Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday's Second Round Breakdown

Pittsburgh vs. Bradley- Not the dream match-up between Kansas and Pittsburgh that everyone expected, but it will suffice. The Panthers are coming off of a dominant win over Kent State in which they jumped out to a big lead and never looked back, while Bradley upset the Jayhawks in the first round in a game that they were leading for the entire contest. The Braves do not match-up as well with Pitt, though. Aaron Gray battling down low against Bradley's Patrick O' Bryant should be very interesting to watch; O' Bryant might be the only player in the region that can defend Gray one-on-one. Marcellus Sommerville had a big first-round, but he is going to have his hands full defensively guarding one of Pitt's quick perimeter players. Moreover, Carl Krauser does not seem like he wants to end his career anytime soon, which does not bode well for the Braves. The Panthers like a half-court game, while Bradley likes to get out and run with their athletes for baskets. This game will not be an up-tempo contest, which goes in favor of Pitt. The Panthers' experience and depth will be the difference. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Bradley 64

Memphis vs. Bucknell- A complete contrast of styles. Memphis has phenomenal athletes all over the roster, and they prefer and up-and-down game, forcing turnovers with their pressure, and scoring in transition. They demonstrated that by dropping nearly 100 points in the first round on Oral Roberts. On the other hand, Bucknell would rather the game be played in the half-court, and the score in the 60s. However, the Bison showed against Arkansas in the first round that they can deal with pressure and get easy baskets out of it. The key, though, will be seeing if Bucknell can break the press and not turn the ball over early in the game. Surprisingly, the Bison have more NCAA Tournament experience than Memphis, which could help them in a close game. Bucknell executes exceptionally well on offense, while Memphis tends to lose focus and lack aggressiveness at times on the offensive end. In the end, the difference will be Memphis' far superior talent. Rodney Carney will keep Charles Lee from having a big game for Bucknell, and the Bison have no answer for Shawne Williams. It will be a great game, though. Prediction: Memphis 69, Bucknell 63

North Carolina vs. George Mason- Coming into the Tournament, people thought that Kansas-Pitt and UNC-Michigan State would be the two best second-round games. Neither of those games ended up happening. Just something interesting I thought I'd throw out there. North Carolina is coming off of a hard-fought win against Murray State, while George Mason handled Michigan State fairly convincingly. The Spartans never really looked like they were going to pull out a win. Now, the Patriots have second-leading scorer Tony Skinn back, who was suspended for the first-round contest. If UNC plays the way they did against Murray State, they are in trouble. Jai Lewis vs. Tyler Hansbrough will be a battle to watch on the interior, while it will be interesting to see if either of the GMU wings can guard Reyshawn Terry, who will have a significant height advantage. George Mason is very balanced, and has five guys capable of having big games. If they can utilize that balance and keep UNC's frontcourt in check, they can pull off yet another upset. I can't see it happening, though--the Tar Heels have a great coach in Roy Williams and too good of a frontcourt. Prediction: North Carolina 76, George Mason 71

West Virginia vs. Northwestern State- Could this be part of another West Virginia run? Or are we looking at this year's Cinderella in Northwestern State? The 14th-seeded Demons upset Iowa on a last-second heave by Jermaine Wallace from the corner, while the Mountaineers destroyed Southern Illinois in a game that was never really that close. In this game, it will be a match-up of two very experienced teams that like to score. Northwestern State starts four seniors and like to press and attack on both ends of the floor. West Virginia also starts four seniors, but they like a half-court game where they can spread the floor and get their plethora of shooters open looks. If they are hitting their shots, the Mountaineers can beat anyone in the country. The Demons are going to have to have to be patient in the half-court and attack WVU's 1-3-1 zone if they are going to win this game. Moreover, they can't allow WVU's shooters to get going on. This could be a blowout if that happens. Prediction: West Virginia 77, Northwestern State 68

Connecticut vs. Kentucky- A match-up of two of the best programs in college basketball. Connecticut nearly became the first #1 seed to lose to a 16, but they used a 34-9 run against Albany in the last ten minutes to turn a 12-point deficit into a 13-point win. Kentucky avoided a repeat of history as they did not fall victim to UAB's pressure and pulled out a win over the Blazers. If UConn plays to their potential, this game will a blowout. However, you can never really predict how the Huskies are going to play. Randolph Morris is going to have his hands full inside with UConn's host of quality big men. If he gets neutralized by the Huskies' bigs, that could spell trouble for Kentucky as they need that inside presence to take the pressure off of the perimter players. Rudy Gay is also going to be a difficult match-up for whoever the Wildcats put on him--he is simply too big and talented for Kentucky. The only way Kentucky will win this game is if UConn plays another lackadaisical game and the Wildcats are on fire from three-point range. Anything other than that, though, and UConn will win. Prediction: Connecticut 76, Kentucky 64

Texas vs. North Carolina State- Another battle between a higher-seeded team that struggled with an inferior opponent and a medium-seeded team that looked fairly solid in their first-round game. Texas was neck-and-neck with Pennsylvania throughout the game, while North Carolina State made big plays down the stretch and knocked off California. The Longhorns have as much talent as anyone in the country, but don't play to their potential at all times. NC State runs a patient, half-court offense, utilizing passing and cuts to get easy baskets. If Texas does not play disciplined defense, the Wolfpack could pull off the upset. However, NC State may not have the frontcourt size and depth to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, etc. The Wolfpack can play with any team in the country when they are hitting their three-pointers, but they had been slumping heading into the NCAA Tournament. Cedric Simmons is going to have to play well for the Wolfpack inside if they want the necessary inside-outside balance to win. In the end, however, Texas has too much talent at all positions for NC State. Prediction: Texas 73, North Carolina State 65

Ohio State vs. Georgetown- A popular second-round upset pick. Georgetown is coming off of a close win over Northern Iowa, while Ohio State pulled away from Davidson late in the second half to come out with a victory. Both teams like to shoot the three-pointer often, but Ohio State is only shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc in the past seven games. If they don't start hitting their threes, the Buckeyes will be going home. On the other side, the Hoyas have been getting excellent production from their frontcourt, especially 7-2 Roy Hibbert. Hibbert vs. Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials is going to be an excellent battle down low. Another matchup to watch is Brandon Bowman vs. J.J. Sullinger at the forward spot. Both are versatile, athletic players that can score inside and out. The difference will come in the backcourt, mainly who can hit their jump shots more consistently. If Je'Kel Foster breaks out of his slump, look out Hoyas. Prediction: Ohio State 68, Georgetown 65

Villanova vs. Arizona- A game that, coming into the Tournament, would seem like an easy win for Villanova. However, in the first round, the Wildcats struggled with Monmouth for much of the game, while Arizona blew out Wisconsin right from the opening tap. Both teams are very talented and athletic, although 'Nova has played to their potential all season, while the other Wildcats were seemingly on the bubble all season. However, none of that matters now--it's about the matchups. Both teams play similar styles in terms of personnel, as both teams use four perimeter players and one big man. Hassan Adams going against Allan Ray will be the best battle of the day, as both are good scorers. Randy Foye against Marcus Williams will be another quality matchup. It's also a battle of Phildelphia point guards in Arizona's Mustafa Shakur and Villanova's Kyle Lowry. If you look at all the above matchups, Villanova has the edge. The only way Arizona keeps this game within reach is if they use their athleticism to force turnovers and get points in transition. Adams and Williams need to have big games. Prediction: Villanova 76, Arizona 69

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