Saturday, March 25, 2006

Texas vs. LSU Preview

Talent and athleticism. Who says that they don't mean everything in college basketball? Ask Duke about it. Ask West Virginia about it. LSU and Texas, respectively, defeated those teams primarily on natural ability. What happens when two talented and athletic teams go against each other? You get an outstanding game.

Texas has been solid throughout the NCAA Tournament. They struggled against Pennsylvania in the first round, but bounced back to blow out North Carolina State in the next round. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Longhorns used a three-pointer at the buzzer from Kenton Paulino to defeat West Virginia. Texas has played against three teams that don't play up-tempo basketball and would rather run their half-court offense. Moreover, none of the three squads are overly impressive with their athletic ability. What does this mean? The Longhorns have not seen a team like LSU in several weeks.

LSU has been one of the most talked-about teams in the NCAA Tournament this March. Like others in the Elite Eight, the Tigers have been tested each game in the Big Dance. They opened with a quick Iona team who went into halftime leading LSU. However, the Tigers came out in the second half and dominated the Gaels. In the second round, Darrell Mitchell hit a three in the final seconds to top Texas A&M. The biggest win in recent years for the LSU program, though, came in the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers knocked off #1 overall seed Duke in a game that will be looked upon as one of the better wins this season for any SEC team.

Texas came into the season as a favorite to win the league and as one of the candidates to win the national championship. Once conference play, people were starting to contemplate if Texas would go through the Big 12 undefeated. That obviously didn't happen. However, the Longhorns still have the type of team capable of winning the title. The only negative about this team is that they tend to get blown out when they lose, which doesn't bode well against very good teams. It all starts in the frontcourt for Texas. P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge are the two best players in the conference and two of the best in the country. Tucker might be the most difficult player to match-up with in the nation, while Aldridge is an excellent all-around inside performer. Brad Buckman does a lot of the dirty work inside, but can also step up and hit the jumper. In the backcourt, Daniel Gibson is a good scorer and a terrific defender who can erupt for big games at any time. Kenton Paulino is a solid point guard who can score on occasion, plays good defense, and distributes. A.J. Abrams has played a big role off the bench down the stretch due to his all-around production.

LSU won the SEC title by two games, and have been one of the most difficult teams to match-up with in the country due to their versatility and athleticism. Even though they are young and inexperienced, the Tigers have the talent to win the title. They are led by one of the best frontcourts in the country. Glen Davis is a beast down low who is tough to guard in the paint; Tyrus Thomas is an athletic freak who can rebound and block shots with the best of them; and Tasmin Mitchell is a match-up problem who can score inside and outside. Darrell Mitchell is one of the most underrated guards in the country, but he can do nearly everything on the court. Garrett Temple played outstanding defense on J.J. Redick and has improved his all-around game as the season wore on. Darnell Lazare and Magnum Rolle are two more athletic frontcourt players that pose match-up problems for the opposition. All the athleticism and talent that the Tigers have wore Duke down and enabled LSU to pull the upset.

This is going to be a match-up of two of the best frontcourts in the country. LSU's Tasmin Mitchell is one of the few players in the nation capable of matching-up with P.J. Tucker. His athleticism and length could give Tucker problems. Inside, the lanky LaMarcus Aldridge will have to hold his own against the burly Glen Davis, while the physical Brad Buckman is going to have his hands full vs. the athletic Tyrus Thomas. The frontcourt match-ups are going to be outstanding. Texas is one of the few teams that can match LSU's talent up front, and vice-versa. On the perimeter, Darrell Mitchell and Daniel Gibson will lock heads in what could be the key personnel match-up. Both are solid defenders and all-around players, although Gibson is more inconsistent. In what is such an evenly-matched game, the role players are going to play big parts in whoever wins. Kenton Paulino and A.J. Abrams are capable of shooting the ball, while LSU does not have any proven offensive threats besides the aforementioned players. In the end, I think Texas' experience and the presence of P.J. Tucker will be enough for the Longhorns to pull out the victory.

Prediction: Texas 75, LSU 72

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