berry II.
-Notre Dame Fighting Irish
*Tate's Take: ACC Player of the Year Runner-Up and amongst finalist for the John Wooden National Player of the Year finalist Jerian Grant has looked like Mr. Everything to the Irish this season but he has had quite a bit of help from the most fearless competitors of this college basketball season.
Tenacious defender and ultimate role player Steve Vasturia has assisted Demetrius Jackson (who reminds me quite a bit of Memephis Grizzlies' Tony Allen) to form the most surprising team in the country who ranked in the top 10-15 throughout the bulk of the season. The leprechauns accomplished some feats that not many outside of South Bend saw imaginable: defeating six of this season's tournament participants, including five that are still playing in the field this weekend following Purdue's exit (Michigan State, North Carolina State, Louisville, not to mention North Carolina and Duke twice). Lastly, multi-sport athlete Pat Connaughton is a name to be remembered, nor ever forgotten. The 6'5 Senior can play multiple positions and stretch out forwards with his deep range behind the arc. Their gritty, grimey style which we aren't used to seeing from the Catholics have the oppositions scratching their heads. Up Next: (7)Wichita State Shockers
*Tate's Take: Boomer Sooner bosts a very talented and although the names may not be as recognizable as others within the second weekend of the tournament, OU certainly doesn't lack any talent.
Ten losses has kept Oklahoma at bay as far as the eye test is concerned to most although this is just proof that overall records can look deceiving. Two Sophomores and two Juniors will lead Lon Kruger's club into Syracuse this weekend. Collectively, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, and Frank Booker have the intangibles as maybe the most dynamic duo of them all. Buddy Hield, a Bahamas native, is the leader of the pack and is willing to accept all challenges and challengers. OK rebounds with the best of them and can score at a high rate behind it's offense. If only the Sooners can get their backcourt going at the same time together, and on one accord, another Final Four (their first since 2001) is certainly within reach.
*Tate's Take: Could this finally be the year of the Zags? If so, they'll need huge performances from USC transfer Byron Wesley who has had quite the roller coaster experience in his lone season in Spokane.
Kevin Pangos, who it seems have been on head coach Mark Few's roster for 7 or 8 seasons, is the most accomplished PG in Zaga history since John Stockton. Gary Bell Jr. keys in on every star player defensively, most notably on the wing. There isn't much bench production otherwise so the time is now to make it count for the kings of the Southwest region nationally. Expect to see a matchup vs. Duke in the Elite Eight to contend for a long overdue trip to college basketball's biggest stage where the lights shine brightest. First, a date with another blueblood from the other side of the country... UCLA.
*Tate's Take: This is the third consecutive season that Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet have been together in Wichita, Kansas and since, they've been taking the college hoops landscape by storm.
Senior Tekele Cotton plays much bigger than his listed size and Evan Wessel contributes like no other wether coming off the bench or into the starting lineup. The Shockers are riding on pure emotion after being crowned the 'Kings of Kansas' after convincingly beating the Jayhawks of Kansas. 27 points by Van Fleet at the end of regulation vs. Indiana doesn't hurt to be entering a battle vs. number 3 seed and ACC tournament champion Notre Dame on Thursday. After being eliminated and sent packing by top programs early and often in past years, these 'Wheat Shockers' are all grown up and here to stay!
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