Thursday’s full slate of games in Des Moines proved to be a raucous day with highlight-reel dunks, stone-cold performances from a handful of stars and a chaotic environment that is likely only just getting ramped up.
In other words, there’s plenty to look forward to on Saturday, when games resume.
Three predictions for round two in the Iowa capital:
Kevin Ollie’s perfect run in the NCAA tournament will come to a halt. Up until now, the fourth-year coach at Connecticut has been undefeated in the Big Dance. The Huskies came back and then held on for a victory over Colorado on Thursday giving UConn a 7-0 record in the tournament after being forced to sit out the postseason in , his first year, due to poor academic standing, winning it all in his second year and then missing the cut last year. It’s been a great run for the former player and fresh-faced coach. Hope Ollie enjoyed it because his team has simply been too inconsistent this season to handle the likes of No. 1 overall seed Kansas. We saw more of that yesterday when the Huskies sleep-walked into an 11-point deficit against Colorado -- leading Ollie to joke later that the squad was still at the hotel in the first half – and then after building a 13-point advantage, looked as though they were playing not to lose instead of to actually win. It was closer than it should have been down the stretch. Those types of hiccups will hurt you against a team like the Jayhawks.
This IU-UK matchup will be one to savor. First up, there are all the obvious reasons for excitement. After all, we’ve been waiting for this head-to-head for far too long – because the coaches won’t make it happen themselves. Thank you NCAA selection committee. Secondly, these teams are coming in on fire. The Hoosiers looked as good as I’ve seen them this year yesterday. Yogi Ferrell was hitting killer shots and shooting imaginary arrows. Kentucky’s defense completely suffocated Stony Brook – just really sucked the life out of the Seawolves’ game almost from the start. The promise of Ferrell vs. UK point guard Tyler Ulis is really exhilarating. The prospect of those two coaches going at each other is too. The idea of losing is probably terrifying for both of those fan bases. I assure you: there will be great drama, there will be great ball and the building is probably going to be on fire. The real question: Will more IU and UK fans show up today? The Wildcats’ representation in particular was shockingly low.
Kansas will win by 15. Don’t tell Bill Self this, but the Jayhawks are rolling. Of course, the coach wanted to critique everything after Kansas’ 26-point win over Austin Peay – especially the team’s defense and the fouling issues. “I don’t think our players did a good job of adjusting [to whistles] at all,” Self said. “I felt like we were defensive on defense.” All the more reason that Kansas will come out extra sharp vs. a UConn team who should be considerably overmatched. The Jayhawks’ athletic, ultra-efficient offense was ticking yesterday, especially inside, where Peay had no chance of stopping them. Perry Ellis was his typical solid self. Sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a performance that should give Kansas fans some renewed optimism in depth. And besides: the Jayhawks are practically playing a home game again on Saturday. The number of Kansas fans making up the onlookers on Thursday was stunning – this town is practically painted blue and crimson. That won’t hurt on Saturday.