First off, in the worst NCAA tourney field in recent memory, I believe every team seeded between #5 and #14 either has a legit gripe or a serious reason to give thanks in regards to their seed (and some higher seeds should feel the same way; looking at you Florida and Kentucky). That being said, if you're in the middle of the group, at least you're in.
To our local match ups:
#11 Missouri Tigers plays #6 Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Already hyped as a good draw for the Tigers, Cincinnati does have the tendency to turn the ball over and could fall prey to Mizzou's traps. At the same time, the Bearcats defend the guard positions extremely well and Mizzou has to rely on Kim English being consistent. So... either way. The main point is, if the Tigers show up and look like they have for the last three weeks, this will be a pushover for Cincinnati. If Mike Anderson -- coaching for either a hefty contract with the nowing courting Arkansas Razorbacks, or an equally generous raise from Mizzou -- has his harges ready, they can beat the Bearcats. But why haven't they been ready for the last month?
Prediction: Cincinnati 67, Mizzou 59
#9 Illinois Fighting illini will play the #8 UNLV Runnin' Rebels in Tulsa, OK on Friday.
The easy sports writing story for this game will be Bruce Weber's Illini taking on the schools oach twice-removed, Lon Kruger. The even bigger story is Weber, if Illinois is to advance, taking on his Illini coaching predecessor Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks. A story which writing at this juncture is moot, as the way Illinois has played in the last two months should have kept them out of the tournament. The Illini faced a very balanced UNLV squad who have held opponents to 32.4% three point shooting. If the Illini aren't hitting their shots, they have no chance, as their lack of ability to make it to the free throw line showed while choking away a 12 point lead in the final five minutes against the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten tournament.
Prediction: UNLV 62, Illinois 56
Not a fun first weekend for the local teams, but I'm not one to complain about the greatest sports weekend of the year.
2011 NCAA Tournament: The Local Look