Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Washington, D.C. Region

Favorite: Connecticut. As the most talented team in the country, the Huskies are still the most frightening team to play left in the Tournament. However, their complacency has hit an all-time high in the past two games, a comeback victory over Albany and a close win against Kentucky. They should have blown both of those teams out, but what seems like a lack of interest continues to hold them down. On the bright side, Marcus Williams has demonstrated that he is the best point in the country and could carry UConn down the stretch of games. Denham Brown is a consistent scorer, while Rashad Anderson might be heating up. Rudy Gay can still be dominant at times, and the inside play of Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone is more than enough to take over the paint. Washington could pose a problem with their balance and the play of Brandon Roy, but they have a freshman point guard in Justin Dentmon. Williams should be able to control the game. In the Elite Eight, UConn is flat-out better than either George Mason or Wichita State. If they play to their potential and don't get lazy, the Huskies will be in Indianapolis. If they don't show effort, expect them home soon.

Cinderella: George Mason. No one expected the Patriots to be in D.C. this week--unless they were attending classes at their nearby university. Some didn't even think GMU should have been in the NCAA Tournament. Well, based on their recent performances, I'm pretty sure they deserved a bid. They controlled the entire game against Michigan State in the first round and then came back from an early deficit against North Carolina to get the win. Folarin Campbell has been of the best players thus far in the NCAA Tournament, stepping up and leading the Patriots to the Sweet Sixteen. Jai Lewis and Will Thomas have played very well against All-American big men Paul Davis and Tyler Hansbrough. Meanwhile, Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn have continued to contribute on the perimeter in all aspects of the game. Coming up is Wichita State--a rematch of a Bracket Buster game played a month ago. The Patriots beat the Shockers on the road--I think they will also get it done in D.C. The regional final is another story, but this is a great story already.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Connecticut's Rudy Gay vs. Washington's Bobby Jones. Some people think that Jones might guard Marcus Williams as he did with Dee Brown in the second round. However, Jones is the only player on the Washington team with the size and athleticism to guard Rudy Gay. He held Brown to 5 of 18 shooting, demonstrating his ability to defend quicker players. Jones can defend any position on the floor, and will need to shut down Gay if Washington is to win this game. Gay, on the other hand, has the ability to take over a game if he is focused. Most of the time, though, he is not aggressive enough and defers to his teammates. If he wants to dominate this game, he can. It will be interesting to see if Gay plays with a little more selfishness--which is needed. If he does, watch this match-up.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: North Carolina. The Tar Heels could be a preseason Top-5 pick next season, and don't be surprised to see them in their second Final Four in three years. The only key loss is David Noel, and, while he was definitely a crucial part of their success, he is replaceable. UNC brings in an excellent recruiting class, including three stud players in point guard Tywon Lawson, wing Wayne Ellington, and forward Brandan Wright. Given the fact that they also bring back Tyler Hansbrough, the National Freshman of the Year, UNC is going to be a juggernaut next season. Throw in scorer Reyshawn Terry and a plethora of talented role players, and North Carolina should be at the top of the rankings all season long.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Marcus Williams, Connecticut: 20.5 ppg, 8.0 apg
Guard- Brandon Roy, Washington: 24.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Forward- Bobby Perry, Kentucky: 22.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Forward- Folarin Campbell, George Mason: 18.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
Forward- Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina: 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg
Sixth Man- Dee Brown, Illinois: 16.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.0 apg, 3.0 spg

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