Ranking the final NCAA Tourney games

By Chris Jurmann

The first two rounds are over, and your bracket is half of what it was.

It’s OK because there still is time to enjoy the NCAA Men’s Tournament for the basketball yet to be played.

Of NIU’s opponents who made the tournament, Central Michigan and Wisconsin, they are 3-1. The Huskies went 0-4 against CMU (0-3) and the Badgers. CMU upset Creighton in the first round and fell to Duke on Saturday. Wisconsin still is alive and set to play Kentucky on Thursday.

Here’s what to expect out of the remaining eight games in the field.

1. Kansas vs. Duke

In a battle of college basketball giants, the veteran Jayhawks take on an extremely young Duke team in the top matchup of round three. Kansas’ duo of Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison will cause problems for a lax Duke defense.

Collison should have his way inside as Central Michigan’s Chris Kaman scored 25 points against Duke in the second round. (Did anyone else take a little pride seeing Kaman overpower the entire Duke team knowing he only averaged 16 points in three games against NIU?)

Duke has an edge in athleticism with Dahntay Jones and Daniel Ewing, and shooting with J.J. Redick, but the Blue Devils have neither the size nor experience to get the win, at least not this year.

2. Texas vs. Connecticut

The two most dynamic, game-changing players meet in San Antonio as point guard T.J. Ford of Texas and center Emeka Okafor of UConn square off.

Ford, the frontrunner for NCAA Player of the Year, is incredibly quick and athletic. Ford’s best quality is his ability to bring his teammates to another level, which earned Texas the one-seed. Okafor completely changes the game for opposing teams on the opposite side of the ball, averaging 4.7 blocks and altering many more shots.

Texas may be the higher seed, but UConn has more talent, and if Ben Gordon shows up, look for the Huskies to pull off the upset.

3.Pittsburgh vs. Marquette

Marquette has struggled to get this far, but backcourts are what wins in college, and Marquette has one of the best in the country with superstar Dwyane Wade and emerging point guard Travis Diener. Diener has surpassed his previous career-high in points for both of the team’s tournament games.

Unfortunately, Pitt’s backcourt is just as talented with the depth and bulk inside that no team in the nation can match. In the end, defense will win, and Pittsburgh, not Kentucky, plays the nation’s best D and will advance.

4. Arizona vs. Notre Dame

Arizona now will be more tough than it has been all season after its battle with Gonzaga.

Notre Dame looks great when Chris Thomas plays well. When he doesn’t, the Irish look terrible. In a matchup of high-scoring teams, look for Arizona to have too much firepower for the Irish to overcome.

5. Maryland vs. Michigan State

Two top programs with uncharacteristically lower seeds square off to see who’s hotter. Michigan State, a team that easily beat the No. 2-seeded Florida 68-46, or the Terrapins who disposed of No. 3-seeded Xavier 77-64 in the second round.

Maryland’s experience with two straight years of Final Four appearances should be enough to overcome Michigan State, which lacks the true point guard it takes to advance far in the tournament.

6. Oklahoma vs. Butler

Butler is the last-remaining “Cinderella” and hopes to hold onto that slipper just a few more moments. Oklahoma, however, will be quick to snatch it away with its toughness inside and tight defense that most certainly will not allow another 14-for-22 day from behind the arc for the Bulldogs.

7. Kentucky vs. Wisconsin

In what has been a walk in the park for the Wildcats so far, look for Kentucky to plow through the Badgers. There is just too much inside presence with Marquis Estill and company for an undersized Wisconsin team, that is the last-remaining NIU opponent still alive in the tournament.

8. Syracuse vs. Auburn

Auburn didn’t belong in the tournament, but it certainly is making the most of the opportunity. However, as good as Marquis Daniels has played, he is overmatched by freshman Carmelo Anthony. Syracuse’s supporting cast is also considerably better and should make short work of the Tigers.