Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thursday's Sweet Sixteen Previews

Duke vs. LSU- This has been a popular upset pick since the regions were announced. People are pointing to the frontcourt talent that LSU has as a potential difference-maker in the game. Glen Davis is a beast inside, while Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell will cause match-up problems for Duke. However, Duke has a solid frontcourt as well. Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts will more than hold their own. McRoberts is athletic enough to hang with Thomas, while Williams is one of the best big men in the country. The toughest match-up for Duke will be Tasmin Mitchell. He is going to have a height advantage on either J.J. Redick or DeMarcus Nelson, and could use that to get points. On the perimeter, Greg Paulus is going to have his hands full with Darrell Mitchell. He can't allow Mitchell to get hot from outside. I think Paulus has been vastly underappreciated in the NCAA Tournament, but he is going to have to a big game tonight. The difference will be Redick. There is no one on LSU that is going to be able to stay with him, and he could have a huge game if his shot is falling. He has struggled the past couple of years in the late rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but I think that will change tonight in a Duke win. However, if the frontcourt of LSU gets Williams in foul trouble, don't be surprised if the Tigers get the victory. Prediction: Duke 73, LSU 70

Texas vs. West Virginia- A rematch of an earlier game this season where Texas escaped with a one-point win on LaMarcus Aldridge's block of Mike Gansey's lay-up at the buzzer. Both teams have vastly improved since then. West Virginia has not really been pushed thus far in the NCAA Tournament, with easy wins over Southern Illinois and Northwestern State. On the other hand, Texas struggled against Penn but blew out North Carolina State. This game will be a contrast of personnel. West Virginia has a host of perimeter shooters that can hit the three from anywhere on the floor. Mike Gansey is a versatile scorer, while Kevin Pittsnogle might be the best shooting post player in the country. Texas likes to beat up teams down low. P.J. Tucker is a tough match-up for anyone, while the aforementioned Aldridge is one of the best centers in the nation. Unfortunately for West Virginia, they don't have a true post player with the ability to defend Aldridge on the interior. Pittsnogle would rather play on the perimeter, and Frank Young and Joe Herber are not post players. The versatility of West Virginia could give Texas problems, though. Aldridge will not want to venture out to the three-point line to guard Pittsnogle. However, unless the Mountaineers are on fire from beyond the arc, I can't see them contending with Texas' frontline. LaMarcus Aldridge was the difference in the first game, and the rematch will be the same. Prediction: Texas 70, West Virginia 65

Memphis vs. Bradley- Will Bradley's Cinderella run continue, or will Memphis' run and gun offense move on to the Elite Eight? The Braves were not expected to be here, but they upset Kansas and Pittsburgh en route to the second weekend. Memphis, on the other hand, has had two relatively easy wins over Oral Roberts and Bucknell to get to the Sweet Sixteen. The key for Bradley will obviously be Patrick O'Bryant. He had 28 points and 7 rebounds against Aaron Gray in the second-round and could be in line for a huge game against Memphis and their weak interior. To put it simply, the Tigers don't have an answer for him. Joey Dorsey is not tall enough, while Kareem Cooper is too slow and not agile enough. Moreover, Robert Dozier is too skinny and won’t be able to handle O’Bryant when his back is to the basket. Several big men have taken advantage of Memphis’ lack of a true center en route to huge games. They can’t allow O’Bryant to have another break-out game. If Memphis slows him down enough, they will win. For Bradley, they have to slow down the pace of the game and not turn the ball over against the Tigers' pressure. A half-court game would allow O'Bryant to get in position to dominate. Bradley’s perimeter defenders also have to stop Memphis’ host of wings and guards from penetrating into the lane and kicking out for wide-open three-pointers. Even though the Tigers’ shooters are inconsistent, Bradley can’t allow them the opportunity to catch fire and shoot the Braves out of the gym. It will be a game of athletes, and the difference will be that Memphis has better athletes and more depth than the Braves. Moreover, Rodney Carney is going to be a tough match-up for Bradley. Click here for my complete preview of Memphis-Bradley. Prediction: Memphis 78, Bradley 73

UCLA vs. Gonzaga- This is one of the most-anticipated match-ups of the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA coasted past Belmont, and won a nail-biter vs. Alabama. On the other hand, Gonzaga played well down the stretch against Xavier and Indiana to pull away late in the game for victories. The key to this game will be Gonzaga's frontcourt vs. UCLA's backcourt. Adam Morrison is obviously the main man for the Zags. He struggled against Indiana, and his teammates played a big role in the win. However, they won't beat UCLA without a huge game from Morrison. Arron Afflalo is one of the best defenders in the country, while Cedric Bozeman is versatile and athletic. Both could pose problems for Morrison. Inside, J.P. Batista will look to dominate UCLA's big men. The Bruins don't have talented post players, but they have plenty of height and depth inside. Also in the frontcourt, Sean Mallon could have problems with UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He is very athletic and is a terrific offensive rebounder. The big edge for the Bruins, though, will come in the backcourt. Jordan Farmar is one of the best point guards in the country, and Derek Raivio could have difficulties guarding him. Moreover, Afflalo will have an advantage over both Pierre Altidor-Cespedes and Errol Knight. As a result of their guard play, UCLA will get the win. Farmar and Afflalo are outstanding guards, while Bozeman will be able to slow down Morrison somewhat. Even though the Zags were able to pick up the slack after Morrison’s sub-par performance against Indiana, they can’t beat UCLA without a big game from their main man. UCLA moves on. Prediction: UCLA 68, Gonzaga 66

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