Upcoming will be two days and four posts.
You might hear more from me - or Pay - otherwise; however, I'm going to ride my tournament momentum and address a few issues on the upcoming weekend of regional semi-finals and finals.
Midwest = Mid-day Monday (aka BELOW)
West = Late Monday
East = Early Tuesday
South = Mid-to-late Tuesday
#9 Northern Iowa vs. #5 Michigan State
Northern Iowa QUESTION: Michigan State is battle tested. While Kalin Lucas' health is far from stable, that can't matter to the Panthers. Question is: how do the Panthers avoid a slow start, in both halves, and get this game closer to being in the 70s than the 50s?
Northern Iowa X-FACTOR: This team is ridiculously well-coached. They value possessions, aren't intimidated by the number of All-Americans on another roster, and have the STONES necessary to make clutch shots. They won't underestimate the Spartans. Count on it.
Panther I'm Watching: Ali Farokhmanesh. Aka STONES. As if there was any doubt, right? If you want to become the next Stephen Curry, a letdown can't occur here. Early shots may go in or out, but it's play down the stretch that will determine if his name becomes one of second-weekend folklore or another first-rounder who only gets 15 minutes of fame.
Michigan State QUESTION: With Kalin Lucas likely OUT and Chris Allen relegated to going 4 minutes due to injury against Maryland; question is, does Michigan State have enough scoring power for 40 minutes of basketball?
Michigan State X-FACTOR: I know it seems repetitive, but one of the reasons I picked Michigan State to BEAT Kansas (and will Northern Iowa, I think) is Tom Izzo. Players have to execute, and Izzo may be the best pure coach left in the field. In 15 years at East Lansing, Izzo has a national championship (200) and is one away from a half-dozen Final Four appearances. He will have his team prepared and pumped, regardless of who is on the roster. Michigan State converted on a late possession due to the talent of their players and the preparation done by their coach. Key word, as always, for Izzo: focus.
Spartan I'm Watching: While plenty of eyes will (justifably) be on PG Korie Lucious, I'm going to watch and see how Raymar Morgan, a frontcourt senior, handles a lot of big bodies and attention in the paint. If he can attack the glass, while staying out of foul trouble, Sparty has a much better chance to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight.
#6 Tennessee vs. #2 Ohio State
Tennessee QUESTION: A lot of people easily dismissed the Vols several times this season. Myself included. After the dismissal of star Tyler Smith, it was way too easy not to do so. Even if they beat Kansas and Kentucky (both at home), they also suffered losses to Georgia and USC. Nevertheless, Bruce Pearl has the Vols in the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in four years. Question is: can the Vols finally break through to the Elite Eight after previous letdowns?
Tennessee X-FACTOR: Statistically speaking, the box scores from the Vols' first 2 games don't leave much to be desired. They didn't shoot lights out, take care of the ball particularly well, hit a ton of 3s, or dominate the boards. Nevertheless, they go 10, and sometimes 11, deep. Can the Vols use their depth to pluck a primary scorer or defender to give the Buckeyes fits?
Volunteer I'm Watching: I've been talking about Wayne Chism for years, so I won't stop now. If Tennessee can establish a presence inside, that won't force Hopson or Prince to go basket-for-basket with Evan Turner (who can light up a stat sheet). Chism must avoid chippy fouls and convert inside 8-feet. Easier said then done for the inconsistent senior.
Ohio State QUESTION: Evan Turner is the heart and soul of this team. Duh. Even when he's not at his best making shots, he can pick apart opponents by drawing double teams (or more) and rebounding the ball extremely well at his position. Question is: how good can Ohio State be in this tournament when Turner puts everything together?
Ohio State X-FACTOR: Thad Matta is a proven postseason entity. Bruce Pearl is as well...but to a lesser extent. Pearl has done the best job of his career (thanks for the insight, Pay) this season. The same might be said for Matta. While he's reached a National Championship before, he's balanced riding a star player (Turner), who was injured for 2 loooong weeks, and helped develop considerable talent alongside him. If you had Ohio State contending for a national championship back in late 2009, you're smarter than I am.
Buckeye I'm Watching: Jon Diebler shoots 3s. A lot of them. He also shoots 3s a LOT better at home than he does on the road or at neutral locations. Against UCSB he was lights out (7-12), despite being under the weather. Against Georgia Tech he was an admirable 4-10. If he can find a similar touch - that is, over 40% - and is able to hit 5+ shots from behind the arc, it will open up massive lanes for Evan Turner and David Leighty, causing havoc on the Tennessee interrior defense.
See you all later tonight for the West regional...